One of the topics I write and speak about regularly is the value of a college degree. While affordability is a major challenge facing prospective students, I continue to believe that there is an indisputable value in earning a college degree. I gave two presentations just in the past two weeks on challenges facing higher education. I was not surprised to be questioned about whether or not the investment in higher education is really worth it. People hear about the high costs of education and observe the continued challenges in the economy.
If you read my blog every week, you know that I am constantly referencing research that clearly supports the return on investment in higher education. Despite the anecdotal evidence to the contrary, almost every study I have read demonstrates that a college degree more than pays for itself over the course of the graduate’s lifetime in terms of income, professional success, community engagement and happiness.
A study published by College Summit provides even broader evidence of the value of a college degree. College Summit is a national organization that partners with high schools to help “to increase the college enrollment rates of youth from low-income communities.” They currently work with 180 high schools across the country helping to provide professional development, coaching, and “peer influencers.” This organization serves 50,000 students annually in 12 states.
Their latest research entitled “Smart Shoppers: The End of the ‘College for All’ Debate?” not only provides evidence of the need for more and more college graduates to meet the employment demands of this country, but also that a college degree even helps in those professions typically not requiring an advanced degree. According to this report, even in careers like plumbing and hairdressing, those holding a college degree tend to earn more than their less educated peers.
But a study just released entitled, “The Economics of BA Ambivalence: The Case of California Higher Education” provides a more nuanced and thorough understanding of this important issue. The study uses data drawn from the University of California System, the states research campuses, and the California State University System, the less selective state college system. While this study focuses on a single state and parts of the state system (i.e., not including private, independent colleges), I think the results are widely applicable and certainly informative for all of higher education.
The authors of this study frame their research in light of the growing ambivalence towards higher education by Americans. Their understanding of ambivalence is drawn from an article written by the well- respected national commentator, Ron Brownstein, which appeared in the National Journal Magazine on September 29, 2012. The article was entitled, “Struggling to Advance,” and responded to the reality that a majority of Americans now define success as not falling behind. They worry that fundamental changes in the economy are making it more difficult for them—and their children—to get ahead.”
Referencing polls conducted by the Heartland Monitor, Brownstein writes,
“The most fundamental question about the next generation evokes the most unease. Asked if today’s children will have more opportunities than older Americans, only 32 percent said yes. In the four times the Heartland Monitor has tested that question since 2009, no more than one-third of Americans have ever said they expect the next generation to enjoy greater opportunities. In the new poll, an equal 32 percent said they believed today’s children will have less opportunity to get ahead, while the remaining 31 percent said their opportunities would be unchanged. As in earlier surveys, whites remain far more pessimistic than minorities: Just 25 percent of whites believe the next generation will have more opportunity than our own, while 38 percent expect their opportunities to diminish. (College-educated whites are as pessimistic as noncollege whites, who have borne larger job and income losses in recent decades.) By contrast, 51 percent of minorities believe today’s children will have more opportunity than they did, while only 20 percent believe they will have less.
Those anxious responses partly reflect ambivalence, especially among blue-collar whites, about the economic value of a college education. Although studies show that workers with college degrees earn significantly more money over their lifetimes than those without one, just 38 percent of those polled said they viewed a college education as a ‘ticket to the middle class,’ while 54 percent said it was ‘an economic burden that is often too expensive and requires taking on debt to pay for.’ Three-fifths of both whites with college degrees and minorities (with and without degrees) saw such education as a source of advancement, but whites without a college degree split in half on whether the benefits of college justified the cost.”
Next week I will share the results of this study. A college degree is definitely worth it, but the issue may be more complex.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
One of the classic stereotypes in all of education relates to the tension between faculty and administrators. Like all stereotypes, there is certainly some truth to this. Having worked in both K-12 and higher education for decades … as both a teacher and an administrator … I have experienced cases where faculty thought their voices were not being heard and administrators thought they were not receiving the support they deserved. This stereotype is enforced when the media pays much closer attention to votes of no confidence and denials of tenure, but rarely covers a story about harmony and cooperation on campus.
