Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Greehey Scholars Program as an Innovative Solution to the Student Debt and Employment Crisis of Recent Graduates

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Greehey Scholars Program as an Innovative Solution to the Student Debt and Employment Crisis of Recent Graduates

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The cost of attending a public university rose 42% from 2000 to 2011 (National Center for Education, 2014). This rapid increase in costs paired with the increasingly competitive employment landscape forces universities to find unique differentiators when recruiting prospective students. Institutions, which students pay large sums of money to attend, have an obligation to prepare graduates for successful careers. Universities have no choice but to innovate, creating new programs and opportunities for students to attend college and gain the skills necessary to obtain a job upon graduation.

One such example of a program that meets both of these challenges is the Greehey Scholars Program (GSP). The GSP uses a three-pronged approach to develop students, going beyond the classroom environment and normal degree plans. In short, the GSP provides a solution to not only lower student debt but also to provide students the necessary opportunities to attain a successful career. This paper will discuss the issues that students face relating to both the financial burdens of education and challenges of career success upon graduation. Later sections provide solutions to these obstacles. The paper will outline elements of the GSP, one of these solutions, evidence of the program's success, and key features for adoption of similar models by other universities.

CHALLENGES OF UNIVERSITY EDUCATION

In 2012, 71% of college graduates graduated with student debt, with an average of $29,400 in outstanding debt (The Project on Student Debt, 2014). Not only are students seeing a significant increase in costs required to earn a degree, but graduates are also experiencing difficulty in paying off loans once they enter the workforce. Additionally, students must weigh the eventual financial outcomes associated with a degree. Students who strive for higher education tend to see financial benefits in the long-term, and generally, the higher the education level attained, the higher ones earnings will be. However, the more education a student receives, the more he or she will also have to borrow to fund schooling. Although the cost of obtaining a college education does not vary much across fields of study, the wages earned by professionals differs greatly depending on degree. For example, engineering majors and business majors can expect a greater financial return on their college degrees than those who study philosophy or education. Often times, students do not understand the implications of these decisions, which are often made early in the process of completing a degree, on their future quality of life (Neal, Fletcher, Shook, & Webster, 2012). Figure 1 demonstrates the rising prices of attaining an education from College Board's Trends in Higher Education (2014).

Although there are no simple solutions to student debt, universities are being forced to re-evaluate current programs and curriculum. A number of institutions have already pledged to spearhead the challenge of reducing costs through more effective financial aid packages (The Project on Student Debt, 2014). One initiative that can ease the burden of student debt focuses on graduating students "on time." Essentially, these programs aim to help students graduate without taking an extra semester or even year to finish a degree plan. For example, a study prepared by TG Research and Analytics Services (Rice, 2013) on higher education in Texas showed that schools are designing programs to encourage on time graduation. The study included one public university, which monitors the credits earned by students receiving financial aid. If a minimum number of credits are not maintained, then the financial aid office will reduce the student's offered aid. This program incentivizes students to take the necessary course load to graduate on time. At a private university, students work closely with advisors to ensure the correct scheduling and course work is being completed to graduate in the shortest amount of time (Neal et al. …

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