Office of Planning and Budgeting

The College Board recently published “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” which provides data on U.S. adults’ level of education and its impact on earnings, employment, health-related behaviors, reliance on public assistance programs, civic participation, and more. The goal of the report, the authors say, is to highlight the ways in which individuals and society benefit from increased levels of education. The authors note, “Financial benefits are easier to document than non-pecuniary benefits, but the latter may be as important to students themselves, as well as to the society in which they participate.”

Many old trends continue to hold true. Having a college education increases one’s chances of: being employed, earning a higher income, receiving health insurance and pension benefits, climbing the socioeconomic ladder, being an engaged citizen, and of leading a healthier lifestyle.  These individual benefits translate to larger, societal benefits, including less government spending on public assistance programs, more tax revenue, and greater civic involvement.

A few noteworthy data points about earnings include:

  • In 2011 (the most recent year for which income data is available), the median pre-tax earnings of full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree* were $21,100 higher than those of full-time workers with only a high school diploma.
  • As workers age, earnings increase more quickly for those with higher levels of education. For instance, at ages 25-29, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree earn 54 percent ($15,000) more than their high school graduate counterparts; but at ages 45-49, they earn 86 percent ($32,000) more.
  • During a standard 40-year full-time working career, median earnings are 65 percent higher for those with a bachelor’s degree than for those with only high school diploma.
  • “Compared to a high school graduate, the median four-year college graduate who enrolls at age 18 and graduates in four years can expect to earn enough by age 36 to compensate for being out of the labor force for four years and for borrowing the full tuition and fee amount without any grant aid.”

The report also provides some interesting facts about participation and success in higher education, such as:

  • Large gaps in enrollment rates and patterns persist, particularly with lower income students. However, gaps between the enrollment rates of black and Hispanic high school graduates and those of white high school graduates narrowed significantly between 2001 and 2011.
  • Although educational attainment rates are increasing, attainment rates and patterns vary noticeably by demographic groups. For example, the percentage of black females ages 25 to 29 who have a bachelor’s degree doubled between 1982 and 2012—going from 12 to 24 percent—whereas the percentage of black males increased from 11 to 16 percent.
  • In the U.S., public funding makes up a smaller percentage of total funding for higher education than in most other developed countries.

* “Bachelor’s degree” means a bachelor’s degree, but not a more advanced degree.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its annual update on federal student loan cohort default rates (CDRs), which measure the frequency with which student borrowers at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) default on their federal loans. Although both national and UW CDRs rose, the UW’s rates remain well below those of the nation.

As ED is in its second year of switching to the  more accurate three-year CDR measure, this year’s report includes both the FY 2011 two-year and the FY 2010 three-year CDRs. These rates represent the percentage of student borrowers who failed to make loan payments for 270 days within two or three years, respectively, of leaving school.

The Department provides breakdowns of its data by institution type, state and school. Here are some key findings:

FY 2010 three-year CDR:

  • The national three-year CDR increased from 13.4 to 14.7 percent overall—public institutions increased from 11.0 to 13.0 percent, private nonprofits increased from 7.5 to 8.2 percent, but for-profits’ whopping 22.7 percent rate decreased slightly to 21.8 percent.
  • The UW’s three-year CDR increased slightly from 3.1 to 3.9 percent, but this is still nearly 11 percentage points below the national average

FY 2011 two-year CDR:

  • The national two-year CDR increased from 9.1 to 10.0 percent overall—public institutions increased from 8.3 to 9.6 percent, for-profits increased from 12.9 to 13.6 percent, but private nonprofits held steady at 5.2 percent.
  • The UW’s two-year CDR increased from 2.1 to 3.2 percent, but this is still nearly 7 percentage points below the national average

While this is good news, many students still struggle to afford ever-increasing tuition fees and/or to repay their student loans. The UW reaches out to our former students at risk of default on their Stafford Loans and helps identify federal repayment options that could benefit them. Former UW students who are in default or experiencing difficulties repaying their loans can contact the Office of Student Financial Aid for assistance (osfa@uw.edu, 206-543-6101). Students can also visit studentloans.gov to explore their repayment options.

On Monday, the U.S. Education Department (ED) began formal negotiationson the draft language of a proposed new  “gainful employment” rule. The rule, originally published in 2011, was designed to enforce a requirement of the Higher Education Act that states career education programs—non-degree programs at all colleges and most degree programs at for-profit colleges—must “prepare students for gainful employment” in order to participate in federal student aid programs. The rule was meant to discourage these programs from misusing federal aid dollars and leaving students with debts burdens they are unable to repay. However, in 2012 a federal judge rejected major provisions of the rule, requiring that ED rethink its strategy.

