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.


Gainful Employment Rule Coming Out Today

The Department of Education is set to release the Gainful Employment rule today according to several news sources:

Chronicle of Higher Education – Education Department Takes Aim at For-Profits With Student-Debt Rule

Inside Higher Ed – Splitting the Difference on Gainful Employment

Associated Press – Proposed federal rules target for-profit colleges

Wall Street Journal – U.S. to Scrutinize For-Profit Career Colleges

Washington Post – Administration proposal aims to tighten oversight of for-profit colleges

Reuters – U.S. rule would force education cos to show work

New York Times – U.S. Releases Rules on For-Profit Colleges

USA Today –  Plan would crack down on for-profit college industry

Rumor has it…

Rumors abound that the Department of Education aims to loosen the restrictions on its proposed gainful employment rule. And recent shifts in stock prices reflect optimism that these whisperings will prove to be true.  But what does this mean?

Department of Education spokesperson Justin Hamilton e-mailed the following statement:

“What our proposal will do is balance the need to protect students and taxpayers while strengthening the critical role for-profit schools will play in helping us meet the president’s 2020 goal: for America to once again lead the world in the number of college graduates.”


For months, I have been writing that the proposed gainful employment rule has the potential to leave low-income and minority students out in the cold. The Department’s recent statement indicates the intent to move ahead with a rule that restricts access to higher education by focusing apparent dislike for private sector institutions ahead of the desire to help students seeking higher education.

My admiration for Secretary Duncan leads me to hope that Mr. Hamilton’s emailed statement means that the amended rule will recognize the critical role of for-profit schools.  The rule is scheduled to be released shortly by the Department of Education.

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.

Venus Williams

“Most of you know me as a tennis player,” Ms. Venus Williams opened with at the National Press Club on July 12th in Washington, DC.  She was in town to promote her book, “Come to Win”. What you may not know about Venus outside of her amazing tennis career, is that she is a graduate of a for profit college- The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  Venus graduated from Ai with a degree in Fashion Design. She launched her clothing line with a major national retailer and also founded V Star Interiors, an interior design firm. Forbes Magazine named her one of the top 100 most powerful celebrities.

While I have often focused on how private sector colleges provide opportunities to students at risk such as low-income individuals, minorities, single parents and many more, Venus Williams is an outstanding example of how individuals chose for profit higher colleges because they play a vital role in higher education.

Obviously, Venus has an income that would allow her to attend any higher education institution of her choosing.  The fact that she selected the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, speaks volumes for the quality of education that institution provides.  It’s time critics of these schools take a better look at the industry and education, including not only the bad examples, but the good.

Lowering Default Rates

Despite the overtly negative tone of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s story, “Business Is Up in Keeping Default Rates Down,” two things are clear:

  • For-profits are committed to lowering default rates: “Default management has become a flourishing practice and business in its own right, and colleges are seeking help on that front with increasing urgency.”
  • For-profit colleges serve a large majority of at-risk students: “Most for-profit colleges enroll more low-income and working-adult students than higher education does as a whole, and college leaders in that sector say that is a major reason for their high default rates.”

While the story seems to advocate a “misalignment in interests” between the students and the school in managing loan defaults, the article misses the point by targeting assumed motivation rather than positive outcome. Truly, default management is in the same interest as the students, the school, and the government.

“Mr. Hawn, of ECMC, says the practical realities of default-management protect against abuse, as does the ethos of the industry …Colleges aren’t looking to cut corners either, Mr. Hawn ads.  “So far I’ve not run into any school that’s saying, ‘Dave, just focus on the easiest thing,’ he says.”


One Size Does Not Fit All

Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Jennifer Gonzalez makes a very interesting point in her article “Nonprofit Colleges Have Their Own Concerns About New Federal Rules” stressing that it’s not just the proprietary schools that are having concerns with the proposed Dep of Ed regulations.

Mollie Benz Flounlacker, associate vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities says “There is concern that some of these regulations targeting the for-profit sector will have a spillover effect. This one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in higher education, which has such a diverse set of institutions.”

Students and their learning needs vary enormously.  One-size does not fit all, and traditional colleges and universities are well aware of the resulting challenge.  Schools shouldn not be regulated in a one-size-fits-all approach.

In the same article from the Chronicle, it was also interesting to note C. Todd Jones’ comment. He is the president and general counsel of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. He makes the point that “the department has created a new regulatory regime to fix a problem that they have not fully articulated with a solution whose impact they don’t fully understand.”

As with any federal rule-making, , there are going to be concerns on both sides of the issue. It is important for the Department to consider the various and unintended consequences of its regulations. At the end of the day, the U. S. needs to consider what is best for the student and what is best for raising U. S. economic competitiveness through education.  And a one-size-fits-all approach probably is not a solution.