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Measuring the social and economic gains of college

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

The higher education industry endorses a college sorting system based on economic mobility, Ohio’s new transfer guarantee for industry-recognized credentials, and movement on short-term Pell and student-level data.


New College Rankings?

The higher education establishment and the Biden administration this week endorsed the idea of measuring whether students see economic and social mobility gains from attending college.

The industry is competitive and aspirational. And few pecking orders are more important to college leaders and faculty members than the classification system from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which for 50 years has sorted colleges and universities by their academic offerings and research capacity.

The Carnegie Classifications have been criticized as being outdated and not up to the task of grouping institutions as higher education has grown and diversified. Yet they remain a primary way of delineating the various forms taken by institutions in an enormously complex industry. And universities are celebrated for moving up the chain. 

The American Council on Education, higher ed’s primary trade group, announced this week that it will be the new home for the classification system, both its primary and elective classifications. Rick Seltzer of Higher Ed Dive reported on the move and how the higher ed association will seek to protect the integrity of a system while sorting its own members.

ACE and Carnegie said they will work together to create the new social and economic mobility measure and to bring the various classifications into a suite of indices that, collectively, will better define universities and demonstrate how they pursue their missions.

The mobility classification is slated to go live next year, and the two groups will launch an open process with the field to determine what goes into it.

The announcement comes five years after The New York Times wrote about a landmark study on colleges and economic mobility from Raj Chetty and other researchers working with what would become Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights. Along with the Varsity Blues scandal, the Chetty data fueled a belief among many Americans that the deck is stacked against lower-income (or just nonrich) students in higher education. 

Meanwhile, researchers have used newly available federal and state data sources on the wages of college graduates—most notably the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, which was refreshed this week—to produce a growing number of analyses on college ROI.

See this updated roundup from Work Shift for the latest research on college ROI and economic mobility.

Miguel Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, weighed in on the Carnegie classification news. He said colleges and universities need to reimagine themselves around inclusivity and student success, not selectivity and reputation:

“I hope today’s announcement will be the beginning of a new competition among colleges—one that rewards colleges doing the most for upward mobility.”

The forthcoming mobility classification system will be controversial to some in higher education. Critics say such measures will be used as another form of overly simplified college rankings that fail to capture the nuance and complexity of college missions and results.

“I hope that the data wonks doing this realize that it’s impossible to reduce the great work we do for racial justice/social equity to a few factoids,” Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, said on Twitter. “ASK US what OUR measures are for ‘success’ rather than imposing data measures that do not reflect the human reality of our campus populations.”

Likewise, some observers worry that mobility rankings may be grist for policy makers to push for ham-handed regulations of the industry.

Economic mobility is a growing focus in policy debates. The revamped classifications could contribute to that discussion since it’s clear that lawmakers are interested in thinking about accountability measures that focus on outcomes, including equity and economic outcomes. 

ACE and Carnegie say they hope their work contributes to that thinking in a way that is supported by the best research and analysis.

From Work Shift

Measuring the ‘Great (Degree) Reset’
Measuring the ‘Great (Degree) Reset’ Employers loosened degree requirements in a substantial number of occupations in the years before the pandemic. The trend has continued, finds a new report from the Burning Glass Institute.

OPINION: No, Google isn’t making college degrees obsolete
OPINION: No, Google isn’t making college degrees obsolete Contrary to the popular disruption story, companies like Google have not abandoned traditional credentials, Ben Wildavsky writes in an opinion piece that analyzes the Burning Glass Institute data.

Transfer Guarantees in Ohio

Surveys have shown that a growing number of Americans are interested in pursuing short-term education and training options to get a new job or to change careers, with many saying they lack the time to enroll in college for years to pursue a degree.

However, for subdegree credentials such as college certificates and industry certifications to pay off for students in the long run, rather than tracking people into lower-income or dead-end jobs, the broad consensus is that they need to “stack” into degree programs, allowing students to get credit for their knowledge and skills so they can pursue a degree without wasting time and money.

Stackability remains exceedingly rare, with students on average losing an estimated 43 percent of their credits when they transfer. And few colleges award credits for industry certifications.

That may change in Ohio. The state’s public colleges and universities this month announced a statewide transfer guarantee for practical nursing credentials. And more guarantees are coming soon, says Tom Sudkamp, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ohio’s Department of Higher Education.

