Office of Planning and Budgeting

On Tuesday, Stanford’s Board of Trustees announced it “will not directly invest in approximately 100 publicly traded companies for which coal extraction is the primary business, and will divest of any current direct holdings in such companies.” Furthermore, Stanford stated it would encourage its external investment managers to avoid investments in such companies.

The decision was made at the recommendation of the university’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL), which had spent several months analyzing a petition by a student group called Fossil Free Stanford. After conducting an extensive research-based review of the issues, APRIL concluded that sufficient coal alternatives exist and that divestment “provides leadership on a critical matter facing our world and is an appropriate application of the university’s investment responsibility policy.”

This issue has arisen several times at the UW, which (like Stanford) is a leader in environmental stewardship and sustainability. Stanford’s decision may set a precedent for other universities, including the UW, that have grappled with this issue.

The results of two new surveys released Tuesday reveal some of America’s views on both the future of higher education as well as its role in producing desirable outcomes, particularly career-ready graduates. Under Northeastern University’s sponsorship, FTI Consulting surveyed 263 hiring managers in July as well as 1,000 adult Americans in August.  Here are some of their findings: 

  • Americans continue to see the value in higher education, but are concerned that the system does not adequately prepare graduates for their careers. Respondents ranked “level of education” as the most important factor in determining a job candidate’s success; yet, 62 percent said colleges currently do only a fair to poor job of preparing graduates for the workforce. That said, 79 percent believe their own college education prepared them well.
  • Americans are conflicted about who has the greatest responsibility to train recent graduates for the workplace: employers (36 percent), colleges/universities (29 percent) or the graduates themselves (35 percent). When Americans were asked why U.S. companies are struggling to find good job candidates, the most common response was that companies are not investing enough in training new hires. However, 87 percent of Americans assert that higher education must change in order to maintain an internationally competitive workforce.
  • Americans and business leaders value “soft” skills, like problem-solving and communication, over “hard” industry-specific skills. Most Americans (65 percent) and business leaders (73 percent) believe that, for people on the job market, “being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry experience because job-specific skills can be learned at work.”
  • Americans and business leaders agree that experiential learning is highly valuable to students’ careers. Nearly all Americans (89 percent) and business leaders (74 percent) believe that students are more successful in their careers if they have work experience from a field-related internship or job. Both groups agree the most important step the U.S. can take to better prepare colleges students is to broaden the professional work programs available to them.
  • Although most Americans (67 percent) think colleges should adopt new technologies and interactive teaching methods, they have doubts about MOOCs and online degrees. Less than 30 percent of Americans and business leaders believe MOOCs are of the same quality as in-person courses, and only 37 percent of Americans would consider completing a postsecondary degree solely online. However, about half of all respondents believe MOOCs will transform education in the US and that online degrees will be equally accepted by employers within 5 to 7 years.

My take-away from all this, to summarize, is:  Americans and business leaders believe that people on the job market need a college education, some professional work experience, and a well-rounded skill-set and in order to succeed. However, they also believe that colleges, businesses, and the government must play a role in helping students garner those qualifications.

Here is a quick look at some recent happenings in the world of higher education:

  • The College Scorecard confuses students and lacks desired information, says a report released today by the Center for American Progress (CAP).  The College Scorecard, which President Obama proposed last February, is an online tool to help students compare colleges’ costs, completion rates, average student-loan debt, and more.  The CAP asked focus groups of college-bound high-school students for their opinions on the scorecard’s design, content, and overall effectiveness. Student responses indicated that they did not understand the scorecard’s purpose; they would like the ability to customize the scorecard according to their interests; they want more information on student-loan debt; and they would prefer seeing four-year graduation rates, rather than six-year rates. The CAP report includes recommendations for improving the readability and usability of not just the scorecard, but of government disclosures in general.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act on Friday by a 245 to 139 vote. The bill would eliminate the “diversity visa program,” which currently distributes 55,000 visas per year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.  Those visas would instead go to foreign graduates from U.S. universities who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Proponents of the Republican-backed bill say it would keep “highly trained, in-demand” workers in the U.S., boosting the nation’s economy and preserving its global competitiveness. While the White House and most Democrats support the expansion of STEM visas, they oppose the bill’s attempt to eliminate the diversity visa program. Consequently, the measure is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
  • The overlapping agendas of Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin governors could signal a new Republican approach to higher education policy, says Inside Higher Ed. The three governors agree on cost-cutting strategies such as requiring some colleges to offer $10,000 bachelor’s degrees; limiting tuition increases at flagship institutions; linking institutions’ graduation rates to state appropriations; and letting performance indicators, such as student evaluations, determine faculty salaries.  Although the governors’ proposed reforms appeal to some voters, “actions taken by all three have been sharply criticized not only by faculty members and higher education leaders in their states, but also by national leaders, who view the erosion of state funding and increased restrictions on what institutions can do a breach of the traditional relationship between state lawmakers and public colleges and universities.”

