College Costs 101: Merisotis Offers Much to Consider

The March-April BizVoice magazine will be packed with stories, features and analysis on education and workforce development. One of those articles will be interviews with Tom Snyder and Jamie Merisotis on their recent trip to the White House to discuss higher education affordability and productivity.

Here’s a sneak preview in the form of Merisotis’ answer to my question on who is responsible for escalating higher ed prices. As always, his take is informative and insightful.

"The responsibility for rising prices rests primarily with three things. First, the seeming inability of colleges and universities to significantly bring down their costs. Rather than beat up on colleges and universities, we’ve got to create the right kinds of opportunities and incentives to help them actually bring down their costs.

"The second is public policy/government as there has been a systematic disinvestment in higher education at the state level that is pretty pronounced. We’ve seen a declining share of resources for public higher education in virtually every state in the country.

"The third might be one that would surprise you … us collectively as Americans. We have been willing to pay the rising price for higher education because we intuitively get the benefits you get from a college degree. The question has been posed a lot in recent years — is college still worth it? From my perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.

"It’s unequivocal; college is definitely worth it, but the public’s willingness to continue to pay prices that have exceeded the rates of inflation for nearly three decades and the capacity of the public to take on increasing debts for students is part of the problem as well.

"We’ve got to find ways for the public to also be more judicious about how they select a college or university, how they’re willing to pay for it — how much should really be debt-based as opposed to saving more and doing more to prepare. Any efforts are going to have to get at all three of these root causes."

See, I told you it would be good. You might have to read it again to take it all in. And be sure to check out BizVoice (new edition online on February 28) for much more.

‘Good’ Higher Ed Performance Not Good Enough

A new higher education report finds that Indiana’s public colleges and universities are performing "relatively well" while generally receiving "average or near average" funding.

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, doesn’t want anyone to be satisfied. Acknowledging that some in the Hoosier state might be content and even ask, "What do you expect?" Lubbers answers with, "I expect a whole lot more than middle of the pack."

The report, Crossing the Starting Line: An Examination of Productivity at Indiana’s Public Colleges and Universities, was prepared by Patrick Kelly of NCHEMS — the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. It is part of an Indiana Chamber and higher education commission productivity initiative funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education.

"The good news is that Indiana is a frontrunner in tackling this issue," Kelly states. The findings are not "gloom and doom" and he emphasized that more money is not the answer — "it’s not just about increasing resources to improve performance."

Indiana’s public college and university campuses are compared to their national (and largely self-identified) peers. Performance measures are graduation rates within 150% of program time, first-year retention rates and undergraduate credentials per 100 full-time students. The report also emphasizes Indiana’s dramatic underproduction of associate degrees and certificates compared to other states.

Lubbers and Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar both pointed to the big picture, the necessity for more people to earn higher education credentials and linking that to business and workforce needs.

What’s next? Positive steps would include continuing the move toward increased completion and performance-based funding for colleges and universities (Indiana is trying but it’s not an easy path from the traditional state dollars based on the number of students coming through the doors) and improving the entry for older adults into the education system (a focus for Ivy Tech, but one that is critical to businesses and their employees).

The full report, press release, individual campus profiles and additional higher education news and research are available at the Chamber-created Achieve Indiana web site.