The Executive Summary, Our Separate and Unequal Public Colleges, from Georgetown University’s Center o Education and the Workforce, left me with few surprises. My roots in education extend to the public schools and firsthand disparities between suburban, largely white schools and urban schools with high minority populations. The origins of this inequality at public colleges remains visible in the attention given to advising and counseling services in predominant white schools where students are oriented by families and school staff toward selective schools. Students at these schools take courses that are more likely to secure enrollment and support high test scores on entrance exams for selective schools.
After leaving public K12 education, I have spent the last decade in higher education in the proprietary, for-profit, tax-paying institutional setting. The intriguing evolution has not been in this sector but in the public sector’s evolution and adoption of best practices from the often-leading edge pursued by the proprietary sector. The adoption of online classes occurred early in these schools, while tenure faculty remained reluctant at public selective institutions. Proprietary schools often utilize as needed admissions tests other than the SAT and ACT. Public colleges in the day of COVID have varied in their embrace of shedding their loyalty to the College Board.
Aside from the selective nature of the admissions process at the school, one is left to wonder: Are graduates from these schools better equipped than other schools or did the school inherit a well-equipped applicant? Would these students have been just as successful if they attended a non-selective public college? The executive summary notes that students who attend selective colleges, both white and minority, graduate at a higher percentage than at open-access colleges. This model assumes that the goal of higher education is graduation. And herein lies a fundamental flaw.
Graduating from a college is a step along the journey for graduates. Another practice that public colleges have adopted recently, although has been a mainstay of the proprietary sector, is career services for graduates. If a student graduates, they should be entitled to assistance from the school to find meaningful, economically advantageous employment (let’s call it gainful) in their field.
The recommendations from the Georgetown report are reasonable, their scope can be accomplished. But the bar they set is so low. Graduates must have skills that can enable them to gain work in their field, and colleges should be held accountable for the number of students who utilize the degree for which they have invested and that taxpayer funds have invested in them.