The Gates Foundation aims to redefine the value of college
A new definition of the value of colleges was proposed by a research effort supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
According to the final report of the Commission on the Value of Post-Secondary Education:
“Students experience the post-secondary value when they are provided with equitable access and support to comprehensive, affordable credentials that provide economic mobility and prepare them to advance racial and economic justice in our society.
It’s a definition that highlights how higher education delivers different outcomes to students based on their race and gender, the colleges they attend, and whether or not they graduate.
These discrepancies have not always been recognized in calculations of the value of a college degree, according to Patrick Methvin, director of post-secondary success at the Gates Foundation.
“Our initial focus was too light on fairness,” he said in a webinar Tuesday announcing the report’s findings.
The commission worked for two years to develop a new framework for measuring how much better a graduate is after attending college. The diagram calculates whether, 10 years after graduating from college, a graduate earns:
- as much as a high school graduate, not enough to recoup the cost of college;
- at least the median salary in his field of study;
- as much as an average peer who usually has more advantages (so that women earn as much as men, and people of color earn as much as whites, etc.)
- enough to achieve economic mobility by entering the fourth income quintile.
Using these metrics to assess the state of higher education in the United States, the report found that many selective colleges offer high value but serve too few poor students and students of color, while many many colleges pay. Most, but not all, U.S. colleges help alumni recoup their tuition and earn more than a high school graduate – a threshold that the report says should be the minimum standard for education worth higher. And the report argues that this should be true even for degree programs like education and social work, which offer relatively low wages but high social benefits.
Using the University of Texas system as a sample data, the report found that more than half of all college graduates earn enough to achieve economic mobility within 15 years of graduating. This serves, according to the report, to “counter the common rhetoric that programs like liberal arts or education do not provide a path to economic mobility.”
The commission was made up of 30 members and co-chaired by Mildred García, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Gates Foundation.
The group also released a set of policy and practice recommendations on how college leaders and leaders can improve the value of postsecondary education for all by making colleges more accessible, affordable and complementable, and making data on student outcomes and equity more transparent.