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 The Scorecard May Not Tell the Score   

After the recent bus tour by President Obama proclaiming his new assessment proposal for higher education, I wrote an op ed piece raising some of my concerns about this approach. The piece was published in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette on Friday, August 30, 2013. I thought you might find it interesting. I would appreciate hearing your comments.

   




Friday, August 30, 2013


Scoring higher ed's success

AS I SEE IT

By Jack Calareso


In recent days, President Obama has unveiled his plan to reform higher education. The plan includes a "report card" for every college and university that measures affordability (tuition rates and increases, scholarships, loan debt), access (percentage of students eligible for Pell grants), and outcomes (graduation rates, transfer rates, graduate earnings, graduate school admissions). 


The federal government is not alone in promoting this simplified grading system. For years, families have used published rating systems from magazines, book companies and educationally related organizations to determine college rankings. Ranking systems abound so that you can not only find the college with the highest graduation rates, but the institution that parties the most. 


Scorecards and rating systems have become a phenomenon. Self-appointed experts frequently publish lists and assessments based on partial and unsubstantiated data and analyses that are not fully explained or vetted. Sadly, these get published (often self-published on the Internet), read by prospective students, and add to the confusion of college choice. 
Clearly, colleges and universities need to be transparent about their success and held accountable for their performance. Furthermore, access, affordability, success in graduation, etc., are important variables. But they simply do not tell the whole story and hardly provide the right score for every prospective student. 

The fact of the matter is that all college-bound students are not the same. President Obama has often said, and I agree, that every American should have the opportunity for a college education. I would go further and say that every American should have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree. But not every student is academically able, and some will need more time and extra support. 

My advice to every parent and prospective student is that if you can be admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton - and can afford it - go. If you want to be further away from home, Stanford is not a bad choice either. But not every student can either meet the admission standards or afford an Ivy League school. And thankfully, there are colleges and universities willing to admit these students and help them to succeed. 
The point is that the missing factor with these scorecards is the profile of the student population. At a highly selective college, it is no surprise that graduation rates are high. One would expect them to be close to 100 percent. But perhaps a college that admits and educates more at-risk students is equally or even more successful if it graduates 60 percent or 70 percent of its students. 

President Obama's plan also calls for colleges to be penalized for low performance with less federal financial aid. While this seems to be a logical outcome to a scorecard approach, I wonder if this will cause colleges and universities to become more selective and only admit students who demonstrate a greater ability to succeed. 
Who then will educate the more marginal students? Do they not deserve the opportunity for a college education? What are the implications for this country with a less educated population? 
It is certainly important to review academic and retention statistics and financial obligations, as well as other similar information when exploring a college or university. But this is only part of the necessary assessment of a college or university. 

The most important variable for students and families to consider when looking for the right college is fit: will the student be able to connect academically, socially and emotionally with the academic programs, campus life and values of the institution. If these aspects of a college search aren't priorities, the possibility of a student not succeeding in college life is compounded, no matter the grade the college or university received from some rating system. 

Students along with their parents need to have serious discussions prior to undertaking the college search process. What is the goal for the college experience? What institutions offer the academic programs and rigors that fit the student's goals and past achievements? What values are students and families looking for in the living and learning environment of a college? How will the financial obligation of attending college impact the student and the family? What is the ability of the student? 
Once these and similar questions are answered, students and families should visit the campuses of the institutions that will best meet their goals and objectives. And it is when you are on these campuses that you should explore and gain a better understanding of the data and statistics of the institution that can then be analyzed as part of the entire experience. 

As most qualified researchers know, statistics can vary depending on the sources used, methodology and analysis procedures. Don't let skewed data and grading systems compromise the college search process. Use all of the accurate information you can obtain from qualified sources, as well as the college or university itself, and then visit, visit, visit before you make your decision. Not every college is Harvard - but Harvard isn't for everyone.

Over the past several years, the value of attending law school has come under great scrutiny and high criticism. Just two weeks ago, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that law school enrollments keep plummeting. For 2013, law school applications are down 36% compared to 2010 and enrollment is down nationally by almost 10%. With the exception of the elite law schools, declines in enrollment are ever increasing.

The reality is that due to the economic recession, law firms are reducing their staffs and law schools are reducing their faculty. In some cases, law schools have adjusted their admissions criteria and provided increased financial aid. But the downward trends continue.

The picture for recent law school grads would appear to be similarly bleak. According to the American Bar Association, only 56.2% of those who graduated from law school in 2012 were able to find full time legal jobs within the subsequent nine months. According to the National Association for Law Placement, starting salaries for those able to find a legal position were down 20% from 2009 to 2012.

But a recent study paints a very different picture. Co-authored by Michael Simkovic, an associate law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, and Frank McIntyre, an assistant professor of finance and economics at Rutgers University Business School, the report is entitled, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree.”  The report does not refute the trends delineated above. It affirms the data that job opportunities and earning potential have decreased for virtually everyone due to the recession.

The authors of the report however did attempt to analyze the relative effect of the recession on those with a law school degree and those with only a bachelor’s degree. While their analysis did not look at specific law schools and specific undergraduate programs or tuition expenses, their conclusion is significant. According to this study, on average, a law school graduate will earn $1 million more during his or her lifetime than someone who only holds a bachelor’s degree. Those at the lower end of their data comparisons earned $350,000 more and those at the upper ends earned well over $1 million.

It should be noted that the study does not compare law school to other graduate degrees. “We’re not saying that everyone should go to law school,” Simkovic said. “We’re really looking at the choice between going to law school and stopping at a bachelor’s degree.”

And for me … that’s the most important point. Once again we see the value of education … the value of more education. Other studies which I have shared in this blog find clear evidence that there is a correlation between years of education and earning potential. This study supports the notion that this is true even for very specific graduate degrees.


