Office of Planning and Budgeting

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.

With the special legislative session wrapped up here in Washington, and regular session not set to begin until January 9th, here is some of what has been happening in higher education elsewhere.

Federal Budget Agreement Preserves but Alters Pell Grants: It appears that a last minute FY2012 budget agreement in Washington DC will avert a federal government shutdown. It is reported that this agreement, which cuts billions of dollars and increases NIH funding by a modest one percent, preserves the maximum Pell Grant amount of $5,500 (a priority for Democrats), but alters eligibility. Under this language, Pell grants could only be used for 12 total semesters, not 18. Additionally, the annual income threshold at which a student is automatically determined to have zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is lowered from $30,000 to $23,000. Stay tuned to the Office of Federal Relations  for frequent updates on these budget negotiations.

Berkeley Unveils New Aid Program: UC Berkeley made big news this week for announcing a new financial aid program aimed at middle class Californians. Students from families making up to $80,000 per year already attend UC schools tuition-free in California. Under this new plan, UC Berkeley students from families making between $80,000 and $140,000 will have to contribute a maximum of 15 percent of annual income toweard the total cost of attendance at Berkeley (currently $32,000, including room and board). The student would also have to contribute about $8,000 per year via loans, work study or scholarships. According to the New York Times, based on current costs, this programs represents a discount ranging from 10 to 37.5 percent for families that fall within the specified income range. A number of private insitututions have similiar programs, but Berkeley is reported to be the first large public institution to follow suit.

Lariviere Out, Berdahl in at Oregon: After less than three years, Richard Lariviere has been fired by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education as President of the University of Oregon following a year in which he found himself at odds with the state System as he pushed for greater independence for the University of Oregon. The controversial move to oust a President who enjoyed student, faculty, and alumni support, was immediately followed by the appointment of Robert Berdahl as interim president. Berdahl is a former long-time University of Oregon professor and Dean, and has also served as the President of the University of Texas, and UC Berkeley Chancellor, among other roles. Berdahl recently ended his tenure as AAU President and took a highly publicized position as a part-time advisor to Lariviere at the University of Oregon.

More Higher Ed Cuts in CA: California Governor Jerry Brown announced another billion dollars in mid-year state  budget cuts this week as yet another growing budget deficit loomed. The mid-year cuts include another $300 million reduction for the state’s three higher education systems (UC, CSU, and community colleges), which comprise the largest public higher education system in nation. While UC hopes to use temporary funds to bridge this latest cut for a year, further capped enrollments and tuition increases may be likely throughout the system.

VA Announces New Investments in Higher Ed: Meanwhile, Virginia is one of the only states increasing higher education funding. Governor McDonnell announced a new $100 million in funding for higher education, alongside new capital funding for longer term growth. The money is intended to support the goals contained in legislation passed last year, including increasing college attainment in Virginia, increasing affordability, and increasing the number of STEM and health related degrees awarded.

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.

Released this morning, the November state revenue forecast indicates that the state is short another $122 million below needed revenue for the current biennium. Dr. Arun Raha, Executive Director of the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council, wrote that uncertainty over Southern Europe’s debt crisis and potential political gridlock in Washington, D.C., produced largely expected economic results predicted in September’s dismal forecast. In essence, we still have a $2 billion budget problem and since September, it has grown by $122 million.

The Governor will use this forecast as her benchmark for budget reductions in the 2012 Supplemental budget (first supplemental budget of the 2011-13 biennium). All told, the Governor will need to cut over $2 billion from the current biennial budget in order to produce a balanced budget, which she is required to do before proposing any revenue increases to offset reductions.

This budget will be released this Monday, November 21. We will release a budget brief and blog detailing the impact of the Governor’s budget on the UW as soon as possible. While the Governor’s budget release is a critical first step of the special and regular legislative sessions, we are months away from a final legislative budget.

A new report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds that higher education is becoming increasingly integral to earning a middle class wage. The Center predicts that, in 2018, while there will still be jobs for high school dropouts and workers with only a high school degree, good jobs for these candidates will be scarce and an associate’s degree, and for many, a bachelor’s degree will be necessary.

The report seeks to paint a picture of the likely employment landscape in 2018, including those job fields (or “clusters”) that are expected to be growing and pay higher wages. It further analyzes what educational qualifications jobs in that cluster will require, finding that upward mobility for workers without higher education will be difficult to achieve—most workers do not stay in the same job for very long and most higher-paying jobs require more education, not simply more experience. Other key findings include:

  • In 2018, 37 percent of jobs are expected to require a high school diploma or less. Of these jobs, however, only one third will pay over $35,000 a year (defined here as the Minimum Earnings Threshold necessary to enter the middle class) and will be concentrated in the areas of Transportation, Distribution and Logistics, Architecture and Construction, and Manufacturing. The higher paying clusters are also heavily male-dominated, making higher education even more determinant for women seeking higher paying employment.
  • Completing any degree significantly improves a worker’s job prospects and earnings. 54 percent of workers with an A.A .degree earn more than $35,000 a year, as do 69 percent of workers with B.A.s and 80 percent of workers with M.A.s.
  • Health Sciences, Information Technology, Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security are career clusters defined by this report as High Wage, High Demand, and High Skill. This means that wages are higher than the average wage, employment is growing quickly (more than 10 percent expected between 2008 and 2018), and most workers in these industries hold a postsecondary degree.

To read more about the report, refer to the Executive Summary or the Full Report. Also see the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on the topic.

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!

We’ve been busy and the blog has been a bit quiet as a result, but we have a queue of posts on interesting new reports and OPB briefs that will show up soon. We are also preparing for the special legislative session that will commence in Olympia on November 28th, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are links to recent stories that have caught our eye:

  • The UW gets a mention and a link in this lengthy Inside Higher Ed article about the relationship between state funding cuts and rising tuition at public institutions across the country.
  • Washington State’s continuing budget woes kick off this NYT article about another year of anticipated state budget cuts across the country.
  • Education Sector’s The Quick & the Ed blog has been providing detailed coverage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) re-authorization process currently underway in the US Senate. While primarily focused on K-12, the bill contains some interesting higher education provisions.
  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) elected 65 new members at their 41st annual meeting. Congratulations to Dr. Dave Eaton, Associate Vice Provost in the UW Office of Research and Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, for being among the new inductees! The UW ranks 11th in the nation among research universities (4th among publics) in IOM and National Academy membership.

Governor Gregoire announced that she will call the Legislature back to Olympia for a 30-day special session at the end of November after the next revenue forecast is released. Gregoire will outline her expectations for the special session during a press conference this morning, which will be aired on TVW.

A November 2011 special session is not a complete surprise, as the latest revenue forecast reduced general fund revenue by $1.4 billion for the biennium. Many anticipate that the next revenue forecast will reduce anticipated revenue further. During the special session, the Legislature will likely move to reduce general fund appropriations for both the current fiscal year and FY13.

Please check this blog regularly for information about the upcoming special session, state budget cuts, and impacts on the UW budget.

On Thursday, September 16, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC) released its quarterly update of State General Fund Revenues. The forecast reduced expected revenue for the upcoming 2011-13 biennium to $30.3 billion, $1.4 billion less than the previous forecast released in June. A deficit of this magnitude is expected to necessitate another round of budget cuts for state agencies, including the UW, in the upcoming legislative session set to commence in January.

Read the latest OPB Brief for more detail.

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