The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s July 2015 report is still being dissected across all media and higher education sectors. Surprising facts are presented such as, for every $1 increase in the subsidized-loan cap, tuition proportionately rose by as much as 65 cents. As political campaigns heat up, so does the growing debate on increasing higher education costs. Graduates are reporting record amounts of debt and feelings of hopelessness as they stare down the next phase of their life.
Political candidates are proposing solutions, but so far no one has been able to identify the cause. Speculation focuses on increasing federal financial aid as driving the costs of tuition, while others are blaming a reduction in state funding as the cause for rising tuition costs, and some point to decreasing enrollments as the primary driver of increased tuition to cover current expenses. Regardless of the actual cause, no singular issue has been identified as the problem and therefore, no one solution is going to provide the answer. Even worse, focusing resources on solutions that do not address the root of the problem risks solving the wrong problem and wasting limited resources.
Unfortunately, in the middle of recognizing that there is a problem needing to be solved and the endless proposals aimed at addressing the issue, students continue to be saddled with high debt and limited access to viable educational options in a rapidly changing and highly competitive marketplace.
- Straight Outta Responsibility: No one wants to place or accept the blame, but there is plenty to go around. No one individual or institution created the mess facing higher education, but we all sure perpetuated it. We are a consumer-driven world and that mentality has carried over into our educational desires. We want state-of-the-art opportunities to be available so that we can compete in the state-of-the-art world we have created. Could it be that we have taken it too far? Are higher education institutions feeling the need to be bigger and better in order to compete for the same student population? There are really two types of students, the ones looking for education and experience and the others looking for education and opportunities. An increasing majority of students fall into the latter category. They are working, adult students who are seeking a quality education that will provide them pathways to additional opportunities. These students are less interested in the experience of education and more focused on the education itself. These same students are also burdened under an increasing load of debt while trying to pay tuition and support themselves or their family. In a world that innovates and discovers ways to decrease the costs in all other aspects, why are costs increasing for higher education without improved results? Does a higher cost equate to a better education? The answer is arguably no, but the facts seem to support the opposite.
- Straight Outta Options: As a way to keep costs down, students are seeking short-term boot camps and other vocational certificate programs to provide them with the minimum education they need to enter or advance in their professional career. These programs are offered through a variety of delivery methods. More students are attending multiple institutions, completing credits, and moving on, but never earning a degree. While these alternative methods of educational delivery are getting noticed, regulation is slow to adjust to the needs of institutions and students. Credit transferability is an increasingly critical issue as some institutions impose unnecessary restrictions on credit transfer resulting in students repeating courses they have already completed and placing at risk the financial resources needed to continue. Political campaigns are targeting for-profit, online institutions for bad practices while many of those same practices also occur at other public, private, and non-profit institutions. It’s a game of finger pointing and students are again caught in the cross-hairs.
- Straight Outta Education: There are rock climbing walls, modern recreational facilities, manicured grounds, and dormitories that rival some of the finest hotels, all increasing the cost of college attendance. There are substantial shifts in the proportion of full-time faculty who are dedicated to serving the needs of students toward part-time faculty who teach minimal hours while juggling other part-time positions or other full-time jobs off campus. So what about the education? Graduates are reporting difficulties in gaining employment and paying back student loan debt. Employers state that many graduates still do not possess the qualifications that are essential for the positions that are open. At the same time, institutions are being held to increasing levels of scrutiny for assuring students can secure viable employment upon graduation. Somewhere in the middle, the focus on delivering quality education has taken a back seat.
Higher education needs to get back to its primary mission, educating students. When businesses are struggling, they turn inward and overhaul the operation. Businesses do not rely on changing regulations, government agencies, or external parties to provide the solution. Businesses know better than anyone how to deliver their product and meet their customers’ needs. The same is true for higher education. We need to stop relying on external input to drive innovation and change.
The answer to higher education’s rising costs is not in campaign promises or increased federal funding, but in higher education itself. The solution requires action plans from those who understand students’ needs and the resources necessary to run a successful institution. Now is the time for higher education to engage as an industry in exploring ways programs and services can be delivered more effectively, more efficiently, and more responsively to meet the needs of today’s shifting student population. Higher education needs to initiate the changes necessary to better serve students. Students need access to affordable quality education.
“By making college unaffordable and student loans unbearable, we risk deterring our best and brightest from pursuing higher education and securing a good-paying job.” ~ Mark Pocan
How can higher education reduce costs while still meeting students’ needs?
Image generated by straightouttasomewhere.com