The Real Issue Pressing Higher Education: ‘Worth Claims’

In “Why the Current Conversation About Higher Ed Misses the Majority,” Jayson Boyers states that the current national conversations on college education focus only on the “traditional 18- to- 22-year-old student demographic.”  He notes that while many people like to talk about issues surrounding low enrollment and limited access and lack of financial support, the reality is that “the face of today’s college student is rapidly changing, and higher education must evolve in order to meet student needs.”   He cites statistics from the National Center for Education, where between 2000 and 2010 there was a “42 percent increase in the enrollment of students ages 25 and older,” and another study which determined that “51.3 percent of the nation’s college students today are considered financially independent.”

Boyers argues that room needs to be made in for the growing number of adult, nontraditional learners who seek access to quality higher education, and in order to improve the availability, quality and affordability of higher education, we need to recognize the increasingly important role that today’s independent student plays in the current educational landscape.

Two of the questions that Boyers feels we must ask ourselves are, “What are these students looking for in a degree, and how can we help them get there?,” and “What aspects of certain college programs attract adult learners?

In “Diverse Conversations: Current Issues in Higher Education,” Matthew Lynch also talks about education’s responsibility to change and respond to the spirit of the times.  Lynch interviewed Dr. Helen F. Giles-Gee, president of University of the Sciences, to discuss some of the current issues in higher education.

When asked, what are the major challenges facing American colleges and universities? Dr. Giles-Gee responded with 10, and similar to Boyer’s article, this list included “enrolling a more diverse college bound population, some of whom may be ill prepared for college-level work.”  When asked in what areas do American colleges and universities need the most help?, Dr. Giles-Gee responded , “with decreasing college bound populations, [and] greater competition from an increased number of colleges and universities.”

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In response to the concerns about both the changing face of college students and the increasing competition among colleges and universities, it seems that what W. Kent Barnds describes as the transition from the question “is college worth it?” to “is this college worth it?,” might be the solution.  In “Is College Worth It? The Answer Could Be in the ‘Worth Claim’,” Barnds describes this question as that which “gets an inordinate amount of attention in the media and among those interested in higher education.”  Barnds talks about the countless hours and significant resources that colleges spend in an effort to prove worth.

In his opinion, it’s an inarguable fact that the experience and purpose of college enrich individuals, society, and our culture, and he believes that we should stop trying to prove or disprove it, and instead begin focusing on something students can benefit from.

In other words, Barnds makes it clear that students and families do not benefit from the question of whether or not college is worth it, however, they will benefit greatly by looking for a clear, compelling worth claim from each college. Instead of asking, “is college worth it?” they should ask themselves, “is this college worth it to me?”

Here is an example of what an effective “worth claim” would look like according to Barnds:

Worth claim: You will develop and gain the skills employers want most.
Symbols and language: Alignment between student learning outcomes and surveys of what employers want in new employees. Course descriptions in catalogs clearly and consistently listing skills developed and honed with each course offered, and providing evidence that skills are clearly developed more effectively.

Anticipatory action: College can clearly map what skills are developed, how, when and in which classes. Possession of these skills prepares graduates more effectively for a job. Recruitment messages emphasize that curriculum and learning outcomes focus on what matters most to students and to graduates.

Emotion: Skills developed during college are directly tied to what employers want — graduates and their education are valued by others.  What students/parents should ask themselves: Do I see structures and systems in place that support a college’s claim about why they are worth it?  How does the claim a college is making prepare me for the future?  Will the claim benefit me directly or is it aimed at others?  What advantage does the college’s worth claim give me?  What’s in it for me, based on my own goals and ambitions? Is the claim the college is making different from the claim made by other colleges?

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One Response

  1. […] significant difficulty in securing jobs, explaining that parents turn to colleges and universities expecting higher returns for the significant investment in their children’s education.  In “What It Takes to Make […]

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