A new report by the National Commission on Financing 21st Century Education, an initiative of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, contains some pleasant surprises.
I was expecting the worst: a call for mo’ money from the federal government, state government, and probably the private sector, too. You know the logic: There’s no problem in higher ed that more resources won’t fix.
Indeed, the executive summary of “Investing in the Future: Sharing Responsibility for Higher Education Attainment” unfolded largely as expected in the first two of nine recommendations:
- Increase federal and institutional support. Mo’ money!
- Enhance state revenue to support higher education. Even mo’ money!
Then, lo and behold, I came to Recommendation Three: “Stimulate the development and implementation of low cost education delivery models.” That sounded promising. Lower cost models are exactly what higher ed needs. The report elaborates:
New approaches alter or supplement the traditional approach in one or more of the following ways:
• They eliminate the uniform pace of learning and replace it with individually paced instruction.
• They provide alternatives to classroom-based instruction.
• They offer opportunities to work and apply skills while learning.
• They award credentials based on students acquiring and demonstrating specific skills rather than completing a set number of credits. In addition, some new models use data analytics to design support tactics to help students successfully navigate and complete their education.
Recommendation Four was even more encouraging: “Encourage productivity in the postsecondary system.” You don’t often hear the word “productivity” uttered in association with the words “higher ed.”
“Higher education productivity” refers to the number of degrees conferred per dollar of spending. The Commission believes that most public institutions can improve their productivity and graduate more students while lowering or holding steady the cost per degree. We think that a reasonable goal for most colleges and universities is to increase productivity by at least 1.5 percent per year over the next decade to yield an average annual savings of $5 million from all public institutions between 2017 and 2025.
Specifically, states should (1) reward colleges and universities that increase productivity; (2) negotiate tailored productivity agreements with individual colleges and universities, and (3) provide competitive grants to institutions to help them build data systems that track student readiness and performance.
Recommendation Five recommended creating incentives for students to graduate on time. One common sense idea was to reform financial aid policies to enable students to take courses in the summer.
There’s more to the report, mostly suggestions on how to find more money and how to help low-income kids. All told, it’s thin gruel for those who, like me, regard higher education as an institution geared to exploit America’s middle class. While many of the report’s ideas are worthwhile, college and universities have little reason to implement them. It’s much easier to pass on higher costs than transform the organizational culture. Still, the study does make clear that there are alternatives to Business As Usual.There are currently no comments highlighted.