Office of Planning and Budgeting

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.

Legislation was introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that would require the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for overenrolled, on-campus classes. If the bill passes and is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (who has been a strong supporter of online education), online courses could go mainstream much more quickly than predicted. At the moment, however, Senate Bill 520 is just a two-page legislative placeholder, or “spot bill,” to be amended with details later.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the bill’s sponsor, Democrat State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said the bill is meant to “break the bottleneck that prevents students from completing courses.” In Fall 2012, more than 472,000 of the 2.4 million students in the California Community Colleges system were put on waiting lists and at the California State University system, only 16 percent of students graduate within four years. Theoretically, increasing capacity to meet student demand for key, gateway courses could improve on-time graduation rates and more efficiently use state funds. The debate, of course, is whether online courses are actually effective and thus appropriate substitutes for traditional courses.

Under the proposed legislation, a nine-member faculty council representing the state’s three public higher ed systems would determine which 50 introductory courses are most oversubscribed and which online equivalents should be eligible for credit. When reviewing online courses, the panel is to consider whether a course:

  • Offers instructional support to promote retention;
  • Provides interaction between instructors and students;
  • Contains proctored exams and assessment tools;
  • Uses open-source text books; and
  • Includes content recommended by the American Council on Education.

MOOCs provided by Udacity and Coursera, as well as low-cost, self-paced courses from StraighterLine could all be up for consideration—several of which have already gained ACE approval.

Senator Steinberg emphasized at a news conference that the legislation “does not represent a shift in funding priority” for higher education in California, and is not intended to introduce “a substitution for campus-based instruction.” Nevertheless, for the many faculty and university administrators concerned about SB 520’s consequences, the devil may be in the yet-to-be-determined details. We’ll keep you apprised as those details are fleshed out.

As The Seattle Times reported today, “For the first time ever, three Washington colleges swept the nation in their respective size categories for having the most participants in the Peace Corps.” The UW topped the large-schools list with 107 volunteers (tied with the University of Florida), Western Washington University led the medium-schools list with 73 volunteers, and Gonzaga University came in first on the small-schools list with 24.

Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the Peace Corps, traveled from D.C. to attend a news conference here on campus today. She personally congratulated the three schools on their rankings and said the achievement reflects Washington’s dedication to innovation and helping the poor.

The UW also topped the large-schools list between 2007 and 2010.

Today, with public financing for higher education eroding, tuition on the rise, and little growth in household income, the idea that technology can and must revolutionize higher education has once again taken strong hold. Recent start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, founded by Stanford faculty members, and a joint MIT/Harvard venture called edX have the country talking once again about the future of higher education. A new OPB brief  describes these new developments, clarifies the differences between classroom learning, online learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and evaluates their roles in and impact on higher education in the US.

Tom Friedman published a glowing op-ed about MOOCs this week that reads more like a commercial for these start-up companies than a careful consideration, but many of the Reader Picks comments are quite good in pointing out the many, many questions that remain about how this use of technology will fit into education into the future.

The controversial US News and World Report University Rankings have been released for 2012 and are freely available online for a limited period of time. The University of Washington slipped one spot to 42nd among National Universities in the US. The UW, however, comes in at the 10th best public institution in the nation.

Although the US News rankings have long been dominated by endowment-rich private institutions, it is notable that no public institution makes the top 20 anymore. A recent Washington Post article reported that, over the past 20 years, the five highest ranked public institutions have each dropped seven or more spots in the rankings.

In previous posts we have laid out the massive resource gap between public and private institutions that has widened over several decades and is reflected in these rankings:

Across the US, deep cuts in state funding for public higher education have accelerated this trend dramatically over the past three years. In response, the Seattle Times Company and several partners have formed to create the Greater Good Campaign to highlight the risks this trend poses to public higher education in Washington State and to the future of Washingtonians.

Inside Higher Ed published a feature today detailing an ongoing process that has 27 universities, US and abroad, competing for a gift of land in New York City plus $100 million in exchange for the creation of a new tech-centered campus. Several New York based universities are submitting proposals, due in October, but notable universities from elsewhere such as Stanford and Chicago are also competing for the opportunity, as well as universities based in other countries.

As pointed out in the article, New York already has 110 institutions serving over 600,000 students. However, engineering and tech programs in the region have lacked the success and reputation that the city would like. While institutions with an existing presence in NYC or in the region may make more sense as a partner in this project, Stanford appears to be aggressively pursuing the opportunity, touting its role in the creation of Silicon Valley in California. If successful, this would be Stanford’s first campus outside of Palo Alto.

The absence of public universities on the applicant list is stark. Purdue is the only one. However, this is perhaps unsurprising given the billions of dollars likely required to build a fully operational campus from scratch in a short period of time, and the state-centered history of public institutions in the US.

For the lucky institution with the right amount of resources, this will hopefully be a great opportunity with long lasting effects for the institution and the city of New York. For all of higher education, it will be fascinating to see if this kind of partnership between government and  institutions can work to create a new, physical campus that can quickly produce innovation and education while building and maintaining a reputation for excellence.