As the media reports on the challenges in student financial aid programs and the high cost of education, there needs to be some balance with the value of higher education. Yes, college is expensive. Yes, students may face increased interest rates on student loans. But a college degree, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is a good investment. And apparently, there are a million reasons to go to law school!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Last week I began my discussion of a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, developed by its Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences entitled, “The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.”  Last week I provided an overview of the report and shared why I believe this report is so important.  This week, I want to begin to discuss the content in more detail.

 

The report focuses its analyses and recommendations on five areas:1) K-12 Education; 2) Two and Four Year Colleges; 3) Research; 4) Cultural Institutions and Lifelong Learning; and, 5) International Security and Competitiveness.

 

In each of these areas, the Commission’s recommendations are framed by three overarching goals that they believe cannot be achieved by science alone:

 

1. To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy;

2. To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong; 

3. To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

 

Here are their overall recommendations related to each of these goals:

 

To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy.

Because education in the humanities and social sciences not only allow learning about the “what”, but also the “how” and “why”, the Commission recommends:

     -Support for full literacy as the foundation for all learning;

     -Investment in the preparation of citizens; 

     -Increased access to online resources, including teaching materials.

 

To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong.

Because the ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world requires “the development of professional flexibility, inquisitiveness, perceptiveness, the ability to put a received idea to a new purpose, and the capacity to share and build ideas with others," the Commission recommends:

     -Increased investment in research and discovery;

     -The creation of cohesive curricula to ensure basic competencies;

     -Strengthening support for teachers; 

     -Encouraging all disciplines to address “Grand Challenges; 

     -Communicating the importance of research to the public.

 

To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

In order to participate in the global economy, we need to understand diverse cultures and be sensitive to different perspectives, the Commission recommends,

     -Promotion of language learning;

     -Expansion of education in international affairs and transnational studies;

     -Support for study abroad and international exchange programs; 

     -The development of a “Culture Corps.”

 

These are ambitious goals and recommendations.  But they are central to individual and national competitiveness and success.  Next week, more details and some of my thoughts and reflections.

 

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

 

For the past two weeks, I have written about the value of even a limited amount of college education. While a degree is critical to professional success in every way, the report by the Hamilton Group provided evidence that starting college, even if a degree is not completed, is an important and valuable investment.

If you read my blog last week, I ended with the sentence, And we havent even mentioned the value of a liberal education!  Well, for the next few weeks, thats the focus of my comments. Specifically, I just completed reading a thoughtful and compelling report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, developed by its Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

The report is entitled, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.  Its genesis represents an all too rare bi-partisan effort. The report was commissioned by a quartet of lawmakers: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Representative Thomas Petri of Wisconsin both Republicans; Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Representative David Price of North Carolina both Democrats. The charge from these congressional members was:

What are the top actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century? 

This report is viewed by its authors as a complement to the 2007 publication of, Rising Above the Gathering Storm.  The 2007 report generated from the scientific community and was intended to strengthen STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and to encourage new and expanding funding for scientific research.

The Commission that produced The Heart of the Matter was comprised of 54 members including scholars, business executives, scientists, philanthropists, engineers and artists. The members were drawn from higher education, the corporate world, both the public and private sectors, government service, foundations and the arts.

In producing this report, the Commission was guided by three overarching goals that they believe cannot be achieved by science alone:

1.      To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first-century democracy;

2.      To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong; and,

3.      To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

My interest in this report was heightened by the very first prefatory page. The Commission asks, Who will lead America into a bright future?   Their answer,

Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public, who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history. We must prepare the next generation to be these future leaders. 

Liberal education and leadership development two of my core values. More about this important report in the coming weeks.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Last week I began sharing the results of a study entitled, “Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?”  This research was released by the Hamilton Project which is part of the Brookings Institution. The goal of this study was to analyze the effect of starting, but not finishing, a two-year or a four-year college degree. Here is what they found.

Those who started college but did not complete a degree had lifetime earnings of approximately $100,000 more (in present value) than their peers who only completed high school. If analyzed in terms of rate of return rather than actual dollars, the study concluded that some college is a far better investment than any “conventional investment including stocks, bonds, and real estate.”  Of course the study also points out that the return on some college is far less than completing a degree.

The study also finds that there is a correlation between education and employment opportunities. For example, the unemployment rates in April 2013 (based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data) were as follows:

-       Age 25 or older without a high school diploma – 11.4%

-       Age 25 or older with a high school diploma – 7.2%

-       Age 25 or older with an associate’s degree – 5.0%%

-       Age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher – 3.6%

These disparities are even greater when an analysis is done on the employment-to-population ratio. These data reflect that only 39.9% of all individuals without a high school diploma hold a job; only 54.5% of all individuals with only a high school diploma hold a job; only 68.6% of all individuals with an associate’s degree hold a job; and, 73.2% of all individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher hold a job.

What is most interesting and unique to this report is the evidence that of those with only some college, 60.9% hold a job. Clearly, some college improves employment opportunities as well as income potential.

The final area addressed by this study is the jobs gap in this country. Since the Great Recession in December 2007, this country has experienced a jobs gap of 9.9 million jobs. Even if job creation reaches the highest levels during the pre-recession years, this gap will not be closed until 2017-2020.

The point made by this study is that with limited job opportunities and a slow recovery, those entering or in the workforce will need the necessary skills and every competitive advantage. Education is definitely a key.

Some people continue to question whether or not college is a good investment. But the data is clear. It is a good investment in terms of job opportunity. It is a good investment in terms of lifetime earnings. And it is a better investment than other conventional investment opportunities. And we haven’t even mentioned the value of a liberal education!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)