Change to Higher Education – Possible with The President’s New College Scorecard

Last week, Penley on Education and Energy joined others in praising President Obama for the Department of Education’s (DoE) new College Scorecard.  Following the State of the Union address, the DoE made available a new information site about college costs, including tuition and student debt.  It plans to offer more information such as employment outcomes later.

Making American higher education more accessible and successful has been a common topic for this blog.   The concern for access with success comes from a concern about students’ readiness for higher education along with affordability of colleges and universities and the extent to which the resulting education lives up to its promise of knowledge and skills needed by the American labor force.  Already the scorecard addresses affordability, and plans include information on the extent to which colleges and universities deliver on employment.

A focus on employment is not inconsistent with valuing a liberal arts education at the undergraduate level.  Those of us who received our baccalaureate education from a liberal arts college appreciate what we found in the opportunity to hone analytic and cognitive skills.  We also hope that we are better citizens as a consequence of that education.  But many of us went onto to pursue professional education in areas like business, law, and medicine.

The US needs a well-educated workforce – with the analytical skills promised by a liberal education – and the knowledge and skills needed by employers.  Our economic prosperity depends upon it, and this is clear from economic growth theory that makes the quality of labor and technological advances central to improvements in economic prosperity.  The DoE’s College Scorecard offers hope that higher education will focus more directly upon cost, speed to degree, and employability.  Time to degree matters; shorter degree programs like three-year undergraduate degrees and one-year MBAs lower debt.

With the addition of information from the College Scorecard on employment, there will also be more motivation for colleges and universities to become far more market-driven rather than faculty-driven.  This information, when it is available, will lead colleges and universities to design their degree programs based on the knowledge and skills that matter upon graduation.  That employer-driven focus on the market will have a positive impact on the quality of our labor force.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on student debt is evidence that the Scorecard will have an impact.  Quoting one parent, the Journal reported her saying, “ . . . it would have been ‘absolutely wonderful’ to have such information when her family was picking colleges.”  In other words, the Scorecard will drive parents and students toward some schools and away from others.  That will, indeed, drive change toward increased access – lower tuition and faster time to degree – and greater success – the knowledge and skills needed for employment.   This is good news.

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The President on Education – Choice and Vouchers

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the role of education in our economic recovery.  It is education that gives the middle class opportunity for participation in our economy.  The President is right.  Education’s potential for producing that outcome depends, however, upon two fundamental elements that underlie his thesis.  The first is market-based choice in education and the second is the money necessary for the children of working class parents.

A local friend of mine produces annually a map of high- and low-scoring school districts from his company, Maps & Facts, Unlimited.  The map is one of my favorites; it uses red for high scoring districts and blue for those that yield low or failing scores on standardized tests.  There is little surprise in the location of the red and blue on the map.  The top-scoring school districts are those with the highest per capita income where the best-educated parents live.

America’s promise of opportunity is belied by the increasingly differential opportunity that our children have based on their parents’ education and income.  If America is to make good on its promise – and sustain its economic prowess – change is essential.  Like their wealthier counterparts, poor children must have access to quality education. The President is right.

What is essential, however, is the means to educational access.  Already the President is making clear that parents deserve choice.  He did so via the Department of Education’s new College Scorecard that reveals important data about costs of higher education.  But that same commitment to giving students and their parents a choice should be extended to K-12 education as well.  Allowing more charter schools and providing students with vouchers makes available to working class parents what wealthier parents and their children already have – choice and the means to pay for it.

All of America’s citizens deserve educational opportunity.  Education drives economic growth along with market-based technological innovation.  Making education available to all, however, is the challenge.

For too long we have been reticent to let the market and market information drive educational choice.  The Department of Education’s website is a step in the right direction.  For too long we have assumed that poor children must accept only their local school.  And that local school may not be the best choice for some children from less wealthy households anymore than it is for some children from the wealthiest.  Vouchers give to the poor what the wealthy have long had – the means to that choice.  Let’s look for more action from Washington that encourages states and local school districts to act in favor of open enrollment opportunity and the money to make choice real for all.

Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 2

 

 

On Friday, I posted the first part of a two-part series on Obama’s recent executive order regarding regulation. This second part will introduce a new focus of my blog – energy. As president of Colorado State University, I was committed to improving the energy efficiency of our campus and have previously served on the advisory board of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on current issues in energy.

On the same day as President Obama issued the executive order – – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explaining the rationale for his action and his responsibility to “strike the right balance” between the costs and benefits of regulation.  He used as a major example of regulation gone awry the EPA’s continued treatment of the artificial sweetener, saccharin, as a dangerous chemical despite the FDA’s long-term consideration of saccharin as safe.

President Obama’s focus on the role of environmental regulation struck me as particularly apt and of considerable importance to many of us who have led large higher education institutions.  Many university presidents, include myself, have sought to address the challenges associated with the environment, particularly, the role that energy production and utilization plays in producing greenhouse gases.  When I was president of Colorado State University, I took several such actions –  promoting a research focus in renewable energy, creating a School of Global Environmental Sustainability to support students’ education and job potential, and introducing a variety of initiatives to address the risings costs of the University’s energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the institution.

I took these actions for a variety of reasons, including the body of science associated with climate change, documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Climate Change 2007.  But I also took these actions for two other reasons.  Students deserve to have access to knowledge on energy and the environment based on sound science, not merely opinion.  Finally, universities face growing, projected costs of energy, and a president has responsibility to assure the campus’s future energy supply at reasonable costs.

Those of us presidents who have addressed the challenges associated with energy on a college campus understand the complexities of the challenge, including the responsibility that we have – like the President – to “strike the right balance.”  While research and the technology that comes from it are increasing the potential of sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels, we understand the limitations of new technologies at this time and the costs associated with them.  Our on-going dependency on fossil fuels requires a pragmatic acceptance of the lack of a near-term, adequate substitute for them.  Thus, we find ourselves, like President Obama, measuring costs against benefits.  With the growing, global appetite for energy, we must insist on pragmatism, balancing the benefits of replacement of fossil fuels with the costs of their renewable substitutes.  That is the reason why regulation must be imposed only with great care.

Essentially, energy is another issue where access and success are intertwined with one another.  Customers, including universities, need access to energy, and universities, especially, have a responsibility for the long-term success of our energy industry: education of its employees, the development of new technology, including the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and managing the costs of energy.  Thus, President Obama’s determination to “strike the right balance” in regulation is welcome.  I join him in supporting regulation that does so, and from time to time, I will comment on energy from the perspective of an educator and manager who has responsibility for assuring access to a reasonably priced supply of energy.

Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 1

 

 

This past week, President Obama issued the executive order – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview.  The actions by President Obama are a very positive sign, especially in light of the newly introduced regulations of the Department of Education this past year.  Those regulations in the areas of “new programs” and “gainful employment” have the potential to be very costly to higher education, and many of us have believed that they did not strike the right balance between protecting consumers of education with assuring consumers access to education.  President Obama had called for an approach that would “strike the right balance” in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, explaining the rationale for his action

The Department of Education’s gainful employment rule and its approval process for new programs have the potential to impact negatively both higher education and the broader economic recovery.  They can do so by slowing the growth of new programs with a “chilling effect” on new programs that comes from the additional, imposed processes associated with adding new programs.  They can also slow growth in higher education by imposing additional risk to the potential yield from new educational programs due to threats from the gainful employment rule.  Their impact may well limit innovation and growth in new jobs in this very large sector of our economy.

But perhaps the more significant potential impact of regulations like the ones the Department of Education chose to implement is on the slowed growth in human capital that comes from limiting job-related training and education for industry sectors where the value of human capital is increasingly critical.  U. S. productivity matters, and one way we increase our productivity is through education that improves the quality of our labor supply.

I applaud the direction that President Obama has announced, and I look forward to its effect throughout government, including the Department of Education.

Be sure to check back on Monday, as I will post Part 2 of this blog on an exciting new issue that I hope to blog about more in the future.