By: Andrew Smyser
On June 19, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), a branch of the United States Chamber of Commerce, released a report entitled “A State-by-State Report Card
on Public Postsecondary Education.
on Public Postsecondary Education.” This report grades the four-year and two-year public institutions in all fifty states and focuses on their bachelors and associates degree programs. In the report, the ICW demonstrate that even though 70 percent of American high school students pursue some sort of higher education, fewer than 50 percent of that total actually graduate. They argue that the American public post-secondary education system is inefficient and needs to change. As states cut funding in the current economic climate, public postsecondary schools need to make changes in their use of the limited funds and become innovative in their methods of meeting growing demands for well-educated members of the American workforce by shifting their academic thinking. No longer should top consideration be given to inputs such as SAT scores, admissions and money spent on facilities. Rather, focus should be on outputs: degrees conferred and the quality of those degrees, how well the graduates are prepared for life beyond college.
The study grades six categories of state performance and policy:
- Student Access & Success: retention and graduation rates, access for low-income students.
- Efficiency & Cost Effectiveness: how much it costs the state to produce degrees.
- Meeting Labor Market Demand: how graduates do financially in relation to less-educated individuals.
- Transparency & Accountability: how states measure learning and availability to the public.
- Policy Environment: state policies that encourage and facilitate degree completion.
- Innovation: state policies that encourage innovation in college education, how education reaches students that may be underrepresented.
In each of the first four fields, two grades were given: one for four-year colleges and one for two-year institutions. Innovation is divided into two subfields, both of which received a grade: openness to innovation and online learning. Taking the grades given by the ICW and converting them into a standard GPA 4-point scale, the state-by-state averages are illustrated in the table below. The national average for public postsecondary education comes to a GPA of 1.74, or a C-.
|New Jersey||2.09||Iowa||1.82||South Carolina||1.55||Nevada||1.00|
|New York||2.00||North Carolina||1.73||Massachusetts||1.55|
Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce
As might be expected, some states scored well in certain areas while doing poorly in others. For example, South Dakota, which placed relatively high on the overall list, was in the lower third of the country on four-year college grades, while being in the top four in both the two-year grades and policy-related categories. Virginia, on the other hand, did poorly in the policy categories, average in the two-year ones and very well in the four-years. Florida and Indiana were among the most consistently good scorers doing in the top fourth of all three broad categories. Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada were among the lower quarter in the broad categories.
The ICW offers several broad stroke recommendations about how to improve the schools performance though it emphasizes the risk that “one-size-fits-all reform will impede creative solutions to postsecondary institutions’ problems—and even make them worse.” Despite this risk, it has three pieces of broad advice: (1) find solutions that work with a state’s individual priorities, (2) embrace transparency, and (3) focus on performance and outputs. While this call certainly leaves the exact implementation and policies up to the states, it clearly calls for a change and an updating of education policy across the country.
Improved transparency is one way in which postsecondary schools could vastly improve the quality of their product. Requiring institutions to be accountable to the public, would force those colleges to make the necessary changes to better serve their clients (particularly their students). Transparency would encourage innovation in education as a selling point for the college. It would also give the schools incentives to improve graduation rates and the quality of the degrees conferred. The price of these degrees in the current system would be prohibitive for many schools to make the necessary changes to survive, so they would be forced to innovate and to become creative and more efficient in the allocation of their limited resources.
This study should be a wake-up call for state school systems across the country as well as to American policy makers. The United States’ public postsecondary education system is not doing its job when it comes to preparing the next generation for life in the 21st century. This study’s emphasis on meeting the demand of the job market illustrates the pervasiveness of this problem. The problems in the education system are being felt in the American economic market as well which seriously hampers the United States’ ability to compete on a global market.
Andrew Smyser has an M.A. from the University of Missouri, Columbia and a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a Research Consultant for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
This post originally appeared in CCAP’s “Higher Education and the Economy” blogspace for Forbes.com.
