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.