What Does Value Look Like In Higher Education?

Career College Central summary:

  • Students and families paid more than $154 billion in tuition and fees to attend public, private, and for-profit colleges, universities, and trade and technical schools in the 2011-12 academic year, borrowing more than $106 billion to attend those institutions under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. When writing those checks and taking out those loans, few people realize that only 38 percent of students who enter a four-year degree program and 21 percent of students who enter a two-year degree program graduate on time.
  • To address these issues, President Barack Obama launched the College Scorecard tool to help prospective students and their families quickly compare institutions of higher education on four key elements: cost, graduation rate, median amount borrowed, and loan default rate. He has also called on the Department of Education to create a college rating system that identifies institutions that provide the best value for students and families.
  • The Department of Education has been holding public hearings around the country to gather input from students and their parents, state leaders, college presidents, and others on how to develop a rating system that puts a fundamental premium on measuring value while ensuring college access for those with economic or other disadvantages. College and university faculty and administrators have expressed concern that the rating system will include graduates’ earnings, which raises the prospect that higher-education institutions will be judged, in significant part, by the earnings of recent graduates.
  • These critics argue that the true value of higher education comes not from the amount that people are paid but from the significance and meaning of the work that students do for the nation, their communities, or their employers. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated, an assessment of the value of a higher-education institution must include the consideration of a number of factors, including:

    • Access: percentage of students receiving Pell Grants
    • Affordability: average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt
    • Outcomes: graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates
  • Ultimately, the Department of Education will need to refine the measurements used in an alternative quality-assurance system as additional data are developed and institutions work to improve their performance. But critically, aid must focus on providing students with Pell Grants and affordable loans so that they may attend high-performing colleges.

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