College governing boards are becoming pretty uppity, actually thinking they have a real, not ceremonial role to play in governing universities. Next thing you know, Britain’s constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth will decide to suspend Par
liament and fire the Prime Minister. To be sure, there are limits to the attempts by boards to assert leadership—the University of Virginia board capitulated to the university community by returning power to them that the board rightfully possess by Virginia law.
Nonetheless, boards have become more aggressive in using their most important power—easing out or firing the university president. Illinois has done it not once but twice in the last few years, sending both Joe White and Michael Hogan packing. From the East (Penn State) to the South (Louisiana State) to the West (Oregon), presidents have been ousted. At other schools (e.g. University of Texas), strains between the university administration and the governing board have been very visible and have led to all sorts of campus conflict.
To be sure, these are challenging times. Public concerns about rising college costs have passed the threshold needed to become a major national issue. Big-time intercollegiate athletic corruption reeks and is beginning to stink up the enter higher-education enterprise, as folks in State College will tell you. Public universities are undergoing an involuntary and painful privatization, and the gap between them and the well-endowed private schools is growing rapidly. The job market for graduates has been bad for years, leading to more people questioning the need for a college degree. In short, the life of a university president is not easy these days.
There has long been a disconnect between what the academy itself thinks its mission and priorities should be and what the general public thinks. Boards, very often, have mindsets closer to that of the general public than that of the university community. Occasionally, that leads to clashes, although the university community is usually pretty good at co-opting and neutralizing trustees, making them comparatively docile. They do this by withholding vital information of an embarrassing nature, minimizing the actual number of board meetings, trying to co-opt who is selected for boards, etc.
In my judgment, boards on average do too little, not too much, although there are activist boards that do more harm than good. All schools, including so-called private ones (excepting for profit colleges), depend a lot on government largess. These institutions need to be accountable to someone other than themselves. As it is, colleges have made radical changes in how they operate, with little board involvement or even formal approval. Over the last half century, teaching loads have sharply fallen—did trustees approve this by vote? In most cases, no. Administrative staffs have become bloated, creating what Benjamin Ginsberg calls the “administrative university.” Did trustees sanction this? Sometimes technically they did by their budget votes, but in most cases I doubt they knew that they were voting to weaken the purely academic part of the enterprise.
In a growing number of cases, there is criticism of the boards by loyal alumni. Dartmouth College’s fights over seats on its governing board, and the brouhaha at the College of William & Mary over the Wren cross are good examples.
I am impressed with some alums at Colgate, who want a Better Colgate, and are angling for alumni election of a good hunk of the governing board. Their concerns arise from the fact that Colgate is slipping by many measures—from 2008 to 2011, the school dropped four spots in the U.S. News & World Report ranking and seven in that done by Forbes (full disclosure: I direct the compilation of the Forbes rankings). The Better Colgate folks are extremely frustrated at the near complete secrecy surrounding board actions, the lack of public attendance at meetings, the hiding of board committee reports, etc.
Question: Why are institutions benefiting from federal and/or state funds, or that benefit from tax-exempt status for university gifts, not required to operate out in the open? Why are not board minutes, committee reports, etc., routinely available to the public? I am rooting for the Better Colgate folks who, against heavy odds, are close to getting one of their renegade members on the Colgate board. Transparency should be required of anyone using, directly or indirectly, federal or state government funds.
This post originally appeared on the “Innovations” blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education on July 5, 2012.
A recent Wall Street Journal article raised questions about the value of an undergraduate business major to potential future employers.
The article argued that while some companies continue to hire primarily business majors, increasingly more of them look to expand their recruiting classes by drawing from humanities majors, such as history and English. Students with concentrations outside of business disciplines attract such employers because their coursework has taught them to think critically, be flexible, and confront problem-solving creatively. Business schools at universities such as Santa Clara University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University have taken note of this trend and in response are now integrating more liberal arts classes into their curricula. The philosophical drive for doing so seems to be that a renewed emphasis on humanities courses would foster increased critical thinking in their students and make their graduates more appealing to future employers. Both the studies and the responses to it share recognition of the value of a liberal arts education.
