College tuition has risen by 538 percent since 1985. States can influence the higher education landscape to better serve students and employers by evaluating how they can integrate the student experience in such areas as performance metrics, financial aid, and job placement.
To maintain economic prosperity, a state needs well-educated citizens. State governments can help to influence the higher education landscape so that it better serves the needs of students, employers, and the population as a whole. Both directly through state institutions and indirectly through economic development initiatives, loans, and other programs, state leaders can have considerable influence on the higher education.
Higher education has changed considerably over the years, shaped by several macro-level trends:
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Financial aid programs that help with tuition and academic costs are as important as ever. But nontraditional students could also need other support, such as help paying for child care, transportation, and food. States should consider aligning public assistance programs with the needs of adults who attend schools and making public benefits easily accessible for those students who qualify.
In the future, students will consume education in many different ways—in the classroom, online, in full semesters, in short bursts, on the job, and through one-on-one mentoring, to name just a few. Most likely, these learning experiences will continue throughout a person’s career. Given that reality, state financial aid programs should consider making a wider variety of educational experiences eligible for aid.
Many institutions of higher learning today are experimenting with a broad range of new approaches, such as blended learning, adaptive learning, and competency-based education. New strategies for keeping nontraditional students on target to succeed are emerging as well. These include data-driven systems for detecting when a student needs extra help, tutoring and coaching programs to provide that help, and class schedules that make attending school easier for students who also hold down jobs, manage families, and rely on public transportation. State university systems should promote experimentation to find new solutions.
Read more about how state university systems can explore different models of instruction in Reimagining higher education.
Every year across the United States, a significant number of students fail to complete their college degrees. “While it is true that retention programs abound on our campuses, most institutions have not taken student retention seriously,” noted Vincent Tinto, distinguished university professor emeritus in the School of Education at Syracuse University.11 Colleges and universities should adapt to the needs of a diverse, dynamic, and changing student population by providing flexible services and a greater sense of connection.
Steps can be taken to deploy new learning methods, develop comprehensive support services, streamline student-facing operations, and pursue strategic partnerships with employers and other entities. These efforts would help the state to train the workforce of tomorrow, reduce the time to graduation, and decrease the dropout rate.
Read more about how state university systems can effectively support their students in Success by design.
Early college or dual enrollment programs can provide a bridge for high-school students who want to get a jump on their higher education, including students who need some extra help to prepare for college-level work. Public institutions can smooth students’ progress by agreeing on common course numbering systems and providing clear transfer pathways between two- and four-year colleges. And while students work toward their undergraduate degrees, co-op, internship, and apprenticeship programs can provide opportunities to earn money while honing skills that could make them attractive to employers in their chosen fields.
At Purdue University, some courses employ Course Signals, a software platform that uses data analytics to calculate and track student progress and provide early warnings to both students and faculty. Students receive notifications about how they are performing in a course as they progress through it. Faculty who receive this performance data are able to identify students who may need additional assistance to succeed and can target interventions to ensure that at-risk students stay on track. Students enrolled in Course Signals classes at Purdue have a 21 percent higher graduation rate than those enrolled in courses that don’t use the software.12
Rather than trying to be all things to all people, some universities are beginning to carve out niches in the market for higher education, shedding unnecessary costs and better differentiating themselves from their peers.13 Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, has focused on providing the lowest-cost options in fields undergoing a rapid growth in demand. MOOC provider Udacity, in collaboration with AT&T, is powering Georgia Tech’s first accredited online master’s program in computer science with a price tag of just $7,000.14
To help new students who were not college-ready in mathematics, Arizona State University launched a math readiness program in the fall of 2011. This program uses adaptive learning technology to let students work through the program at their own pace, aided by an instructor.15 The program’s initial results showed improved outcomes, with fewer student dropouts, increased pass rates, and lower course completion times.16
In the Appalachian region of Ohio, Zane State College and the Zanesville City Schools have created a program to help high-school seniors who have grade point averages of 3.0 or higher, but whose tests show them to be unprepared for college. The program includes career exploration, tutoring, mentoring, and a one-semester class on college success taught at the high school by college faculty. Participants also take college math and English courses for dual credit, and each student goes to the college to take a course specific to his or her major.17