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Making the Case: The Public’s Perspective John Immerwahr, Public Agenda and Villanova University, December 12, 2008 A Unique Collaboration: National Center ( ) Public Agenda ( ) Public opinion studies on higher education since 1993

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making the case the public s perspective

Making the Case: The Public’s Perspective

John Immerwahr,

Public Agenda and Villanova University, December 12, 2008

a unique collaboration
A Unique Collaboration:
  • National Center (
  • Public Agenda (
  • Public opinion studies on higher education since 1993
  • Squeeze Play (2007), The Iron Triangle (2008)
the evolving challenge
The long-term challenge:


Social justice

Individual success

The new challenge-all of the above plus:

State funding cuts

International competitiveness

Demands for productivity

The evolving challenge
topics to be covered
Topics to be covered
  • Public perspectives on the long-term challenge
  • The emerging dialogue on the new challenge, perspectives of:
    • Legislative and business leaders
    • College presidents and faculty
    • Public
the long term challenge gateway to the middle class
The long-term challenge: gateway to the middle class
  • Compared to current situation: easier
  • Clark Kerr: first two tidal waves
    • GI bill
    • Baby Boom
  • Third tidal wave
    • A new generation of students
    • Majority-minority
making the case for individual well being and social justice
Making the case for individual well being and social justice
  • GI Bill creates the American middle class
  • Baby boom generation extends American dream
  • Will we close the gate on millions of new aspirants?
  • Problem of social justice, fairness, mobility etc.
  • No disagreements in principle
public perspective
Public perspective
  • Public perspective key to legislative support
  • How to read the numbers
  • Data from 2007
  • Read for enduring values
  • Adjust for changing economy
importance of access
College is important: H.S. student should go to college rather than take good job now

1993 – 79%

2003 – 87%

Possible to succeed without college education

2000 – 67%

2007 – 49%

Virtual right- 72% strongly agree

Importance of access
high grades for higher ed
High grades for higher ed
  • 51% say 4-year colleges excellent or good, compared to 37% for secondary schools
  • 67% -- college worth it despite high costs
  • 66% -- higher ed teaching students what they need to know, up from 53% in 1998
higher education teflon
Higher education Teflon
  • 86% -- effort matters more than quality of school
  • Blame the consumer, not the provider
  • Drop out rates, whose fault?
    • H.S. -- school’s fault
    • College – student’s fault
rising prices rising anxiety
Rising prices, rising anxiety
  • 59% -- higher ed prices going up as fast or faster than health care
  • The $25 ice pack, and the $200 textbook
  • 78% -- students have to borrow too much
access under attack
Access under attack
  • Many qualified students don’t have opportunity
    • 1993 -- 60% (economic recession)
    • 1998 -- 45%
    • 2003 – 57%
    • 2007 -- 62%
    • 2008 -- ????
  • 60% -- Middle class hardest hit
squeeze play college misery index

College essential -- 31%

Many can’t go – 47%


College essential --50%

Many can’t go – 62%

Squeeze play (college misery index):
minority groups really worried
Minority groups: really worried
  • Many qualified people don’t have opportunity
    • 56% -- non-Hispanic white parents
    • 67% -- Hispanic parents
    • 84% -- African-American parents
  • Minorities also much more likely to believe college is necessary
why isn t the public more panicked
Why isn’t the public more panicked?
  • Three factors: importance, quality, access
  • K-12. Importance high, access good, quality problematic
  • Health care. Importance high, quality good, access problematic
  • Higher ed, seems like health care but . . .
pressure valves
Pressure valves
  • 67% -- a student who really wants to go can find a way
  • 73% -- student who sacrifices will learn more
  • 72% -- students can learn at 2-year college
parents we ll find a way
Parents: we’ll find a way
  • 61% -- very likely oldest kid goes to college
  • 84% --- we’ll find a way to pay for it
the new challenge
New international reality

Geography class wrong: world is flat!

US falling behind in global competition in education

New domestic reality

More students requiring more support

Declining state revenues

Greater demands for accountability

The new challenge
the emerging debate between
The emerging debate between:
  • Business and legislative leaders
  • College presidents and faculty
  • Where does the public stand
college presidents the problem
College presidents: the problem
  • Recent speech: UC President Mark Youdof, Iron Triangle report
  • Costs going up because of uncontrollable factors (salaries, health care, security, etc)
  • Decreasing state subsidies
  • Increasingly expensive students
  • Translates to higher fees or decreasing quality
college presidents the solution
College presidents: the solution
  • Inefficiencies mostly squeezed out of the system already
  • Voluntary accountability moving along
  • Need for redefinition – higher education is a public good, not merely a private good
  • Public reinvestment in higher education (as part of economic stimulus and infrastructure spending)
business leaders the problem
Business leaders: the problem
  • (Older surveys, more recent qualitative information)
  • Inefficiency
  • Lack of innovation
legislators the problem
Legislators: the problem
  • Resistance to accountability
  • Little responsiveness to community needs
  • Arrogance
  • Large number of dropouts
  • Maybe higher education can afford to take some hits
legislators and business leader solutions productivity
Legislators and business leader solutions: productivity!
  • Produce more degrees
  • Eliminate wasteful programs
  • Change incentives
  • Eliminate “mission creep”
  • Greater use of community colleges
  • Technology
  • Coordination between K12 and college
two problems for higher education 1 disagreement on assumptions
Two problems for higher education: 1) Disagreement on assumptions
  • College presidents: an iron triangle
    • Cost, quality, access locked in a reciprocal relationship
  • Business and legislative leaders
    • Don’t accept iron triangle view
    • Higher education enormously resistant to change!
2 presidents caught between external critics and faculty
2) Presidents caught between external critics and faculty
  • Preliminary focus group study (funded by Lumina)
  • Importance of faculty
  • College presidents: even if they agreed with critics, they must answer to faculty
faculty perception of problem
Faculty: perception of problem
  • Quality is central
  • Quality has deteriorated (mostly due to change in students)
  • Student has become customer
  • Proposed solutions may further reduce quality
  • Reject business models - “productivity” a dirty word
how about the public
How about the public?
  • When leaders disagree, they look to the public for support
  • Public mostly concerned with individual issues, hasn’t focused on macro picture
  • But they do have a hunch
higher education the bloom is off the rose
Higher education: the bloom is off the rose
  • 52% -- colleges care mostly about bottom line
  • State’s higher education system needs to be completely overhauled
    • 1993 – 54%
    • 1998 – 39%
    • 2007 – 48%
    • 2008?
public reject tradeoff between cost access quality
Public: reject tradeoff between cost, access, quality:
  • 58% -- colleges could take more students without hurting quality or price
  • 56% -- colleges could spend less money and still maintain quality
  • Only 48% say students are learning more as a result of increasing prices
  • The high cost of Teflon
public hands off access
Public: hands off access
  • 68% -- use more community colleges
  • 67% -- internet, weekend, and evening classes
  • 56% -- take college courses in h.s.
  • 66% -- oppose cutting number of courses
  • 65% -- oppose consolidating programs
making the case to the public the good news
Making the case to the public: the good news
  • Good news
    • Universal agreement on importance
    • High public support for access
  • Bad news
    • Little public concern about quality (as defined by higher education)
    • Little support for non-access related funding
two ways of making the case
Easier: tell the story better

Marshalling arguments (economic benefits, etc)

Reaching stakeholders

Using tools of communication

Harder: making changes

Not just looking at administration

Softening the iron triangle

Gaining faculty buy-in

Two ways of making the case
  • Further information: