Last week, the National Center for Education Statistics released new data and a set of web tables that presents results from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) spring 2019 collection. Here is a selection of enrollment data for fall 2018:

  • 20 million students were enrolled in Title IV institutions.
  • 84.8% were undergraduates, and 15.2% were graduate students.
  • Of those students, 73.2% were enrolled in public institutions, 20.7% were enrolled in private nonprofit institutions, and 6.1% were enrolled in private for-profit institutions.
  • Of the 4.1 million students enrolled in private nonprofit institutions, 68.3% were undergraduates, and 31.7% were graduate students.
  • 16.3% of students (3.3 million) were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.
  • 65.3% (13 million) were not enrolled in any distance education courses.
  • 69.5% of all students were enrolled in a 4-year institution, and 30.5% were enrolled in a 2-year or less institution.
  • 61.3% of all students were enrolled full-time, and 38.7% were enrolled part-time.
  • 57.1% of all students were women, and 42.9% were men. Women outnumbered men by 2.85 million.
  • Of the 10.9 million undergraduates enrolled in 4-year institutions, 52.2% were White, 16.3% were Hispanic or Latino, 11.5% were Black or African American, 6.5% were Asian, 4.4% were nonresident alien, 4.3% were unknown, 3.9% were 2 or more races, 0.6% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.02% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
  • The retention rate of first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students in the fall 2017 cohort was 81% for full-time students in 4-year institutions, 49.1% for part-time students in 4-year institutions, 62.6% for full-time students in 2-year institutions, and 45.1% for part-time students in 2-year institutions.
  • The retention rate for full-time students enrolled in 4-year public institutions and 4-year private nonprofit institutions was 81.2% for both groups.

Last week, three new reports were released that provide information about the perceptions of Americans about the value of higher education and about the return on investment of various majors. I will summarize the important points from each report.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The report published by these organizations is titled “Young Americans’ views on the value of higher education.” The report summarizes the results of interviews conducted between August 7 and September 9, 2019, with 265 teens age 13-17 and 1,036 young adults age 18-29. Some of the statistics are broken down between those two groups, and some are based on the total aggregate. Many of the findings are also disaggregated based on political affiliation and household income. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 61% of teens and 42% of young adults plan to attend or have attended a four-year college.
  • 77% of teens and 55% of young adults plan to or have already taken out student loans.
  • 62% of young people are concerned about making enough money to earn a good living.
  • Only 22% of young people think there are more disadvantages than advantages of attending a four-year college.
  • 70% of teens say their parents have indicated they will help pay for college tuition, but only 52% of young adults report getting this help.
  • More affluent young Americans are more likely to attend or plan to attend a four-year college.

Strada Education Group & Gallup

The report published by these organizations is titled “Changing the value equation of higher education.” Gallup interviewed 340,000 people from all education pathways to create a dataset so large and deep that educators, policymakers, and employers can take action on the results. This Education Consumer Survey considered two dimensions: cost value (whether consumers believe their education was worth the cost) and career value (whether consumers believe their education made them an attractive job candidate). Here are some of the findings from this report:

  • Consumers value their education when they clearly see its connection to a career.
  • Consumers report higher rates of value for vocational and technical programs and graduate degrees than the terminal bachelor’s degree. Only 40% who received a terminal bachelor’s degree believe it was worth the cost, and only 48% believe it made them an attractive job candidate.
  • With a bachelor’s degree, consumers value majors that are closely aligned with specific careers, such as health care, engineering, education, and computer science.
  • Only 34% of liberal arts graduates strongly agreed their degree was worth the expense, and 36% strongly agreed it would benefit their careers.
  • Consumers in any pathway see greater value when they see the relevance of their coursework in their work and day-to-day life.

U.S. Department of Education

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education published additional data on the College Scorecard that allows consumers to compare student debt and first-year of earnings of graduates by major or graduate degree program at 4,400 institutions of higher learning in America that receive Title IV funds. Previously, the College Scorecard included only schoolwide statistics on debt and earnings of graduates. This additional information allows consumers to consider the return on investment for each program at each institution.

To protect students’ privacy, the government isn’t publishing data on programs with few students. For programs making the cut, the data show debt loads at graduation for students who finished college in the 2016 and 2017 school years. It also reflects how much students who graduated during the 2015 and 2016 school years earned a year after leaving school, excluding those who re-enrolled. The data were drawn from the Internal Revenue Service and federal student loan data.

