How to Separate Higher Education Politics from Facts

The politics of higher education confuses and distracts you from the decisions you need to make. What you need are facts. Here is a separation of higher education politics from the facts you need.

Buzz Today Source: The New York Times “College, the Great Unleveler” And because some colleges actually hinder social mobility, what increasingly matters is not just whether you go to college but where…More Americans than ever enroll in college, but the graduates who emerge a few years later indicate that instead of reducing inequality, our system of higher education reinforces it…Higher education is becoming a caste system, separate and unequal for students of different family incomes. Where students attend affects their chances of graduating and how indebted they will become in the process…invest more in Pell grants and community colleges It is a fact that community colleges represent a much lower cost of education. Typically the average annual cost is $3,000 to attend a community college. This makes enrollment at a community college a very attractive means to get an associate’s degree or the credits for the “gen ed” of a bachelor’s degree. But this choice is not without its negative implications. As the comments in BUZZ Today indicate, “where students attend affects their chances of graduating.” This statement could not be more accurate when it comes to the decision to attend a higher cost four year institution vs. going to a community college first. According to the US Department of Education, the official six-year graduation rate for four-year public universities is 57% compared to the official three-year graduation rate of 22% for public two-year colleges.

So what is the take away for you as you look at these facts? The take away is that the success you achieve from education depends far more on what you bring to your education than the specific institution you attend. Harvard University graduates well over 90% of its students. The reason Harvard has such a high graduation rate is because it is so highly selective at admissions. Conversely, community colleges have open enrollment, essentially admitting anyone and everyone. The fact is that Harvard students are more qualified from the point of admission which significantly increases the graduation rate from the institution.

Here is the bottom line of the politics vs. facts of higher education. When it comes to your individual success, the most important thing is what you put into your education. If you could get into Harvard University you would most likely graduate, not because of the institution, but because of “who you are”. Conversely, should you decide to go to a community college first, the fact is that, just as in the Harvard University case, your success will depend much more on “who you are” than the characteristics of the institution.

So when it comes to politics and policy, there is a lot of energy being expended on the institutional issues – for-profit vs. not for profit, selective admissions vs. open enrollment, high cost vs. low cost, etc. In the end, the fact is that your success in education depends most upon the decisions that you make about yourself. For help with those personal decisions see “Your Future is Calling” for how to tips, help and useful exercises.

Credentials Matter

Degrees are important. They matter to both employers and students. Markets confirm that it is not just about what you learn. It is also about what your learning communicates to others. In many cases, having known credentials are required to even be considered.

BUZZ Today Source: Georgia Tech Announces Massive Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science While courses related to OMS CS (Online Masters Degree in Computer Science) will be available free of charge on the Udacity site, only those granted admission to Georgia Tech will receive credit. Degree-seeking students will pay tuition based either on individual course or the entire degree program. Georgia Tcch and Udacity also will develop a separate credential for those who successfully complete courses but do not qualify for full graduate standing. Source: Harvard University faculty member blog on Computer Science CS50x MOOC: CS50x’s “completion rate” is (defined as submission of all work with scores of at least 60%) was .9% out of 150,349 who registered. By contrast, 702 out of 706 students (99.6%) “completed” CS50 on campus this past fall (2012).

The experiments with MOOCs are revealing some important information about how students are viewing the MOOC value proposition. Let’s look at the Georgia Tech Masters degree in computer science. With help from AT&T this innovative and highly cost competitive master’s degree will cost $7,000 to the student. This cost for a master’s degree from a highly prestigious university is rightfully being hailed as a real break through in the cost of an accredited degree. The development has been praised as true innovation. It is.

But what is interesting for the discussion here, is how the students admitted to the degree granting program view the MOOC. As with CS50 at Harvard, the MOOC will deliver the exact same content to both admitted university students and anyone who desires to take the program content. In both the Harvard and Georgia Tech situations, students enrolled in the credit granting activity (CS50 in the Harvard University case and OMS CS admitted students in the Georgia Tech case) have the option to take the same course as a free MOOC. They could have the same content without paying any tuition whatsoever.

So if it were just about the content of the courses, why wouldn’t every student qualified to be admitted and paying tuition simply take the free MOOC instead? The only plausible answer, is that the students with the choice value the credential associated with the tuition. In the case of the Georgia Tech master’s degree, the value of the credential is at least $7,000. This is a bargain compared to traditional master’s programs, but relatively expensive when compared to free. The same thing can be said about CS50x at Harvard where the cost for the CS50 degree related course on campus is at least several thousand dollars. Credentials matter.

A couple of conclusions are immediately evident. The first is that to be a true substitute for the existing traditional higher education model MOOCs will have to address the credentialing issue. The specifics in BUZZ Today tells us that simply issuing a separate certificate is not sufficient to give the student the value gotten in an accredited degree program. To be truly viable alternatives, it is likely that the MOOC model will have to incorporate some of the attributes of accredited degrees. Some of these attributes will no doubt include selectivity and admission qualifications, faculty support, infrastructure support including mentoring, coaching and advising. These, along with investment in content development, will require a revenue model for investment funding. As a result, it is highly likely that at least a portion of the current MOOC phenomenon will become MOC (Massive Online Courses) with non-zero cost to fund the services that are part of a market valued credential. Another implication is that valued higher education requires more than prestigious course content.

The other dimension of the Credentials Matter conversation is the role that employers play. Job position postings overwhelmingly specify accredited degree credential requirements. The qualifications segment of those job postings do not typically say: “The following MOOCs required: _____, _______,______” They most often state:

“Bachelor’s degree required with 3-5 years experience in the field.” Credentials matter to employers too.

Three Reasons a Degree is Important

“Is a College Degree Worth It?” There are three important reasons the answer is almost always Yes.

A degree is a credential, it communicates important information to the external world. The first reason credentials are important is because employers screen and select new employees based on the credential. Automated resume screening software screens job candidates before an interview. The second reason is one we have explored before. On average, each progression of  accredited degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional/Ph.D.) produces more life time income than the degree immediately below it. This is true even though some associate’s degrees produce higher income than some bachelor’s degrees.  The third important reason has to do with the motivation of the learner. This last one is about you – as in Your Future is Calling. This is the reason we will explore in depth here in what I call the lessons of CS50/CS50x at Harvard University.

Buzz TodaySource:  David J. Malan CS50 blog: I am a Senior Lecturer on Computer Science at Harvard University I received my A.B., S.M., and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the same in 1999, 2004, and 2007, respectively. I teach Harvard College’s introductory course, Computer Science 50 otherwise known as CS50. In October 2012 Harvard launched a MOOC called CS50x. 150,349 students registered to take the course online. 1,388 or .9% of the original registrants received a certificate of completion for taking the course.

The data in the BUZZ Today documents the level of completion of the MOOC number CS50x offered starting in October, 2012 from Harvard University. The percentage of enrollment that received a certificate of completion was .9%. CS50 is the core course offered on the Harvard campus to students enrolled in degree seeking programs at this prestigious University. During the fall of 2012 there were 706 Harvard students enrolled in CS50. Of those 706 originally enrolled, 703 or 99.6% completed the course.

With so many nines floating around it may be confusing. The results for completion are .9% vs. 99.6%. Just to be totally clear, this is something under one percent vs. nearly one hundred percent for the same course from the most famous University in America. What does it mean?

Clearly it is not about the commonly referenced issues of course content, college reputation, faculty status/capability or time of the year. It is the same course, the same university at the same time. I will assert that what is different is the student doing the learning and more specifically the motivation of the students enrolled in the MOOC CS50x versus the motivation of the on campus student enrolled in CS50.

Here is the specific conclusion relative to the headline that the degree is important. The most important distinction between the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC and CS50, the Harvard University campus course, is that all of the students on campus were students enrolled in a degree program. They were degree seeking students. In contrast, none of the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC were degree seeking students. CS50x does not award college credit. By design, completion of CS50x online does not qualify for credit toward an accredited degree. There is one other important distinction between CS50x and CS50. The campus based CS50 students actually paid thousands of dollars of tuition to be enrolled while the CS50x MOOC students enrolled for free.

So the key comparisons are:

CS50x – Free MOOCM .9% completion
CS50 – Tuition paying and degree seeking 99.6% completion

This is the same course from the same institution taught by the same faculty member. One is online and one is on campus. All of those who enrolled in CS50x knew it was online before they registered.

It’s clearly not about the cost, the content, the fame of the faculty member, nor the reputation of the institution. These are all factors frequently cited as differentiators. I assert that it isn’t even about the quality of the students attending even though Harvard’s highly selective admission policies are designed to assure high quality students. On a pure random basis, with 150,349 registrations for a Harvard course there had to be tens of thousands with the intellectual capacity of those attending CS50 on the Harvard campus.

There is only one defensible inference to be drawn from this gigantic .9% vs. 99.6% gap. The implication has to be that the campus based students were motivated to complete while the online CS50x students had no comparable compelling purpose to complete the course. The investment of the campus students represented a step toward an important credential – in this case, an accredited Harvard University degree. For the online MOOC students this was just another course out of thousands available.

And it is with this evidence that I share the third important reason for earning a degree.  This third reason is about you, the learner. The credential, that is, the degree itself is a powerful motivator to do the work to learn and prosper from the effort.

Oh, by the way, I think this data has important implications for the outlook of MOOCs as the disruptive force in higher education. I will let you draw your own inferences about this issue. My belief is that MOOCs as they are constituted today will not displace the higher education as we know it.

Controlling Student Debt – First Make Sure Tuition Cost Is Right

College debt is a topic we have been exploring in the last several posts.  The idea that the amount of debt you have when you get your degree is very dependent on the costs you take on at the beginning of your schooling.  Tuition is by far your biggest cost.  Buzz TodaySource: The annual tuition (Harvard University MBA) is $51,200 and it is severely discounted for at least half the students. In fact, Harvard’s average fellowship support per MBA student was $29,843 last year, essentially a 58.3 percent discount on that annual tuition.

The question you have to be asking is, “how do you control the tuition cost in the first place?”   For every college or university you are considering you must know what the true cost of tuition is.  In BUZZ Today here, we can see what the tuition costs truly are at one of the most prestigious programs in American higher education.  The degree is an MBA from Harvard University.

What the BUZZ data tells us, is that the “list” price of the degree is $51,200 per year.  By list price we mean the price published on the university web site for a year of enrollment in the program.  Every university has a published list price for their tuition.  It is this list tuition that is quoted when referring to the degrees being offered.  If you do nothing, this list price is what you will pay when you enroll.  This is true for every degree from every university.  The point is that what you actually end up paying is entirely dependent on what you do or don’t do.

The debt control comes in with the second half of the BUZZ data.  The actual (discounted) tuition cost for the students enrolled in the Harvard MBA in 2012 is shown to have been, on average $29,843.  This results in $29,843 less debt a student would have to repay after graduation.

The bottom line is that even in the hugely prestigious Harvard University MBA the average actual tuition price paid is 58.3% less than the list tuition price.

No matter where you decide to go to school it is very important that you take full advantage of the discounted versus list tuition cost at every university you are considering.  For detailed information on the list versus discounted tuition for every American higher education institution see Chapter 9 in my book Your Future Is Calling.