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.
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.
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.