Office of Planning and Budgeting

Along with its survey of the general public, the Pew Center recently published a survey of 1,055 two- and four-year, public, private and for-profit college presidents, concerning the quality, accessibility, and affordability of higher education. The two surveys were conducted around the same time and asked similar questions.  However, there were notable differences between the opinions of college presidents and the general public on key issues in higher education. On the whole, college presidents were less concerned about affordability and access, and more concerned with student and academic program quality. Some highlights of the data include:

  • 38 percent of college presidents think higher education is moving in the wrong direction, with only 7 percent believing the US system will be the best in the world in 2021
  • 42 percent of presidents believe college is affordable for most families (compared with 22 percent of the general population)
  • 17 percent of presidents believe students get excellent value for their money (only five percent of the general population agrees)
  • The majority (58 percent) of college presidents believe students come to college less qualified than their counterparts ten years ago, and only seven percent think current students study more than students ten years ago

Interestingly, leaders of for-profit schools were most likely to be pessimistic about the affordability and direction of higher education and student preparation. Conversely, presidents of the most selective schools were most optimistic about those factors. Furthermore, the majority of college presidents think it is unlikely that the nation will meet President Obama’s degree attainment goals by 2020. To find out more, check out the Chronicle’s analysis, our blog post on the general public survey or read the full Pew Center report here.

While the House and Senate have yet to finish sine die today, both capital and operating budgets are close to final.

The UW’s operating budget cut is $207 million over the biennium. UW’s cuts are comprised of “higher education reductions” and a mandatory 3 percent, general fund state compensation reduction ($12 million per year). Compensation reductions, while mandatory, are not imposed on individual salaries at the colleges and universities but rather, are required compensation savings targets that the University must meet over each fiscal year.

The final operating budget includes a 16 percent resident undergraduate tuition rate cap but provisions from E2SHB 1795 (tuition setting authority bill) are included. The UW Regents will meet June 9, 2011 to discuss tuition setting authority.

The capital budget provides $26.3 million in state bonds for projects like Odegaard Undergraduate Learning Center and minor capital repairs. Additionally, a separate capital budget bill appropriates $53.6 million in UW Building Fees for preventative maintenance and building repairs as well as minor capital repairs.

Please review the OPB’s conference budget brief which assumes that the operating and capital budgets are signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate in their current forms. We will notify campus of any major amendments once the Governor has reviewed the operating and capital budgets.

In an effort to lower instructional costs and increase the quality of class materials in community colleges, President Obama has started a program to promote the creation and use of open educational resources (OERs). OERs are defined as “high-quality” educational materials, such as books, lectures, exams, study guides, and syllabi, which are published under a Creative Commons license and can be freely accessed on the Web. The material can be presented as an entire course, or it can be broken up into individual lessons or tutorials.

The Department of Education has hired Hal Plotkin, a prominent journalist and community college trustee, to expand the prevalence and recognition of OERs worldwide with $2 billion of government funds.

MIT and Carnegie-Mellon each pioneered open courseware programs a decade ago, in order to make their educational materials more accessible to those outside the university. Since then, new services like Khan Academy, a tutorial website, and iTunes U, a collection of free lectures from prestigious institutions, have steadily gained recognition and importance.

Plotkin hopes that the additional funding for OERs will help community colleges offer courses and class materials at a lower cost and improve accessibility for non-traditional students. Federal support for OERs also focuses resources and attention on an e-learning system infrastructure. Plotkin intends to continue the growth and recognition of OERs in order to benefit thousands of interested learners.

The OER movement is gaining ground in Washington State, as well. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges more than $6 million dollars to launch the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. Part of this money will go towards creating an Open Course Library of over 80 high-demand introductory courses at Washington community and technical colleges intended to reduce educational materials costs and encourage free access to common course packs, online lectures, and library materials.

To read more about OERs and the specific program Plotkin manages, check out the Kevin Carey’s summary of the new policy and Plotkin’s own guidebook called “Free to Learn.”

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a large telephone survey of 2,142 Americans to gauge opinions about higher education quality, affordability, and importance. While many respondents reported anxiety about affordability, most valued a college education highly and reported a belief that it would provide career benefits in the future.  Some of the key findings of the survey included:

  • Only 22 percent of respondents believe most Americans could afford to pay the cost of college.
  • 48 percent think families should pay for the majority of the cost of a college education.
  • Of young adults who are not in college, 57% say they chose not to attend because they preferred to work and save money, and 48% claimed they cannot afford to go to college.
  • Average loan debt for students with bachelor’s degrees has hit an all-time high of $23,000, which respondents say has made it harder to make ends meet, buy a home, choose a career, and start a family.
  • Only five percent of the population thinks the higher education system is providing excellent value for money.

These results seemed to reflect a growing concern about college affordability as well as the shift in the responsibility of families versus the government in covering educational costs. Nevertheless, among college graduates, 86 percent believed college had been a good investment for them. Of parents with children aged 17 and younger, fully 94 percent expected their children to go to college. Additionally, most respondents were aware of the large financial benefit of holding a college degree: Another recent Pew survey showed that college graduates make about $650,000 more than high school graduates in their lifetimes. The survey seemed to reflect the belief that, while college is a valuable personal investment, affordability and quality persist as a significant concern.

