Faculty Productivity and Costs of a Higher Education

In my most recent blog on what higher education can learn from K-12, I pointed to the potential of the flipped classroom coupled with technology for increasing learning. Essentially, the flipped classroom allows the teacher to concentrate on more active engagement with learners, adapting to the needs of the learner, with students’ applying what is being learned during classroom time rather than listening to a lecture. What makes the flipped classroom a reality today for K-12 – and for colleges and universities – is the role that technology plays.

What I did not address in that last blog was the role that technology and the flipped classroom can play in raising faculty productivity and in lowering costs to students and families. The cost of a college or university degree remains a barrier to our achieving President Obama’s 2020 goal of having the U.S. become the country with the highest percentage of its students’ graduating from college. Besides its negative impact on demand for college degrees, rising costs of a college education are responsible for growing consumer debt. A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York outlined an increase of $64 billion in student loan balances over the last year, while household debt from all other sources (e.g., mortgages, auto loans, credit card balances) fell a combined total of $383 billion.

Making the U.S. competitive globally was the intent of the President’s 2020 college education goal. But its achievement seems unlikely without addressing the rising costs to a student and family for a college degree. A very large proportion of a college’s expenditures remains its instructional budget. For example, Colorado State University reported this year that 31% of expenditures were for instruction and academic support with the next largest category being research at 22%. Both expenditure areas are heavily driven by faculty expenses. Raising productivity of faculty, then, becomes one means to lower the price of a college degree.

Admittedly, substituting technology for some faculty expenditures will not be cheap or easy. Technology expenses include hardware and software as well as related support staff, training, etc. Despite the costs of a transition to greater use of technology in the college learning environment, the alternative is continued increases in tuition. The public seems unlikely to tolerate continued tuition increases for a college degree, and the federal government is already increasingly intolerant of growing student loan debt.

There is every reason to look more closely at this concept of the flipped classroom in higher education. Perhaps it can be the means to raising faculty productivity, integrating technology into the learning process, and holding down tuition costs.

Opinion Piece in The Hill: Hearing or head hunting?

Today, my opinion piece was published on The Hill’s Congress blog. The piece argues that as our Senator, Tom Harkin (D-IA) should look across the national landscape to find ways to increase the number of students in higher education and to encourage education paths for those Americans who will not be able to receive at a traditional non-profit school or public college or university, rather than go after for-profit colleges and universities. See below for an excerpt:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), has scheduled a hearing entitled Bridgepoint Education, Inc.: A Case study in For-Profit Education and Oversight. The premise for his hearings has been to investigate the Department of Education. However, it appears that this is a subterfuge for portraying the for-profit sector in the worst possible light in order to restrict students’ access to career-oriented colleges.

In a press release announcing this Thursday’s upcoming hearing, Chairman Harkin noted that the lone target of his “case study” [Bridgepoint Education] was singled-out because more than 60% of their bachelor’s degree students had withdrawn before finishing their degrees.

Click here to read the full piece.

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.

Reporting on Private Sector Success

Typically only the most egregious circumstances make the headlines.  Today thankfully is different.

The Cinncinati Enquirer posted a success story.  It was a story of a graduate from a private sector college in Ohio.  Quincey Montgomery, a single father and full time worker, who chose to go back to school to earn his Associate Degree in Business Management at Brown Mackie College.  He chose this school because of the flexibility and the ability to focus on one class at a time.

“Montgomery, however, feels as if he owes his job to Brown Mackie. He already was enrolled when he earned a co-op assignment at Procter & Gamble Co.’s downtown headquarters. Now he’s working there full-time as an administrative assistant in the product supply unit.


‘I feel like it was 70 percent me and 30 percent Brown Mackie,’ he said. ‘But I think that 30 percent goes a long way.’


He said he took ‘all the classes I would take anywhere else,’ such as accounting and business law, and never had more than 20 people in any of his classes.


He paid for the program, about $25,000 total, with student loans. He pays about $200 a month and regards it as money well spent.”

While negative stories about private sector colleges have driven the vast majority of the headlines recently, it is refreshing to see a story that represents  amore objective view of this aspect of our higher education industry.  I have maintained that the private sector plays a critical role in our national educational goals.  Sure, there are bad actors out there and stories that go along with them, but there are also success stories.  There has to be a reason so many have chosen a private sector education.  True negative headlines sell more papers, but the expansive growth of for profit colleges exemplifies what is happening to higher education.  Individuals are “voting” with their feet and choosing to enroll at these educational institutions because they present the best opportunity for them – often with more flexibility and accessibility than traditional colleges and universities.  I expect there will be more of these stories in the future.