According to the Wall Street Journal, at most programs graduates typically earn more in their first year of employment than what they borrowed in total for their degree. However, 15% of programs had graduates carrying debt greater than income, and 2% had graduates who owed more than twice their annual salaries.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/25/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 25-29

“Consumers identified several areas their colleges and universities can focus on to increase value: When consumers find their courses are relevant to work, and when they have high-quality, applied-learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising, they see more value in their education.”—Strada Education Network & Gallup, “Changing the value equation for higher education,” p.7

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/22/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 18-22

“As college costs and student loan debt continue to rise precipitously, more people are wondering if college is worth it. Based on earnings alone, yes, it is. On average, workers with a bachelor’s degree make 80 percent more than workers with no more than a high school diploma.”—Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf, “A first try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 colleges,” p. 1

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/22/2019

Why do students choose the college they attend?

Last week, Hanover Research released “National Prospective Student Survey: 8 Key Findings,” which reports the findings of a national survey of 1,000 current high school students who are interested in enrolling in an undergraduate program. Here are the eight key findings of the study:

  1. Salary maximization is the top driver for deciding to pursue higher education.
  2. Affordability is the most important factor influencing where a prospective student will apply.
  3. Cost considerations and job expectations will drive the decision of where to attend.
  4. Online search and institutional websites are the primary channels through which students learn more about an institution.
  5. Email and text messaging are the top communication channels to reach prospective students.
  6. A majority of prospective students prefer attending a school within four hours of home.
  7. Students also seek flexible degree programs.
  8. Nearly half of students want a delivery format that includes online content.

The fifteen-page report offers recommendations for how institutions should respond to each of the eight findings in order to attract prospective students.

Last week, the Center on Education and the Workforce of Georgetown University published a report titled “A first try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 colleges.” Using data from the College Scorecard, the report focuses on “net present value” of a college degree, which weighs future earnings against the total cost of the degree. See the document for a more complete (but complicated) explanation of the calculation. Here are some of the interesting findings in the report:

  • Community colleges and many certificate programs have the highest ROI in the short term (10 years), but colleges that award primarily bachelor’s degrees have the highest ROI in the long term (40 years). This is primarily because bachelor’s degrees take longer to complete, resulting in more expense and debt.
  • Public colleges have higher ROI than private colleges in the short term, but degrees from private colleges generally have a higher ROI in the long term. This is because of higher expense at private colleges, which eventually results in higher earnings.
  • The median net present value for all colleges is $723,000 in the long term, but only $107,000 in the short term.

Although this report recognizes that college provides non-monetary benefits, it focuses only on the monetary benefits. It also ranks colleges and universities regardless of their mission or their programs. Therefore, colleges with more higher-paying majors will generally rank higher in the standings.

Another flaw in this study is that it feeds the misconception that where one studies automatically results in higher or lower earnings. In the past couple of years, various studies and publications have shown that the major a student takes often matters more than where they take it. For example, a business major at a less expensive institution can have the same or better earnings than a business major at a more expensive institution.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/12/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 11-15

“Smaller institutions outperform larger ones on the three experiences that relate to having supportive relationships with professors and mentors, reflecting the known challenges that faculty often face at bigger schools in establishing meaningful connections with students, especially in the context of large class sizes.”—Steve Crabtree, “Students at smaller colleges more likely to say faculty care,” retrieved from

West Virginia University Press has released Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor by Cyndi Kernahan. Kernahan is professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin—River Falls. In this 228-page book, she offers practical strategies for teaching about race and racism while maintaining a compassionate learning environment that allows for mistakes and avoids shaming students. She also describes how white students and students of color experience the classroom differently. The six chapters of the book are as follows:

  1. Naïve Understandings: How We Differ from Our Students
  2. Struggling Students: How and Why Resistance Happens
  3. Getting Yourself Together: Developing a Secure Teacher Identity
  4. Belonging in the Classroom: Creating Moments of Positivity and Connection
  5. Expectations: From Ground Rules to Growth Mindsets
  6. Course Content: Problems and Solutions

The book is for sale on Amazon for $24.99 and in Kindle format for $23.74.

A couple of weeks ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling published “2019 State of College Admission,” which was authored by Melissa Clinedinst. The report summarizes data from two annual surveys: Counseling Trends Survey (2,345 responses from secondary school counselors) and Admission Trends Survey (447 responses from U.S. four-year colleges that NACAC members). The report is divided into four parts: College Applications, Recruitment and Yield Strategies, Factors in Admission Decisions, and Secondary School Counseling. Here are highlights of the 27-page report:

