Counter-Evidence on Higher Education’s Supposed Demise

Indiana Wesleyan University Buildings -  (1)Between Facebook, Twitter, and the various “news” outlets I read, these seem to be the days of bad news and questionable behavior.

The day I wrote this, four of the 16 stories on the front page of the USA Today digital site were public apologies of one kind or another.   My newsfeeds are chock full of dire predictions about my country, my world, my health, my industry, my faith – you name it.

I don’t mean to minimize the reality of this world’s evils and tragedies.  Too many of our neighbors face horrors beyond belief.  But here in the land of the free and the brave, I wonder if there has ever been a time when people of such privilege were more routinely offended, angry, worried, and pessimistic about their future.

If there is such a thing as “bad news fatigue” I think I have it.

Let me bring this closer to home.  These days many predict a dire future for American colleges and universities.  An influential friend posted this on his blog recently: “Some educational experts predict loads of universities won’t be around in twenty years. Many four-year institutions will not make it beyond the next four years. Have you looked at the numbers?” (Tim Elmore)

Well, Tim is right.  The picture isn’t pretty at many institutions.  Tim offers his typical brilliant suggestions.

But it’s easy to lose sight of what is right about what we do amid the clamor and the click bait.

I offer some counter-evidence.  The following facts are from a report released by the Council for Independent Colleges (Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education).

You’ve heard that most college students don’t graduate.  Collectively, we can and should do better at shepherding students to completion.

  • But “59% of graduates of smaller private colleges finish within four years.”  For comparison, “38% of graduates of regional public universities finish within four years.”

You’ve heard there’s no future in a liberal arts education.  Think again.

  • “20% of PhDs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields graduated from smaller private [liberal arts] colleges.”
  • “Graduates who studied the liberal arts have the broad knowledge most employers—80% in a recent survey—say they want.”
  • “The overwhelming majority of employers (93%) believe that a college graduate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”

You’ve heard that diverse students aren’t well served at private colleges?  You might be surprised.

  • Private colleges enroll a similar proportion of minority students as public universities—about one third of the student population.  But students of color graduate at higher rates from private colleges and in a shorter average period of time.  For example, the graduation rate for black students at private colleges is 45% (compared with 40% at public universities), while the graduation rate for Hispanic students at private colleges is 62% (compared with 50% at public universities).”

You’ve heard that low-income students are better served at community colleges.  Not so fast.

  • “Low-income students are more likely to graduate from a private four-year college than a public university—a68% graduation rate compared with 61% at public universities.”

You’ve heard that first-generation students don’t succeed at private colleges.  Wrong.

  • 70% of first-generation students graduated from private colleges within six years.

You’ve heard that most college graduates stagger under crushing debt.  Some of us are, indeed, slowly pricing ourselves out of our students’ reach.  We MUST reduce our costs.  But, the national picture may surprise you.

  • “One quarter of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an independent four-year college or university did not have any educational debt and nearly half had less than $20,000 in debt.”
  • The median debt of BA recipients in 2011-2012 at independent 4-year colleges was $27,000.
  • “Although the average published tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities is $30,090, students pay only $12,460 on average.” (NCES)

No one has guaranteed the future of IWU.  The only guarantee we have is that God will always be with us as our greatest source of guidance, courage, and purpose.  Under God’s care and leading we must change and adapt with the times.  I’m confident we have a future, and I’m confident it will be far brighter than today’s bad news predicts.