“We’re the first state to try this as a statewide initiative,” he says. “We’re hoping in this first year to roll out 25 of them.”

Ohio’s new Industry Recognized Credential Transfer Assurance Guides (ITAGs) award college credit based on the knowledge, skills, and competencies students gain through earning industry-recognized credentials, whether the learning took place at a public or for-profit college, including institutions outside the state. 

The nursing guarantee means students who pass a commonly used exam for entry-level nursing and hold an active license will receive a minimum of 10 credits of nursing technical credit across all of Ohio’s public institutions, from Ohio State University to Cuyahoga Community College.

Part of the goal is to break down silos between the workforce and higher education while offering on-ramps to degrees for underserved student groups, Sudkamp says.

Indiana’s and Louisiana’s community college systems have developed somewhat similar transfer pathways, experts say. So have the Minnesota State College and Universities. But Ohio appears to be the first to roll out a statewide transfer guarantee.

The severe and worsening shortage of nurses nationwide makes the credentials a natural choice, says Becky Klein-Collins, vice president for impact at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.  

“It’s starting with an industry credential everyone can get behind,” she says, while also serving as a “perfect test case to set up the system.”

The transfer guarantee policy approved last year by the Ohio Department of Education builds on several other credit transfer initiatives. Statewide panels of faculty members and industry representatives lead the ITAG work by matching up content from credentials to postsecondary learning outcomes. (See this deck on the process.) Ohio’s public institutions then get to offer feedback on each guarantee before endorsing them.

The state tapped federal workforce money as well as funding from the Lumina Foundation to support the project.

Lindsay Daugherty, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation, has been studying Ohio’s transfer effort. She praises the state for taking a bottom-up approach by ensuring that faculty lead the process. For the guarantees to work best for students, she says, the process should be as automated as possible, so students don’t have to pursue the credits. Likewise, the resulting credits should count toward a major and a degree.

Daugherty says the timing may be right for transfer guarantees to expand in Ohio, and beyond.

The Kicker: “It’s probably helpful that colleges are struggling with enrollments right now,” she says. “This is something that could be done in other states.”

Short-Term Pell

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a sweeping bill to bulk up manufacturing and scientific research to better compete with China. The House also passed an amendment that included:

The Senate passed a substantially different competition bill of its own last year, which didn’t include either of the amendment’s components. Now the two chambers will seek to find common ground on the two bills.

The National Skills Coalition, a strong supporter of the JOBS Act, joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in backing the House amendment. Jennifer Stiddard, a senior fellow at NSC, says she anticipates a genuine attempt by Congress to reconcile the two bills as members seek to get something done before the midterm elections. But the prospects will dim if it drags into the summer.

“The JOBS Act has always had strong bipartisan support,” says Stiddard. “Hang-ups have always been around how to do it.”

Open Tabs

Employer Training

Google and Ford have teamed up on research and job training in Detroit, Axios reports. The tech giant will be a founding member of Michigan Central, an innovation district focused on electric and autonomous vehicles. Google plans to run a Code Next Lab for Detroit high schoolers and will partner with local nonprofits to offer its Google Career Certificates to working adults. Ford will join some 150 companies in accepting the certificates.

Lost Jobs

Occupational segregation was the principal driver of lost jobs and hours early in the pandemic for Latino workers, who had a 2.8-percentage-point excess employment decline, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Black workers were not as exposed to the recession by their pre-pandemic occupational distribution. But they experienced large losses within occupations.

Human Capital

Most of the variance (85 percent) in well-being across state populations is explained by the combined association of human capital (skills and educational attainment) and social capital (trust and community engagement), according to a new analysis from ETS. The report measured well-being with indicators of poverty, income, employment, safety, and health, with information on each state.

Employee Education

The parent company of musician Dolly Parton’s amusement park Dollywood announced a new free college program that will cover college tuition, fees, and related expenses for all its 11,000 employees in select programs, WATE reports. The GROW U program from Herschend Enterprises, which will be run by Guild Education, is the latest in a series of free college initiatives launched by major companies.

The Century Foundation asks whether Guild’s offerings are “as good as it gets” with employer education benefits. Stephanie Hall, senior fellow at the foundation, argues that there’s a clear need for the type of service Guild provides—but questions the incentive structure. Hall links to a handful of Guild’s contracts that show the company received between 23 percent and 50 percent of the college programs’ tuition revenue.

Thanks for reading. Catch you next week. —@paulfain

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