Note that these results are consistent with other recent surveys we have reported on:

Two major developments have unfolded in the days since we posted about recent controversies gripping public higher education in Texas:

  • The UT system released a massive file of faculty ‘productivity’ data that was compiled at the request of a Task Force created by the Regents and subsequently subject to an open records request from a local newspaper. There are questions about the accuracy of the data, as well as concerns about how the information might be used out of context.
  • Meanwhile, controversial Texas A&M chancellor and former chief of staff for Governor Rick Perry, Mike McKinney, has announced that he will retire on July 1 after five years in the job. E-mails obtained through open records requests show that McKinney was heavily criticized from multiple sides regarding the divisive reforms currently championed by a conservative think thank, the Governor and the Regents. The e-mails reveal that Chancellor McKinney not only faced criticism for doing the bidding of these external stakeholders at the expense of the institution, but was also assailed by the would-be reformers  for implementing the changes they are advocating neither strongly nor swiftly enough.

As of today, House Bill 1795 has passed both the Washington State House and Senate by wide margins and is on its way to the Governor. As outlined in our previous post, this bill gives Washington’s four year public institutions the ability to set resident undergraduate tuition rates, alongside new financial aid and accountability requirements, for a limited time.

Note that due to the ongoing state legislative special session, as well as the need for time to discuss the policy alternatives authorized in HB 1795, the Board of Regents will likely approve the FY 2012 UW operating and capital budgets, including tuition rates for the 2011-12 academic year, at their July 21 meeting instead of in June.

In the meantime, Interim President Phyllis Wise will be holding two community conversations where she will discuss and answer questions about the budget and tuition-setting:

We hope to see you there.

Friday, the Seattle Times published an article about a potential agreement between lawmakers to, given several years of steep funding cuts, allow Washington’s universities to set undergraduate resident tuition rates for a limited number of years and with new financial aid and accountability requirements.

News of this agreement comes as the Legislature is in the middle of a 30 day special session, and while a negotiated budget and resolution on tuition rates for resident undergraduate students is not yet final, a new OPB brief provides some national context for and information about tuition setting policy.

It was speculated that Republican gains in Congress last November could stall the Senate’s aggressive investigation of the for-profit higher education industry and sweeping new Department of Education regulations that are set to go into effect July 1. While bipartisan action in the House did attempt to block some of the regulations, particularly the controversial gainful employment rule, they survived the final 2011 budget deal.

Meanwhile, as federal efforts to better regulate this run-away industry, which enrolls 10 percent of total students, eats up 24 percent of federal aid and accounts for 45 percent of  student loan defaults while making billions of dollars of profit annually, continues, several states, including Florida and Illinois, have launched their own investigations. Today, it has been reported that Attorneys General from at least 10 states will embark on a joint investigation of the industry.

Adding to pressure facing the industry is widespread media coverage, including investigative efforts from the New York Times, ABC News, and Frontline, among others. Even Stephen Colbert has addressed the topic.

While the for profit higher education industry lobbying effort is massive (likely paid for with the federal student aid dollars that, on average, make up over 90 percent of the annual operating budgets for these institutions), mounting scrutiny has already had effect as some of the industry’s largest actors have begun ‘maturing’ some of their practices ahead of anticipated regulations.

For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:

Recent higher education reform efforts in Texas, developed by the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and championed by Governor Rick Perry, have many wondering how much damage might be done to one of the country’s largest and best public university systems.

The ‘solutions‘ proposed by TPPF, and marketed heavily by  board member and major Rick Perry campaign donor Jeff Sandefer, would dramatically shift even the state’s top research campuses away from research and toward teaching. They cast the student in the role of consumer, basing professor pay and tenure decisions primarily on teaching evaluations, replacing state support to institutions with direct grants to students, creating contracts between students and institutions, and maintaining a distinct line between teaching and research activities and funding.

Mike McKinney, Texas A&M Chancellor and former Rick Perry chief of staff, has already drawn national criticism for creating and publishing a ‘balance sheet‘ that measured the revenue generation of each individual faculty member based on salary, teaching, and grant awards. This exercise, promoted by the Governor and TPPF, resulted in a swift rebuke from the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Next, Governor Perry announced that he wanted institutions to create a BA degree that would cost only $10,000 (compared to the current average cost of over $31,000 at Texas public universities). Widespread skepticism of the ability to create a quality degree that would cost so little did not stop the state’s Higher Education Commissioner from embracing the idea.

Then, a senior fellow at TPPF was given a controversial $200,000 consulting position with the UT System. His appointment lasted 50 days before the concerns of the public, legislators and institutions led to his dismissal.

Now, UT System regents’ chairman Gene Powell has circulated a memo that calls for increasing UT enrollment by 10 percent per year for four years and halving tuition at the same time, moves he claims would make UT the best public institution in the country. These recommendations are in direct opposition to a blue ribbon panel that recommended enrollment at UT Austin be reduced to improve the quality of the undergraduate education there. Judith Zaffarini, chairwoman of the state’s Senate Higher Education Committee, has issued sharp criticism of Powell’s suggestions, saying that his goals are “mutually exclusive”  and “detrimental to the pursuit of excellence.”

As this battle rages, others in Texas are weighing in against the reforms, including  alumni and university boosters. Meanwhile, all of higher education is watching to see if Texas will allow one of the nation’s top public institutions, UT Austin, be so radically undermined.