In a country where college is crucial to economic and social mobility, it is not acceptable that some students – especially students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and women – face systemic barriers as costs continue to grow, completion rates remain low, and wage inequities persist that prevent them from realizing the full value of postsecondary education.
Measuring the returns students and society receive from investing in education after high school starts with being clear about what those returns are and who receives them.
The commission examined a wide range of returns – individual and societal, economic and non-economic, easier to measure and harder to measure – and proposes a value definition rooted in commitments to equity, evidence, and changes in policy and practice.
Students experience postsecondary value when provided equitable access and support to complete quality, affordable credentials that offer economic mobility and prepare them to advance racial and economic justice in our society.
While there is overwhelming evidence that college is indeed “worth it,” institutional leaders, faculty, and staff must intentionally construct valuable learning experiences and career pathways with employers to ensure all students develop the knowledge, skills, and networks needed to be successful in work and life, including the ability to navigate and influence society to promote equity and justice.
To remove systemic barriers to equitable postsecondary value, federal and state policymakers should work with institutional leaders to develop funding, financial aid, and accountability mechanisms that incentivize creating coherent K-12, postsecondary, and workforce pathways and improving educational conditions and outcomes for students of color, low-income students, and women.
While equitable postsecondary education value yields clear returns for students and families, public investment in closing racial and socioeconomic attainment gaps also benefits the broader society through increases in tax revenues and GDP, decreases in public health and other expenditures, and increases in voting, volunteerism, and civic participation, which builds a more just society.
Collecting and using the necessary data to understand whether and how institutions and programs deliver value to students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and women, in comparison to their peers, is critical because the nation can no longer afford to ignore these inequities in the system if we are to fulfill the promise of postsecondary education to students and society.
Value means different things to different people. But we should all be able to agree that a student – no matter who they are or where they come from – gets an education that has value when they receive a high quality, affordable credential that puts them on the path to a better living and a better life that includes giving back to their communities and working for a more equitable and just society.Nichole Francis Reynolds, Postsecondary Value Commission Member
Learn more about the value definition and core principles in the commission’s final report.Read the Reports