Weekly Research Digest, 10-3-13



What's the Value of an Associate's Degree? The Return on Investment for Graduates and Taxpayers
Nexus Research and Policy Center and American Institutes of Research, October 2013

This report examines the return on investment for graduates and taxpayers of an associate's degree earned at a community college. It sought answers to two questions:

  1. Do graduates who earn an associate's degree and participate in the labor force experience returns, such as higher wages, that justify the costs they incur in obtaining a degree?
  2. Do taxpayers receive a positive return on their investment in the production of associate's degrees?  

Based on its findings, the report reached four main conclusions about what community colleges, states, and the nation should do.

  1. Reward progression, retention, and completion through performance-funding formulas.
  2. Distribute resources in an informed manner to promote student success.
  3. Emphasize technical training and close ties between schools and the local labor market.
  4. Promote the collection of better data at the student and program levels, and make the data publicly available.

In the News
Chronicle of Higher Education - "Two-Year Degree's Value? For a Few, Less Than High School, Report Says"

$1 Trillion and Rising: A plan for a $10K Degree
Third Way Next, 2013

This paper addresses the paradox of college degrees becoming financially unattainable while the demand for college is growing. The author proposes a six-step plan for implementing a $10,000 degree, saying that the number was not arbitrarily selected, citing four states – California, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin – that have taken steps toward a $10K bachelor's degree. The six steps are:

  1. Reduce and restructure personnel so that the faculty and administrative and support staff hierarchies "flatten, blend, and merge under the $10K plan.
  2. End the perk wars, so that items such as luxury accommodations and a variety of athletic options are still offered but at an extra charge.
  3. Focus on college completion, which necessarily changes the conversation about cost and efficiency, which in turn, focuses on lowering time to completion.
  4. Scale up blended learning, a strategy that not only promises to improve student performance and outcomes but also reduce costs.
  5. Streamline offerings to "around 10-12 most popular undergraduate majors."
  6. Rethink college architecture, with one possible framework with four components: cohort college, adult online university, flagship campuses, and micro/popup schools.  

In the News
Washington Post – "A bachelor's degree could cost $10,000—total. Here's how."


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PSCUs open doors to many of the 9 million unemployed and 90 million undereducated Americans by providing a skills-based education. To remain competitive over the next decade, we must identify between 8 and 23 million new workers with postsecondary skills. PSCUs are a necessary part of that solution, having produced over 800,000 degrees last year alone.