Friday, March 02, 2007

Rethinking Higher Ed: A Conference for You

By Richard Vedder

I recently blogged about a day-long conference the Department of Education is putting on for 300 members of the Higher Education Establishment and their most intimate friends, the so-called Higher Education Summit, being held in Washington March 22. It is by invitation only. However, a shorter and more user-friendly conference is going on in our nation's capital on March 13, and I am inviting you -- at less than a zero cost (a free lunch is being provided).

On March 13, the American Enterprise Institute is sponsoring a conference entitled Higher Education After the Spellings Commission. It takes place at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on March 13 at 12:30 p.m. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will start things off, followed by a panel on the Spellings Commission results including Bob Zemsky of Penn, a Commission member skeptical of the group's accomplishments; Judith Eaton, the head of CHEA, the organization of accreditors (a topic on which the Spellings Commission devoted a fair amount of time) and Gene Hickok, former Undersecretary of Education, former Pennsylvania education commissioner, and now a reform-minded scholar at the Heritage Foundation.

Sparks may fly in the second panel. Author of two books on rising tuition, Ron Ehrenberg of Cornell and myself (of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, AEI and Ohio University) will each make what I expect will be rather different presentations. Discussing our remarks and adding some of their own will be Sandy Baum of the College Board and AEI's Charles Murray, who has written provocatively suggesting too many kids go to college (Charles, co-author of the Bell Curve, has undergone more controversy in his lifetime than the rest of us on the various panels combined).

The third panel will get into curricular content and the role of governing boards. Moderated by CCAP's good friend Anne Neal, panelists include Mark Bauerlin, an Emory University English professor; SUNY Trustee Ed Cox, a New York lawyer known to many as Richard Nixon's son-in-law, and Harry Lewis of Harvard (and former Dean of the College), whose great book last year on higher education is must reading for all concerned about the undergraduate educational experience in America. Click here to register for this event. Attendance is limited, so get your reservation in now.

1 comment:

TC said...

What the Brits are doing:

From The Times
June 06, 2006

Universities must make students an offer they can't refuse
The key is to keep the customer satisfied

Tony Halpin

So how was it for you? The question may prompt sly grins of recollection from graduates, but rarely in the context of their courses. Student satisfaction is the hot new issue for universities, however, as they come to terms with the consumer market unleashed by tuition fees of £3,000 a year. Nobody has offered a money-back guarantee yet, but the new university challenge is to keep students happy — and hope that they spread the word.

The top of the market, where demand for places far exceeds supply, may be as cut-throat as ever, but most universities recognise that they will have to sell themselves harder. Would-be students are moving from desperate to discerning as they decide where to invest their money and time to get the best returns for their futures.

The latest edition of The Times Good University Guide includes a measure of "student satisfaction" for the first time, in recognition of the fact that customer demand will increasingly shape the higher education system.

The student satisfaction results are drawn from information in the National Student Survey, which collated opinions on about courses from 170,000 final-year undergraduates.

Results from the government-backed study have been posted on the Teaching Quality Information website,, to help prospective students to see how previous students rate their lecturers.

Undergraduates were asked to grade the quality of teaching that they received, the level of feedback and support available, the state of study facilities and their overall sense of satisfaction with their degree courses.

The Good University Guide 2007 took the questions most directly related to teaching quality and ranked each university out of a maximum of 20 points. Some surprising names emerged in the list of universities with the country’s most satisfied students. The top ten for overall student satisfaction were Loughborough, Lampeter, Leicester, East Anglia, Lancaster, Chichester, Chester, Royal Holloway, York, and Aberystwyth.

The range of institutions that made the top ten emphasises the need for sixth-form students to research choices thoroughly before selecting their preferred universities on the Ucas applications form.

One caveat is that Scottish universities were not included in the survey, while Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick refused to take part. All three institutions are part of a follow-up survey later this year.

The least satisfied customers were at London’s University of the Arts, Middlesex, Brunel, Luton, Greenwich, University of Central England, Westminster, Sunderland, Leeds Metropolitan, and Kingston.
Universities will become increasingly sensitive to perceptions of their "product" among prospective students as information builds about the quality of experience on offer. Those with good or bad ratings can expect to feel the impact on the number of applications they receive. Leeds Metropolitan and Greenwich are two of only four universities that have chosen not to levy the maximum £3,000 charge from September. Leeds Met has set the lowest annual fee of £2,000 as part of a "low charging, high-impact" strategy to attract students. It seems to be working, since applications have risen by 8.3 per cent this year against a decline nationally of 3.2 per cent. The experience demonstrates that students are already becoming price-sensitive about the trade-off between reputation and cost in choosing a university. It is a lesson that other universities may be forced to learn.

Price cutting could emerge as a strategy to fill course vacancies in the "clearing" exercise that begins after the release of A-level results. Sir Martin Harris, the Government’s access regulator, sought last month to discourage universities from anything as vulgar as a summer sale, but those struggling to fill places may find their resolve tested if bargain-hunting students begin to press for discounts.

Equally, universities may start to set different charges for individual courses to reflect the level of student demand for places.

They cannot break the £3,000 cap for popular courses, but some universities will see advantage in attracting customers to struggling departments through an old-fashioned discount. Variations on the traditional degree will also emerge as universities seek to satisfy customers.

The Government has given its blessing to pilot schemes starting in September that will offer honours degrees in just two years rather than three, with students studying for 40 weeks each year instead of the usual 30.

American-style credit accumulation schemes will become more widespread, allowing students to take a break from their studies and to complete their degrees later, perhaps at a different university. Accommodation has become another key measure of happiness. The slum digs immortalised in The Young Ones may have been instantly recognisable to their parents, but today’s students expect something a bitmore akin to Hollyoaks. Universities have responded by offering halls of residence that have more in common with hotels than hovels. Manchester’s Wilmslow Park in Manchester has been dubbed Britain’s most luxurious student digs, offering a swimming pool, gym, spa, steam room and whirlpool bath in addition to its en suite bedrooms with internet connection as standard.

Other universities have upgraded their accommodation to offer on-site gyms, free internet access, widescreen TVs and dishwashers. With crime an increasing concern, particularly in the major cities, many highlight 24-hour porters and high-tech security at their halls of residence.

The increasing focus on student satisfaction is a natural development of the emerging consumer market for higher education, according to Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, Britain’s only private university. "It is the beginning of a new era for universities and for students. The wishes of students and what they want to study will shape the form of higher education in future said Professor Smithers, of Buckingham University, Britain’s only private university.

"Until now, it has really been in the hands of the Government, using taxpayers’ money. But students are now investing in themselves and will be looking for value for money.

"Fees will be an important income stream for universities, so they will have to become more responsive to students, who will have a voice. A lot more attention will have to be paid to the quality of lecturers and to the support available, both tutorial and pastoral."

The tables were compiled by Mayfield University Consultants ( Full subject tables can be found in The Times Good University Guide 2007, edited by John O’Leary and published by Times Books, price £15.99. The Times Good University Guide 2007 , available at the Times BooksFirst price of £14.39 (RRP £15.99). Copies can be ordered To order a copy by calling call 0780 1608080 or visit