What’s the point of going to uni? You might soon be able to find out
20 May 2019 at 8:24 am
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is well known for its philanthropic contributions to higher education, but the foundation is now shifting its attention to determine if a college degree is actually worth it.
The foundation has created The Post-Secondary Value Commission, a 30 member organisation made up of educators, business leaders, policy makers, students, and advocates, in a bid to find out how educational institutions could better prepare students for the future of work after graduating.
The Gates Foundation CEO and co-chair of the commission Sue Desmond-Hellman said that debt from rising tuition, a changing job market, and other educational options aside from a traditional four-year degree meant it was hard for students to determine what path they should take after secondary school.
“The urgency of getting value right in higher education is turning a conversation all about affordability, debt, the reasons not to go to college, into reasons to go to college,” Desmond-Hellman said in a video posted to Twitter.
To determine the value of a four-year college degree, community college or diploma, the commission will collect data on income, employment, and economic mobility.
According to the commission, collecting data will not only help students but educational institutions to measure the value of their own programs and improvements for the future of work.
The move to set up a commission hasn’t been welcomed by everyone, however. Nicholas Tampio, professor of political science at Fordham University, wrote in The Conversation that it would mean the country moves to a two-tiered education system.
“It will be one in which the affluent will be able to acquire a liberal arts education at elite private institutions, while students who depend on federal financial aid will be steered toward career-focused majors at public universities,” Tampio said.
“In effect, the country will have one higher education system for the rich and another one for everyone else.”
Philanthropy has played an increasing role in America to combat the looming skills shortage in the last few months.
Finance giant JPMorgan Chase said earlier in the year that the new world of work was about equipping people with skills and not necessarily degrees, and announced it would make philanthropic investments in community colleges and non-traditional career training programs to help women, people of colour, veterans, and returning citizens secure and hold down in-demand and stable jobs.
In Australia, Sarah Davies, the CEO of Philanthropy Australia, told Pro Bono News that while Australia was “behind the eight ball” on ensuring young people were equipped with skills to face the changing nature of work, it was something the government needed to fix, not philanthropy.
“Sure philanthropy can try and draw more attention to it, but this actually has got to be a fundamental national priority around our core education system,” Davies said.
The Gates Foundation has spent billions on higher education scholarships over the years, including US$1.6 billion (A$2.3 billion) for the Gates Millennium Scholars, which provided tuition assistance for African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian-American students from 1999 to 2016.
In 2015, the foundation also made a US$417.2 million (A$605.7 million) commitment designed to help low-income students and students of colour become campus leaders.
Desmond-Hellman said while the foundation had learned a lot over the last decade, the commission now wanted to help students make decisions that would benefit them well into the future.
Bill Gates added that the initiative would make sure data was in the hands of families and the people undertaking the degrees.
“A college degree is the surest path to a healthy, rewarding life and career. But which degrees and programs provide the greatest value to students?” Gates said.