Laura Tyson: Making Higher Education Pay

Laura D. Tyson

In a new column for Project Syndicate, Laura D. Tyson lays out a strategy for using “progressive federalism” to increase the returns from higher education.

Tyson and co-author Lenny Mendonca, a former director at McKinsey & Co., begin by praising the Obama administration’s new College ScoreCard database.  This free database offers students and their parents detailed comparative data for on costs and outcomes at thousands of institutions: graduation rates, tuition costs, average student debt loads, and earnings after graduation.

But the authors argue that greater transparency is just the start.  The federal government can help improve the return on higher education even more by setting performance goals and rewarding innovative policies that work.  They note that many state universities and nonprofit institutions, among them Arizona State University  and Western Governors University, are already testing new strategies and technologies that have both reduced costs and improved outcomes.

Higher education remains a good investment in general, write Tyson ad Mendonca.  However, costs have been soaring and the returns from some institutions are low and even negative.  The federal government can both increase accountability and accelerate innovation to deliver higher returns to students.

“A well-designed progressive federalist policy for higher education would set goals for key performance indicators – based on the measures highlighted in the College ScoreCard – and reward states that advance toward those goals,” they write Tyson.  “It would encourage and finance state efforts to test new approaches to expand access, increase graduation rates, and improve students’ lifetime outcomes.”
Read their full analysis here.
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