While the New America organization is in the news for its troubling Google relationship, a different branch of the think tank just published an important study about American higher education. Everyone in education should read it.
Here I’ll draw out the parts that struck me as most interesting.
(We have a fine Future Trends Forum discussion about it today, with the authors. It should be up on YouTube next week.)
The first part of “Varying Degrees” (Manuela Ekowo, Rachel Fishman) explores what Americans think about higher education. As such it goes well with the recent Pew survey on the same topic.
Overall, Americans value higher education, especially as the key to financial success. “Three-quarters of Americans believe it is easier to be successful with a college degree than without.”
Most of us think it’s harder now to make our parents’ income level than it was back then. But we also want schools to do more and do it better. Some problems we perceive include:
persistent gaps in educational attainment by race and income, the rising price of college and subsequent increase in student debt, and an increase in the number of students not completing their programs prevent college from being the springboard into the middle class that it should be.
In addition, there’s some institutional suspicion: “58 percent of Americans believe institutional leaders put their schools’ long-term interests first”.
In another finding which should really give us pause, the study finds Americans are more critical of private and for-profit higher ed than of public colleges and universities. It seems that neoliberalism hasn’t fully taken hold:
nearly three out of four (72 percent) believe higher education is primarily a social good or both a social good and a private benefit. This finding holds true across generations (and other demographic characteristics)
This aligns with the institutional skepticism noted above: “[m]ost Americans believe that public and private institutions always put students first; they do not feel the same way about for-profit colleges and universities”.
However, this translates into an interesting perception of higher ed finances. Accurately, we think students pay the majority of college costs. Yet
[n]early three out of four Americans (71 percent) believe that higher education is good for society, but only half of Americans (58 percent) believe that federal and state governments currently pay less than half the associated costs with higher education. If Americans think higher education is a social good, then why is it not funded that way?
It’s as if many Americans are still thinking of higher ed in a mid-20th-century sense, as a public good we support, and haven’t quite caught on with the reality of privatization (cf our Forum conversation with Chris Newfield).
The end of the report contains policy recommendations, and the authors told our Forum audience that they had a great deal more. These ideas include expanding federally-supported meals from secondary to post-secondary education, as per Sara Goldrick-Rab (cf our Forum conversation with her); expanded financial aid; universal basic minimum income; expanded state support; federal block grants; further online learning (with better quality); further research into evidence-based teaching methods; better and more data on higher ed.
(And yes, that co-author Manuela Ekowo was a guest on the Future Trends Forum last year)