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Editor's Note


Getting Their Money's Worth
University Business, Oct 2007

AMERICANS OVERWHELMINGLY BELIEVE a college education is necessary for success in the workplace, and that costs should not prevent qualified students from attending. But they also say many qualified students do not have the opportunity for a college education.

More than half (62 percent) of Americans say that many qualified, motivated students don't have an opportunity for higher education. And among minorities-even those who are financially well off-that number is even higher.

And, while 84 percent of respondents said they'd "find a way" to cover the ever-rising costs, the majority of parents surveyed were less likely to think that college students are getting their money's worth when they enroll. They also don't believe that college price increases have meant that students are learning more.

Those are some of the findings in "Squeeze Play: How Parents and the Public Look at Higher Education Today," a report prepared by Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The survey also polled selected leaders from local and state government, the media, foundations and corporations. This group was far more critical in its assessment.

While the public sees education's value in personal terms, the leaders tend to view it in relation to how it fulfills the needs of society and the economy. And because of that they are especially concerned with the return on tax dollars invested in it. So far, according to the survey, there aren't many happy returns. One respondent put it plainly: "Higher education is a disaster. The only reason we maintain our competitiveness is because we are living off the baby boom generation. The number of adults who have completed college has gone flat."

The time is now to address problems, before the chance to do so disappears.

To them, access is not the problem; rather it's what happens to students after they get in.

"We're getting them in. We're not getting them out," said another. "It's back to the graduation rate. We've got the capacity. We have room in the university. We've got the space. We've got the professors. We've got what we need. We're just not graduating them. We're losing them once they're inside."

But, rather than just throwing money at the problem, the leaders want results. And some are doubtful they'll see them.

"There's a feeling in the legislature that the university is relatively arrogant," commented one respondent. "They're not going to listen to anything you're going to say. They say, 'Just send us the money. We're too smart for you to tell us how to spend it. We'll spend how we think is right.' The chancellors and the college presidents go in the direct opposite of what the legislature wants. It almost seems like in spite.

Their solutions? Not unlike the findings of the Spellings Commission, the leaders call for more accountability, the need for greater productivity, and improved efficiency."

Overall, the survey shows a growing public anxiety over higher education that has not yet reached the crisis stage. But with the threat of increased government pressure, the time is now for higher education leaders to address the problems, before their chance to do so disappears. The complete survey results can be found at

The fifth annual EduComm Conference (June 17-20 in Las Vegas, Nev.) will, for the first time, be a higher education-only event. It will also feature many more workshops and hands-on demonstrations of how the newest learning technologies are being applied in the classroom. Interested presenters can contact me at the address below.

Write to Tim Goral at

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