Office of Planning and Budgeting

After five years, $4 million and a lot of effort across many institutions, the National Research Council has released an update to their 1995 assessment of doctoral programs. A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Program in the United States analyzes 2005-06 academic year data collected from over 5,000 doctoral programs at over 200 universities. The NRC collected data directly from faculty, students, graduate programs, and institutions. The Graduate School coordinated UW participation in the assessment, which you can learn more about on their website.

Programs are ranked on the same 21 key variables by two different methodologies, the results of which are reported separately. These methodologies were very complex, but, essentially, the “S” (Survey-Based) rankings weight the relative value of the 21 key variables by program, based on faculty ratings of the relative value of each variables in a given discipline. For example, in the physical sciences, the number of external grants won is weighted more heavily than it would be for an English program. Alternatively, the “R” (Regression-Based) ratings are more similar to the traditional ‘reputation ranking’ where faculty were asked to rank a set of random programs, and then the key variables most associated with the highest ranked programs were assigned the most weight in the overall analysis of programs. Both sets of rankings are reported as ranges (e.g. a program might be ranked as somewhere between 3rd and 11th, at a 90% level of confidence).

While many UW programs do well in these rankings, criticisms of both the data and methodology are important to consider. Inside Higher Ed weighs in with an assessment of the ambivalence surrounding the veracity of the rankings, and the UW’s own Dean of Engineering, Matt O’Donnell, released a statement about possible shortcomings. UW Computer Science & Engineering also issued a strong critique, on which the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The Chronicle also compiled these data in an easy to use format and offered its own analysis of the report’s delay and overall worth.

How meaningful these rankings are will be debated in the days ahead, but there is at least one important and indisputable conclusion included in the report, which is that public universities play an outsized role in educating our nation’s graduate students:

“Seventy-one percent of the programs ranked in the NRC study are in public universities. The proportion of programs in the universities with the largest programs is similar (70 percent). Among the 37 universities that produced 50 percent of Ph.D.’s from 2002 to 2006, 70 percent were public. Although public universities rely increasingly on nonpublic sources of funding, cutbacks in public funding for universities has a powerful effect on doctoral education simply because of how many large Ph.D. programs exist in public universities.”

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine have sponsored an update to their consequential 2005 report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. The latest version is called Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, and can be read online free of charge.

The new report highlights America’s relative decline in global competitiveness by presenting statistics on patent awards, research publications, employer surveys, and student achievement levels in math and science, among other things. While recognizing current economic constraints, the report calls for major investment in and reform of K-12 education, as well as a doubling of the federal basic-research budget to help restore and maintain US competitiveness in the global economy.

One action Congress can take immediately is to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which was passed in 2007 largely as a result of the 2005 Gathering Storm report. This Act received one-time federal stimulus funding in 2009, and is set to expire this year without Congressional action. The UW Office of Federal Relations provides regular updates on their blog regarding the Act’s progress in Congress.

In addition to this report, The National Research Council, at the request of Congress, has created the Committee on Research Universities, a panel of business and higher education leaders, to identify the “top ten actions that Congress, the federal government, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper, and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment, and security in the global community of the 21st century.”

The Committee held its inaugural meeting on September 22nd, and is scheduled to meet again in late November.

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As the UW works to address the recent 6.3% across the board state budget reduction for Fiscal Year 2011 ($17.1 million for the UW) ordered by Governor Gregoire last week, other states across the country also continue to struggle with growing state budget deficits.

While the recession may have technically ended in June 2009, the pace of recovery has been nonexistent or slow for state budgets that continue to experience reduced revenue collections in the face of continuing high levels of unemployment. For good continuing coverage on how the Great Recession continues to wreak havoc on state budgets, visit the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ frequently updated report on State budget cuts.

As we analyze and reconcile these new cuts for 2011, and prepare for the upcoming legislative session where additional cuts seem likely for the 2011-13 biennium, we will keep you updated on the likely impacts for the University.

The Lumina Foundation has just released a report that presents a case for national and state efforts to increase the percent of Americans with a two or four year degree from 37.9% to 60% by 2025. The report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, makes a case based on future economic growth and international competitiveness, and provides a state level analysis that presents degree attainment levels by ethnicity and by county.

They determine that to reach a degree attainment rate of 60 percent by 2025, Washington State will have to increase degree production by 5,421 (5.9%) each year.

As reported by the New York Times, the Lumina Foundation’s focus on college attainment mirrors similar concerns voiced by President Obama, the College Board, the Gates Foundation, and the National Governor’s Association.

How can we tell if college is worth the cost? The economic crisis has some questioning the cost-benefit ratio for post-secondary education, claiming that higher education may be a bubble on the verge of bursting, and that the payoff might not be worth the cost. However, two in-depth reports released this summer presented ample evidence to counter these doubts.

The College Board’s Education Pays 2010: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society highlights the demonstrated direct and indirect benefits of post-secondary education. Their analysis finds that, in 2008, median annual earnings for bachelor’s degree recipients was almost $22,000 per year more than those of high school graduates, that college graduates were more likely to have health and retirement benefits, and that the unemployment rate for college graduates was less than half the rate of high school graduates in 2009. Median earnings for those with professional and doctoral degrees were even higher, with the former earning $58,000 per year more than high school graduates in 2008, and the latter earning $66,000 more.

In addition to monetary benefits, college graduates, even after controlling for personal characteristics, are more satisfied with their jobs, healthier, and more involved citizens and parents.

So, overwhelming evidence proves college worthwhile, but will these wage and lifestyle premiums continue into the future? In June, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a report, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, that analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to project job growth and educational requirements into the future. These economists determined that, by 2018, 63% of available jobs will require at least some college education, and that, at current production rates, the post-secondary system will have produced 3 million fewer college graduates than demanded by the labor market in 2018.

The Center’s state level analysis predicted that between 2008 and 2018, over 1 million new and replacement jobs will open up in Washington, comprising:

  • 94,000 openings for high school dropouts
  • 257,000 openings for high school graduates
  • 677,000 openings for those with some post-secondary training

Taken together, these data-driven reports clearly demonstrate that the benefits of higher education for both the individual and society are tremendous. However, they also demonstrate that access and affordability remain very real concerns that the citizens, government, and institutions must continue to address.

The number of OPB briefs and time sensitive announcements to the campus community about the many things our office is producing and tracking daily has been increasing. To ensure the most timely and least intrusive delivery of this information, we have decided to follow the lead of other units across campus and maintain a blog!

OPBlog: Higher Ed Junction will be a source for up-to-date information, including updates, analysis, and links to the many things we work on, including, but not limited to:

  • UW Budget and policy issues
  • Higher education policy news and trends
  • Institutional research/analysis
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  • Spotlights/links to OPB work products posted to our website

Our blog will allow moderated comments, and we look forward to hearing from our readers! Additionally, please feel free to contact Jessica Thompson at jlthomp@uw.edu with any questions or feedback that you might have.

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