There are many issues surrounding higher education these days. The continuously increasing cost that burdens the economic future of students. Inequities in compensation rules limiting quality of life for student athletes who help market the institutional brands. How diversity programs can better balance reaching new pools of students without creating inequities. Moreover, the credibility of ranking claims in the face of ranking scandals at some large business schools.
Now, higher education must deal with the fallout of the admission scandal brought to light by the FBI, the largest investigation of its kind. A quick recap for those not aware. Recently, the FBI executed arrest warrants on certain celebrities, high profile lawyers, business people, and admission advisor services. Many are being accused of participating in a scheme that either provided bribes to coaches for academic admission or money to supposed tutors who manipulated admission test results. Besides certain coaches who have since been suspended or terminated, the schools are not under any suspicion of participating in the schemes.
Education, especially higher education, has a strong impact on the economic potential for prospective workers. The better the quality and level of education, the greater access to compensation and opportunity the person usually attains. In the United States, many feel fair access to education is a right, meaning people should be able to attain education based on admission standards that are equitable for all. The combination of the skyrocketing financial burden of higher education and instances of foul play bringing fair question of whether the industry is doing right by its consumers.
The biggest problems with issues involving admissions and ranking manipulation is the opportunity loss unfairly placed on students not admitted or their acceptance decision altered by false perception. The recent admission scandal along with long term issues with diversity can exclude qualified candidates, either by admitting students well under their acceptance standards or by ignoring candidates outside of their typical marketing channels. The situation with Temple’s Business school highlights the issues with an institution purposefully manipulating information provided to US News, the leading source of school rankings for prospective college applicants. Students accepted admission into Temple not knowing the school is not as highly regarded as it led them to believe. The problems not only harm the impacted students, but alumni who now have to defend their professional reputation for their association with the institution.
What are possible solutions for problems facing recruiting and admissions? The schools need to do a better job of vetting the services outsourced to third party recruiters and setting the standards of quality and acceptable practices. In addition, there needs to be greater integrity of how schools provide information to ranking services as well as the consistency in admission standards used to evaluate candidate pools. Understandably, the reach and scope of admissions offices is limited by resources, but these are responsible for the actions of the organizations they associate with. Also, schools should determine whether an applicant received any assistance in preparing for the admissions process.
The focus of assistance in admissions usually centers on student athletes, who the NCAA precludes from accepting certain levels of financial assistance or considerations for attending a program. Athletic programs, typically the larger programs, spend a great deal of time and money executing recruiting processes that allow access to high quality athletes from across the nation. Although not permitted to financially compensate students, schools usually provide a free education for as long as the student attends as well as a stipend limited to the scope of NCAA rules. Athletic programs in many universities can generate significant money, which is reinvested into the school’s general coffers. At some universities, the amount reinvested can reach into the tens of millions.
There is a growing debate over the compensation rules for college athletes. Largely driven by the schools violating the rules, either directly or using networks of boosters or influencers that assist in recruitment. For those not receiving illegal financial consideration, the life in college can be highly challenging, as student athletes face work restrictions, who can provide them assistance, or the economic conditions surrounding programs location. While many desire free education, the bulk of top flight athletes simply use the programs as stepping stones to the next level, where the money to provide for their immediate and extended families is available.
The call to compensate student athletes is not an easy one, as that would involve diverting money from the rest of the University. Issues related to who receives compensation and how much involves compliance with Title IX regulations and the viability of certain programs. Not all programs or athletes are revenue generators, outside of basketball and football programs. Also, the quality of programs differ from university, where a non-typical revenue generator could change the equation. There are opportunities to improve equity in the system.
At many universities, student athletes receive preferential treatments attaining the best housing and food programs at the school. Additionally, the value of the free ride can exceed $50 thousand easily depending on the school. A fair adjustment would include increasing funds to cover appropriate living expenses, like books or other costs that students generally bear. Other choices could be removing work restrictions or allowing athletes access to a certain level of promotional funds from sponsors. The latter would blunt the impact on school coffers, while providing student athletes more resources.
The tens of millions reinvested from athletic programs, access to billions of federal and state block grants, and investments from corporate donors still do little to offset the cost of attendance for many college students. The financial burden many of these institutions place on students is somewhat immoral. Many of these students will never reasonably pay off their loans in their lifetime. Many of these students graduate without access to employment. There appears to be little pressure, outside of the growth of for-profit institutions, for these institutions to update operating models and focus on reducing cost.
There are many costs incurred by students that did not contribute to the quality of education by institutions. The bloated contracts of lecturers not all students will experience. The important, but costly, research and outreach programs that might not impact the quality of education for all students. Moreover, the cost of campus events, many of which are not equitably funded due to operational biases. Many aspects of college life or college operations are important but should not be funded from the pockets of the student.
In past content, the idea of aligning schools’ access to student loan origination to the level of job placement and compensation was raised. The practice would help push students to better programs and force schools to reduce costs. Schools need to focus on attaining new streams of revenue and alleviating costs from students. Any cost not directly related to the cost of attendance should not be paid from students. Many universities can monetize research programs while still maintaining non-profit status by passing on surpluses to students via tuition reduction. Many can offer consulting and professional services for fees to abate cost.
The value of education is the benefit it has on one’s compensation and attractiveness in the marketplace. The perception of the cost depends largely on outcomes that come well after attendance and involve factors well beyond the reach of the institution. For factors under their control, institutions need to focus on provide value, fairness, and equity for prospective students and graduates. Education is important and should retain its integrity.