The Higher Education Value Proposition

There is so much talk about regarding the rising costs of higher education.  I certainly worry about it from a personal perspective given I have three children (one of whom is a junior in high school).  I also pay close attention to it because of the value proposition quandary.  Given my role at EdAssist, I want to find the best value proposition for our clients.

We probably would not see a lot of talk about this issue if parents, students and employers believed they were getting good value for the cost of a degree.  Look at it this way: would you have ever expected to pay over $300 for a smartphone ten years ago?  No way, but today, we don't hesitate to do so.  The reason we do is the value those smart phones offer.  The same would apply to higher education if the value proposition was there.

What's driving increases in higher education costs?

First, let's ground ourselves in the actual increase in these costs.  Since 1981, the average tuition at public and private American universities has risen six fold while the consumer price index has only increased two-and-a-half times. You read this in all of the articles that are written on this topic.  It is quite staggering. You also hear that the average bill for a college education is much higher to a family nowadays compared to the overall inflation rate.

Next, the question is always asked "why is this happening?"  Most often we hear that the higher education industry just can't manage their investment in infrastructure and staffing.  They build these magnificent structures and campuses, and have hired many more administrators than faculty in the recent years.  I read recently in "Why Does College Cost So Much?" a different perspective.  This book argues that we have not seen the benefits of technology in this industry, i.e. decrease in labor cost due to the use of technology.  Parents generally want their children to attend a seminar with a dozen other students rather than an online course with thousands of students.  The former is a very costly venture.

Innovation for a new value proposition

The problem with this is that even though students are getting more individualized attention in the seminar, the value proposition is still problematic.  Are students ready for the workforce when they graduate?  Do companies believe students are coming to work with the necessary skills?  I saw a study in January that indicated schools believed they were providing employers with 80% of the skills a graduate would need in the work place.  However, employers felt graduates were only arriving with 40% of those skills.  There is obviously some disconnect here.

So, from an employer or parent perspective how do we deal with all of this?  We probably need to be more open to the innovation happening in this space and the value proposition that is offered.  Perhaps sending our children off to a four year program is just not the right approach.  Perhaps employers have to re-think how they evaluate graduates.  Perhaps both groups need to be more accepting of different paths from school to work than the traditional four-year degree.

The EdAssist perspective

Jay Titus, Director of Academic Advising at EdAssist, and Jessica Kaplan, Director of the Education Network at EdAssist, recently began a series of blog entries focused on new innovations in higher education. We know that schools and employers are starting to create different opportunities for adult learners to leverage their experience, reduce the costs of a degree and increase the overall value by ensuring they are gaining the necessary skills and competencies to advance and be successful at their jobs.

Last month, Jay wrote about credit by examination, and how employers can drastically cut the cost of their employees' education by recommending online challenge exams to fullfill general education requirements.  Maybe this is the right approach - spending dollars on job relevant, focused coursework, rather than electives.  This is much more cost efficient than paying the full cost of a 120 credit bachelor's degree, and then master's degree.  Perhaps this, or other new innovative "competency-based" models would be a better approach to tackling the growing cost of education  We certainly don't have all of the answers yet, but there is much more innovation coming down the road to meet a need for a strong value proposition.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.