Office of Planning and Budgeting

Political Science professor Charli Carpenter made an 8 minute video presentation at the International Studies Association (ISA) conference last week in San Diego that has since been making the Internet rounds. The provocative video ‘mash-up’ highlights the changes and challenges that social media and other web technologies have brought to traditional academic work and communication. While focused on International Relations, the points are widely applicable across disciplines.

Carpenter presents these massive changes, what she refers to as a broadening and flattening of knowledge, quite uncritically. However, she does emphasize that she is not ready to judge them good or bad for academia or for knowledge, but feels there are a number of testable questions about the impact of technology and social media on the intersection of academia and the ‘rest of the world’ that should be the focus of systematic analysis.

As higher education faces external challenges from a host of stakeholders about its value, real world application, and adaptation to the modern world, the topics addressed in this presentation are especially interesting. Does broad and flat come at the expense of focused and deep?

At the beginning of the economic downturn in late 2008, a higher than expected number of Americans turned to higher education, leading to a 7.1 percent increase in college enrollment for 2009. This phenomenon is typical of recessions as many need to refresh their qualifications and/or increase their skill sets when faced with a volatile job market. A new NCES report finds that while enrollment increased again in 2010, it went up by at a more modest rate, 2.8 percent. Some other interesting findings from the latest NCES data include:

  • For first-time freshmen, one-year retention rates were 72 percent for full-time students, but only 44 percent for part-time students.
  • Public four-years got 19 percent of their funding from tuition dollars, while private non-profits and for-profits relied on tuition for 33 percent and 91 percent of their revenues, respectively.
  • The average six-year graduation rate for full-time students across all four-year schools, public and private, was 58 percent in 2004.
  • In 2009-2010, 82 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduates received financial aid. Of those students receiving grant aid, the average net price (sticker price minus grant aid) of attending a public 4-year university was $10,200 (the net price was $16,700 at private non-profits and $23,800 at private for-profits).
  • Men made up a slightly higher proportion of enrollments in 2009 than they did in 2008, 42.8 percent versus 42.6 percent respectively.

To take a look at the report and data, click here. Find additional analysis in this Inside Higher Ed article.

 The Lumina Foundation set an ambitious goal to increase the percent of Americans with a two or four year degree from 37.9 percent to 60 percent by 2025. This goal has been picked up and echoed by many, including President Obama. In its latest status report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, the foundation finds that degree attainment is increasing, but not quickly enough to reach the 2025 goal. The percentage of American working-age adults with college degrees has increased to 38.3 percent in 2010 from 37.9 percent in 2008.

The report emphasizes that faster degree attainment growth is necessary to ensure the US has enough qualified workers to meet the needs of the rapidly changing economy, which they estimate will require 60 percent of workers to have some form of higher education.  According to the report, attainment could be increased by increasing high school graduation rates and boosting degree attainment for minorities and adults with some college but no degree.

The report also includes a state-by-state breakdown of attainment rates. Seattle has the fifth-highest degree attainment rates of metropolitan areas in the US, with 48 percent of working-age adults holding college degrees. A higher-than-average percentage of Washington residents hold college degrees—42.5 percent versus 38.3 percent nationally in 2010. Twenty-five percent of Washington residents have some college credit but no degree, which the report claims could be a good avenue for increasing degree attainment. However, differences between population groups remain: Asian and White degree attainment is at 54.5 percent and 44.8 percent, respectively, but less than 30 percent of Black, Latino and Native American, working-age Washingtonians hold college degrees. While attainment in Washington State is growing, the report finds faster growth is needed to add 471,000 degrees by 2025.

To read more, check out the full report here.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, conducted in late February, the majority of all Americans think higher education contributes positively to the country, while those identifying themselves as conservative were more likely to doubt its benefits. While 67 percent of Democrats believe college affects the country positively, only 51 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of conservative Republicans agree. For those who self-identify as agreeing with the Tea Party, only 38 percent think colleges have a positive effect and 47 percent think they have a negative effect.

