If one were to only listen to the media, it would be easy to conclude that student debt is overwhelming, a national economic crisis and that colleges are to blame. As with most things covered by the media, there is some truth to these reports, but a good deal of hyperbole. A recent article by Justin Draeger from University Business provided a fact based and logical analysis of the student aid issue. He articulates three “myths” about student aid and provides helpful insights. I thought I would share them and then let you decide.
The first myth Draeger cites is that “increases in student aid drive up college costs.” This inaccuracy is used repeatedly at Congressional hearings and central to the Republican FY 2013 budget resolution. The argument is that as long as the federal government increases financial aid, colleges will simply raise their tuition rates and continue to burden students. Therefore, the Republican proposal is to eliminate student loan subsidies and limit eligibility for programs like Pell grants.
In fact, there are no studies and no data to support a relationship between rising college costs and increased financial aid. In fact, just the opposite. As financial aid resources, especially at the state level, are being decreased and eliminated, most colleges are increasing their own financial aid allocations to support students, and these increases are reflected in overall tuition increases. In addition families and students bear the burden of increased cost due to decreased federal and state financial aid programs.
Another key factor in the increases in college tuition is technology. In a compelling argument developed by David Feldman and Robert Archibald in their book, Why Does College Cost So Much?, they argue that the necessity of higher education to remain competitive in the ever changing technological world has resulted in significant increases in technology driving up costs.
The second myth Draeger explains is that “student loans are the next mortgage bubble.” Many media reports have compared the student loan “crisis” to the mortgage “crisis” in this country. This comparison is ludicrous on many levels. First, at its peak, the housing market was valued at $22 trillion, 25 times larger than the student loan market of $867 million.
But even more, the value of higher education continues to increase every year. Study after study confirms that a college degree increases the earning potential of a graduate by no less than $500,000 and as much as $1 million or more. In addition, college graduates are less likely to be unemployed and, therefore, they are able to take responsibility for their loans. Finally, those with student loans have multiple options available for repayment of loans and deferment of loans. The student loan issue is real, but it’s not the crisis often portrayed.
The final myth described by Draeger is that “most students borrow too much.” An accurate assessment of the student loan issue is provided in a report entitled, “High Debt, Low Information: A Survey of Student Loan Borrowers.” The facts are that 43% of undergraduate and graduate students borrow between $1,000 and $10,000. Another 30% borrow between $10,000 and $25,000. While debts at this range are significant, they are hardly in the six figure range typically used in media reports.
The student loan issue is a serious one requiring thoughtful attention. Interest rate levels, levels of debt, default rates, college costs, federal and state programs need to be reviewed, analyzed and in some cases, changed. But I doubt that this reflective analysis and constructive reform will occur in halls of Congress or through a special report on the evening news. But maybe … just maybe … we can do something about it. What do you think?
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)
The top concern of young Americans is “jobs and the economy.” Interestingly, this has been the top concern for some time, but is less of a concern now than it was in Fall 2011 (74% cited it as the top concern in Fall, 2011; 58% cited it as the top concern in the most recent survey).
Other top concerns are health care, education, immigration and national security, but each of these receives less than a 10% response as a top concern. While more young Americans support Obama over Romney (43% to 26%), they continue to be critical of the President’s handling of the economy, health care, the budget deficit and the wars in Iran and Afghanistan.
In an interesting new perspective, the most recent survey asked young Americans to identify which of two issues was more important when paired with a series of other issues. “Creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate” was identified as the more important issue in 77% of the comparisons. Related to this, “reducing the federal deficit” was considered more important 62% of the time, and “ensuring affordable access to health care,” “lowering the tax burden for all Americans,” and “creating a world class education system” all were a top priority in a majority of comparisons. What is clear from this is that domestic issues and issues impacting the quality of life far outweigh international and foreign policy issues.
Young Americans were also asked to indicate their levels of trust. It might be surprising to note that the highest level of trust (“to do the right thing all of the time or most of the time”) was received by the military (55%). The Supreme Court came in second (45%), followed by the President (41%), the United Nations (38%), Local Government (37%), State Government (32%), Federal Government (27%), Congress (23%) and Wall Street (13%).