While the WSJ article reaffirms the value of the humanities to an audience which might tend to be skeptical of it, a report from NPR highlights the tensions that increased economic pressure has brought to bear on traditional liberal arts institutions. A May 2012 report examines the financial and philosophical difficulties that a poor economy presents to small, elite, and expensive liberal arts colleges whose missions are facing scrutiny from skittish parents who are nervous about committing so many resources to an education for their child that may not have tangible monetary benefits immediately upon graduation. Liberal arts schools, which traditionally boast small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratios, struggle to balance the cost of such a structure with the reality that, particularly in times of economic uncertainty, many students and parents worry about the practicality of choosing a course of study that does not readily lend itself to a lucrative career path. As administrators attempt to soothe fears about the value of the education they offer, many have chosen to repackage their model and focus on the job-applicable skills that their students learn while attending a liberal arts institution. Wellesley College Provost Andy Shennan asserts that college administrators “have to continue to make the case [that a liberal arts education is relevant] as persuasively as [they] can.”
Both articles speak to the same sets of worries. On the one hand, colleges and universities have to be aware that many students choose to attend an institution based on the likelihood of future job prospects. At the same time, however, the liberal arts tradition of higher education continues to reveal its inherent value. And while liberal arts schools work to remain relevant in a difficult hiring environment, more business schools seek to tap into the wisdom of the humanities in order to prevent their graduates from casting themselves into too narrow a mold.
The lesson is clear: the study of the humanities still holds value, even if the economic model of traditional liberal arts schools has come under fire. It is equally clear, however, that in a climate where all schools are facing pressure to show their economic worth, administration, students, and even faculty, must diversify. Many curricula require business and engineering students to take one or two humanities classes, but do they explain the value of such a requirement? Too often, students from outside of the humanities disciplines choose not to take their coursework in these requirements seriously, as they believe that a detailed study of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire or an in-depth analysis of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights will not apply to their future career, the “real” reason they are in college. But the value of history and literature to a non-humanities student goes far beyond acquiring knowledge about a specific topic. Instead, the humanities teach students to think abstractly. It cultivates reasoning, incites curiosity, and demands intellectual rigor. Students of the liberal arts learn how to decipher patterns and use these comparisons to construct clear, well-reasoned arguments. Every discipline needs sharp, articulate thinkers, and the humanities provide a venue for students to hone these skills.
This value should not lure liberal arts students into a false sense of security, however. Competitive markets require adaptable applicants, and so students of the humanities must learn to demonstrate that their skills cover a broad spectrum. Here, too, diversity is key. An English major who has taken public speaking courses and actively hones her presentation skills appears to be much more of an asset than an inarticulate applicant of any major. Classics students improve their command of English grammar by their study of Greek and Latin; supplementing this skill with editing experience in journalism makes them stronger applicants for a job that requires strong writing skills. To market these courses of study as excellent job preparation does not “cheapen” them or reduce their intrinsic value. Rather, it reaffirms yet again that the humanities are adaptable and as relevant now as ever.
Katie Smyser is a PhD student at the University at Buffalo. She is a Research Consultant for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
At a roundtable convened by the Science Coalition, an organization of universities dedicated to preserving
federal funding for basic research, and the Association of American Universities, the officers discussed the future of pure and applied research — and where the money will come from to pursue both.
Public higher education in California may be nearing the breaking point. And the endgame for the worst off among the state’s budget-battered colleges might look like the accreditation crisis that is engulfing the City College of San Francisco.
The two-year college has failed to adequately cope with its money woes, according to a report released this week by the college’s regional accreditor, which gave City College less than nine months to correct a series of financial and administrative problems, some of which were identified as far back as 2006.
The world of higher education is abuzz with the news that a for-profit university, Ashford University, whose Iowa campus holds accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, has been denied accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) for its online headquarters. Denial of accreditation for schools that already have it is pretty unusual and gives us a rare glimpse into accreditation and a detailed example of what’s wrong with the existing system.