That said, both Democrats and Republicans who have experienced higher education think it was a worthwhile personal investment (81 percent and 85 percent, respectively). Furthermore, parents of all political backgrounds fully expect their children to go to college: 99 percent of Republican parents, 96 percent of parents who are Democrats and 93 percent of Independents hope their children will receive higher education.

Finally, the primary purpose of college is debated across the political spectrum. While liberal Democrats tend to say college should focus most on enhancing the student personally and intellectually (47 percent), 52 percent of conservative Republicans think college should focus primarily on teaching skills and knowledge needed in the work world. In general, 47 percent of survey respondents thought skills were the most important, while 39 percent believed personal growth was the crucial component of a college education.

To read more about the survey, please follow the link to the Pew Center report here.

Data released by the Census Bureau yesterday shows that 30 percent of Americans aged 25 and over held a Bachelor’s degree or more in 2011, an unprecedented level of higher education attainment. The percentage of Bachelor’s degree holders has increased steadily from less than 25 percent in 1998. While this is encouraging news, some warn that three problems remain: racial and gender inequality, highly differentiated earnings based on choice of major, and persistently low attainment levels in comparison to the rest of the world.

Though all racial and ethnic minorities have increased their share of Bachelor’s degrees earned, the level of educational attainment is highly stratified by race. 50 percent of Asian Americans, 34 percent of white people 20 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Hispanic Americans 25 years and older held Bachelor’s degrees in 2011. Hispanic Americans have, however, increased their degree attainment by 80 percent since 2001. While women have overtaken men in the number of Bachelor’s degrees earned, they still lag behind in the number of doctorate degrees attained: 1.9 million for men versus 1.2 million for women. Encouragingly, the number of women attaining doctorate degrees has increased by 90 percent over the last ten years.

Some caution that majors matter: some studies show that a worker with an associate’s degree in engineering will make an average of $4,257 per month while workers with bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts or education will make $4,000 and $3,417, respectively. They argue that higher amounts of bachelor’s degrees will not be very useful unless they translate into higher earnings for workers in the long run.

Finally, despite an increase in higher education attainment, the United States is nowhere close to being the world leader in educational achievement: Canada, Japan and South Korea occupy those positions.  According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development the US is now ranked 16th internationally in terms of degrees earned, down from 12th in 2009.

Despite an encouraging increase in educational attainment in 2011, there is still more work to be done to ensure America’s higher education system reaches more students. To read more about the Census Bureau’s findings, check out Inside Higher Ed, The Washington Post, the Census Bureau’s press release or the original data.

A new report put out by the National Science Foundation examines math and science education at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary level. In general, the news is sobering: elementary and secondary proficiency in science and math is languishing below 40 percent nationwide. Chapter 8 of the report focuses on state indicators, featuring state-by-state breakdowns of science and math education. Important indicators include the number of Bachelor’s degrees conferred, the proportion of degrees in science and engineering (S&E) fields, state expenditures on higher education, and the prevalence of S&E jobs in the workforce. Interesting findings include:

  • In 2009, 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees were conferred in the United States, up 29 percent since 2000. Of these degrees, more than 501,000 were in S&E fields. In Washington State, 32.9 percent of degrees conferred were S&E degrees.
  • During 2010, the annual sticker price for a public 4-year education was $15,014, which represents a 43 percent increase since 2000 (after adjusting for inflation). This does not represent net price, since this number does not include financial aid.
  • In 2009, undergraduate education at a state institution consumed 35.7 percent of a Washington resident’s disposable income. Note that this number does not account for the 20 percent tuition hike in 2010.
  • State funding for major public research universities per student enrolled in 2000 was $10,107, which dropped to $8,815 in 2009.
  • In Washington, 32.5 percent of 25-44 year olds hold a bachelor’s degree.
  • 5.83 percent of Washington’s residents in 2009 were employed in S&E fields, up from 5.16 percent in 2000.
  • Washington has one of the highest rates of patents awarded per worker in S&E occupations in the US—28.2 patents per 1000 S&E workers.

