- The U.S. Department of Education has released its annual report on the state of education in the United States, and The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a breakdown of the report's findings on how many citizens can access and utilize college training as a key to social mobility.
- According to the report, the majority of the nation's four-year institutions are more accessible than many people would think. Federal data shows that 59% of institutions accepted between 50-75% of applicants, but only 27% of those schools are classified as open-access colleges and universities. Statistics also show that a majority of college-aged students are not going into colleges and universities, though the percentage of 18-24 year-olds enrolling in school did increase from 35% in 2000 to 41% in 2016.
- More than 50% of college graduates in 2016 earned degrees in business, health professions, social sciences and history, psychology, biological and biomedical sciences, and engineering.
Many campus leaders are grappling with questions this report doesn't cover, like how to foster more diversity on campus without roiling tensions along racial lines — Georgia State University seems to have found a good model and may be the closest version of what a large public, racially diverse institution should look like. And Northeastern University is pairing internships with classroom experience to yield high job placement statistics to highlight the idea that teaching and learning is most effective when augmented with internships and work experience.
But the biggest barrier to access continues to be cost, and many leaders are struggling to develop institutional solutions that will meet financial challenges beyond tuition and fees and academic challenges beyond instruction, such as those with mental health, parenting, or social re-entry. Several community colleges throughout the country are piloting programs to assist working adults with college access beyond admission and enrollment. But even with free tuition programs, issues of homelessness and food insecurity continue to present challenges for students. And as more states contemplate programs to regulate lending as a consumer protection to students, there could be additional unexpected barriers to access, as many students over borrow to cover the cost of housing and books with their loans.
However, many in higher ed circles are realizing the biggest issue facing the industry is not access, but inclusion and success. Not all students will choose to enroll in four-year institutions — some will continue to choose certificate programs and apprenticeships, particularly as the Trump administration emphasizes these tracks and news reports continue to circulate about the shortage of skilled workers in a number of regions. Even top students are forgoing college as attacks on the value of college persist and social mobility indicators seem to level out, particularly for students of color or those from low-income backgrounds. But the completion rates of those who do enter remains dismal, and even moreso when one considers all students in the enterprise, not just first-time, full-time enrollees.
To turn the tide, leaders will need to continue to find ways to promote student success, whether it's through more gap and emergency funding to help keep students in school, re-imagining pathways to get them some type of credential so that they can continue to build, or reconsidering the amount of time they spend working on those credentials, and they will need to make sure students can demonstrate core competencies that will actually be useful in the workplace. Graduation rates of students who are enrolled have to rise and employers have to stop decrying the under preparedness of recent graduates to improve the state of higher education; enrollment is not the biggest concern.
Autumn A. Arnett contributed to this piece.