A few weeks ago, the National Research Council’s Panel on Measuring Higher Education Productivity published its 192-page report on Improving Measurement of Productivity in Higher Education, marking the culmination of a three-year, $900,000 effort funded by the Lumina Foundation and involving 15 higher education policy experts nationwide.
In explaining the need for a new productivity measure, the Panel made several key observations:
It’s all about incentives: Institutional behavior is dynamic and directly related to the incentives embedded within measurement systems. As such, policymakers must ensure that the incentives in the measurement system genuinely support the behaviors that society wants from higher education institutions and are structured so that measured performance is the result of authentic success rather than manipulative behaviors.
Costs and productivity are two different issues: Focusing on reducing the cost of credit hours or credentials invites the obvious solutions: substitute cheap teachers for expensive ones, increase class sizes, and eliminate departments that serve small numbers of students unless they somehow offset their costs. In contrast, focusing on productivity assesses whether changes in strategy are producing more quality-adjusted output (credit hours or credentials) per quality-adjusted unit of input (faculty, equipment, laboratory space, etc.).
Using accountability measures without context is akin to reading a legend without looking at the map: Different types of institutions have different objectives, so the productivity of a research university cannot be compared to that of a liberal arts or community college, not least because they serve very different student populations who have different abilities, goals, and aspirations. The panel notes that, among the most important contextual variables that must be controlled for when comparing productivity measures are institutional selectivity, program mix, size, and student demographics.
The Panel also contributed a thorough documentation of the difficulties involved in defining productivity in higher education. From time to time, it is helpful to remind ourselves that, while it may be “possible to count and assign value to goods such as cars and carrots because they are tangible and sold in markets, it is harder to tabulate abstractions like knowledge and health because they are neither tangible nor sold in markets”. The diversity of outputs produced by the institutions, the myriad inputs used in its activities, quality change over time and quality variation across institutions and systems all contribute to the complexity of the task.
Despite these difficulties, the Panel concluded that the higher education policy arena would be better served if it used a measure of productivity whose limitations were clearly documented than if it used no measure of productivity at all. It proposed a basic productivity metric measuring the instructional activities of a college or university: a simple ratio of outputs over inputs for a given period. Its preferred measure of output was the sum of credit hours produced, adjusted to reflect the added value that credit hours gain when they form a completed degree. Its measure of input was a combination of labor (faculty, staff) and non-labor (buildings and grounds, materials, and supplies) factors of production used for instruction, adjusted to allow for comparability. The Panel was careful to link all components of its formula to readily available data published in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) so that its suggested measure may easily be calculated and used. It also specified how improvements to the IPEDS data structure might help produce more complete productivity measures.
The key limitation in the Panel’s proposal – fully acknowledged in the report – is that it does not account for the quality of inputs or outputs. As the Panel notes, when attention is overwhelmingly focused on quantitative metrics, there is a high risk that a numeric goal will be pursued at the expense of quality. There is also a risk that quantitative metrics will be compared across institutions without paying heed to differences in the quality of input or output. The report summarizes some of the work that has been done to help track quality, but concludes that the state of research is not advanced enough to allow any quality weighting factors to be included in its productivity formula.
While readers may lament the Panel’s relegation of measures of quality to further research, especially given the time and resources invested in its effort, the report remains a very useful tool in understanding the issues involved in assessing productivity in higher education and provides valuable food for thought for policymakers and administrators alike.
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.
AAUP released its annual academic salary information this week. The data show, once again, that faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation, that they have not increased significantly over many years, and that the pay gap between professors at public and private institutions continues to grow.
Although these data do not address the rapidly increasing costs of benefits (healthcare especially), they do make clear that the growing cost of tuition is not primarily driven by increasing faculty salaries, a popular argument. Don’t expect that explanation to fall out of favor, however, as previous years of data have seemed to make no impact on its prevalence.
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.
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.
As we continue to experience a very slow recovery from a deep recession, the ideas of long-time critics of modern, inclusive American higher education who question the value of college for many have gained traction and blossomed into widespread public speculation about whether undergraduate education might be the next economic bubble to threaten the US economy. We explore this topic in the latest OPB brief and hold that, in the context of data, the ‘bubble’ metaphor, though effective at capturing public attention in an economic climate characterized by fear and uncertainty, is ultimately inaccurate, misleading, and harmful.
We would love to hear your feedback on this topic!
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report that investigates the importance of American science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions in the US economy and the perceived shortage of qualified STEM workers to fill them. The report finds that, contrary to popular belief, America already has enough students studying STEM related fields to potentially satiate the demand for STEM workers in the economy without seeking talent from abroad. However, they hold that a process they label ‘diversion’ redirects many students majoring in STEM fields toward employment in non-STEM areas because their professional interests and values do not correspond with traditional STEM jobs. The Center estimates that 43 percent of students that graduate with STEM majors immediately choose non-STEM jobs. It also finds that many high school students capable of entering STEM majors, as measured by their math SAT scores, choose not to because of their preferences or values.
The Center also provided some interesting statistics on the present and future of STEM professions, including:
- Wages in STEM fields are, on average, higher than wages in other fields (no matter what level of educational attainment), though healthcare and professional and managerial occupations still have higher wages
- Women and minorities are still underrepresented in STEM jobs, with women constituting only 23 percent of STEM workers. Women and minorities also make less than Caucasian men in STEM positions, though the wage gap is smaller than for other occupations.
- STEM jobs will grow to represent 5 percent of the labor market in 2018.
- Two thirds of STEM jobs will require a Bachelor’s degree or higher by 2018.
To read more about this report, check out the Executive Summary or the full report. Also note Inside Higher Ed’s discussion of the report and our previous blog posts on Georgetown Center reports:
The US Department of Education’s Stats in Brief from October 2011 entitled “Borrowing at the Maximum” investigates the percentage and demographics of students who take out federal subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, and how this has changed over time. The report also seeks to differentiate between those who take out the program maximum loan amount and those who take out their personal maximum amount (adjusted for their financial need and the cost of their education). Some interesting findings include:
- the proportion of borrowers has increased significantly over time, from 27 percent of students receiving federal Stafford loans averaging $7,200 (inflation adjusted) in 1989/90, to 46 percent borrowing an average of $10,300 by 2007/08.
- 43 percent of those borrowing in 2007-08 took out the program maximum Stafford loan amount, while 60 percent took out their personal maximum amount (which can equal the maximum amount for some).
- 30 percent of those taking out Stafford loans also took out private loans, whereas only six percent of students not taking out federal loans did. Furthermore, 16-18 percent of the parents of those students borrowing through the Stafford program also took out Parents PLUS loans.
- Students taking out Stafford loans to help finance their education were less likely to have full-time jobs.
- 73 percent of students who took out Stafford loans also received grants.
To read more about the findings or methodology of this report, check out the full report here.
The Times Higher Education/Thomson Reuters World University Rankings for 2011-12 were released today and the University of Washington ranked 25th, one of only five public US institutions to make the top 25 (UC Berkeley was the highest ranking US public at 10).
US News and World Report recently ranked the UW 42nd among all national universities in the US, while the Academic Ranking of World Universities ranked the UW at 16.
These rankings help to validate the world class teaching, research and service that take place here at the UW every day. However, it is good to cast a critical eye on the business of ranking universities in general, and this column published by Inside Higher Education does a great job of summarizing some of the questions we should always ask of such ranking endeavors.
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