Linda Suskie

  A Common Sense Approach to Assessment & Accreditation

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Why is American higher education under fire?

Posted on August 23, 2015 at 7:35 AM

There are three fundamental reasons:

 

Economic development. The U.S. is increasingly dependent on college-educated workers to drive its economy. The proportion of U.S. jobs requiring post-secondary education or training is growing from about 35% in 1973 to a projected 65% in 2020. All net jobs growth since the 1970s has been in jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.

 

Affordability and return on investment. Eighty percent of today’s students are going to college to “be very well off financially,” up from just 40% in the 1970s. They want their investment in college to pay off. It generally does; the average college “wage premium” today is 80%, up from 40% in the 1970s. But averages don’t reflect everyone’s experience, and today 40% of 25-year-olds have student loan debt, up from about 25% ten years ago. When students and their families pay so much and incur so much debt, they start to question the value of anything that doesn’t seem to them to contribute to that return on investment, like gen ed requirements. (I’m not criticizing the liberal arts here at all, just pointing out that we don’t always communicate their value well.)

 

The changing American college student. Today 43% of U.S. undergraduates are over 24 years old, and only 25% attend a residential college full-time. Today’s entering students are generally less prepared to succeed in college and increasingly “stop out” and “swirl” on their way to a college degree.

 

Why isn’t American higher education addressing these forces better? And what can we do to meet these needs better? I share some ideas in the last chapter of my book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability, and at the beginning of the book I give the sources of all the figures I've quoted here. I’ll be talking about all this in my September 10 plenary at the Drexel Regional Assessment Conference. I hope to see you there!

 

Categories: Ideas, Clearing the Fog, Upcoming Events

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