The Glorious End of Higher Education’s Monopoly on Credibility
Learning is available at the library for free; under a tree with a dog-earned paperback; at a job with a boss who gives you responsibility and mentorship; while traveling; while leading a cause, movement, or charity; while writing a novel or composing a poem or crafting a song; while interning, apprenticing, or volunteering; while playing a sport or immersing yourself in a language; while starting a business; and now, while watching a TED talk or taking a Khan Academy class, or via a zillion other ways on the Internet.
And yet, while learning has always been available around us, inexpensively, free (or even paid on the job), until recently, sources of credibility have been highly centralized, and highly expensive. There was basically only one source: higher education. The more elite, the better.
The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Gates in an exclusive interview Monday to talk about his vision for how colleges can be transformed throug
h technology. His approach is not simply to drop in tablet computers or other gadgets and hope change happens—a model he said has a “really horrible track record.” Instead, the foundation awards grants to reformers working to fix “inefficiencies” in the current model of higher education that keep many students from graduating on time, or at all.
Teresa A. Sullivan was reinstated as the president of the University of Virginia on Tuesday, completing the arc of an improbable comeback tale that began a little more than two weeks ago with her forced resignation.
With less than a week remaining until the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans is set to double, Senate leaders said Tuesday afternoon that they had agreed on a compromise to keep the rate at 3.4 percent for another year.
As Republican governor of Indiana,Mitch Daniels has been an efficiency maven, and his scalpel has gone after higher education along with everything else. He has also introduced price competition by welcoming Western Governors University Indiana, a low-cost online college that, among other heresies, gives credit for experience.
The announcement that Daniels will become president ofPurdue University, leaving one political battlefield for another, led to speculation that he is eager to make a mark in the roiling universe of higher education.
The news for would-be attorneys keeps getting worse. According to analysis from the Wall Street Journal released yesterday, only 55% of class of 2011 law school grads were employed full-time as lawyers nine months after graduation. The other 45% may be unemployed, working at Starbucks or starting their own law school hateblogs. Couple this with declining starting salaries (they fell $9000 between 2009 and 2010) and the fact that 85% of law school grads are facing an average debt load of $98 500 and you can see why law school as a career path has taken a public lambasting in recent years.
Education may have positive externalities. That is, your increased knowledge may prove beneficial to others in society. So, who should pay for it?…
…Let’s start by drawing a distinction between training and education. People spend time and money to develop competencies in producing goods and services, in return for which they expect to be paid. People learn how to do surgery, how to install drywall, how to fix computers, how to sell insurance, how to write novels, how to teach English, and countless other kinds of work. Some of their training may be done in formal education settings, but much of it occurs on the job.
Because they intend to use their skills to make a living, individuals have a very strong incentive to find the optimal degree of training. The government does not need to intervene to tell a lawyer, for example, that she ought to become better trained. She will figure out the point at which the cost of additional study and training exceeds the benefit from it.
The same is true for all other professions and occupations. People will invest in the “human capital” needed to succeed in a field, weighing costs and benefits to find the optimal point. There is no need to subsidize their investments.
…they defend the value of a legal education by saying, as the Dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week
“The law degree is something that allows you to move in so many directions.”
Sure, there may be multiple uses for a law degree but, particularly when the public is increasingly demanding more accountability and when there is a growing sense that, as the New York Times put it, “[l]egal diplomas are apparently losing luster” (as evidenced by falling law school applications or decreases in the number of people taking the LSAT). It may have worked in the past to get more people into law school by sticking to vague, rosy rhetoric but it sure doesn’t seem to be a winning slogan going forward. And those who may be risking the most may be those schools which are so disconnected from economic realities that when no one wants to buy their services, they will be stuck trying to figure it all out even if the answer is right in front of them. After all, a JD from Harvard Law may always be good for many things but that by no means implies that a JD from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law always will as well.
Breaking News from Reddit: Celebrating just paying off your student loans.
