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MAKING SENSE OF THE BROOKINGS REPORT

December 14, 2015

For years, the cost of higher education has grown faster than inflation. Too many students today are exiting college with considerable debt and limited job opportunities. These disturbing trends have spurred a national debate on the value of a college education.

This debate has called into question the “return on investment” or ROI of a college degree. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to these questions of cost, debt, and ROI. The answers more often than not depend on the type of college or university, the socio-economic background of the student, and the discipline of study.

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The average salary of an ACPHS student ten years after starting school is $110,600, more than three times the national average.

These concerns have led to increased scrutiny of the practices and business model of higher education. The Department of Education under the Obama administration has sought to “grade” colleges for both their educational effectiveness and the long term value of the student academic experience. Despite the commitment to making colleges and universities more accountable, the effort has been fraught with difficulties, mostly due to a lack of agreement on the proper metrics needed to evaluate a college’s performance.

Nevertheless, progress has been made, and this past September the federal government redesigned its College Scorecard, an online resource that provides students and their families with basic data for each school. With the new Scorecard, it is now easy to find information on areas that include earnings after school and loan repayment rates in one convenient place. Prior to September, much of this data had been largely inaccessible or, at best, difficult to obtain. Its availability now offers opportunities to assess the value a college provides to its students in new and innovative ways.

Brookings Institution – a Washington, DC, based think tank – was one of the first organizations to leverage the new data to compile its own value-based rankings of colleges and universities.

At the end of October, Brookings released a report titled, “Using earnings data to rank colleges: A value-added approach updated with College Scorecard data.” The study assigns value-added rankings to 3,173 colleges (1,507 two-year colleges and 1,666 four-year colleges) based on the earnings of their alumni.

The report offers great detail on the methodology behind the rankings, and I encourage you to read it. In summary, Brookings aggregated characteristics of incoming students (e.g., academic preparation, racial or ethnic background, family income) and combined that information with characteristics of the college they attended (e.g., type of college, location of the college, qualities of the college).

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99% of ACPHS students repay at least $1 of the principal balance on their federal loans within three years of leaving school.

Based on the resulting profiles, Brookings calculated the predicted earnings for students ten years after enrollment and then compared those figures with the actual earnings provided in the College Scorecard. The difference between these two numbers determined the “value-added” score of a College or, in Brookings’ words, “the contribution of the college to student outcomes.”

ACPHS was honored to learn that it finished as the top ranked school in the country in this study. What does the ranking mean? First and foremost, it should be a source of pride for students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the institution. It is confirmation from an independent third party of the quality of the people and programs of this College.

As we reflect on this recognition, it is important to consider why we did so well. We came out on top for two reasons: access and opportunity. We provide access to a broader range of students than many schools who typically finish near the top of college rankings, meaning our graduates’ predicted salaries are lower. We also provide better preparation than many schools for lucrative careers in pharmacy, the life science industries, and healthcare.

This puts our graduates’ salaries ten years after graduation above those of many schools. The value-added or difference between actual salaries (which are reasonably high in our case) and predicted salaries (which are reasonably low for us) is greater for ACPHS than any other school in the nation.

So now that we are #1, how do we stay there? Again, it is about access and opportunity. We have to ensure that our pricing, financial aid packages, and recruitment continue to provide access to students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. Secondly, we need to ensure that our academic programs educate students for opportunities in tomorrow’s workplace.

This ongoing improvement of our academic programs is the basis of the College’s Strategic Agenda and our new Beyond Practice Ready campaign. By staying true to this combination of access and opportunity, we will continue to provide an educational experience with the added value that our students deserve.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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