Robert W. Tucker
Robert Tucker is an academician with multiple doctorates. Since 1995 he has been helping college executives market and manage their public, private and for-profit campuses. He rejoins Jeff Wendt in a second interview to discuss his idea of a better solution for higher education than the present 'gainful employment' rule-making.
Differentiate between finger-pointing and problem-solving in today's gainful employment battle.
A problem has been succinctly stated. The Obama administration assessed the magnitude and likely consequences of declining college success in the U.S. relative to other G7 nations. However, despite considerable objective evidence, the Obama administration seems to have decided that for-profit colleges are an impediment to the solution. And public colleges, especially community colleges, are central to the solution. From that point forward it's finger-pointing. Why not examine all providers of higher education with equal attention and with an eye to a solution?
Is 'gainful employment' a clear enough objective for a consumer to make a college purchase?
No. It may be an important component for some purchasers. But the flaws in the Department of Education's regulatory formulation are critical. ED's disclosures tell prospective students who are interested in certain applied degree programs that their degree, earned at a particular institution, is likely to land them the job they seek. However, they are told nothing about time and cost to degree. There is no mention of the opportunity costs of delays. There are no requirements for disclosure if the school is non-profit. Meanwhile, in addition to the possible outcome, does it matter what the buyer may want during the actual educational experience — facilities, amenities, fellowship and a host of other considerations?
Is 'gainful employment' a clear enough result for the federal government to use it to regulate colleges?
First, how much about college should the federal government be regulating? Conversely, how much should government's reach be limited? It's reasonable to police the marketplace to assure sufficient truth and transparency to enable consumers to make rational choices. That's the federal stance on credit cards, for example. They argue from a different ideological platform with respect to higher education. I suspect the real federal goal involved in 'gainful employment' is something else entirely.
What do you think is the real goal?
I've studied this fight every day for the past nine months. For-profit colleges and universities are strong competitors with growing enrollments. I'm concluding that the Department of Education and Senator Harkin’s HELP Committee have launched a well-orchestrated attack on for-profit colleges motivated by a desire to protect government-funded campuses from losses they are experiencing competing in an open marketplace. The political tactics are certainly familiar. This is the same administration that smeared banks that were making student loans as "greedy" and then federalized the student loan business. Now Uncle Sam the Lender offers student loans to American students under the same terms as their "greedy" predecessors. Did anyone notice this?
What might be a solution worth examining?
Again, what problem are we solving? I'd like to identify the factors that make for an intelligent consumer decision. I'd like to insure that those factors are disclosed and explained honestly to consumers. Today, many of those factors are invisible throughout U.S. higher education.
What might be some of the disclosures?
Here are several that I included in a list sent to Secretary Duncan.
- Graduation rates by degree and program
- Time-to-degree by degree (excluding elective delays)
- "All-in" student cost-to-degree by degree
- "All-in" total cost-to-degree by degree (student cost, taxpayer cost)
- Opportunity costs of average delay by degree
- Loan repayment and default statistics, controlling for borrower socio-economic status
- Job placement rates by degree
- Average salaries by degree (one, three, and five year intervals)
Explain your suggested disclosure about opportunity costs associated with delays.
A one-year delay to degree is typical among public colleges and universities. It can cost the student foregone earnings of say $40,000, plus extra tuition, plus possible additional downstream costs. Such transparent disclosures could eliminate the need for unintelligent regulation and expensive compliance. Since a consumer is likely to be shopping throughout the higher education marketplace for himself and family members, this disclosure, as well as all the others, should apply throughout the marketplace, regardless of the corporate charter of the education provider.
How might disclosures like those be presented in a format that consumers will actually read and understand?
Reporting these facts by school and by academic program within the school is suggested, because that's how consumers make decisions. While many educators have tried to obfuscate this issue with reams of technicalities, it would not be difficult for any decent measurement scientist.