by Daniel Bennett
We keep hearing that the "stimulus plan" is going to repair the problems that face colleges by dropping money out of airplanes over the campuses (to borrow a phrase from Dr. Vedder). Aside from budget issues, colleges have a whole slew of other long-term problems that are essential to the stability of our future society and its economy. Some of the major problems include affordability, high attrition rates, increasing time-to-degree, and poor career transition support. The colleges themselves have not been able to accomplish much to address these issues, as their solutions generally involve glorified panhandling for additional funding from the government and alumnus, often with little improvement in these areas. Luckily, capitalism provides an incentive for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the private sector is hard at work in crafting solutions to these problems, unlike the tired and ineffective public solutions that are equivalent to flushing money down the toilet.
Affordability is a huge issue and I will not attempt to describe all of the reasons that have contributed to it being reduced; however, I will mention that high attrition rates and augmented time-to-degree trends have made a college education increasingly less affordable to both students and the public. Part of the problem is that many students are unaware of what kind of career that they want and where their interests and skills would yield the most success (in terms of financial and job satisfaction), resulting in students leaving school or changing majors several times.
Recently, I've become aware of an Academic Coach program that Profiles International has developed that offers some hope to alleviate the problem of attrition and lengthening degree completion time. Academic Coach is a capabilities and desires assessment tool available to students in which their thinking style, behavioral traits and occupational interests are evaluated and the results indicate which career fields and/or types of jobs are best suited for the student. In speaking with George Hamilton of Profiles, he explained that the program is beneficial to students, schools and the public. For students who take the assessment early in their academic career, they are able to better focus their studies and be confident that they will be successful. For colleges, greater student success (and satisfaction with their college career) will lead to increased retention and graduation rates, and hopefully greater enrollment demand and alumni giving. For the public, more students complete college and it costs less if they graduate in a timely manner. According to Mr. Hamilton, the program has been implemented at approximately 100 colleges in the US, with the state of Louisiana adopting the program statewide. He also reports that Sam Houston State University has had tremendous success with the program, having increased its retention rate by a substantial amount since implementing the program.
Another major issue is career transition. Colleges do not provide details on post-graduate success (or failure) and we often hear students complain about poor career services support on campus. An article in the WSJ yesterday was quite alarming in that it described a trend growing in popularity in which students pay several thousands of dollars in order to get an internship. As if college isn't already expensive enough, students now have to worry about an added expense to gain work experience. How bad are career services if a student has to pay for access to an internship? I recently became aware of one initiative to improve this situation. Matthew Zinman tells me that the Internship Institute has developed a LEAP program in which it partners with industry to develop internship training programs that are then marketed to colleges. The program is innovative in that that partner colleges (many have an internship graduation requirement) can pay to participate in the program with half of the 3 credit hour fees that are normally assessed for an internship credit. This ensures that students have a valuable internship experience and obtain something in return for the tuition spent for internship credit.