College Complexities

In previous blogs, I have observed how complex the challenges of higher education really are.  The news from three recent, separate sources, when considered together, confirm its complexity and also once again raise concerns about the capacity of U. S. higher education to respond to our growing needs for sophisticated human capital as a foundation of our economic competitiveness.

On Sunday West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin called on state governors to focus this year on higher education productivity – e.g., enrollment, persistence, and graduation.  Governor Manchin is the new Chair of the National Governor’s Association.

And just five days earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that low and moderate income students are less likely today to enroll in college, underlining the Governor’s call for a focus on productivity.  The Wall Street Journal summarized a report to Congress from the Advisory Committee on Financial Assistance; compared with 1992, the percentage of low income students who enroll in college has fallen 14 percentage points with only 40% enrolling by 2004.  For moderate income students, the burden of college expense had gone from 22% of family income to 26% of family income in the same period.

Monday’s Chronicle of Higher Education added a third, but inter-related piece of news with its report by Goldie Blumenstyk.  Median family income of students in for-profit colleges is just $24,300, 60% of family income of public college and university students.

If we are to raise U. S. competitiveness and increase higher education productivity as called for by Governor Manchin, we must turn around the decline in enrollment among the lowest income group, and we must assure support for students from low income backgrounds who are increasingly choosing for-profit schools for their education.

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