Office of Planning and Budgeting

The US Departments of Treasury and Education teamed up to analyze higher education and economic data, and released a short report that highlights the following familiar points:

  • Education is correlated with higher earnings: median weekly earnings for a worker with a BA degree are now 64% higher than for a worker with only a high school degree.
  • Education is key to socio-economic mobility: almost half of children born into the bottom income quintile remain there as adults compared to only 20% of those who receive a degree.
  • Funding cuts result in higher tuition: Public funding for institutions has, on average, declined from 60% of revenue to less than 40% over two decades while tuition revenue has increased by almost the same amount of the decline.

As a result of the above, federal financial aid has become an increasingly important contributor to college affordability, comprising over half of all grants and loans awarded to students. While protecting and increasing federal funding for aid is imperative, the report makes clear that states and institutions will have to make changes as these trends continue or broad access to higher education in the US will be at serious risk.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a report addressing the effects of state disinvestment on enrollment rates in Californian higher education institutions. California high school graduates, despite applying and being eligible for enrollment, are less likely to enroll in the UC or CSU system today than five years ago. The report blames this decline on state cuts in higher education spending, which has led to skyrocketing tuition and enrollment limits at California schools. While California community colleges have absorbed some of this decrease, the report finds that students are increasingly going out-of-state or not enrolling in college at all.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Enrollment rates of Californians at UC and CSU have fallen by one-fifth in the past five years, from 22 percent of CA high school graduates in 2005 to 18 percent in 2010.
  • UC and CSU have rationed enrollment and increased tuition in order to blunt the effect of decreasing state support on educational quality. Tuition rose by 50 percent between 2007 and 2011 at UC, and by 47 percent at CSU.  Tuition at CA community colleges has also almost doubled in that time.
  • UC has reduced its campus enrollment targets and places students not accepted to their campus of choice into a referral pool, which grants them admission to less popular campuses where they are less likely to enroll. CSU now requires a higher SAT/GPA combination for CA students that live further from their chosen campus in an effort to limit enrollment. Community colleges cannot officially deny enrollment, but they have increased class sizes and decreased program offerings which effectively limits slots.
  • Most students accepted to UC who decide not to enroll there, go to private institutions, usually out of state (34 percent).  30 percent enroll at CSU, 12 percent to community colleges in California, 8 percent to public schools out of state, and 10 percent do not enroll in college at all.

The report finds these trends troubling, since it represents a great loss of human capital to California. Estimates say that two out of five jobs in CA in 2025 will require a bachelor’s degree; if current trends continue, California will be short one million bachelor’s degree holders by that time. The report recommends locking in tuition for four years for each incoming class, offering deferred tuition payment plans, reinvesting in higher education and increasing the availability of financial aid to students in order to combat decreasing enrollment rates. To read the full report, click here.

Jeff Selingo’s recent blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website summarizes conversations he had with students at six higher education institutions about majors, job skills, and online learning. His findings were somewhat surprising and ran counter to many current trends in higher education. First, he learned that students, while completely immersed in the online world otherwise, do not favor online learning. Instead, they crave face-to-face, personal interactions with students and professors. Second, students feel unprepared for choosing a major and a career, and more counseling would be useful in helping students find their ideal career path. Finally, students do not think majors matter that much—instead of pursuing career-specific majors, students want a broad education that exposes them to many disciplines and prepares them to be good learners and thinkers.

As a student, I can relate to most, if not all of Selingo’s findings. I have never taken an online class at the University of Washington, and few undergraduates I know have. Those that have taken online courses say it is much more difficult to stay motivated and keep up with the material when there is no class to go to and no professor or TA to notice if you fall behind. As an International Studies major, discussion and group work are central to my studies and difficult to replicate online. While such classes are likely helpful for non-traditional, working students finishing their degrees, they are not a perfect replacement for an interactive classroom experience.

