President Carrocci pens Op-Ed on higher education

Nov 18, 2015

Newman University President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D. recently wrote an Op-Ed on the value of higher education and, specifically, a liberal arts education. An edited version of the piece was published in the Nov. 13 Wichita Eagle. Carrocci’s article is presented below. It also available on her blog. The Eagle version can be read here.

Here We Go Again!

With yet another headline designed to have us question the value of postsecondary education generally and liberal arts education specifically, The Wall Street Journal declared last week: “Parents’ Fears Confirmed: Liberal Arts Students Earn Less.” Salary comparisons for graduates of the most selective liberal arts college vs. research universities revealed – unsurprisingly – that nearly half of the graduates of the top liberal arts colleges had median salaries below $50,000, while graduates at almost all of the best research universities topped $50,000. This is one of the consequences of the Department of Education’s new “College Scorecard” that is supposed to help families discern where or whether to invest in postsecondary education. But how and what is the Scorecard counting?

The only graduates counted are those who entered college 10 years prior to the 2011 and 2012 median earnings counted (by IRS records), and only for those who received federal aid while enrolled. Also excluded from the data are those enrolled in graduate or professional schools. Earnings are not reported by field of study. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that research universities tend to have programs like engineering and business that are not offerings at liberal arts colleges, and so disparities in median earnings between the two types of institutions are entirely predictable. Most importantly, the faulty premise is that the higher the median income six or less years after graduation, the better the value of a degree. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Actually, we at Newman University are an example of a liberal arts university that could tout the College Scorecard finding that our graduates’ median earnings are among the highest in the state (at $41,900 compared with WSU at $39,300, for example, or Pittsburg State at $38,200; but KU, the leading research university at $44,600), while our average debt is not appreciably different than that of our public peers ($21,625 vs. WSU-$21,750, PSU-$20,250, KU-$20,114). Our very successful Nursing and Allied Health Programs no doubt inflate our median earnings, and only 36% of our graduates even have debt compared with 50% or more for the graduates of our public peers. But who is left out of such calculations? All those who didn’t borrow, as well as the 30% or more of our graduates who are in medical or graduate school 10 years after enrolling as freshmen. The fact is that all who participate in postsecondary education can count on significantly higher lifetime earnings than those who do not, regardless of their majors. For example, as noted by the Center on Education and the Workforce in 2011, high school graduates can expect to earn $1.3M in a lifetime, compared with bachelor degree holders at $2.3M and professional degree holders at $3.6M. All programs and types of postsecondary education matter!

Postsecondary education is critical to economic development in our communities. It is estimated that by 2020 of 55 national million job openings, 65% will require some postsecondary education, and on the current path we will fall short by 5 million postsecondary credentials. For Wichita and our region, the facts have been laid out clearly in recent presentations by demographer James Chung of Reach Advisors. We have had virtually no growth in per capita GDP since 2001 (compared with other Midwest cities like Des Moines at 35% growth). It is only the most recent evidence of the consequence of a lack of investment in postsecondary education. Wichita’s percentage of residents with college degrees is at 28%, a growth of only 2% since 1970. Compare that with Austin, TX which has increased 24% over the same time period, and whose population has more than doubled. As we’ve learned from Mr. Chung and others, without growth in postsecondary degree attainment, there is no economic or population growth.

Newman University does a great job of providing our graduates with preparation for jobs and graduate schools, and we believe that our advantage is our significant commitment to our liberal arts and sciences core curriculum, The Newman Studies Program, enjoyed by all majors. Our business partners tell us that qualities such as the ability to communicate verbally, to work in a team structure, to make decisions and solve problems, are valued more than any one skill set. These are the abilities that a liberal arts and sciences core provide – 10 and 20 and 30 years beyond postsecondary attainment. And, really, it’s about having a life as much if not more than earning a living. Any and all postsecondary education will result in better earnings for individuals, and in a growing and more prosperous community for all. Postsecondary education is a common good. Let’s make it a community priority.

Noreen M. Carrocci
Newman University