Double the Pleasure With Merisotis Stories

Three years ago, the subject was higher education in general — and Indiana’s system of colleges and universities in particular. It was a BizVoice roundtable with some high-powered participants. And I wanted the fourth expert to be someone who had spent a total of about two weeks in the state.

That person was Jamie Merisotis, at that time the new president of the Lumina Foundation for Education. His lengthy career in education policy in Washington and his selection by Lumina gave me confidence that the lack of Hoosier history would not be a problem. As it turned out, far from it.

Merisotis teamed with university presidents France Cordova (Purdue) and James Edwards (Anderson University) and Chris Murphy (then chair of the Commission for Higher Education) for one of our absolute best roundtables. Lumina, of course, has gone on to expand on its already excellent work throughout the country.

A few months ago we had the opportunity to sit down with Merisotis for a one-on-one discussion. Again, no disappointment. Merisotis and Lumina are truly making a difference and striving for more. Find out more in our current issue.  

‘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.

Jones, Merisotis Offer Education Plan

Stan Jones, Indiana’s longtime commissioner for higher education, was the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Government Leader of the Year (BizVoice story here). Jamie Merisotis is president of the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education. The two teamed last Friday to deliver a clear message to the Obama administration: get newly appropriated funds to community colleges that do a good job taking displaced workers, helping them earn a needed certificate in a timely manner and putting those people back in the workforce.

Inside Higher Ed has an in-depth report on their proposal. Here are some key excerpts:

While Merisotis and Jones did not set a time limit, they generally praised as models programs that take a year, maximum, to finish – quite a contrast from the two-year norm for many associate degrees – assuming students enroll full time. If anything, the model Merisotis believes community colleges around the country should emulate is a rather old idea – that of a traditional vocational school.

In a handful of states – Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin – there are technical institutions separate from community colleges. In Tennessee, for instance, 13 community colleges offer associate degree programs, whereas 27 “technical centers” offer only one-year certificate programs in high-demand fields. These institutions, like for-profit trade institutions, focus on getting students a credential and getting them out out in a short period of time.

Jones: "There’s nothing wrong with directed choice. … I call it kind of back to the future. They didn’t invent this yesterday; They’ve been doing this [in Tennessee] for 20 years. Some of the rest of us kind of discovered it – that they were on the right track for 20 years. Block scheduled, cohort-based, integrated – it’s highly effective.”

Jones and Merisotis believe the government should encourage the development of short-term, quick-hit programs like this at community colleges around the country with the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant program, which passed as part of the health care/student loan reconciliation bill earlier this year.

Additionally, Jones and Merisotis say that Congress should extend unemployment benefits so that anyone receiving them can attend college, as long as they are enrolled full-time in a one- or two-year degree program. Finally, they suggest that the government create a new program of “education stipends” to offset the tuition and living costs of going to college, essentially making the completion of a program the “job” of the recipient. 

Colleges and Costs: We’ve Got a Problem

While students at all levels strive for "A" grades, that letter comes into particular play in higher education with a big focus on concepts including access, achievement, accountability and affordability.

Several of those rise to the top for the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education, which has a goal to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% by 2025. Last week, Lumina announced additional grants for seven states, including Indiana, that are seeking to enhance college and university productivity.

Wednesday, the latest (86-page) edition of The Fiscal Survey of States was released. Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina, offered the following insightful comment in regard to expenditures and higher education:

"The report released today by the National Association of State Budget Officers and National Governors Association underscores the urgent need for states to reexamine the cost structure of American higher education. We cannot continue to spend twice as much per student as other developed countries and meet the nation’s needs for additional college graduates while also reducing our public investment. States challenged by falling revenue must find ways to finance public colleges and universities that encourage these institutions to graduate more students at lower expense with the same or higher quality.

Lumina is investing in potential productivity-enhancing solutions in seven states that are stepping forward to commit to change even amid dire fiscal circumstances. Governors, state legislators and business and higher education leaders all have roles to play. They need to be engaged in making sure every dollar is spent as wisely as possible to meet the challenge of increasing college access and student academic success, especially for underserved groups such as minorities, students from low-income families, first-generation college-going students and working-age adults."