Selingo’s assertion that students want more career exploration before college is likely accurate, though I know efforts made both in K-12 and higher education in Washington to help students choose careers and majors. The culminating project and High School and Beyond Plan students complete at the end of high school in Washington State is meant to help students identify their interests and strengths and decide on future career and educational goals. FIGs and TRIGs at UW can help students gain an introduction to prospective majors, and career and academic advisors give lots of opportunities for students to explore potential career paths. While certainly not all students seek out help, there are many options and resources for students that look for them.

The finding that surprised me most was that the students Salingo interviewed thought majors did not matter and were not interested in career-specific learning. While most students I know follow their passions and interests when selecting a major, I believe the economic downturn has made my peers more practical about their choices. A student might major in accounting or business instead of economics, or major in biology and pursue their interest in theater in their free time. Many students add second, more job-skills focused majors or minors late in their undergraduate education in order to make themselves more competitive in the job market. Often, internships solicit applications from specific majors like business, engineering or computer science, which pushes students to consider these majors over others in order to get relevant job experience.

To read more of the Chronicle blog post, please click here.

Demos, a research and advocacy organization, recently published a report entitled “The Great Cost Shift” discussing the effects of higher tuition and lower state investment on a growing and diverse college population. The report focuses on the Millennial generation, the group of students born in the 1980s and 90s and beginning to enter college in the 2000s.

 There were 26.7 million young people (ages 18-24) in the US in 1990, and 30.7 million in 2010. This population growth combined with increased participation in higher education created a 37.9 percent undergraduate enrollment increase in public universities over 20 years. Additionally, the Millennial generation is characterized by much greater racial ethnic and racial diversity than previous generations (12.3 percent are African American, 57.2 percent are white, and 20.1 percent are Hispanic). Both the growth and diversity of the young adult population has altered the needs of students, and institutions have had to adjust both services and support as a result.

These changes in the number, type and needs of students over the last 20 years has been accompanied by a steady disinvestment of state governments in higher education, which resulted in significant  tuition increases. The very institutions, public, that have absorbed the majority (65.5%) of enrollment increases have also endured the largest decline in funding per student (26.1% decline in real terms from 1990-2010). As a result, public four-year institutions raised tuition by 112.5 percent, adjusted for inflation, over the same time period while the real median household income rose just 2.1 percent.

While states and institutions have often offset these tuition increases with larger financial aid packages for student with need, it is increasingly not enough to cover students’ educational expenses, and students borrowed 4.5 times more in 2010 than in 2000.

The report concluded with a number of recommendations:

  • Recognizing that lower investment in higher education results in higher tuition and lower access for low and middle-income students, states should appropriate more money to higher ed, especially investing more in large institutions that produce a significant number of degrees.
  • Reform the tax system to relieve the tax burden on low and middle-income families.
  • States should move away from merit-based aid and focus on need-based financial assistance. They should also increase awareness about the benefits of federal student loan programs to decrease the volume of private debt students take on.

To read the entire report, please click here.

Excelencia in Education has produced a report that summarizes college attainment rates within the Hispanic population in all fifty states. The report is intended to highlight the importance of increasing higher education participation and graduation rates among Hispanics if the US is to reach its ambitious attainment goals.

According to the report, Latinos are expected to be 20 percent of the US population by 2020, and because they have a median age that is significantly younger than average (27 compared to 40), over 25 percent of the 18-29 year old population. Yet in 2011, only 21 percent of Latino adults had an AA degree or higher compared to 57 percent of Asians, 44 percent of Whites, and 30 percent of Blacks.

The report’s Washington State profile shows a sizable Hispanic population in Washington and a large attainment gap:

  • Washington has the 12th largest Latino population in the US
  • The median age among Latinos in Washington is 24 compared to 40 among other groups
  • Latinos currently comprise 16% of the K-12 population in Washington
  • 18% of Latino adults (age 25-64) in Washington State have attained an AA degree or higher compared to 43% among others

This report makes even clearer what many employers and higher education officials and experts have known for years: there is much progress to be made in increasing college attainment within the Hispanic population, and as a significant and growing percentage of the  overall population, such gains will be a key factor in whether the US can meet the ambitious goals it has set for college attainment.

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.

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