Moody’s Investors Service released its outlook for higher education in 2014. Looking at Moody’s interpretation of a survey of net tuition revenues, Scott Carlson called the report “grim” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Moody’s suggested that weak economy will impact families capacity to pay. They noted that federal budgetary concerns, including a potential sequestration threat, could affect financial aid.
Moody’s further indicated that the rapid growth of online courses will impact the pace of change in higher education. They also argued most ominously that expenses are outpacing revenue, noting “after multiple years of stagnant capital investment and tightened control of operating spending, pressure is building to invest in capital, information systems, faculty compensation, and program renewal.”
There is nothing new in Moody’s report; indeed, the ratings agencies remain concerned about a crisis triggered by changing demographics, consumer preferences, the lingering great recession, technology enhancements, and an inability and at times unwillingness to innovate effectively and efficiently within higher education.
What was most interesting perhaps in the Chronicle’s report on Moody’s findings was the discussion that followed by the magazine’s readers. Continue reading
In the late 1980s, 20th Century Fox distributed a teen romantic comedy called How I Got Into College. The movie followed the adventures of Marlon as he pursued the “girl of his dreams,” Jessica. Jessica hoped to attend a fictional Pennsylvania institution, Ramsey College, which advertised to prospective students that it sought “more than the numbers.”
The movie was not a box office success but it developed something of a cult following among high school seniors thinking about college. It was crammed with hilarious one-liners. One young woman preparing to be tutored for her SAT’s proclaimed, for example, that she would only be accepted at colleges to which you would never go. Living in Michigan, she suggested one solution to improve her chances would be to move to Montana. The young woman reasoned that every college accepts at least one student from Montana.
The movie spoke to changing admissions standards and the rigors of application at selective private liberal arts institutions. It also raised an important question. How do I get into college? Continue reading
As American colleges and universities scramble to cut costs, hold down tuition, and support academic programs, the parameters shaping student life remain at best undefined.
What role does support for student life play in an academic setting?
At residential campuses, most of the energy and financial support is appropriately directed toward the academic program. Student life translates as a value added to provide a student with choice but little coordinated direction. Finding yourself as a first year student means knowing where to begin to look. On the administrative side, student life represents added costs within a comprehensive fee charged to families. At some institutions, the amounts charged in fees, room and board are calculated primarily to balance the annual budget. There’s little that is strategic about it.
While the media often confuses tuition with the comprehensive fee, families effectively not only pay tuition but also fees, room and board costs when they write out the check. Continue reading
For many who think and write about American higher education, the quality of the industry-wide conversation on how best to accommodate change seems increasingly defensive.
It often appears that the strongest defense is a weak regurgitation of “look at me . . . look at me” rather than a deeper understanding of how pieces fit together to provide a comprehensive education. We seem to be trying to save the trees without any understanding about how to manage and nurture the forest.
History is important and a relevant indicator of lasting value. As their proponents suggest, the liberal arts are the foundation upon which future generations of scholars and thinkers will continue to rely. Global employers understand value that comes with an ability to write, articulate, apply quantitative methods, use technology, and work in collaborative settings. Proponents of the liberal arts need to sharpen their case. They must also appreciate, however, that global society cannot be based upon a world that they wish existed. Life is tougher outside the college gates.
Technology now intrudes upon older Socratic methods of teaching. Higher education must appreciate that its students will come to them with new skill sets and knowledge obtained in ways different from the more traditional delivery methods sanctioned and measured by liberal arts colleges. It’s not that these schools are not incubating innovation; rather, the question is can they innovate fast enough while still protecting their core asset represented by the liberal arts curriculum? Continue reading
CBS news reported this week that a number of colleges and universities had or planned to cut their sticker prices significantly. CBS noted that the reported tuition price for independent colleges and universities was slightly over $30,000 per year – or up about $1,100 since last year.
These numbers translated into a 2.9 percent increase or the lowest collective tuition increase in 40 years.