Here’s a summary of the changes:

  • The proposed rule applies to programs with as few as 10 students, whereas the old rule counted only career-focused programs with 30 or more students. Because of this change, ED estimates that the new rule could cover 11,359 programs at for-profit and nonprofit colleges—nearly twice as many as the old rule covered—and that 974 of those programs (9 percent) could fail to meet the proposed standards.
  • The draft regulation omits loan-repayment as a criterion for federal student aid eligibility. The old rule severed federal aid to programs where too few students were repaying their loans or where graduates’ debt-to-earnings and debt-to-discretionary-income ratios were too high. The new rule removes the loan repayment standards, which the courts deemed “arbitrary and capricious,” and relies only on the latter two measures.
  • Debt-to-earnings calculations would be based only on students who receive federal aid, rather than students who complete the program. The old calculations were based on all students who completed the program, whereas the proposed calculations are based on any students who receive federal student loans and Pell Grants, regardless of whether they complete the program. As the rule is designed to ensure that federal aid is used effectively, this seems a more appropriate approach. 
  • Schools would have fewer chances to improve their performance before losing federal aid eligibility. Under the previous rule, programs that failed the measures in 3 out of any 4 years would be ineligible for federal student aid. However, the new rule only lets programs fail in 2 out of any 3 years before they lose eligibility.

For details, see a comparison of the two versions prepared by the Education Department.  Please continue to follow our blog as well as the Federal Relations blog for updates on this topic.

A recent update on our state’s progress toward meeting the Washington Roundtable’s Benchmarks for a Better Washington emphasizes the need for legislative action on education, including protecting funding for our public universities, as well as transportation and business costs.  The Roundtable – a nonprofit, public policy organization comprised of major, local business executives – created the Benchmarks in 2011 as a means to measure and track Washington’s economic vitality and quality of life. The organization publishes annual updates that examine state-by-state comparative data (primarily from federal sources like the U.S. Dept. of Education); assess Washington’s position in key categories; and highlight opportunities for improvement.

The May 2013 update showed that:

  • Washington trails most states in high school graduation rates (ranking 32nd nationally) and bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (39th nationally).
  • Washington’s road condition rankings have dropped from 16th (2012 ranking based on 2008 data) to 29th (2013 ranking based on 2011 data) and our state continues to rank poorly on bridge conditions (41st).
  • Washington ranks in the bottom third of states for business tax burden (36th), unemployment insurance tax rates (40th) and workers’ compensation benefits paid (50th).
  • However, Washington has held onto its lead in patent generation (5th) and in low commercial and industrial electricity rates (3rd).

The authors argue that Washington must move quickly to improve its education pipeline and align with workforce needs. As 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary training by 2020, they assert, “It is imperative that Washington prioritizes higher education and does a better job of preparing its citizens to succeed.”

In Monday’s edition of CrossCut, Roundtable President, Steve Mullin, urged lawmakers to focus on two key topics during the remaining weeks of session:  education and transportation. He specifically called for legislators to ensure our colleges and niversities have the funding they need to develop necessary talent. “Decision time is here,” he wrote, “Education is the driver of prosperity and individual quality of life. Transportation is the backbone of commerce. Both need attention before the 2013 Legislature adjourns.”

As a recent post discussed, if you attend college, you are more likely to earn more money. But, as you might imagine, the financial value of higher education depends on what program you choose and where.

Information on the annual earnings of students from different programs and institutions is exactly what Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican of Florida, hope to provide. Their recently-introduced “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” proposes creating a state-based, individual-level data system linking the average costs and graduation rates of specific programs and institutions to their graduates’ accrued debt and annual earnings.

Although useful, Senator Wyden acknowledged that such information is limited and that focusing on financial indicators alone could undermine the importance of liberal arts—whose graduates may not earn large salaries right after college. He stated that the bill’s intention is “to empower people to make choices.” However, “people” include not just students, but policy makers—such as Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who sparked controversy last October when he asserted that state money should go to job-oriented fields, rather than fields like anthropology which, he said, do not serve the state’s vital interest.

Regardless of the bill’s success, about half of the states already have the ability to link postsecondary academic records with labor data. And some, such as Tennessee, have already done so. Here in Washington, the Education Research and Data Center is in the process of connecting certain employment and enrollment data for schools, such as the UW, to analyze in the coming months.

All this begs the question: Is college chiefly for personal economic gain?

A recent report by the College Board highlights both the financial and nonfinancial payoffs of college. Additionally, David A. Reidy, head of the philosophy department at University of Tennessee Knoxville, stated in a recent Chronicle article that four-year degrees, particularly in liberal-arts, are not solely for job training. “The success of the American democratic experiment depends significantly on a broadly educated citizenry, capable of critical thinking, cultural understanding, moral analysis and argument,” he wrote. Philosophy and other core disciplines help nurture such a citizenry, he continued, “And the value there is incalculable.”

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.