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Higher Education – Increasing Tuition Costs, Fewer International Students, and the Reduced Importance of the SAT

In early September, we read with great interest an op ed piece in the Boston Globe print edition by Marguerite J. Dennis, the Vice President of Enrollment and International Programs at Suffolk University. Hoffer Award Dennis began her article, The Uncertain Future of American Higher Education, with an Eric Hoffer quote, one that matches the greatest concerns related to traditional educational approaches.

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth,
while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped
to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

In her piece, Dennis discussed the decreasing U.S. market share of international students, the changing college demographic (the majority of college students are no longer in the 18-22 year old age range), the soaring tuition costs of higher education, and the changing landscape that technology is imposing on universities. Her article served to wet our appetite and we contacted Ms. Dennis to see if she might be willing to answer a few of our questions related to higher education.

We were pleased that she was willing to take some time from her busy schedule to do a Q & A with us. What follows are some of the key questions that emerged from her original article and her thoughts in relationship to our inquiries.

In your recent article, The Uncertain Future of American Higher Education, you noted some very interesting statistics related to the US market share of international students. First of all, could you review that data for our readers? Why is it that the American market share for international students is decreasing so rapidly and what will be the impact of that decrease on America’s colleges?

In 1970, 36.7% of all students studying outside their home countries came to the US. By 1995 that percentage slipped to 30% and currently it is 22%. As these statistics reveal, the US was losing market share long before 9/11/01, a date that is usually credited for a decrease in international students coming to the US.

Educational hubs have opened up all over the world—in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Canada. Most countries have a national policy about the recruitment of students to their colleges and universities. Recruitment activities are subsidized by the government and the visa and work processes are both easy and efficient.

From 1995 to 2005 international student enrollment increased 28% in the UK, 42% in Australia, 46% in Germany and 81% in France. What these statistics and trends indicate is that the US must now compete with a greater number of international players.

Higher education is a big business. The World Bank calculates that global spending on higher education is about $300 billion a year, or 1% of the global economic output. The US market share has not decreased rapidly. Rather, we have been losing our share of international students over some period of time. The implications for US colleges and universities are obvious: decreased diversity of students and decreased revenue.

The current economy, particularly the loan crisis, appears to be affecting the ability of college students to secure funding for education. Can you give readers a sense of where the current loan crisis stands as it relates to funds for higher education and the impact it is having on students? What is the prognosis for the near future in regards to this issue?

TheTruthAboutAs in many other sectors of the US economy there will be fewer banks able to make loans to students and there will be tighter restrictions on qualifying for student loans. This has already happened. Recently, Sallie Mae, one of the largest lenders, announced that it is cutting back on how many loans they will make and who will qualify for those loans.

Again, in your recent article, you noted the continued increase in college tuition costs over the past few years. Can you share with our readers some summary data on tuition increases and the various reasons that those increases have exceeded the current rates of inflation? What do you see as the ongoing impact of these increases on society as well as those students choosing higher education?

I have not been able to locate anyone who has been able to inform the public, with certainly, as to why tuition increases as much as it does each year. Yes technology costs have risen sharply, so have fuel and food costs. But over the last decade college tuitions have increased on average by 51% at public four – year institutions and 36% at private universities. College costs are rising faster than consumer prices and health care costs.

During this same time, median family income increased by 14%. Clearly there is a disconnect between family income and college affordability. The current economic crisis in this country and the world will only magnify this situation.

I believe that colleges and universities will begin to look at how budgets are crafted and how expenses can be cut. I think we will see an increase in applications to community colleges and public universities and some high priced schools may be forced to merge or close.

In your role as Vice-President of enrollment management, can you talk about some of the ways that technology has affected and is affecting higher education. What is the current data regarding online education in America? Are there other ways that technology is affecting the collegiate environment?

Technology has affected every aspect of higher education administration. From a recruiting standpoint, we no longer own our message, our brand. A disgruntled student or blogger could destroy the effectiveness of any recruitment message or viewbook. The “Millennial” student wants instant everything. And that includes information and communication from colleges and universities. Technology has forced the admission office to move from paper to the web as the primary method of communication.

There are over 3 million students studying on-line and this cohort of students is the fastest growing sector in higher education. This is happening not just in the US but around the world. Taking courses on-line is a viable option for many students. The cost and convenience will make this method of studying attractive for many students. University of PhoenixThere are many reports to indicate that student satisfaction is about the same as in a “regular” college setting. Is it any wonder that the University of Phoenix is the largest university in the US?

It appears that SAT scores and GPA are giving way to other types of criteria to determine the educational standards of a particular college. What are some of the new methods for assessing how well universities educate their student body?

To date there are nearly 800 schools that have gone SAT optional. In a recent meeting in Seattle the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Harvard reported that the SAT is not a great predictor of student success nor should it be the only criteria used to determine who will succeed in college. Many admission committees use writing samples and grade point averages as a better way to determine who should be admitted and who will likely succeed. Assessment of what students are learning in their classes will continue to be a focal point of accrediting agencies and state governments as well as the federal government.

In recent weeks we have done a number of articles on higher education. One focused on Charles Murray’s work and the notion that college is not for everyone. Can you give readers a sense of where you stand on this topic? Is a university degree in fact overrated?

Average college graduation rates have held steady for 30 years at about 27%. The US has slipped from 1st to 18th among industrial nations in degree attainment. By 2025 the US will need an additional 16 million associate and baccalaureate degrees beyond currently expected levels to stay in the forefront of the global economy. College graduates can expect to earn more than a million dollars over the course of their work life. College is probably not for everyone but most of the jobs in the future will require some level of education beyond high school.

Thomas FriedmanWe also discussed David Wiley’s findings that higher education is not keeping up with the current push towards “The World is Flat, ” especially in terms of technology implementation. Can you give readers your sense of how well universities are incorporating technology into the learning culture?

The answer to this question really depends on the school. There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the US. Each school will determine how to prepare their graduates to thrive in the world they will inherit. If I could make a recommendation I would urge schools to have all their students read Tom Friedman’s new book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” which offers one blueprint for how this country and its people can survive in the world of tomorrow.

Flickr photo courtesy of TheTruthAbout.

1 comment

1 Johanne { 01.14.09 at 6:25 am }

Some of the statistics are quite revealing. Interesting issues presented. Regarding the decreasing international students, I’ve heard of foreigners taking up Master’s programs offered by the University of Phoenix while they continue with their work abroad. Can they be considered as “International Students”?

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