Consumers need to think through a number of points before applauding this decision as a panacea to address high sticker prices. Continue reading
As we watched the government shutdown and fiscal crisis play out in Washington this week, the first thought crossing the minds of most Americans was how silly and dangerous the high stakes game of “we’re not sure what we want but we still want it” was in the court of global public opinion. The agreement to compromise failed the biggest test before it.
National politicians – in both parties – didn’t fix the problem.
How long will we tolerate this curious and depressing mix of ideology, procedural roadblock, and bad manners? People across the globe can tell the difference between a bandage and surgery. One covers up the problem. The other fixes it.
There were additional, related impressions of this self-inflicted debacle. One of the ones that is most difficult to shake was the sense that national political leaders need to go back to college–fast.
Since when do national politicians have the luxury to represent only those in their districts who voted for them? How in good conscience can they listen principally to those loyalists who show up at orchestrated town meetings?
Isn’t it a better strategy to learn from those who disagree with them? Aren’t nationally elected politicians supposed to rise above the practices of local, ward boss politics on matters of national standing? Continue reading
This week the articles, blogs and op eds on higher education share a common, repetitive theme. The Wall Street Journal carried an opinion piece on rising costs, for example, naming the usual suspects. U.S. News & World Report published its ten most expensive colleges listing.
They pick up on popular rhetoric now baked into the American psyche. Americans think that college costs too much. Higher education leadership can argue the difference between cost and sticker price, emphasize the value of the liberal arts education, and plead with alumni as new fundraising targets now top $5 billion at some places. The problem is that – in the end – it doesn’t matter much anymore.
It’s hard to make a good argument if no one is listening.
It has been well established that two-year students face enormous problems when they decide to complete a four-year degree. By one estimate, only 11 percent of those who indicate their intention to acquire a degree on the day they start in a two-year program actually do so.
There are many reasons for this failure. Certainly, the long, deep recession and the uncertain impact on federal grant and loan programs caused by the budget/debt ceiling implosion playing out so painfully now in Washington only make things worse. Actions have consequences, especially in these moments of global embarrassment for America.
Still, whatever the resolution ahead there will be numerous obstacles to overcome. In fact, sometimes it’s not just about the money.
From the outset, students must first overcome a familial, social and cultural barrier. The idea of a college degree can seem entirely irrelevant to first generation families when the concept of going to college is not fully understood and appreciated. It can be an unwelcome intrusion on family life where moving up is synonymous with moving out. And, the support necessary to prepare a student for a college career may not exist nor can it be guaranteed for all children. It’s sometimes easier to prepare for paths that are understandable and seem more realistic.
Speaking recently to guidance counselors at a Boston area community college, they made the important point that the term “success” has many meanings. They noted that for their best and brightest students it is almost a leap of faith for these students to consider leaving Boston when they seek a four-year degree. Continue reading
Freshmen move-in day is over. This year’s crop of students has begun classes. On college campuses, it’s already time to think about next year’s class. This means you.
For prospective students, application season has begun.
Here are some tips as you sit down and begin the application.
Get started on them.
Dream big dreams. Think about who you are and what you bring to college life. Reflect even more about who you wish to become. Remember that this is the first independent, adult game changer decision that you and your friends will make. See it as an opportunity and you’re well on your way to making a good decision.
Great colleges are an almost perfect and imperceptible mix of people, programs and facilities. Among them, this mix works best when founded on a culture based upon a strong sense of self. This also differentiates further the subtleties that exist among them. It’s why in the end prospective applicants choose one institution over another. Students know it when they feel it. As consumers, students buy an educational program based on quality, perception and promise.
Most colleges and universities define themselves by promoting a residential learning experience. It’s not so much whether the students live in the dorms. For most institutions, the residential learning experience has two parts. The first is the educational program. The second is the blend of a thousand teachable moments that exist outside the classroom. These moments vary across institutions. Colleges may stress big time athletics, careerism, voluntarism or robust extracurricular programs. It’s the blend of classroom and extracurricular activity that creates the perception.
To shape this perception, American higher education institutions have historically maintained strict control over the mix that produces it. They rightly point to the resources placed on assuring a quality academic program. They speak of the institution’s ability to attract professors who are teacher scholars. And they provide academic facilities to allow professors to teach students well.