Monday, August 31, 2009

The Price of Education

August 31, 2009 - This weekend, the country mourned as Senator Ted Kennedy was laid to rest. Sure, there are plenty of controversial issues he tackled over his 47 years as the Lion of the Senate, but his desire to level the playing field in higher education access was something in which people from both sides of the aisle took notice. From having dedicated my career to this mission, I have learned that this doesn’t have to be a partisan political issue but rather an American issue. It’s an issue we take very seriously at ConnectEDU.

A recent opinion piece published in the Boston Globe, written by Michael Dannenberg (a former Kennedy staffer BTW) of the New America Foundation sheds some light on how we need to change the course of higher education in regards to cost.

We can all agree that the cost of tuition is getting out of control. Besides outpacing the cost of living increases and inflation, it is becoming unaffordable for large populations of young people. But, families across America continue to invest in a college education, with their large loans, based on the value they place on it. According to Dannenberg, “families choose colleges and borrow almost blindly. They have relatively little information as to how good an investment a particular school is. Ranking guides like that of US News & World Report focus on the top 20 percent of schools and inputs like class size as opposed to outcomes like how much students learn.” (also read my latest tweet on the topic at We are working to make sure families have the information they need to select the very best college for them.

While in recent years, there has been much discussion and policy to get students to get to college – there has been a blind eye to what happens once they arrive or when they graduate from their selected college. What it comes down to is a student’s ability to afford college (i.e. get access to the funds initially) and then repay his or her debt after they graduate from the school. Did the student depart early from college? Did they depart with a degree? Do they have a job? What level of salary can he or she expect to earn in order to make the monthly payment? While a family’s ROI (Return On Investment)is rarely discussed within higher ed circles, it is starting to become a paramount focus for families. While class size, student satisfaction ratings and nice dorms do carry weight in ranking a school, why are outcomes not more of a weighted determining factor? And how much value should I place on these other factors if at the end of the day, I don’t have a job or can’t afford the debt that I’ve incurred?

And while CDU agrees with Dannenberg’s call for a complex new system of ranking schools to construct a higher education value index, ConnectEDU is taking an intermediate, but important, approach to helping families. Our tools offer a student the ability to compare projected debt burden and payback payments to starting salaries for their career choice – and they can do this in as early as the 7th grade! Helping students analyze their debt ratio early on… a first step in helping them make good decisions when it comes to borrowing and determining which schools they can afford.

Providing students these tools to understand what they are getting into, to gain a broader perspective of their future, and to help them make better-informed decisions is a win-win for all involved in student success – students, colleges and lenders!

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