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Some College and No Degree

“Over the past 20 years, more than 31 million students have enrolled in college and left without receiving a degree or certificate” is the headline for a recent Strada, Gallup and Lumina Study report. Another recent National Student Clearinghouse report provided an overview of this population by state, noting that a nuanced review of the data is required before making conclusions and recommendations. The researchers pulled Strada-Gallup survey data from more than 42,000 individuals who did not complete college to complement the Clearinghouse study and shared the following key findings.

Expanding Pathways to College Enrollment and Degree Attainment

Last week, non-profit research firm ITHAKA S+R released an issue brief, discussing the policies and reforms necessary for states to increase access to higher education and degree attainment. The authors write that the U.S. has a projected shortage of five million workers with appropriate postsecondary education credentials by 2020, noting that most undergraduate students today are nontraditional.

Dawn of the Dead

Matt Schifrin and Carter Coudriet of Forbes wrote an article about the financial ratings of private colleges, Dawn of the Dead: For Hundreds of the Nation’s Private Colleges, It’s Merge or Perish. The authors refer to Forbes’ analysis of the finances of 933 private, not-for-profit colleges with 500+ enrollments, stating that the majority of these institutions are in a precarious situation with their high tuition, tuition-dependent financial model, declining overall enrollments, and competitive landscape in higher education.

Which College Graduates Make the Most?

On November 20, 2019, the Department of Education released its long-awaited update to the College Scorecard, revealing median debt, earnings and other data for graduates of specific programs of the represented schools. The Wall Street Journal was given an exclusive look at the data before publication, and provides some comparisons of the data among schools and a handy tool for sorting the dataset by school, degree level and degree type to show the median debt for graduates and median income level the first year after graduating. 

Reviewing the Methodology Behind New ROI Rankings for 4,500 Colleges

 

I am no fan of the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, primarily because it is incomplete and may be misleading for some metrics. Much of the data is derived from students using Federal Student Aid (FSA) only and some of it is from those who are first-time, full-time students using FSA loans. At APUS, most of our students are part-time, working adults not using FSA to fund their education. I first wrote about the Scorecard in 2016 and reported about others like me who criticized its incomplete data.

Despite the flaws of the Scorecard, I understand why Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently attempted to create a return on investment (ROI) for all colleges using this data. First, it’s the only published source that uses IRS data to match earnings with students who have attended those specific institutions and who received FSA. With access to earnings, institutional costs and debt incurred, the researchers can calculate a rudimentary ROI.

A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges

Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce issued a report ranking the ROI of all 4,500 colleges and universities listed in the College Scorecard.

Included among the researchers’ notable findings:

  • Community college and many certificate programs have the highest ROI in the short term (10 years).
  • Colleges that primarily award bachelor’s degrees have the highest ROI in the long term (40 years).
  • Public colleges have higher ROI than private colleges in the short term.
  • Degrees from private nonprofit colleges generally have a higher ROI in the long term than public universities.

Maryland’s Kirwan Commission

One of the frequently covered topics in higher education is the cost of college and specifically, the reduction in state funding for their public institutions. Less covered nationally is adequacy of the cost of K-12 education. In 2016, the Maryland governor and legislature jointly formed the Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission after its chair. The goal of the bipartisan Commission was to research successful school systems globally and make recommendations to make Maryland’s world-class. Governor Larry Hogan appointed two people to the commission, and the state senate president and house speaker appointed five persons each. There were an additional eight members appointed by the State Board of Education, Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teachers Union, Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, Association of School Business Officials, Maryland PTA, and the Maryland Association of Counties.

NCAA Governing Board Allows College Athletes to Receive Compensation

On October 29, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to allow Divisions 1, 2 and 3 to permit athletes to receive compensation for their personal brand or celebrity, while not also becoming employees of their university. The three divisions must change their bylaws by January 2021 and with those changes, ensure that athletes will not be classified as professionals. This change of NCAA policy is likely in response to bills like California’s Fair Pay for Play Act, which mandates that athletes receive fair compensation for their work and will take effect in 2023.

The NCAA has been under siege for years. As the governing body for college sports, it has reaped the rewards of sponsorship contracts for broadcasting rights and shared little with the athletes performing on the field, court, track, diamond, course, or arena. Universities belonging to the Big 5 athletic conferences are additional beneficiaries, awarding multi-million dollar contracts to successful coaches and few benefits beyond college scholarships to their athletes. The NCAA’s dual role as regulator and enforcer is arguably influenced by the value of those big network contracts as evidenced by the verdict of no punishment for the University of North Carolina’s athletic program for steering athletes into “paper classes.” On the surface, one can only assume that the NCAA ordered its attorneys to find a loophole to avoid punishing one of college basketball’s perennially strongest programs.

The Public Higher Education Funding Conundrum

It’s no secret that state funding per student for public higher education has dropped significantly since the 2008 recession. In response to lower tax revenues during the recession, states cut their funding to higher education (a non-mandated spending item in most state budgets) and public colleges and universities responded by increasing tuition, recruiting more out of state students, eliminating faculty and staff positions, and shuttering academic programs. Many states’ tax revenues have rebounded since then, and yet their funding for higher ed has not. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only four states out of 49 analyzed have increased their funding per student above the 2008 funding levels.

Given that state treasuries have purportedly returned to pre-2008 levels, one might assume that states would no longer be cutting higher education funding. However, that’s not the case. At least three states recently indicated the potential for change, and not necessarily positive change. The most notable was Alaska, where Governor Mike Dunleavy cut the state’s higher education funding by more than $130 million on June 28. The cut represented 41% of the state’s annual higher education budget. After the legislature failed to override his line item veto cut, the board of regents declared financial exigency. After weeks of discussion, the Regents and Governor agreed to reduce funding by a cumulative $70 million over three years. However, this occurred after the system president proposed merging the state universities under one entity, triggering a faculty vote of no confidence and a letter from the universities’ accrediting body. The Regents and the system president rescinded that recommendation, for now.