On Tuesday, 11 states voted on ballot measures that could impact higher education. The following table (based on one from The Chronicle) summarizes how those measures fared.

YES–the measure passed           NOthe measure failed

CALIFORNIA
YES Prop 30 Would temporarily increase sales and income taxes in order to raise approx. $6-billion in revenue and stave off $963-million worth of cuts to the public colleges.
MAINE
NO Question 2 Would allow a $11.3-million bond issue to fund capital for a diagnostic facility at the University of Maine.
MARYLAND
YES Question 4 Would let children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates provided they meet certain conditions.
MICHIGAN
NO Proposal 2 Would let graduate students form unions and bargain collectively.
MISSOURI
NO Prop B Would raise cigarette taxes and use the revenue to create a Health and Education Trust Fund. About 30 percent of revenue would go to higher education.
MONTANA
YES LR-121 Would require proof of citizenship in order for a person to receive certain state services, which includes attending Montana’s public colleges.
NEW JERSEY
YES Question 1 Would let the state issue a $750-million bond for buildings and upgrades at public and private colleges.
NEW MEXICO
YES Question C Would authorize a $120-million sale for certain higher education repairs and improvements.
OKLAHOMA
YES Question 759 Would ban affirmative action programs in the state, including their use in public colleges’ admission policies.
RHODE ISLAND
YES Question 759 Would give Rhode Island College up to $50-million for its health and nursing programs’ facilities.
WASHINGTON
NO SJR 8223 Would allow the UW and WSU to invest publicly-generated revenue (i.e. parking fees and indirect-cost reimbursement for grants) in corporate stock.
YES Initiative 1185 Would renew the requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote in order to create new taxes or raise existing ones–effectively making it more difficult for the state to generate new revenue for programs including higher education.

 

Last week, a Los Angeles Times/USC poll found that support for Proposition 30 is dwindling. Only 46 percent of registered voters now approve the California ballot initiative designed to deflect almost $1-billion in state higher-education cuts—a 9-point drop over last month’s poll by the same organizations. Meanwhile, 42 percent of respondents oppose the proposition.

If Prop 30 passes:

  • The state’s sales tax would increase by 0.25 percent through 2016;
  • Californians earning more than $250,000 would pay higher income taxes through 2018;
  • The resulting $6 to 8.5 billion in additional revenue generated each year would allow the state to continue its current level of higher education funding into, at least, the coming year; and
  • The University of California system would freeze undergraduate tuition rates.

If Prop 30 fails:

  • California community colleges would lose $338 million;
  • The California State system would lose $250 million—requiring the system to lay off (by their estimate) 1,500 faculty and staff, reduce next year’s Fall enrollment by about 20,000 students, and increase tuition and fees for in-state students by 5 percent; and
  • The University of California system would lose $375 million—resulting in, as System officials declared, a tuition increase of as much as 20 percent.

Proponents of Prop 30 face resistance from the state’s fiscal conservatives and competition from another ballot initiative, Proposition 38, which would raise income taxes through 2024 and direct most of the $10 billion per year in revenue toward K-12. If both bills pass, California’s constitution requires that the proposition with the most votes cancel out the other. This is because Prop 30 and Prop 38 both increase personal income tax rates and could, therefore, be seen as conflicting. However, Prop 38 appears to have little momentum, relative to Prop 30 and it is unlikely that both bills will pass.

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.

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.

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?

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.

As reported on the UW Office of Federal Relations blog, President Obama made a splash in the higher education community last week when he outlined new proposals for higher education reform in his State of The Union Address and in a speech at the University of Michigan. Many are praising the President’s focus on the value of higher education in today’s economy, and in particular, the importance of high quality, affordable higher education. However, a proposal to more closely tie federal financial aid funding  to some kind of institutional performance measures has proved more controversial.

In what the Administration is calling a Blueprint for College Affordability, Obama has proposed that Congress significantly increase available federal campus-based aid (primarily Perkins loans) and distribute the funds based on three institutional performance measures, including relatively low net tuition levels or low tuition growth, providing a good value to students, and serving low-income students. Until a detailed policy proposal is unveiled (likely after the election), it is difficult to know how substantial a shift this may be for institutions, but it is clearly an attempt to send a message to institutions about cost control. Obama stated, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”

Other proposals included in Obama’s blueprint, include:

  • Creating a $1 billion Race to the Top program to reward states for making systemic changes in education policy and funding to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Creating a $55 million First in the World competition to provide seed funding for institutions or other nonprofits to innovate.
  • Publishing a ‘College Scorecard’ for each institution, which will provide clear, comparable information on college costs, financial aid, graduation rates and, if these data become available, potential earnings.
  • Asking Congress to make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent, extend the lowered federal student loan interest rate (3.4%), and double the number of federal work study jobs.

Without policy details it is hard to know how these reforms might affect specific institutions, but because it marks a shift from previous federal efforts to facilitate attainment by increasing federal aid and easing federal loan repayment pressure, it is an important development and one that we will keep a close eye on.

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