Updated Carnegie Classifications Reveals the Transformation to Higher Education

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has released its Updated Carnegie Classifications, and the news confirms what many of us have suspected in the dramatically altering landscape of higher education.  Said Chun-Mei Zhao, who directs Carnegie’s Classifications, “This suggests that the higher education landscape is shifting further away from the traditional model of the liberal arts college.”

The Updated Classifications indicate far more than just the shift away from the traditional liberal arts college that still dominates the way many of us think of colleges and universities.  The private, for-profit sector represented 77% of the new institutions since the last time the Classifications were released in 2005.  Moreover the shift is particularly noticeable in the increase in the number of schools with a professional focus; those schools with a “Professional Focus” or a “Professional Focus plus arts & sciences” now award 60% of the bachelor’s degrees in professional fields.

While the transforming character of higher education is evident in these numbers, the change in enrollments in only five years is particularly telling.  Between 2005 and 2010, traditional public institutions’ enrollments grew by 13.9%, and traditional private institutions’ enrollments grew by 9.3%.  By contrast, the enrollments in private, for-profit colleges and universities more than doubled, growing by 110%.

The shifting industry was also revealed in what is occurring at the community college level.  Those schools classified as traditional associate’s colleges increased dramatically the extent to which they are awarding not just associates’ degrees but bachelors’ degrees as well.  In 2005, 109 traditional associates’ colleges awarded bachelor’s degrees; in 2010, the number was 162, a 49% increase.

Divided Congress and Future of Education Reform

Following the recent midterm elections, it was apparent that there would be new challenges passing legislation due to the shift in Congressional leadership. Yesterday, The Associated Press published a story about the new difficulties arising from a divided Congress in passing education reform initiatives such as reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, revamping No Child Left Behind and in higher education, saving federal financial aid. See below for an excerpt from yesterday’s piece:

Although higher education is expected to take a backseat to K-12 policy during the next Congress, two significant issues loom: the fate of federal student aid programs and Democratic-led efforts to crack down on for-profit colleges.

The Pell Grant program, a lifeline for low- and middle-income families trying to afford college, has enjoyed bipartisan support over the years. But with Republicans running on a call to cut spending, federal grants and loans subsidizing higher education record could be on the table.

For-profit colleges are fighting a proposed Department of Education rule that would cut off federal aid to college vocational programs with high student-debt levels and poor loan repayment rates.

As leadership in Congress shifts, one thing remains certain: we cannot deny the merits of Pell Grants for students who need aid to attend college or the merits of for-profit colleges for those who seek to become career-ready during their higher education. I encourage members of Congress to explore the data on how their decisions will affect individual student populations before moving forward with any policy changes – each legislative decision will no doubt have a great impact on the educational future of thousands of deserving students.

Distance Learning a Necessity for Education

Welcome to National Distance Learning Week. In education, distance learning is becoming an increasingly important tool for the effective teaching of students of all backgrounds and levels. Without technology, many students and teachers would be unable to adequately communicate due to barriers in both schedule and geographic location.

In fact, distance learning has become so important that the U.S. Distance Learning Association released a white paper today to recognize how broadband Internet access has enabled education to enter a new stage. The white paper argues that without broadband Internet access, many students would be less engaged or unable to reach their goals in school. See below for a quote from USDLA’s press release:

“In order for 21st century distance learning opportunities to continue to flourish and allow more consumers immediate availability to convenient and affordable education, immediate access to affordable broadband must continue to grow,” said Dr. John G. Flores, Executive Director of the USDLA.  “This paper highlights the measures we believe need to be taken in order to advance online learning and opportunity; and broadband access is a huge component of that need.”


Distance learning and higher education are inextricably linked. Without the Internet, many for-profit and not-for-profit programs would not exist. Therefore, we should recognize the impact that distance learning has on the higher education students in our country and work to make these programs even better in the future.

World University Rankings…Quality Higher Ed for All

The World University Rankings were published today in London with new methodology and some changes from last year.  One very significant aspect of the rankings is the uneven distribution of quality universities on the list of 200.

No Latin American university was on the list, and only two African universities – the University of Cape Town and Alexandria University in Egypt – were on the list.  No Middle Eastern university was included on the list except for Middle East Technical University in Turkey which straddles Asia and Europe.  In Southeast Asia, only two universities made the list – both from Singapore – and there was no Indian university on the list.

