When I worked in Governor Beebe’s office, though I was assigned to K-12 education, higher education, and pre-k, I spent the majority of my time dealing with issues, ideas, and legislation affecting K-12 education. That wasn’t because I liked K-12 anymore than higher education or pre-k, but rather because K-12 receives the overwhelming majority of state education funding, receives the most political attention by far, and seems to have more day-to-day problems overall. This all makes sense due to the fact that we have 450,000 students enrolled in public K-12 school districts, and only about one-third of that enrolled in public higher education institutions in Arkansas.
However, I must admit that I enjoyed higher education, policy-wise, more than K-12. I think that’s because higher education, for the most part, does what it does well, though there is definitely need for improvement. K-12 policy involves crisis management. Higher education policy does not (most of the time). As such, there’s more time to focus on improvement and reform. I also believe that improved higher education policies are where you get the most bang for your buck in the short term. Improving college graduation rates helps our state today. An educated workforce leads to more jobs. We can take the students enrolled in higher education today, give them the support they need to graduate with a meaningful degree, and we see the results of those efforts in just a few short years. K-12 reform, on the other hand, can take decades to see improvement.
This is why I was intrigued when I saw this article, The Higher Education Bubble, published by the Education News website. This interactive presentation compares the economic state of current higher education to the technology and housing bubbles, in light of increasing student loan debt and the declining post-graduation job market. Based on data and theories that only economists could love, this presentation definitely gives you something to think about, at least if you like higher education policy like I do.