June 2019 - Politics, Perceptions, and Preferences in Higher Education

June 28, 2019


I have been fortunate to participate in several technical review panels (TRPs) with the Department of Education. These engagements ask members of the higher education community to provide feedback on various topics. The materials for an upcoming TRP event entitled “Exploring Best Practices in Data Visualizations” included a link to a beta website called “College Map.” When I looked at this site, I said to myself in my best Spock voice and raised single eyebrow, “Fascinating,” and thought you would also find it interesting from a college search perspective. The site enables one to select institutional characteristics including majors, credential levels, in-state and out-of-state tuition and distance from a set location. The resulting map of the United States shows which institutions offer the degree and links to institutional web pages.

AACRAO Research Update

The chief admissions officer career profile is currently deployed and will close near the end of the month, and the WICHE sponsored research on prior learning is set to deploy at the beginning of August.

I am chugging away at the mountain of data from the admissions operations survey and have included another sneak preview of the results below.  The following figure highlights that most admit decisions—whether admission to the institution or admission to a program/major—are made by a central office. 

Complex technology is also a factor in admission operations.  Just 12% have a single solution to support operations, and 5% have eight or more!



Current Higher Education Research and Related Topics

The Emerging Trend of Project-Based Internships

An article in Education Dive discusses the advantages of project-based or “micro-internships” as valuable to both employers and students. For the employer, it gives an opportunity to test potential talent and may lead to “back-burner” tasks being accomplished. For students, it adds flexibility in scheduling time for an internship, as many are done remotely. It also gives the opportunity to help complete a real-world project and reflect that on their resume.

Annual Survey of Online Student Demands and Preferences

A new annual survey report from Learning House and Aslanian Market Research examines online students, their demographics, and their needs. The survey included 1,500 former, current, and prospective fully-online college students. The survey highlights the complex demographics of online learners and their desires and found the following: 
  • More than 40% of students surveyed intend to have a lifelong relationship with their school
  • 56% use a smartphone or tablet to complete coursework
  • A growing number of online students choose institutions physically close to them, with 44% living within 25 miles of their school
  • School selection is driven by reputation and the most influential sources of information 

Study Shows College Education Continues to be a Sound Investment

The rising costs of higher education have called into question its continuing financial value for students. A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has found that while the rate of return on that investment fluctuates, it is still a good investment. Key points include:
  • A typical college graduate earns a premium of more than $30,000, or nearly 75% compared to someone with only a high school diploma
  • Rising college costs have made the rate of return on that investment dip in recent years, but that investment continues to perform far better than traditional financial investments

Research Offers Technology Recommendations for Community Colleges

New research based on the 2018 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology is now available. Responses from more than 10,000 community college students were used in the research and focused on the following:
  • Access and ownership of technology
  • Preferences in learning environments
  • Issues related to accessible and adaptive technologies 
  • Online tools for student success
The report contains recommendations to help community colleges meet the unique technology needs of their students. This Infographic provides a useful summary of the findings.

New Survey Examines Public and Political Views on Higher Education

A new survey from the public policy think-tank Third Way examines the opinions of voters on a variety of higher education issues. Broadly, the survey found less of a political divide on these issues than might be imagined given the current political polarization of the country. The conventional wisdoms challenged by the survey results include:
  • “College isn’t worth the costs anymore”
  • “Democrats all think free college tuition is the most important thing to do”
  • “Republicans want to remove Federal oversight of higher education”
Other key points include:
  • Large majorities of Americans across party lines believe that bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and career/technical training certificates are still valuable
  • 93% of voters surveyed agreed that the skills required in the workplace today are changing, underscoring the value of higher education
  • Significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans believe higher education institutions have a responsibility to ensure a majority of students graduate
  • Only 58% of voters surveyed said colleges are doing a “good” or “very good” job at providing students a return on their investment

New Issue Brief discusses States’ Approaches to Achieving Attainment Goals

The movement to increase national attainment rates, largely driven by the Obama administration and the Lumina Foundation has resulted in more than 40 states developing plans to reach those goals. This report from Ithaka S+R examines the plans and their success across the nation and found that:
  • While strategies vary among the states, such as focusing on K-12 or workforce certificates, the majority of emphasis is on bachelor’s degree attainment
  • “Preliminary evidence suggests that many states may have difficulty meeting their goals”
  • There are large attainment gaps based on race, and for these plans to be successful minority degree attainment must be enhanced
A graphic showing all states’ goals and achievement rates is available here.

50-State Comparison on Financial Aid

This comparison from the Education Commission of the States looks in-depth at the ways in which States measure need or merit in awarding financial aid. The comparison is based on the top two largest programs in each state. Data points used include: the method used to calculate income, whether a FAFSA is required, and what measures of merit are used. In addition to 50-state comparison data, detail data on each state is also included. Key points include:
  • Nearly half of the 100 largest state financial aid programs are disbursed on the basis of financial need only
  • 40% use merit-based criteria, or a combination of need and merit
  • Among merit based programs, most policies specify a minimum GPA, with fewer using a a minimum SAT score or minimum ACT score

Cutting state appropriations for higher education reduces number of degrees awarded

A new whitepaper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research and reviewed by Education Dive (the paper itself is behind a pay firewall) has investigated the effects of reduced state appropriations for higher education. It also looks at some of the ways in which institutions have attempted to replace this lost funding. The authors found that:
  • At a public research institution a 10% decrease in state appropriations leads to a 3.6% decrease in bachelor's degrees awarded and a 7.2 percent decrease in Ph.D. degrees completed
  • Cuts typically led to both a reduction in support services and instructional resources
  • Non-research public universities were least able to replace lost state funding

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