Putting Education Reform To The Test

Three Questions About College For Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie Merisotis

Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie Merisotis says Florida needs to consider new models for college tuition and student learning.

The Lumina Foundation is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college. CEO Jamie Merisotis takes that message around the country.

Last week, he spoke to the Economic Club of Florida.

The foundation’s goal is for 60 percent of Americans to earn a high-quality post secondary credential or degree by 2025. Merisotis took questions from the audience.

Q: Does the Lumina Foundation have a position on how the university systems should price their services? In my day, the university system priced its tuition on a quarterly basis, so we took all the hours we could take per quarter. We all finished in four years flat. What do you say about that – do we need to go back?

A: You bet. There are two sides to this financing equation – two elements that you’ve got to address when you’re dealing with the issues of redesigning the financing system.

One side is the cost side, which is getting more productivity out of the enterprise. What I mean is literally increasing the capacity of the system to serve more people better.

We’ve got to think about these new delivery models, these new approaches, whether they’re technology based or not, that are going to help us get to a more productive system. It means business efficiencies, rethinking both the way we allocate resources from governments to institutions and students, and it means literally the development of these new kinds of delivery models.

The second part of the equation is rethinking the price side – the tuition that we charge, and then how we discount that tuition with financial aid and other means.

I’m a big advocate of student financial aid. I’m a first generation college graduate; Pell Grant recipient. I wouldn’t have gone to college without government support.

On the other hand, I also recognize that the way we price this product – which is what higher education is – is so complex and confusing, it is extremely difficult to get a handle on what we’re actually charging for and what people are actually paying.

The net price – the actual price – is dramatically different than what that sticker price is. It’s a tremendously variable pricing model. So figuring out how we price the product has got to follow the way in which we deliver a more productive system of higher education.

I think that time is extremely limited on higher education to be able to address its pricing problem. I do not see an environment where government is going to have a lot more money to be able to invest in higher education. We can no longer put this on the backs of students and their families. Something’s got to give here. That’s why the system redesign is so important.

Q: I’m very interested in the Core to College Grant that the Lumina Foundation recently awarded to ten states, including Florida. Could you tell us more about the grant?

A: The Common Core is essentially an effort that the majority of states have engaged in to rethink the expected outcomes of the K-12 system. This is a very different model where many states have collaborated with each other to develop this understanding of what the outcome should be, and now they’re developing various assessments to measure those outcomes.

We’ve got to align this changed system at the K-12 level with our admissions and our placement efforts in higher education. These two systems exist in very different worlds.

So what we’re doing in these ten states is actually supporting the collaborative effort across the great divide – K-12 and higher education – to actually create that kind of alignment.

Q: Do you see any willingness from the public or state governments to ever raise taxes for education, particularly post-secondary education?

A: I think we can’t start there. I think the revenue side will be hard. But I think we will need more resources than we have. The public polling is pretty clear on this. The public’s pretty supportive of increasing investment in education generically. The public is increasingly recognizing the importance of post-secondary education.

But we can’t lead with that point. It’s a tough sell to policy makers and to the public. I think part of the challenge in terms of the revenue side of the equation is thinking about the art of the possible in terms of how we’re going to create those additional places (for more students in college).

If we think about it in the traditional model, which is ‘butts in seats’  – if we think about different ways of delivering post secondary education where you can use technology and other means to create a different learning model, then you can get somewhere.

This is a state where there’s a lot of online learning going on. That’s good. Now it’s got to be better integrated into the overall model.

Carnegie Mellon University redesigned their general education classes, delivering them using very sophisticated technology – online tutoring, real-time feedback, all kinds of things. What they found in these technology-delivered general education classes is that they were getting the same or better learning outcomes.

The kicker was students could complete these classes in 50 percent of the time of the traditional classroom-based model. If you can complete general education 50 percent faster, now you’ve got literally more system capacity. You’ll get those people through faster, which creates more opportunity for other people.

The Lumina Foundation awards grants to educational organizations. Grant winners include Florida C.A.N., which funds StateImpact Florida.


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