The current issue of Forbes magazine features Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor and Google Fellow who has made a name for himself pioneering Massive Open Online Courses and founding the startup Udacity. I found this snippet to be rather though-provoking:
Such careful collegiality is not the Thrun way. “It’s pretty obvious that degrees will go away,” Thrun says. “The idea of a degree is that you spend a fixed time right after high school to educate yourself for the rest of your career. But careers change so much over a lifetime now that this model isn’t valid anymore.”
So Udacity is charting its own path as a career academy for brainy people of all ages. Udacity’s offices are just a few hundred yards from Stanford, but they’re a world away from the school’s idyllic environs.
A new study by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group
A solid majority of faculty members (58 percent) described themselves as filled more with fear than with excitement, although there were some differences based on gender, type of institution, and the like (see charts in the accompanying report). Meanwhile, academic technology administrators — defined as “individuals with responsibility for some aspect of academic technology at their institutions” — were overwhelmingly enthused; 80 percent said the online boom excited more than frightened them.
Even before the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s recently raised academic standards have taken full effect, a record 15 teams are being banned from postseason play this year — nearly twice as many as last year, the first in which low Academic Progress Rate scores could result in postseason bans. A then-record eight teams were declared ineligible last year.
The NCAA announced the penalties Wednesday with its release of the latest APR data, scores for each sports team that the NCAA uses to measure academic eligibility and retention. Teams that don’t meet the minimum of 900 can face varying degrees of penalties. In addition to the aforementioned postseason bans, 35 teams face sanctions, including scholarship reductions and practice restrictions. (Another 19 teams that scored below 900 are not being penalized because of various unique circumstances, such as making up for a low four-year score with higher single-year scores.)
The Chronicle asked several higher-education administrators, scholars, and observers to comment on the sudden resignation of President Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia, under pressure from its Board of Visitors. Richard Vedder argues that: “The broader issue is: What is the board’s role in university governance?”
In living memory, there were very reputable institutions of higher education that could be attended at little cost, and the heavy debt that burdens so many current students was unheard of. Today, matters are evidently very different; exploding costs seem to threaten to handicap and even undermine the education process.
Notice that I said, “seem to threaten”? Nearly half a century after William Bowen and I were led by our cost-disease analysis to foresee this prospect for education, I now offer a new and surprisingly happy ending. I contend that the cost of education will remain within our reach as long as forces of competition continue to drive innovation forward and spur productivity growth.
Economists (including at least one in my PhD graduating class) have dedicated untold numbers of papers to showing that college doesn’t produce useful skills. But I think that this is missing the point; useful skills, which you mostly learn on the job, are not the only valuable form of human capital. There are three extremely important forms of human capital that you can’t acquire on the job:
2) Perspective, and
3) Human networks.
These, I believe, are the types of capital that college is designed to build, both in Japan and in the United States.
In previous economic downturns, the number of law-school applicants increased, as students who would otherwise have looked for jobs found temporary refuge studying for an advanced degree. But the number of law-school applicants this year is 65,119, down 14% from a year earlier, according to the Law School Admission Council Inc., a nonprofit corporation that administers the Law School Admission Test.
“We’re going down in a down market,” says Frank Wu, dean of the University of California’s San Francisco-based Hastings College of the Law, a top-tier school that has taken some of the most drastic steps to “reboot” legal education.
The school plans to whittle its total enrollment to about 1,000 from 1,300 in phases over the next three years. The cuts could cost the school $9 million, Mr. Wu says.
The College Board is under fire for arranging a special administration of the SAT for students in a pricey college-prep program at Amherst College.
Students in a three-week “intensive college preparatory program” at Amherst are scheduled to take the college entrance exam Aug. 3…
…The summer session at Amherst, perhaps the nation’s premier liberal arts school, costs $4,500, or $300 a day and includes courses on test-taking strategies and skills. That likely means the students taking this specially administered SAT are both gifted and affluent — not a demographic sorely in need of extra help in college admissions — and will be able to utilize their newly honed test-taking skills immediately, rather than waiting to take the test in the fall. The $49 cost of taking the SAT is waived for students enrolled in the summer session.