What We’re Reading This Week – It’s Busy Season for the Higher Education Industry

In the weeks since our team attended the 2015 NACUBO Annual Meeting, we’ve been continuing to mull over many of the panels we attended and conversations we had, particularly around the breakneck pace of change in the higher education industry. Each busy back-to-school season, as colleges and universities welcome new students, they also establish new value propositions and invest in innovations and updates across their campuses and programs.

With that in mind, here are a few key stories and issues capturing our attention as colleges and universities gear up for another academic year:

Value Metrics

We’ve previously discussed the use of metrics to evaluate of the value of college education, and it should come as no surprise that the discourse around metrics has escalated with recent funding proposals from the Obama administration, as well as private foundations focused on improving higher education. A new model for educational affordability released by the Lumina Foundation focuses on charging what students and families have the capacity to pay. It proposes that families should contribute to a child’s college education the amount they can reasonably save over 10 years by setting aside 10 percent of their disposable income. Meanwhile, students should contribute their earnings from working 10 hours per week.

A report was also released this week from researchers at Georgetown University, marking a big first step toward upending the conventional wisdom of the under-employment or unemployment of the nation’s graduates. The study finds that of the 6 million jobs added to the U.S. economy last year, 2.9 million were “good” jobs, generally defined as paying at least $53,000 and offering benefits like health and retirement plans. Of those 2.9 million “good” jobs, 2.8 million went to college graduates, the report finds. The findings show most of these jobs were in managerial, STEM or healthcare professions. It is worth noting, however, that this report doesn’t specify when degrees were earned, so the question of how recent graduates are faring in the job market is still up in the air.

Online Learning and Retention

A new white paper released this week by researchers at the University of Ohio argues that the appeal behind the popular mobile game app Candy Crush could be used to improve higher education online course models through gamification. The authors recommend creating a game-like “flow” with clear goals, enticing challenges and immediate feedback to stimulate students’ engagement in learning, and, as a result, their retention. At a time when retention rates are flagging, harnessing new approaches and technologies to generate competitive spirit could positively impact student success in MOOCs and other online coursework.

Tidal Changes in Student Policy

The U.S. Department of Education issued a clarification this week on federal privacy laws concerning student medical records. The draft guidance proposed that institutions, which have limited authority to review records from an on-campus provider under FERPA, should avoid reviewing students’ medical records in litigation cases unless the case directly relates to the medical treatment itself or the payment for that treatment. The department is seeking input until October 2. Looking forward, organizations should be prepared to adjust budgets as needed and prepare financially to mitigate risk and cover the costs of compliance with these and other emerging student policies and procedures.