It’s been almost seven weeks since President Trump was inaugurated, and it’s been quite tumultuous for those of us in colleges and universities around the country. Regardless of one’s politics, I think that many of us were not sure what to expect with the new administration, largely because then-candidate Donald Trump said relatively little about higher education during the campaign.
In 2014 the White House launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign to help combat sexual assault at the nation’s colleges and universities. Titled “It’s On Us,” the campaign uses celebrities to help raise awareness about the problem – what some are calling an epidemic – of sexual assault and rape in higher education.
This issue has received much attention from policymakers as well as the media over the last few years. The U.S. Department of Education, through its enforcement of Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1965, has stepped up its oversight of how colleges adjudicate reports of sexual harassment and assault. The recent case of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student athlete convicted of sexually assaulting a woman while she was unconscious – and who received only a 6-month prison sentence for the act – has brought the issue to the forefront of the news once again.
Last month I described my testimony at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on getting better information about college. One of the topics mentioned by a few of the House committee members was the issue of the return on the investment in college as measured by what students are earning today. There has been much interest in getting better data about what graduates of different colleges earn when they enter the labor markets, so that prospective students can get an idea of what the return on their investment in postsecondary education will be.
While measuring the return on investment (ROI) of attending different colleges sounds like a good idea, in reality it is a complex and challenging task. To calculate an ROI, one has to have accurate data on both the value of the investment as well as the value of the return, or the earnings that the investor receives from her investment. While we have lots of data on the cost of attending different colleges, including some data on net prices (as I described in my testimony), we have very little accurate, reliable, and comprehensive data on what the graduates of different colleges earn.
In yesterday’s post, I described how I believe The New York Times in a front-page story misrepresented the state of student loan borrowing. I pointed out that the Times story prominently (above the fold on page one of the Sunday Times) featured the statistic that 94 percent of all graduating bachelor’s degree recipients borrow to pay for higher education, a figure that was far in excess of other data published by the U.S. Department of Education and known to those of us who conduct research on financial aid. After having the figure questioned by a number of people, most prominently economist Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia, the Times finally issued a correction and edited the story. It now states that “About two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow money to attend college, either from the government or private lenders, according to a Department of Education survey of 2007-8 graduates; the total number of borrowers is most likely higher since the survey does not track borrowing from family members.”