Universities and Colleges Must Adapt to Meet Need

Article excerpt

College costs are akin to a home mortgage for students, or a second one for some parents, so consumers ought to have the kind of information available to them when they buy any big-ticket item. But beyond general statistics on the value of a diploma, there is little information on which degrees at which colleges offer the best return on investment.

This information would not only help students and their families, it would be useful for federal and state governments as they weigh whether higher-education subsidies are being put to good use.

Traditionally, higher education has focused on admissions because financing is predicated on those numbers. But as tuitions rise and businesses clamor for a more effective workforce, it's become increasingly clear that there is a broader interest in outcomes. Students, employers and taxpayers would all like to see more bang for their buck.

In short, are public universities meeting the needs of the communities they serve? As more data are collected, it's clear that there is room for improvement.

For starters, the four-year graduation rates of public institutions are low. As is the case for high school dropout rates, the calculations can be tricky, but there is broad agreement that it's taking longer for students to get a degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education tracked the class that enrolled in public institutions nationwide in 2004 - excluding transfers, part-time students and those who take time off from studies - and found that 31.3 percent got a diploma in four years. …