Business of Education
Thanksgiving vacation provided me with some time to catch up on reading. I’ve significantly reduced magazine subscriptions due to their digital availability, but one I continue to receive in print is The Economist. In its November 2, 2019, issue, the magazine wrote about business schools in the U.S. and the market forces forcing them to change.
More than 40 years ago, I started working at Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC). Even though I was on the consulting track, I was encouraged to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and become a licensed CPA. Having this license, along with an MBA, boosted my career and I subsequently served as CFO at five different companies over the years.
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.
Ryan Craig’s opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed last week queried why tuition for online programs hasn’t tumbled given the benefits of technology and scale amassed by some of the largest online institutions. He cites several sources, including the BMO 2019 Education Industry report and a 2017 survey by WCET, noting that the average per credit, in-state cost for an online bachelor’s program is 14% higher than on-ground and that 54% of institutions are charging online students more than those on-ground.
Craig states that regardless of which survey you find most credible, few institutions are charging less for online students. He ponders why this hasn’t happened, stating that some colleges and universities are operating subscale online programs which precludes the benefits of cutting tuition. Others spend as much as $5,000-plus in marketing costs to attract and convert a person to an online student.