Report suggests higher education needs improvement

The United States’ performance in college education is lagging on the world stage, and the situation will only get worse unless radical changes are made, according to a new report.

“Hitting Home: Quality, Cost and Access Challenges Confronting Higher Education,” says that the United States’ higher education system will be unable, at its current rate, to produce enough degrees to meet the demand of its own workforce.

The report, authored by Travis Reindl on behalf of Making Opportunity Affordable, also indicates that the United States will fall farther behind international competitors in that department.

Other inequalities also contribute to the problem, and the report says “the United States has miles to go to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in degree production.”

“These gaps start in K-12 education . in some cases, before,” said Reindl. “What you have a lot of times, especially with minority groups and low-income groups, they tend to be concentrated in areas where you don’t have the best schools.”

While the number of students pursuing degrees in the United States is at an all-time high, tuition and other costs of attending college have skyrocketed in recent years.

Additionally, the report says that while American students are in the top five worldwide in terms of the percentage of students who attend college, they are 16th in terms of students who finish.

“Some of these other countries . you don’t have the same degree of diversity that you have in the United States,” said Reindl. “You don’t have some of the social and economic gaps to the extent of the United States.

“You have a more homogeneous population in a place like Norway; you also have less of a gap between rich and poor in some of those countries.”

The report also outlined its sweeping reform plan to remedy many of these situations. One of its important priorities is to increase degree completion rates, especially as a percentage of enrollment rates.

“I think one of the first things that you could do,” said Reindl, “Is to really figure out which students aren’t finishing and why. Some institutions already do that, but I think every institution can do a better job of that.

“That’s when you start figuring out how to reach out to them.”

Among the others include a better curriculum transition from secondary education to college and smarter spending by colleges.

“In some ways, in the United States, we suffer from the fact we’re a really decentralized education system,” said Reindl. “We focus on local control, and when it comes to colleges and universities, there’s a lot of independent authority.”

“A lot of activity is so scattered, that sometimes it’s hard for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing.”

He also said that the preliminary findings of another MOA report, coming out later in the spring, indicate that increases in costs of college attendance for students are not due to increases in curriculum and instruction spending.

The MOA hopes to implement these goals by providing “research, tools and support” to school systems and policymakers with the intent of “transforming how they deliver post-secondary education to serve more students without reducing quality.”

These efforts are supported by a $25.5 million commitment over five years by the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based group.

Reindl said many of the people approached by the foundation-state legislators, business leaders and school superintendents in several states-have been receptive to its intentions, but there has been some resistance by people who don’t believe the problem is as bad as the report would indicate.

“I think there’s a real interest in moving forward,” said Reindl. “A lot of what’s held us up is there’s a lot to figure out in terms of what we really need to start with.”

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