Finally, over a third of these young Americans (34%) report that they are engaged in community service. This percentage is significantly higher for college students (53%) than others in the survey. Despite this high degree of community service, there is a decreasing satisfaction with “the efficacy and importance of political engagement.” High percentages of respondents believe that “elected officials” are motivated by “selfish reasons” (59%), have different priorities than these young Americans (55%), are “too partisan” (49%), and rarely produce results (29%).
My assessment of these results is that young Americans are not radically different than all Americans. We too easily stereotype young people in general and college students in specific as too liberal and a bit naïve. But if you review these data and think about your own concerns and priorities, there is more similarity than difference. Perhaps older adults identify more closely with the Republican Party, but the issues are the same.
So I decided to conduct an unscientific experiment on campus. In the past week, I have asked about 50 students to share their views. Some of these students were undergraduates, other were graduate students. Many will be graduating this year, but I spoke with underclassmen as well.
My goal was to see if the students at a small college in central Massachusetts mirrored this national profile. And by in large they do!
It is no surprise that those close to graduation are more concerned about the job market and employment issues. I suspect this might be true in the Harvard study as well if the data were presented by college levels. While there is an awareness of international issues, domestic issues are of greatest concern.
It was gratifying to learn that a vast majority of our students are engaged in community service, more than twice the percentage in this study. That is central to our mission and our students embrace this sense of responsibility.
At Commencement exercises over the next few weeks, there will be persistent rhetoric about this next generation, their opportunities and responsibilities to change the world, etc., etc. It is helpful to know better who they are, what they believe and their worldview.
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)
Are they worried about the future of student loans (not really)? Are they worried about finding jobs (yes)? Are they concerned about climate change (less than you would think)? Do they wonder about affordable health care (more than you might expect)?
The best source of information for me is the day to day interactions I have with students on our campus. I tell our incoming freshmen each year that I will stop them on campus and ask them, “What did you learn today?” This usually leads to a conversation about a myriad of thoughts and ideas, their experiences on campus and their plans and priorities. I actually do ask those wearing headphones what they are listening to. It is no surprise that I typically do not recognize the artist, and have yet to have a student respond, “My favorite Puccini opera!”
But I am also interested in gaining a broader perspective on attitudes and beliefs of young people beyond this campus. And one of the most helpful resources for this information is an annual study conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Over a decade ago and initiated by two undergraduate students, this Institute began conducting an Annual Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes towards Politics and Public Service.
Initially, this national survey included 800 respondents who were currently enrolled in college. Over the years, the survey has broadened considerably. It now includes respondents between the ages of 18-29, is conducted online and in both English and Spanish. By including young Americans who are not in college, the results provide a comparison that is helpful to understanding both populations. The most recent survey was conducted between March 23 and April 9, 2012 and included over 3,000 respondents.
The demographic and political profiles generated from this research provide an interesting perspective. I was surprised that only 87% own a cell phone and only 90% have Internet access. I thought both of these would be closer to 100%. The profile of their personal relationships is also revealing. Only 21% are married, 14% are living with a partner, 1% are divorced, 1% are separated and 63 % have never been married.
The employment statistics reflect the state of the economy. Only 55% are working as a paid employee, 4% are self-employed and 23% are actively looking for work. It is unclear what the status is of the remaining 18% of respondents.
Because the demographic (race, gender, religious affiliation) and educational status are consistent with national data on this age group, the political and ideological profiles generated from this study provide a helpful context as we enter this election year.
Only 65% are registered to vote and only 58% who were eligible voted in 2008. Despite the persistent perceptions of young Americans’ political leanings, only 36% identify themselves as liberal and 35% say that they are conservative. The remaining respondents self-identify as moderates. This is mirrored in their party affiliations with 37% saying that they are Democrats, 24% Republicans and 38% Independents.
What are their most important issues? How do they assess current issues? More to come on this next week.
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)
Those who concur see the value of a liberal education in ways similar to my comments. Those who are less supportive see the need for professional preparation as primary. But we are talking about the issue, debating the various perspectives, and that in itself demonstrates the value of liberal education.