But a recent survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education tells a different story. Last August and September, The Chronicle conducted an online survey with 431 public and private, non-profit four-year colleges throughout the country. The survey was directed to the chief academic officers on each campus (provost or vice president for academic affairs) and the faculty in leadership positions (heads of faculty senates, faculty representatives on governing boards). The Chronicle received responses from 325 institutions including 254 faculty leaders and 175 academic leaders.
Despite the fact that faculty leaders were typically less positive than administrators in their assessment, a majority of both groups rated relations on campus as “good” or “very good.” Even more, a vast majority of respondents rated relations between faculty and administrators as “improving” on their campuses. Finally, almost 75% of the faculty who responded said that they trusted their administration to “look out for the best interests of their institution.”
Clearly, there are still areas of disagreement and tension. Faculty are more concerned about the trend to use an increased number of part-time faculty and adjuncts to provide instruction. Faculty also continue to desire greater involvement in decision making about budgets and expenditures. And 10% of the faculty respondents rated relations on their campuses as “poor” or “very poor.”
Especially interesting to me was the repeated observation that any significant problems in relations between faculty and administrators were caused more by the behaviors of specific individuals rather than a pervasive level of distrust or disrespect. This certainly correlates with my experience.
A small group of faculty or a single administrator can often ignite a level of tension and acrimony. But the overwhelming majority of faculty and administrators are collegial and share a commitment to the best interests of their institutions. They may disagree from time to time as to how best to reach the goal, but they overwhelmingly agree on the goal.
The fact is that a degree of tension between faculty and administrators is both normal and healthy. By definition, faculty advocate for academic programs, student quality and resources to support teaching, learning, scholarship and professional development. This is their job. This is their professional responsibility. These issues are critical to the academic integrity that they hold dear.
While administrators share these values, they must balance academic and faculty needs with broader institutional demands. No institution I know has the resources to support fully every program and every need. These complementary needs and demands create levels of dialogue and discussion that are central to a vibrant college.
Life on a college campus is rarely perfect. But faculty and administrators work side by side every day in the best interests of our students. Maybe someday you will see a story about this!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
There are very few things in the world that are irrefutable. Two plus two will always equal four; the sun will always rise in the east and set in the west; and even when they win, the Red Sox will cause us “agita!”
But it is rarely surprising to find research that seems to contradict or at least provide an alternative perspective about educational issues. There are multiple theories and applications and there are always varying opinions and interpretations.
A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Value of an Online Degree” (September 8, 2013). Referencing highly reliable research, this study indicated extremely positive views towards online degrees … views comparable to perceptions of traditional degree programs. But a recent Gallup Poll provides a significantly different perspective.
Gallup recently polled two groups of 1000 adults asking them if they thought “online education was better” in a number of categories. The results were mixed at best.
In terms of overall quality, only 34% of respondents rated online programs as “excellent” or good” compared to 68% rating traditional four-year programs as “excellent” or “good.” Online programs only received highly favorable ratings in terms of the “wide range of options for curriculum” (72% say online better) and providing “good value for the money” (67% say online better).
However, respondents believe that online programs provide “less rigorous testing and grading,” less qualified instructors, and, in direct contrast with the previous study I reported, “less credence with employers compared with traditional, classroom-based education.”
As I reflect upon this data, I think the reader has to retain a clear perspective. These results are likely an accurate reflection of the general public. The 2000+ respondents in the two samples in Gallup’s study were picked in a way to insure randomness and conformity to national demographic trends. They were all 18 years old or older.
But they were not disproportionately college educated. We know that fewer than 30% of Americans earn a college degree. So what did these respondents know about online programs or traditional programs? Only 5% had any experience with online education in any form. So how were they sufficiently informed to assess?
Public perceptions tell us a great deal about how we communicate the value and quality of online education to the general public. The previous study focused on the assessment of employers and recruitment professionals, who may not have taken an online course or program, but have a database of candidates and employees who come to them with varied educational backgrounds.
From my experience, the best way to understand and appreciate online education is to try it. I have been amazed to see faculty and students wary of the comparability of online programs in terms of quality and personal attention go through a conversion experience once they teach or take a class.
There will always be traditional on-ground programs. But the reality is that online education is growing because of the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s students. There is still a lot of educating to do about online education, but it is worth it.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)