Even in areas of the world like Europe and North America, the distribution of universities was uneven.  It was no surprise to find that the ranked U. S. universities are concentrated in California, the Northeast and the Atlantic states with only two universities – Georgia Tech and Emory in the Deep South.  The usual California schools were on the list, but there was only one university – U. of Washington – on the list from the northwest.  And in Europe, much of the southern and eastern sectors of Europe were not represented but for the presence of two in Spain’s Catalan region – the University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University.

Providing widespread access to excellent university education is still a challenge in much of the world.  We increasingly understand the implications of higher education for regional and national competitiveness – both in terms of the quality of the labor supply and in the impact of technological creativity in the marketplace.  Yet, assuring that there is increased potential opportunity for citizens in many regions is a challenge.  We still need a much greater focus on assuring that there is quality higher education in all parts of the U. S. and the world if we are to raise the standard of living with available jobs, better paying jobs, and increased citizens’ participation in society.

Education is Not a Commodity

Colleges and universities have a primary responsibility to the community in the social contract they are granted.  An essential aspect of that responsibility is the education of students. Without students, there would be no purpose for an educational institution, including research universities. Private sector institutions exist to educate and train students with the knowledge and skills they will need in their careers, on-the-job, and in real-world settings.

In a recent Jackson Sun column, Professor Harry Lee Poe muses that education is not a commodity. While it might seem that Professor Poe was intending to argue against the for-profit education model, the article turns out to be quite the opposite. Instead, Poe emphasizes the importance of what he calls “corporate colleges” in adult education. “College education has become as important as a high school education was 40 years ago.” – he states – and private sector schools make it possible for adults to receive a vital portion of their education.

We need a variety of forms of higher education, and private sector schools in their considerable diversity represent many aspects of higher education.  Restrictions, like the ones proposed by the Department of Education’s proposed gainful employment rule have the considerable potential to limit some of those forms of higher education – either by restricting access of students to some of them or restricting new entrants into the higher education market.  Moreover, the rule is turning the attention of for-profit schools away from education and on regulation or the potential for it.  It is time to re-examine the full consequences of the proposed rule before it is implemented – and before it jeopardizes the educational future of thousands of students.

New Study by The Center for College Affordability and Productivity

Today, The Center for College Affordability and Productivity released a study on for-profit higher education. The study found that industry leaders aim to create value for their students by “employing cost-effective strategies to meet market demand.” Supported by Lumina Foundation, the report also found:

‘The single characteristic that most sets for-profit institutions of higher learning apart from the traditional sectors of higher education is the profit motive,’ and economic theory suggests that for-profit schools ‘can only make a profit by providing educational services that are in high demand…[and by providing] something of value for the customer.’


I found this study interesting in its conclusion that the for-profit industry provides a valuable service to students. At a time when many critics are calling for major reforms of the industry, this study found that private sector schools were doing their best to give students the best possible educational experience.

Higher Education?


American higher education has remade itself into a vast job-training program.

-Diane Ravitch


While training students for careers is a departure from the traditional view of higher education as educator rather than trainer, there is something to be said for arming students with the tools necessary to succeed in their intended careers – especially in this economy. In his recent book, Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It, Professor Andrew Hacker argues that colleges and universities are failing by not putting the students first. He opined in a recent NPR interview that we must make math, science, language, reading and foreign language the top five priorities at all levels of education – placing the importance of a liberal arts education well above the need for real world skills.

Although Mr. Hacker appears to argue against training and for education as the responsibility of higher education, it is clear to me that his argument for a graduate’s capacity to perform fundamental mathematics and to read and communicate effectively is really in support of a graduate’s capacity to be marketable and contribute to society.  So I cannot disagree.  On the other hand, what about other marketable, usable skills as a means of also putting students first? Why are we not putting students first by teaching them skills that will propel them into a career? As an educator, I sincerely understand the necessity of improved education in mathematics, science, etc. – knoweldge that you can build upon for the future. However, students also need to meet employers’ expectations for an ability to contribute upon entry into the workplace .

Consider this. Thousands of students spend upwards of $40,000 per year on tuition at traditional universities but end up with jobs paying far less than that once they graduate. To top it off, many of these jobs are not even within their fields of study. Is this fair? No, but it is a reality. On the other hand, students at private sector institutions generally pay a less in tuition and graduate with hands-on experience in a field. These students have marketable skills and can step into their jobs on day one, fully trained.

Education should enable the student and enrich society.  Both traditional schools and private sector ones have a place – and both have a responsibility.