  • The number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6% from fall 2017 to fall 2018.
  • Transfer applications increased 4.7% at private colleges but declined 1.7% at public colleges.
  • For fall 2017, 36% of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges.
  • For fall 2017, 66.7% of applicants were offered admission at four-year colleges and universities.
  • The average yield rate (percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) for fall 2017 was 33.7%. This rate has declined steadily since reaching a high of 48% in fall 2007.
  • For fall 2018, 57% of private colleges had an application fee, which averaged $50.
  • For fall 2018, the primary means of recruiting first-time freshmen were sending email, maintaining institutional websites, and hosting campus visits.
  • At least 50% of colleges also rated the following strategies as considerably important: high school visits, direct mail, outreach to parents, and outreach to high school counselors.
  • The top factors in admission decisions were overall high school GPA (75%), grades in college preparatory classes (73%), strength of curriculum (60%), and admission test scores (50%).
  • Public institutions valued admission test scores more highly than private colleges.
  • The next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities.
  • In the past decade, class rank and interviews have declined in importance.
  • In 2016-17 each public school counselor was responsible for 455 students, on average.
  • In 2018-19, only 29% of public schools employed at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 48% of private schools.
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/05/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 4-8

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest performing students are doing worse. In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”—Peggy G. Carr, Associate Commissioner for Assessment of the National Center for Education Statistics

Reports released in the last several weeks have hit higher education with a double whammy of bad news: Future students will not only be fewer in number but also less prepared for college-level work. Three reports show that the readiness of high school graduates to succeed in college continues to decline.

Every two years, the National Center for Education Statistics administers mathematics and reading assessments to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grades across the nation. The 2019 scores showed the following changes from the 2017 results (scores are on a 0-500 scale):

  • 4th-grade math: increased by 1 point (241 to 242)
  • 8th-grade math: decreased by 1 point (283 to 282)
  • 4th-grade reading: decreased by 1 point (226 to 225)
  • 8th-grade reading: decreased by 3 points (269 to 266)

The report offers a state-by-state breakdown. This analysis shows that average reading scores were significantly lower in 17 states at grade 4 and in 31 states at grade 8. Only one state/jurisdiction had a significant score increase in reading at each grade level (Mississippi with a 4-point increase at grade 4 and District of Columbia with a 3-point increase at grade 8).

Nationwide, about a third of students scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level for reading in grades 4 and 8. For mathematics, 41% of 4th-graders and 34% of 8th-graders scored at or above the Proficient level.

Analyses of the report were published by The Hechinger Report and The 74.

Every year, ACT, Inc. releases a report summarizing the results of the year’s administration of the ACT. This year’s report is based on the results of 1.8 million graduating seniors. ACT reports that “the percentages of graduates meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in math and English are the lowest they’ve been in 15 years.” The average ACT Composite score was 20.7, down from 20.8 in 2018.

ACT sets College Readiness Benchmarks for each of the four areas of the test. Students who achieve these benchmarks have a 50% chance or higher of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year courses. The benchmark scores are 18 for English (=English Composition), 22 for Reading (=Social Sciences), 22 for Math (=College Algebra), and 23 for Science (=Biology).

Only 26% of 2019 graduates met all four benchmarks. 37% met at least three of the four benchmarks, and 36% met none of the benchmarks. Readiness levels in all four subject areas have decreased since 2015 with the largest declines in English (64% to 59%) and math (42% to 39%).

The report also examines results for “underserved learners” who are defined as being members of a minority group from low-income families whose parents did not attend college. Just 9% of these graduates met three or more of the benchmarks.

ACT’s research has found that a key factor in meeting the College Readiness Benchmarks is taking a rigorous core academic curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies. The average Composite score for those who have taken this curriculum was 22.2 versus 18.9 for those who haven’t.

A couple of weeks ago, I summarized the results of the 2019 administration of the SAT. Here are some of the results that reinforce the information above:

  • The mean score was 1059, down from 1068 for the class of 2018.
  • 45% of test takers met both college readiness benchmarks (480 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 for Math).
  • 30% of test takers met no college readiness benchmarks.
  • 68% of test takers met the readiness benchmark for Reading and Writing, but only 48% met the benchmark for Math.

Response to the Results

These results are mystifying in light of the many initiatives undertaken in the past couple of decades to improve our educational system: No Child Left Behind, Common Core, holding schools and teachers accountable for student performance, increased use of technology, expansion of magnet schools and charter schools, reforms of teacher preparation programs, and increased investment in education. Nothing has seemed to make a difference. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, or someone would have discovered them by now.

How should college instructors respond to these facts? We can no longer assume that most of our entering students are ready for rigorous, college-level work. Only the most selective schools can operate on that assumption. Schools whose mission is to educate average and underprepared students must view the first year as a year of transition to prepare high school graduates for college-level work. Instructors will need to meet students where they actually are, not where we wish or imagine they should be, and guide them into higher-level thinking, comprehension, and competence.

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