Gratitude for how far we’ve come on equitable postsecondary value

Colleagues –

The holiday season is a time to express gratitude for all we’ve collectively accomplished over the course of the year. I want to use this opportunity to reflect on how far the equitable postsecondary value movement has come, while rightfully acknowledging we’re just getting started.

The question of “Is college worth it?” dominates media headlines, but this wasn’t always the case. For years, the national higher education conversation focused exclusively on access and affordability, and while critically important pieces of the puzzle, without exploring what students are accessing and affording, and how valuable their degree is, the puzzle is incomplete.

The foundation has been engaged in the value movement, and specifically the equitable value movement for half a decade. In many ways, it is our job to show up as a critical friend of higher education – pushing the system to deliver greater and more equitable value while also celebrating institutions and leaders who are already doing the work. And, I recently had two opportunities to engage in discussions with some of our esteemed partners about the value of a college degree and explore where the conversation is headed next.

First, I participated in a panel at the GSV Leaders Summit moderated by Bridget Burns, the CEO of University Innovation Alliance, alongside Scott Pulsipher, President of Western Governors University (WGU); Dr. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College; and Lisa Gevelber, Founder of Grow with Google. Recent polling from New America shows 74 percent of Americans agree colleges and universities should lose some access to taxpayer dollars if many of their graduates don’t earn a living wage. So, how is the postsecondary community working to deliver on this? Paul Quinn College aims to embed credentials into each year of study to improve their earning potential, WGU continues to identify ways to provide lower (and differentiated) tuition levels for their students, and the expansion of Grow with Google is providing opportunities to both current students and non-enrollees to add training and resources to their toolkit to help them upskill and expand career opportunities.

Second, I moderated a keynote at Times Higher Education’s Student Success event featuring Courtney Brown, VP of Strategic Impact and Planning, Lumina Foundation; Dr. Tonya Drake, Regional Vice President, Northwest, WGU; and Dr. Charles ‘Monty’ Roessel, President, DinéCollege. The data show while there remains to be skepticism about the value of a college degree, there are also some bright lights, so we focused our conversation on how to make college more “worth it” for more students. Tonya and Monty both spoke about higher ed’s value beyond the individual. With Tonya noting it’s a public good and employers (as beneficiaries of the workforce) have a role to play, and Monty challenging us to think about framing postsecondary as “a degree not just for me, but for my family, friends, and community.” And Courtney cautioned us against taking all media coverage of public opinion polling at face value. Asking Americans if they have confidence in higher education, is entirely different than asking them if they believe it holds value.

To really spotlight postsecondary value, we need more good stories and different perspectives on how to account for value. We need to acknowledge the complexities of delivering equitable postsecondary value – prioritizing the economic value colleges provide, through thoughtful college ratings from our partners at Third Way and ACE , the non-economic value of a degree or credential as spotlighted in a recent Lumina-Gallup study, and the role employer and institution partnerships play in both supporting students and strengthening the workforce as researched by our colleagues at Strada. I want to thank you for your partnership and support in this work and look forward to creating more good stories together in the future.


Patrick Methvin

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