Quality Over Quantity Needed in Student Guidance

Hannah Rozow is the student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. An undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington, she is pursuing a double major in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish.

In an effort to increase college completion rates in Indiana, many institutions are now stressing the importance of academic planning by encouraging students to meet with their advisors regularly. But, students don’t need additional meetings; they need quality guidance.

Two years ago, when I sat down for my initial advising meeting at Indiana University, I took no time in explaining to the advisor my intended career path, specified major, and exhaustive list of courses I wished to take during freshman year. My advisor, however, was uninterested. She told me instead that college should be a time to explore my interests. She said I should expect to change my major two or three times and that graduating in four years is a thing of the past. Despite my preparedness, I left the meeting discouraged and enrolled in fewer courses than I had intended.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon, and the ramifications of poor advising can be severe. Students that take too few or irrelevant courses during their freshman year immediately fall off pace for on-time graduation, potentially requiring them to enroll in additional semesters. Furthermore, freshmen that do not meet the required number of credit hours to become sophomores may be ineligible for federal Pell grants and institutional scholarships. These financial barriers can make an already costly college education unattainable for many students.

But, with effective advising, these situations can be avoided. The requirements of an undergraduate degree are often unclear to new and returning students; advisors should be there to provide appropriate guidance to facilitate, as opposed to hinder, academic progress. Before institutions begin to require additional advising meetings, they need to ensure that these meetings are indeed serving their purpose: student success.  

University President Says More Options Needed

Earl Brooks, the longtime president of Trine University, has been a thoughtful and insightful contributor to past BizVoice magazine and other higher education conversations. Last week, he authored a column (for Inside INdiana Business) that hits the nail on the head regarding delivering postsecondary education.

A few excerpts:

A 2009 Boston Globe article, The Four-Year College Myth, states "Census data from 2005 tell us that only 28 percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree. As for how many adults took the ‘traditional’ path and received their BA within four years of high school, some rough number crunching of federal education data shows that the percentage dips to below 10 percent."

Universities should consider options that educate the public in ways that meet current demands. Students should be afforded accelerated paths to degrees and cut out the fluff. I want engineers to read Hemingway, but sometimes that’s just not realistic. Some classes, which are required by national accrediting bodies, only add to educational cost, delay education and do not contribute significantly to acquiring a specific skill set. Curricula need to remain rigorous and ensure quality. We should provide a means by which you can attain a meaningful education in less time in order to become a contributing member of society and the workforce.

Kudos to Brooks and others who don’t fall into the trap of "but we’ve always done it this way."


Study: We May Have Even Fewer Workers

A new study tackles an old but growing challenge: paying for higher education. Authored by Demos, a New York-based research and advocacy firm, the report is titled The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the Future Middle Class.

The State Science & Technology Institute summarizes below. The full report is available here.

Over the last two decades, the authors highlight a trend of state disinvestment that has shifted the cost of education from state governments to students and their families. The result of this trend is students and their families are paying and/or borrowing significantly more for a college.

According to the report, this long-term trend may threaten the economic health of states due to an insufficient supply of college-educated workers needed to thrive in the 21st economy. The authors contend that the insufficient financial support for students will contribute to low rates of college completion, depriving states of an educated workforce. They also contend that other long-term social costs include decreased social mobility by low- and middle-income students and a diminished middle-class.

Key highlights:

  • Compared to the generation that came of age in the 1990s, the current population of young adults is larger in size, more diverse and more apt to enroll in college

  • Public institutions absorbed 65.6 percent of the undergraduate enrollment increases that have occurred since 1990

  • Real funding per public, full-time equivalent student dropped by 26.1 percent from 1990-1991 to 2009-2010

  • After adjusting for inflation, published prices for tuition and fees at public four-year universities more than doubled (rising by approximately 116 percent)

  • The real price of two-year colleges climbed by approximately 71 percent

  • An increasing percentage of that aid is taking the form of merit-based aid without regard for students’ financial situations

  • The volume of outstanding student loan debt has grown by a factor of 4.5 since 1999

The report provides several policy recommendations to reverse the trend, including:

  • States must invest in higher education, especially given the projected future growth of student enrollments

  • State tax systems must be reformed to ensure that higher education remains a budgetary concern and does not face further budget cuts

  • State leaders must prioritize funding for institutions that educate the largest fraction of college students faced with funding decisions

  • States must align investments in higher education with the goal of completion

  • Financial aid polices must be reoriented back toward need-based aid

  • Students need to be steered towards more affordable sources of debt like federal student loan programs