September 23, 2010
Higher education has a public-relations problem. Family incomes are stagnant, but tuition keeps going up. Many students who begin college don’t graduate. Even among those who do, students who borrow are finishing with greater and greater average debt burdens. And then they’re walking into a tough job market. So what is a college degree really worth?
The answer to that question is clearly important for higher education. But trying to find it isn’t easy and brings a fair bit of controversy.
On Tuesday, the College Board released its latest installment of “Education Pays,” a report that showcases the financial and nonfinancial payoffs of earning that degree. In the introduction, the report’s authors make clear that they know the fray they’re stepping into: “Too often, colorful anecdotes about individuals who have had unfortunate experiences capture the spotlight and lead to inaccurate generalizations about the dangers of making this major life investment,” they write.
The last iteration of the report, released in 2007, was publicly criticized by Charles Miller, the former chairman of the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who wrote a response letter taking issue with the report’s methodology, which he said overinflated the value of a degree.
The College Board is a membership organization representing colleges, and its mission is “to connect students to college success and opportunity.” As Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, puts it, “the College Board is not in the business of turning people away from college.”
Despite that mission, Sandy Baum, an independent analyst for the College Board and one of the report’s authors, says that “Education Pays” is about data, not advocacy. “This report per se is presenting evidence,” says Ms. Baum, who also writes for The Chronicle on its Innovations blog. “We’re not telling anyone to do anything.”
And she wonders a bit about the criticism surrounding the report’s finding that college graduates fare much better than nongraduates. “When people talk about ‘well, maybe people shouldn’t go to college,’” she says, “ask the people if their kids go to college.”
Even Mr. Miller, who says the report greatly overstates the benefit of a degree, doesn’t take that to mean people shouldn’t go to college. Instead, he sees that as evidence that higher education’s financial system is broken.
The report’s findings will be no great surprise to anyone who has read the previous installments. Education, it finds, does pay.
Over the course of a 40-year career, the average college graduate earns about 66 percent more than the typical high-school graduate, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as a high-school graduate, according to the report.
Unlike previous reports, this time around the College Board did not include a dollar figure to show how much money college graduates earn over a lifetime compared with nongraduates. The 2007 report said that college graduates earn up to $800,000 more over a career than nongraduates, a figure that climbs to $1-million with the inclusion of advanced-degree holders. When taking into consideration that some of those earnings are in the future, the bachelor’s-degree holder earns an additional $450,000 in today’s dollars, or $570,000 when including advanced-degree holders. Those figures were taken out of context, Ms. Baum says, which is why no equivalent numbers were used this time around…
September 23, 2010
Arnold Schwarzenegger looked worried. “Are you sure it’s okay to smoke out here?” he asked a waiter. “Oh sure, sure. Go ahead,” he was told. Passersby were beginning to mill near the patio of Bobby Van’s, a Washington, D.C., power trough, and snap pictures. Schwarzenegger was in Washington to lobby the Obama administration to pay Medicare money that California feels it is owed, and after his staff had offered me a cigar, he was holding forth on the slog of upcoming budget negotiations with Democrats in Sacramento.
When Schwarzenegger leaves office in January after seven tumultuous years as governor, it will not be with high marks. “Pretty pathetic,” wrote George Skelton, the dean of the Sacramento press corps; “opportunity squandered.” Schwarzenegger will be lucky if his approval rating is near 40 percent and the state budget deficit is less than $15 billion.
But Schwarzenegger’s greatest accomplishments may not yet be apparent: if the political reforms he pushed through take hold, he will have managed not only to restore California’s role as a policy innovator, but also to create the kind of political space that can incubate a future cadre of mini-Arnolds.
When Schwarzenegger took office, much of California’s governing structure struck him as bizarre. He didn’t understand why an engineers union of 13,000 members had so much say over transportation spending for 36 million Californians. He was bewildered that Republicans seemed to be afraid of radio shock jocks in Orange County, and that Democrats had to get permission from labor unions before they agreed to minor reforms in the budget. He’s still confused (“Oh my God, it’s unbelievable”) as to why a school can’t hire a local handyman to fix a broken door and instead must wait for a union repairman to come around.
Despite rookie missteps and setbacks, Schwarzenegger stuck with his crusade to reform California’s ossified political culture. He has begun to break the will of the powerful labor establishment, itself the author of many laws, through sheer relentlessness: after the corrections-officers union blocked one of his efforts to curb their power, Schwarzenegger all but called the members out as thugs and, in an unprecedented display of executive authority, voided their contract, then beat back the legislature’s attempt to reverse him. Though public-employees unions defeated his ballot reforms, Schwarzenegger extracted significant concessions on pensions from some of them. And drawing on his network of supporters and allies, Schwarzenegger financed and co-sponsored two successful ballot initiatives to end partisan gerrymandering and to institute a top-two selection system for partisan primaries. From now on, California’s elections for state executive and legislative posts will be contests between the top two primary vote-getters, regardless of party…
September 23, 2010
This image has been posted with express written permission.
This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.