The second day of the SHEEO conference featured a packed schedule, almost all of which was devoted to equity, workforce, or both. I had to keep reminding myself that the target audience for the conference is state higher ed officers, so seeing colleges as instruments of state policy comes naturally to them. As someone who has spent the last couple of decades working through shared governance systems on campuses, I have to admit it was a bit jarring. I didn’t hear a single mention of shared governance all day.
Still, my mission here is to learn what other states are doing, and to see what can be brought back and/or improved. By that standard, the conference has been an embarrassment of riches.
A chronological summary would be slow reading, so I’ll group some highlights by theme.
Data disaggregation. Multiple speakers hit this note. Some of the demographic categories we often use can hide more than they reveal. For example, Dennis Olson of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education mentioned that within the “Hispanic/Latino” category in Minnesota, they’ve found that Puerto Rican students graduate at about four times the rate of Salvadoran students. Averaging the two into a single category can lead to false conclusions. Elena Quiroz-Livanis, of the Massachusetts DHE, noted that when Massachusetts hit its goal of 60 percent of adults having a post-secondary credential, it didn’t celebrate, because that 60 percent hid some significant disparities.
The hits kept on coming. At a panel on scaling access to work-based learning, Dave Clayton, of Strada, mentioned that 37 percent of white male undergraduates get internships, but only 21 percent of Latina undergrads do. Given that students who’ve had internships earn 14 percent higher salaries over time – I didn’t know that – the gaps are baked in early. At a panel on “Build Back Better,” Denise Smith (of the Century Foundation) mentioned that 56 percent of HBCU families have EFC’s of zero. That’s an astonishing number, and it goes a long way towards explaining why Parent PLUS loans are so heavily used at HBCU’s. Finally, according to Ivy Love of New America, the average student in a community college bachelor’s degree program is ten years older than the average “native” bachelor’s degree student. It seems that where CCBA degrees exist, they don’t reduce enrollment at public four-year colleges, but they do reduce enrollment at for-profits. I’m holding on to that tidbit.
Qualitative data matters. This one did my heart good. Quiroz-Livanis told the story of an older student she had asked about whether accelerating the program would help. The student replied that she was actually happy with a part-time program because it allowed her to work and still have a life. Information like that doesn’t show up in raw data; you have to ask. Several panels brought up the need to include students in discussions of what they need, in part because their answers may be surprising.
Political context matters. The host of the very first panel of the day, Eric Felix, referred to Indiana’s recent law effectively banning abortion, and its recent anti-LGBTQ legislation. He noted that those laws will make it harder for some students to attend college or to complete it, but he also noted that those laws are symptomatic of a political climate that’s often hostile to higher education generally. I didn’t hear anyone else make the argument quite that explicitly, but people on several panels throughout the day mentioned that talk of equity is much easier in some states than others. For those folks for whom straightforward talk of equity would mean instant political death, variations on the “workforce” argument were recommended.
Employer involvement is crucial, but even that needs to be disaggregated. At a midday panel, Stephen Moret and Ruth Watkins, both of Strada, noted the frequent disconnect between CEO’s who say they’d be happy to hire people with the right skills, degrees be damned, and the actual practices of HR departments that put up blunt requirements for degrees before they’ll even consider candidates. I actually gave a little cheer when Moret mentioned that there’s a shortage of “good” jobs in the US, and that underemployment of college graduates is one of the factors driving public discontent with higher ed. He’s right, but that too often goes unmentioned.
Prior Learning Assessment is both difficult and crucial. I drew particular hope from a presentation by Stephanie Beauchamp and Angel Icenhour of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Apparently Oklahoma has centralized its PLA onto a single website, with the goal of making it easier for students to see how much credit they can receive for whatever training they’ve had or competencies they’ve developed. That credit can reduce the time and cost of a degree, and incentivize older students to return to college. I’m bringing this one back with me.
Apparently, state higher ed officers refer to themselves as “SHEEO’s.” I did not know this, but them use it enough times to see the pattern.
Fried pork tenderloin is a thing in Indianapolis. Picture chicken-fried steak,only with a boneless pork chop instead. It’s not bad, but I’d put it in the “only once in a while” file out of concern for my arteries.
On to day three…