  • UW  Ranked 16 in the world: The annual Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), compiled by Chinese university Shanghai Jiao Tong, places the University of Washington at number 16 in the world. The rankings are heavily based on institutional and faculty achievements in STEM fields, including number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won, and various citation measures. The US dominates this list, with 17 of the top 20 slots and 151 of the top 500.
  • Ohio latest state to consider greater autonomy for public institutions: In a reversal of previous reforms that attempted to consolidate the university system in Ohio, Governor Strickland endorsed the idea of ‘enterprise universities’ in his state budget, released March 2011. Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents Jim Petro was tasked with creating a detailed plan for legislative consideration. He unveiled The Enterprise University Plan last week. The plan provides three levels of increasing autonomy from various state government requirements in exchange for a reduction in per student funding of 10-20 percent. The state would continue to cap tuition increases at 3.5 percent per year. While the support of Ohio State President Gordon Gee looks likely, it is not yet clear how other universities or faculty members and legislators will react to this plan as many large questions about both intended and unintended consequences have already surfaced. For related information see our previous post, Quest for Greater Autonomy for Public Higher Ed Continues, and our OPB brief on institutional autonomy.
  • Federal government joins lawsuits against for-profits: After implementing significant higher education regulation reform through the Department of Education, the Obama Administration shows a commitment to act by joining existing and new lawsuits against several for-profit higher education institutions accused of violating federal law. For related posts, see Federal Scrutiny of For-Profits Spurs State Action.

The Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at California State University, Sacramento recently released a report titled “Consequences of Neglect: Performance Trends in California Higher Education.” The report claims that, although California is considered the world’s leader in public higher education, the state’s college and university system is closer to average—and may be declining.

The report uses six measures of higher education quality and access—preparation, affordability, participation, completion, benefits, and finance—to measure California’s performance in relation to other states. Their findings, if correct, are troubling:

  • Preparation: The report uses graduation rates, standardized test scores, and the percentage of students taking college preparatory classes to measure preparation for college. According to the report, college preparation in California is worse than most states, particularly in rural and inland areas and for black and Latino students. However, these measures have been steadily improving over the past seven years.
  • Affordability: Without taking into account room and board, the California system ranks high in affordability (largely due to the very low tuition at California community colleges), however, because of the high cost of living in California, affordability is significantly compromised. Furthermore, tuition and fees have been increasing dramatically at UC, CSU, and CCC, which will negatively impact affordability.
  • Participation: One of the highlights for California is that participation in public higher education remains high (California ranks 6th in the percentage of 18-24 year old enrolled in college), though the trend is declining as tuition and fees increase.
  • Completion: Although California ranks 12th in the nation in the number of associate degrees awarded per 100 high school graduates, it ranks only 41st in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded per 100 high school grads. The report suggests focusing efforts on improving the transfer process from California’s two-to four-year institutions.
  • Benefits: The report lists benefits from education in California as average, with high personal income tempered by low proportions of citizens with bachelor’s degrees and very low voter turnout.
  • Finance: State appropriations per student FTE in California are slightly lower than the national average, and local and state funding has been steadily decreasing during and after the Great Recession.

The report urges California’s government to protect their investment in colleges and universities, long considered the best public higher education system in the world. Furthermore, it cautions policymakers not to be blinded by the stand-out performances of a select few California universities, while ignoring the vast majority of California’s higher education institutions that may be struggling.

Days after the Department of Education released its finalized Gainful Employment rule, Senator Tom Harkin held his fifth Senate hearing investigating the practices of the for-profit higher education industry. Senator Harkin focused the hearing on the high levels of student borrowing and outsized loan default rates for students at for-profit institutions. Previous hearings and reports have revealed that:

  • Less than 10% of postsecondary students are enrolled in for-profits, yet they receive 23% of federal aid, and account for 44% of all loan defaults.
  • 95% of all students at for-profits borrow money to attend, compared to less than a quarter of community college students, 64% of students at public four year institutions, and 72% at private four year institutions.

Additionally, Harkin grilled Department of Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter on whether the softened gainful employment rule released by the Department would do enough to help reign in exploitative practices of the for-profit higher education industry, noting that stock prices in the industry increased significantly upon publication of the revised rule whereas previous iterations had sent prices down. Kanter, who was attending in place of Secretary Arne Duncan, defended the regulation as a step forward.

Harkin concluded that while the Department of Education regulations were ‘better than nothing’, he continues to believe that Congressional action via legislation may be necessary.

No Republican members of the committee were present, and no further hearings on the topic are scheduled at this time.

For previous OPBlog posts on this topic see:

Along with its survey of the general public, the Pew Center recently published a survey of 1,055 two- and four-year, public, private and for-profit college presidents, concerning the quality, accessibility, and affordability of higher education. The two surveys were conducted around the same time and asked similar questions.  However, there were notable differences between the opinions of college presidents and the general public on key issues in higher education. On the whole, college presidents were less concerned about affordability and access, and more concerned with student and academic program quality. Some highlights of the data include:

  • 38 percent of college presidents think higher education is moving in the wrong direction, with only 7 percent believing the US system will be the best in the world in 2021
  • 42 percent of presidents believe college is affordable for most families (compared with 22 percent of the general population)
  • 17 percent of presidents believe students get excellent value for their money (only five percent of the general population agrees)
  • The majority (58 percent) of college presidents believe students come to college less qualified than their counterparts ten years ago, and only seven percent think current students study more than students ten years ago

Interestingly, leaders of for-profit schools were most likely to be pessimistic about the affordability and direction of higher education and student preparation. Conversely, presidents of the most selective schools were most optimistic about those factors. Furthermore, the majority of college presidents think it is unlikely that the nation will meet President Obama’s degree attainment goals by 2020. To find out more, check out the Chronicle’s analysis, our blog post on the general public survey or read the full Pew Center report here.

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