The report indicates that research is flourishing and that Washington is increasingly awarding more degrees in S&E fields, but also that state funding for higher education and affordability have decreased dramatically. We will explore this report more in future posts. To read more about the report, check out the Higher Ed Chronicle post or read the full report.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce issued a new report,  Hard Times, which focuses once again on why a college education is so important to employment and earnings in the US economy. While persistent critics of the value of higher education point to the recently rising unemployment rate for new college graduates, 8.9 percent, the report points out that for workers with only a high school degree the unemployment rate is 22.9 percent, and 31.5 percent for high school dropouts. The combined unemployment rate for all workers with a BA degree is currently 5 percent.

In addition to pointing out the positive correlation between college education and earnings and employment, the report analyzes data by college major. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that the unemployment rate for majors closely tied to a particular industry or job (such as healthcare, business and education) was lower than the rate for those with more generalized degrees. The exception to this were majors like Architecture that are so closely tied to a currently ailing industry that current unemployment rates are the highest of all.

Ultimately, as the economy recovers and the recent graduates gain more experience, all graduates are expected to enjoy improved employment rates.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute published an interesting paper recently called Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning. While primarily focused on the role of technology in K-12 education, the paper provides perspective for higher education as well. This topic is especially important as the economic crisis continues to push universities to produce more with less and, as a result, demands to scale up online learning intensify.

The paper recognizes the hope and possibility that technology will produce productivity gains in education over the long-term, but addresses major questions about quality and cost and emphasizes the need for systematic testing and analysis prior to radically changing today’s teaching model. Among the important points brought up in the paper:

  • We must question not only whether online learning can be less expensive than traditional learning, but, more importantly, whether it can be both less expensive and at least as good (or better) in quality and outcomes. We do not yet have enough data to answer this question.
  • The world of online learning is not monolithic. There are many ways to integrate technology with learning , and each model has very different costs and benefits and downsides.
  • Like with any new model, the start-up costs are very high and require a large up-front  investment.
  • Many assume that online learning will minimize labor costs by reducing a reliance on in-person instruction, but labor costs associated with developing, running, and maintaining sophisticated technology-based programs are themselves very high.
  • Similarly, online learning requires a dependence on expensive equipment (not only individual learning devices for teachers and students, but also servers, storage, and all the needs that accompany the maintenance and management of a large, technology-based enterprise).
  • Because technology changes so frequently, many of these costs are confronted anew on a much more regular basis than in a traditional educational model (e.g. Universities spending millions to wire entire campuses and then very quickly having to switch everything over to WiFi).

Technology has revolutionized how we live and do business in the modern world. This has been true in education as well, but the effect has not yet been as transformative as was hoped for. As education becomes more important in developing the human capital required for the economy of the future, its rising costs have become a bigger target for reform. And while it is clear that technology can and should play a larger role in changing how we educate the students of tomorrow, it is important that neither the tools of education nor the cost of education take precedence over the quality of the education.

The New York Times Economix blog has some recent posts discussing new data that continue to illustrate the economic benefits of a college education. Check out all Economix posts that have been tagged with the topic Is College Worth it.

These data and conclusions align with our recent OPB brief, Is Undergraduate Education America’s Next Economic Bubble.

A new telephone survey, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, suggests that although Californians appreciate the quality of their higher education system, they are concerned about the direction in which it is headed. In fact, only 28 percent of Californians think that the system is headed in the right direction, while 62 percent claim it is headed in the wrong direction. While respondents still believe higher education is integral to future success in the workplace, they are worried that affording higher education is becoming increasingly difficult.

Californians’ main concern for the future of higher education is affordability. 61 percent believe affordability is a big problem. Among parents of college students in California, 77 percent are very concerned about the increasing tuition. Fully 69 percent of Californians do not believe we should increase fees to fund higher education. Furthermore, only half of respondents agree that financial help is available for those who need it, and 75 percent believe that students must borrow too much for college.

Respondents mainly blame California’s government for the declining affordability of higher education. Only 29 percent think Governor Jerry Brown is handling higher education well, and only 14 percent think the legislature is doing a good job. 74 percent say the state does not fund higher education adequately. This assertion breaches the ideological divide, with 58 percent of Republicans agreeing that more funding is needed. However, respondents are split on their willingness to pay higher taxes to support higher education (52 percent unwilling, 45 percent willing).

To read more about the survey, check out the full report here.

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