Last week I tried to move this discussion from rhetoric to reality by suggesting several strategies that might be used to preserve liberal education at the core of the educational experience. I have always believed that complaining about a problem without offering solutions for change/improvement is of little value.
The fourth strategy I suggested last week was the re-evaluation of the college’s mission. My argument is that we need not create an either/or situation, but rather can focus on quality liberal education and quality professional preparation. In other words, the dinosaurs can be saved … or at least can evolve.
But I was reminded of the difficulty of change for many organizations when I read some of the proceedings from the recent national conference of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (AGB). AGB is a great organization that provides training and resources for trustees and leaders of colleges and universities, both public and private. I have attended and presented at their conferences over the years and always found the information thoughtful and helpful.
One of the topics at the recent conference was the mission of colleges and the pressure by external groups (parents, students, legislators, and accrediting bodies) to provide more career based education that meets the needs of the global economy. One of the speakers, who is the president of the Association of American Universities, “warned college leaders against bowing to public pressure.” He stated clearly his view that liberal arts colleges and research universities remain true to their founding missions.
It is no surprise that there are some who believe so strongly in their mission and/or are so resistant to change that the thought of evolving the college’s mission is anathema. But the question that I keep reflecting upon is whether or not …and how … does an organization change its mission? And if it does change its mission, is it a different organization? Does it lose (or confuse) its identity?
Organizations (including colleges) develop new strategies and new programs regularly to respond to the interests and needs of their customers. Some organizations do this to generate revenue. Some do this to increase satisfaction and performance. Some do it because of their commitment to quality improvement and excellence. But the mission of an organization defines its identity and core values. It delineates what makes the organization unique and distinctive.
The fact is that the educational needs of students has changed and will likely continue to change. Colleges need to be cognizant of the world in which our graduates will work and live. Changing or evolving the college’s mission must be done carefully and prudently, respectful of the history, tradition and core values of the institution. But in the end, at the very heart of every college and university is the commitment to providing quality education for every student. And that mission must never change?
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)
The first is a renewed emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, the integration of multiple liberal arts and sciences. A commitment to an interdisciplinary learning approach would create a distinctive educational experience at individual colleges. For example, a college might promote that its liberal arts studies are unique because its courses all integrate science and philosophy or global perspectives.
At the conference I described in last week’s blog, some who supported this position suggested that faculty typically resist interdisciplinary approaches because of their deep and active focus on their majors. They are trained in a discipline, research in a discipline and teach in a discipline.
Colleges may need to offer both extrinsic incentives and appeal to intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation might include public advocacy, rewards that include financial incentives, tenure criteria and conditions of hire. Intrinsic motivation might include a degree of autonomy, the freedom to pilot unique courses without repercussions, and public recognition.
These approaches and opportunities may be limited at small institutions with few liberal arts faculty. This reality leads to the second strategy, collaboration. Some people describe higher education as an “ivory tower,” separated from the real world and practical issues (a topic for a future blog). But too often the potential “towers” are surrounded by wide and deep moats.
Colleges can and should work together on collaborative approaches that might include consortium agreements, shared faculty positions, faculty exchanges, joint programs, and the integration of groups of students. Depending on the nature and history of the colleges, collaboration can also be an effective way to increase understanding of diversity and global perspectives.
The third idea is the increased use of technology. Many liberal arts faculty (and I, who majored in English and Theology and still teach periodically in the Humanities) use technology in limited ways. The creative use of technology for the transmission of information and perspectives, as the methodology for student interaction, and the framework for interdisciplinary and collaborative initiatives will likely engage the students in ways that make sense to their worlds. Not too long ago I thought how interesting it would be to teach Shakespeare or the Bible through social media (e.g., if Moses or Hamlet were on Facebook).
The final strategy relates to mission. While I clearly believe in liberal education, I think liberal arts colleges need to consider the addition of more career preparation programs. The fact is that fewer and fewer students can afford to only study the liberal arts. We need to help them understand and appreciate liberal education, but do so in the context of both their intended profession and the rest of their lives.
We can save the dinosaurs! And the benefits are many. What do you think?