The report also identified some important aspects that determined successful completion of higher education. It was found that among both borrowers and non-borrowers, working part-time or fulltime and/or delayed entry into college carried a significantly high risk for dropping out. The fact that almost all of the students who successfully completed higher education were enrolled in college right after high school, attended fulltime and did not work part time or full time implied that external distractions had a major negative impact on successful completion. Since borrowers are under financial burden they are more prone to take up part time jobs and therefore carry a greater risk for dropping out. Essentially, one of the main findings and recommendations of this report is to "Make college more affordable so as to reduce dependence on loan financing and student employment, especially for those with the greatest need." [Lawrence Gladiex, pg 16]
Loans cannot be a sustainable solution for the growing costs of higher education. As Mr. Callan, the NCHPP president said, 'Given the financial hardship of the country, it's simply astonishing that colleges and universities would have this kind of increases,." "It tells you that higher education is still a seller's market. The level of debt we're asking people to undertake is unsustainable." [Tamar Lewin]. The simple transfer of the burden on to the students as it is today is not contributing in a productive way. In the future the burden of such an approach will be distinctly felt much to the detriment of our society. More students on debts, more students forced to work part-time jobs is a formula for disaster, as it is known from national data that these pressures only lead to an increase in dropouts. This is not at all a good prospect for the future of our nation. This calls for a fundamentally different approach towards managing the escalating costs that educational institutions have to deal with. Mr. Callen emphasizes this need for innovation, "A lot of people think we can solve the problem with more financial aid, but I think we have to have some cost containment. For all the talk about reinventing higher education, I don't see any results " [Tamar Lewin] As is evident not much progress has been achieved in this direction.
The time is ripe for some urgent action to be undertaken to reform our educational institutions that are struggling to fulfill their commitment to excellence and for providing opportunities to all eligible students to enroll in and complete their degrees. Both policy makers and the public are baffled by the cost burden that is being placed on the students at such a difficult time of the economy. The fear that higher education costs would grow unchecked making it less accessible to the vast majority of lower and middle-income families is a shared public concern. There is also increasing displeasure among the public that educational institutions are not looking at alternative and more productive long-term strategies including other ways of cost cutting but instead are simply passing on the burden to the students. This model of handling the fiscal deficits is not at all ideal and will only make education more inaccessible, unaffordable and ultimately affect the economic competitiveness of our national workforce. [NCPPHE]
With the Government enacting the 'Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009', now is the time to have a change in perspective and to look at the long-term solutions. The stimulus funding from the government could be usefully channelised to improve and maintain easy access to higher education and to develop and implement initiatives to achieve cost efficiency. Academic institutions should also develop a strategic focus with a view to the future demands of the higher education. For this to happen, policy makers should make accessibility to higher education the top priority. Improving enrollment and making tuition affordable to the lower and middle-income groups should be at the core of new policies. To ensure more effective utilization of resources academic institutions should be made accountable with performance auditing. [NCPPHE] In its recent report the NCPPHE recommended several possible solutions that institutions could adopt to better manage the current situation.
Colleges have the practice of accepting more out of state students with the view to generating additional revenues. This practice should be avoided so as to offer more opportunities to deserving regional students. Another important step in the right direction would be to fix tuition fees in context of the regional family income levels and the in relation to the availability of 'need based aid'. The trend of fixing tuition fees based on the current practice of peer institutions and institutes in other states should be avoided. It is also necessary to continue to fund 'need based aid' even at the cost of diverting funds from 'merit aid programs'. Cost benefit analysis should be performed to identify the effectiveness of all the different operational programs. Colleges should measure the productivity of their academic programs so that the performance of the various programs could be assessed and appropriate decisions made to enhance productivity even further. From the administrative side all efforts should be made to streamline operations to minimize cost expenditure. Most importantly, the savings accrued from these strategic measures should be reinvested into the system to ensure access to higher education to all aspiring and eligible students from the low-income families. [NCPPHE]
It is a sad state of affairs that most academic institutions consider education purely as a marketable commodity. This attitude has become so imprinted in today's institutions to such an extent that many of these institutions have reservations in releasing data pertaining to performance. As Mr. David Breneman, one of the chief members of the 'Measuring Up 2008' report says, "The Measuring Up series has been criticized by numerous college leaders for reporting failing grades for virtually all states in making higher education affordable for students and their families. In private conversations, university leaders have told me that these failing grades have made it more difficult for their institutions to achieve tuition increases." Such defensive, revenue oriented approach is at the root of the problem which needs to be rooted out.
UTAH (A role Model)
In the Measuring Up 2004 report UTAH was singled out as one of the most successful states that steadily improved enrollments, maintained accessibility in the wake of increased enrollments, and also improved on graduation completion rates. In fact UTAH has doubled the number of enrollments over the past two decades while still maintaining affordability. The secret of UTAH's success is the government policy, which considers access to higher education as a high priority. Many institutions in the state have continued to expand to increase seats to accommodate more enrollments. The following statement clearly explains the state's policy towards higher education "Lawmakers should view enrollment caps as the last option. The Utah System of Higher Education offers citizens an educational service that many Utahns find of great value. For years, citizens have flocked to colleges and universities in above-average numbers," [Kathy Reeves Bracco]. Also Utah has always favored a policy of low tuition and low financial aids. Two of the two-year institutions were empowered to offer four-year programs to cater to the growing enrollments. Such proactive and innovative approaches have contributed to the success of UTAH in offering accessible and affordable higher education to all eligible students. [Kathy Reeves Bracco]
Higher education holds the key to the future economy of our nation. However, the recent performance of our educational sector only reflects a sad state of affairs. The Enrollment curve has flattened, accessibility compromised and dropouts have increased. With more than 78 million educated American workforce approaching retirement age the need for more educated and skilled workforce to replace them is a very urgent one. Going by our declining graduation rates it is clear that we have lost our claim to superiority to other developed nations in the educational sector. There are limits for the amount of educational costs that could be shared with the students and their families. Beyond that it is not a productive system.
For higher education to become more affordable institutions should formulate plans, innovate and restructure to deliver quality education in a cost effective setting. The savings from the cost cutting measures should be reinvested to ensure affordable access to higher education for students from low-income families. The onus lies with the government policy makers and academic institutions to reform and to improve the present situation. Since the education system is one of the basic pillars of our national economy and since students are the future prospects of our nation it is high time that policy makers rethink and redefine this ailing, unhealthy and commercialized system to a more principled, productive and accountable one. The future economic success of America rests with success of the educational system in transforming itself…