January 4, 2007
1. Describe your project idea, including clearly defining the problems and specific policy questions to be addressed.
The problem proposed to be studied would be to examine the 'final' stage of the education pipeline - namely, to determine how well students in Minnesota are persisting in their post-secondary pursuits and how well they are transitioning through higher education and into the workforce. They policy questions include: What are the major contributors to the college drop out rate? Is the rate higher for low-income and minority students as well as for students who are the first generation in their family to attend college than it is for middle to high income Caucasian students? What are the root causes of the lower rates of 2-year certificate and 4-year degree achievement? What kind of programs have been effective in increasing the rate of persistence locally and nationally? Are there differences in the rates of completion between various colleges or various college systems? And beyond college, for those students who do graduate, how many of them struggle to find meaningful employment after attaining a certificate or degree? Why do they struggle? Are there ways to increase college graduation rates and to improve the likelihood of graduates in finding fulfilling jobs?
2. Why is this problem important?
There is much discussion today about college attainment (making it from high school to a 2-year or 4-year college), which is an important issue and one that the Citizen League has studied. However, college attainment is not the end of the education pipeline. If an end goal of the education pipeline is for citizens to maximize their potential in society, shouldn't there be cause for concern about low college completion rates, especially for low-income and minority Minnesotans? There is also a lot of interest locally and nationally on accountability of our higher education systems. As reported in the USA Today, a national panel created by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is recommending a set of bold proposals, including overhauling the financial aid systems and holding colleges and universities more accountable for their students' progress. And in 2005, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education commissioned a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, which was completed on June 2, 2006. Recommended are a series of measurements, including the number of Bachelor's degrees awarded as a proportion of total undergraduate headcount enrollments at four-year institutions, disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
Clearly, increasing the level of college degree persistence and attainment in Minnesota is of urgent interest to our state and to our colleges and universities, businesses, and communities.
3. How could the Citizens League make a unique contribution?
First, the Citizen's League has experience in the study of the education pipeline, and past efforts have yielded significant recommendations and action towards improvement. Second, the issue is not simply an internal issue in our colleges and universities - it is an issue that affects our whole community. The Citizen's League is uniquely positioned to bring together all elements of the community to study issues holistically, which is required to tackle problems such as this.
4. What are prospects that project would yield recommendations that could be implemented and have a major impact on the problem?
As with the recent Citizen's League High School to Higher Ed study, there are a number of aspects of this problem that have been studied nationally and internationally. The barriers students face in college persistence are understood fairly well, and recommendations could definitely be made that would have a major impact on the problem.
5. Explain how this problem can be addressed by data, research, and reason? Identify probable sources for data and research.
The problem could be studied with quantitative and qualitative analysis in partnership with institutions of higher education, students, community organizations, and business. Local interviews and collection of data is possible as is national research on the issue and best practices for addressing the issue.
6. Explain how this proposal can be framed without partisan bias.
The issue of educating our workforce and for improving the condition of underrepresented demographics is a bi-partisan goal.
7. Why would this project be attractive to members?
Improving the education pipeline improves our local economy and our quality of life. Our society will improve if we can increase the number of students who successfully attain 2-year college certificates and 4-year college degrees AND who successfully acquire meaningful work. Colleges and Universities would benefit from increased retention leading to increased tuition and they would be able to respond positively to increasing scrutiny at the local and national level. The Institute for Higher Education Policy reports that more college certificates and degrees in a community benefit businesses with a greater number of highly qualified workers and benefits the community as a whole from a stronger economy, increased tax revenues, decreased crime rates, and increased civic participation.
8. How would this project reach out to under-represented segments of the community?
By definition, this project would focus on the current low college certificate and degree achievement rate of underrepresented students and generate specific recommendations to improve the situation.
9. What is the potential for making this issue visible to a broader public? Why?
The broader public and especially the press has been keenly interested recently in education success. Last weekend alone, a poll of Minnesota voters listed education as the second most important aspect when considering a candidate (second only to taxes). The broader public is highly impacted by the success of our students in higher education and is also highly interested. The results of this study would definitely be press-worthy and would also be of interest to our legislature.
10. What resources -- funding, experts, etc. -- might be available to support this project?
There are many constituents impacted by a the success of our students in Higher Education. A study group could draw on representatives of Minnesota's three major institutions of higher ed, representatives of K-12 education, business leaders (and human resource experts), members of area chambers of commerce, community leaders, including leaders of foundations working on this issue as well as leaders within our communities of color. Funding could be obtained as a shared responsibility of the major constituents - business, higher education, and the foundation community.
Posted by Victoria Ford at January 4, 2007 11:27 AM