Compilation on Measuring the Value of Higher Education

Last week, Inside Higher Ed released a print on demand compilation titled Compilation on Measuring the Value of Higher Education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with Inside Higher Ed to publish the compilation. The first paper is a reprint of the Inside Higher Ed announcement about the Postsecondary Value Commission and their Equitable Value Explorer tool. The 115-page report issued by the Postsecondary Value Commission can be found here.

The next article, which is titled The Cost of Doing Nothing, features the report issued by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that attempts to calculate the impact to the U.S. economy of economic and racial injustice in postsecondary education. The CEW calculated that these injustices cost the U.S. economy $956 billion each year and that a one-time investment of $3.97 trillion would be required to close the gap. Equalizing educational attainment without increasing debt for low-income adults could provide an additional annual benefit of $764 billion.

What is College worth? Americans deserve answers. was originally published on July 12, 2022. The article reports about a recently released Public Agenda study that shows more and more Americans are skeptical about the value of higher education. One of the notable points from the study was that 78 percent of all Americans agreed that financial aid does not adequately cover the cost of college attendance for low-income students, and 76 percent agreed that middle income students could not afford college because the financial aid formulas deemed that their parents made too much money for them to be eligible for aid.

Another survey, this time from Morning Consult, was the focus of an August 12, 2022 Inside Higher Ed article about Generation Z’s distrust of higher ed. The Gen Z percentage of 41 percent who trust higher ed is the lowest compared to 49 percent of Millenials (those born between 1981-1996), 53 percent of Generation X (those born between 1965-1980), and 55 percent of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964). From my perspective, none of those trust percentages are outstanding, but clearly the percentages have declined over the years. An interesting question asked was for respondents to list their most trusted university. The top five in order from number one most trusted to number five were Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, the University of Notre Dame, Cornell University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I think it’s sad that a public university did not make the top 5 but perhaps that’s because few public universities have a national brand.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s 2021 Economic Well Being of U.S. Households report was the focus of another Inside Higher Ed article written by co-founder Doug Letterman titled Student Debt’s Impact on the Perceived Value of College. Survey respondents with a college degree were far more likely to agree that their postsecondary investment was worth it than those without a degree. Older graduates were more likely than younger graduates to agree with the value of the investment leading to speculation that the rising cost of higher education may have changed the perspective of younger graduates.

A July 2022 interview with Will Bunch, author of After the Ivory Tower Falls touches on a major premise of his book that the notion of higher education as a meritocracy has failed Americans who have not completed college or who have never set foot on a college campus. It’s an excellent overview that might convince people to read the book.

Returning to the Georgetown University CEW report on economic injustices, the next article is a 2021 opinion piece written by Anthony Carnevale (director) and Kathyrn Peltier Campbell (senior editor) of the CEW. The opinion piece expresses a current trend in views that America has over relied on higher education as a mechanism for advancing equal opportunity and societal well-being. The authors claim that education is at the heart of the merit myth (think meritocracy and hard work will make a difference in your life). They discuss the reform of higher education that would be necessary to make a difference in the lives of lower income citizens, all in the report referenced in the first article.

What is Talent in Higher Education is an Inside Higher Ed indirect book review by University of Utah dean Hollis Robbins of Tyler Cowen’s and Daniel Gross’ book, Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World. Ms. Robbins, an academic pursuing the study of talent, concurs with some of Cowen’s and Gross’s points and includes references from other successful people in history. One notable line from the review is: “there may be no higher purpose for college and university leaders than raising the aspirations of potentially talented people who are undervaluing themselves.”

The last article, Higher Ed Must Change or Die, is an opinion piece written by Temple University president Jason Wingard and published in August 2022. Wingard is the author of a new book, The College Devaluation Crisis: Market Disruption, Diminishing ROI, and an Alternative Future of Learning (which I plan to review as soon as I finish reading it). Wingard writes that colleges can get back to retaining value for their students by ensuring that all graduates have the skills to change with any market. To do that, colleges must tweak and adapt their curriculum at least once a year (I argue that it should be more frequent than that if colleges are to compete with micro credentials where many non-college providers are adapting the curriculum every time it’s offered). President Wingard writes that the most important thing that colleges can do is to address affordability, noting that just 23 percent of public four-year colleges are affordable for a student with an average sized Pell Grant.

I enjoyed reading and rereading many of the articles published in this compendium by Inside Higher Ed and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The stream of daily published content passes by all of us so quickly these days, that it is nice to have a single reference point for articles about a certain theme. Clearly, the value of higher education is on topic for many of us. There are more articles and more books that are not referenced in this compendium, but I could see how this could be valuable for college and university boards and senior leadership discussions as well as for outsiders interested in a short read about the topic.


Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence