Ds Scholarship

Fixing the College Business Model

Read the financial news and you’ll get two completely different pictures of the auto industry. On the other hand, shortages of microchips, foam and plastics have crippled production and destroyed sales. On the other hand, manufacturers’ profits reached a record high as sales shifted toward larger, more expensive models.

I’m originally from Detroit, and motivated by my colleague Michael Ratter, I’ve been spending some time recently thinking about an analogy between the auto industry and higher education.

Ostensibly, the two industries, one driven by profit, the other proud of their nonprofit status, could not be more different. In reality, however, news articles about these economic sectors are eerily similar.

“The pandemic will permanently change the auto industry,” we’re told. or “Reimagining the future of the auto industry: whether now or forever.” or “The Five Directions of Transforming the Automotive Industry”. Just replace higher education with cars and the articles will read the same.

Just as higher education is undergoing seismic shifts, so is the automotive sector, with a shift toward electric vehicles, online sales, semi-autonomous driving, and ride-sharing services.

There is another similarity: both sectors are highly dependent on government support, both direct and indirect.

Although I spent the summer in the evening shift in a metal shop, I don’t romanticize my hometown industry.

It’s not an efficient or well-managed business, the quality and environmental impact questionable, and it’s only sustainable thanks to frequent bailouts, union concessions, government interventions — and all the infrastructure the government has enabled: cheap gas, roads, highways, and of course an intentionally inadequate mass transit system.

Now the federal government is preparing to introduce more incentives to boost the transition to electric vehicles.

Our higher education system is also highly supported.

Without a wide range of public subsidies and tax breaks, our higher education system would be downright expensive. Even the wealthiest colleges and universities rely heavily on federal financial aid, its tax-deductible status, and tax-deductible donations.

We greatly support higher education for many good reasons. It benefits not only individual graduates but society as a whole. It builds social capital, promotes local and regional economic development, enriches and entertains society culturally, athletically and intellectually, and advances innovation.

But like the auto industry, it’s not particularly efficient; Its quality is uncertain its results are highly variable. It is only sustainable because of the various subsidies. Like the auto industry, backed by rich legends (from sailing Main Street and, like Jack Kerouac, getting our kicks on Route 66), colleges and universities capitalize on their romantic myths, about dorm life, night-long raps, and weekends For the bustling football, the lush quartet. We tell our kids that college will be the best years of your life.

A key question is whether our current model of higher education financing is sustainable, especially given the far-reaching changes in the student body, with fewer and fewer fit to fit the stereotype of the traditional, 18-21-year-old college student.

More seniors, more parents, more part-time attendance. More balance in their studies with large amounts of work. More first-generation college students, who can’t count on the advice of parents who have attended college. More family responsibilities. He received more unequal preparation in high school. Most of all, more and more backgrounds are coming in from lower incomes, with a sharp rise in the share receiving Pell grants.

Institutions that serve the majority of undergraduate students must do more to help non-traditional students succeed. We know what to do: Increase financial aid. Offer more proactive advice. Expand further education and other forms of academic, social and psychological support. Providing an education that is learned, educated, results-focused, featuring lots of active and experiential learning, more objective feedback, and a greater focus on job preparation.

But support services cost money, and it is unclear who will pay. If anything like our current approach to higher education is prosperity, then the answer is “community” with an expanded role at the state and federal levels in funding higher education.

It is not inconceivable that any upcoming resources will target students (in the form of increased financial aid) rather than the institutions themselves – putting individual colleges and universities in a zero-sum competition.

If public financing expands—for example, through increases in Pell Grants, expanded loan-forgiveness programs, or direct assistance to enterprises—we should expect that these expenditures will come with tied conditions.

As taxpayers, we want government and accrediting agencies to ensure that public funds are well spent, leading to significant increases in college completion, especially for students from low-income backgrounds, and not only contribute to managerial growth or “mission creep,” an increased focus on research on Teaching account.

There are, of course, alternatives to expanded public funding. All you have to do is ask some members of the Texas State Legislature, who are touting the benefits of industry apprenticeships, low-cost non-degree certificates, industry-recognised credentials, expanded corporate training, and a greater reliance on full-cost online (not state subsidized) and service providers such as Western Governors University, and increased institutional entrepreneurship (including more professional master’s programs).

Then there’s the advice that consultants usually give:

  • Reduce administrative and operational costs.
  • Outsource where possible.
  • Replace your full-time faculty with less expensive, more flexible extensions and trim benefits.
  • Tweak your syllabus to offer more popular majors while reducing or eliminating less popular ones.
  • Be more entrepreneurial and market-oriented, increase expenditures on fundraising and follow-up grants, institute summer programs, rent campus facilities, offer dual/early undergraduate courses, and partner with businesses.
  • Differentiate your campus – or, conversely, expand and diversify your program offerings and the markets they serve.

Given the potential shifts in control of Congress, massive federal support for higher education seems increasingly unlikely.

How can inflexible, inflexible or adaptive institutions make tuition affordable while meeting budget challenges?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Serving a wider group of students.
There are three important growth sectors: first-generation students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom received an unequal education in high school, community college transfer students, and adult learners who need reskilling or upskilling.

  • To successfully serve registrants from low-income backgrounds, institutions will be required to prioritize proactive counseling, mentoring, learning support services, and financial support. Enhanced bridge programs and orientations can also help ensure that these students can run to the ground.
  • To meet the needs of transfer students, it is necessary to simplify and expedite the credit transfer process, ensure that credits apply not only to general but major requirements, provide equal access to financial aid, and ensure availability of core courses.
  • Working adults, in turn, need shorter, more convenient programs that offer job-related skills and industry-recognised credentials.

2. Double the student’s success.
The most effective and efficient way to improve institutional finance is to increase retention and graduation rates. To that end:

  • Deploy technology to identify methodological bottlenecks, courses with high DFW rates and large stock gaps, indicate when students are off track, and prompt and timely interventions.
  • Improve course offerings and institutional scheduling that will make it easier for working students to focus their courses in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Portal redesign courses to improve learning outcomes.
  • Modify policies and practices that impede student success. Simplify and streamline degree pathways. Double and triple majors are not encouraged.

3. Proof of value.
The best way to recruit, retrain, and graduate students is to mention the return on investment that your education provides.

  • Be able to explain ‘added value’: the specific programs your institution offers to build marketable skills and prepare students for employment.
  • Point out the strengths of the education your institution offers, for example, access to more active, project-based and experiential opportunities that include supervised research, directed internships, field experiences, and study abroad.

4. Close coordination with partner institutions.
For four-year institutions, the obvious partners are nurturing high schools and community colleges. But businesses, hospitals, museums, non-profit organizations, social service, and government agencies also provide opportunities for collaboration.

5. Rethink incentives.
Incentives are important, and most institutional incentives favor growth, status, and prestige, while most professional incentives encourage scholarship over teaching, mentoring, or campus service. If your institution’s priority is to increase student success, timely completion, and postgraduate success, the incentive structure and resource allocations should reflect these considerations.

  • Allocate resources to reflect your organization’s priorities. Make learning communities, cohort programs, innovation teaching, and teaching and learning support services central to your academic goals.
  • Reward faculty members who dedicate themselves to student success and fair outcomes.

The future of our sector will depend on ever-increasing government support. Unlike the subsidies the auto industry receives, our support is indisputably worth it. Be that even if societal contributions to higher education should be self-evident, not everyone is convinced.

We need to do a better job of demonstrating our value, and the best way to do that, I am convinced, is not just to define or explain how we add value to local economies as employers, investors, incubators, and industry partners. We create more knowledgeable and active citizens, teach workforce skills, and create research that fuels economic growth. These claims are too abstract to be convincing.

Instead, we need to show our students postgraduate results. But we can only benefit from their success if we truly bring the vast majority of our students into a bright future.

I was teaching in an institution where two-thirds of the students graduated from debt and bitterness. Since then, this campus has done a lot to raise graduation rates. However, nearly 40 percent of first-time full-time students and more than 55 percent of part-time students still fail to graduate in six years.

These results should not be acceptable, especially given the students’ high school GPAs and board results, and they threaten the level of public support that higher education requires. We simply must do better if we are to get the financial support we need.

Stephen Mintz is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

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