Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shifting the High Costs of Higher Learning

Higher education in America finds itself at a crossroads with the costs of educating students a constant incremental skyward creep, student loans spiraling out of control and employers finding college students unprepared for the workforce. The system is in crisis; if not broken then certainly it’s sick and in need of reform.

PBS’s Frontline has some great investigative reporting on the subject. With full disclosure I did many interviews with college students who did not complete their college education as a graduate student working for the MacArthur Foundation. We learned that it’s a complicated question, and like all design problems it requires a systematic and rigorous look at the issues. Quite simply, like healthcare, there was no simple panacea for the system.

Higher education is one of crown jewels of America; and many of our institutions are the envy of the world. At present, Boston alone is home to Harvard, MIT, and Boston University with Dartmouth a stones throw from the FEI conference.

And so I attended Karl McDonnell’s Maintaining America’s Competitive Positions with a New Corporate Academic Partnership. The numbers presented are staggering:

- 22 million college grads have jobs that don’t require a college degree

- 50% of college students are unemployed

- 34% are of the unemployed are dislocated employees on extended unemployment

These numbers were called into question in a way that seemed unfair to the forum and presenter. Regardless, Karl McDonnell’s Strayer University has introduced a Degrees@Work program, a partnership between education and industry where automakers try to fill the gaps between students trying to find affordable education and business’ needing a well-educated workforce. This constitutes a partnership between Chrysler Fiat and Strayer where employees can receive associates, bachelors and masters degrees free of charge. Zero fees for employees for the degree, for books and expenses, an education valued at approximately $42,000. The idea here is that Fiat’s performance will improve over time with a better-educated and better-prepared workforce. Truly this is an interesting innovation, a clear investment of business into their human capital and other companies, most recently Starbucks, are also experimenting. These are encouraging signs for higher education.

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