by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Erik Gilbert writes for the Martin Center about an organization that pushes for more college credentials.
American higher education is struggling. Even before the coronavirus struck, schools all over the country were dealing with declining enrollment. In an effort to replace lost revenue they sought out international students, developed online degrees, and courted non-traditional students.
That helped for a while. But now many schools are back in trouble. Even before COVID-19, international enrollments were headed down and non-traditional students, who rarely want to live in dorms or buy a meal plan, were not the cash cows that everyone hoped.
Add to that concerns about student loan debt, reports that many graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and diminishing public confidence in academia, and you have some very worried college presidents.
Enter the Lumina Foundation. Boasting a $1.4 billion endowment, it seeks to take us to a point where 60 percent of Americans have a post-secondary credential of some sort by 2025. That would mean a 10 percent increase in the number of working-age Americans who have finished some sort of degree. (President Obama announced his determination to reach those goals early in his administration.)
That is music to the ears of financially strapped colleges, but how this benefits those additional 20 million students is less certain.
Lumina acknowledges that achieving its goal won’t be easy. …
… The dramatic action in question would be a massive expansion of higher education. The working-age population of the U.S. is roughly 200 million people. Currently, just over 50 percent of them have degrees of some sort. Getting that number to 60 percent by 2025 would mean getting an additional 20 million people through a degree program.
Total undergraduate enrollment was 16.6 million in 2018 in the U.S. That was projected to rise to 17 million by 2029. So, gearing up to produce an additional 20 million graduates over 5 years would be a vast undertaking that would go a long way toward taking up the excess capacity in higher education.