Is Brand Reputation Moving from the University to the Degree Program?

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Andrew Gillen, Senior Policy Analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, joins the podcast to discuss why the College Scorecard might start making program reputation an even stronger signal for students than the overall brand reputation of a university.

This has been a complete revolutionary shift for policy scholars because for the first time we've been able to look at program mobile outcomes as opposed to institutional level. Becomes. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e Tou podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Andrew Gillen, senior policy analyst of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Andrew, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. We're excited to talk to you today about how institutional reputation might be trending toward the degree level. But before we dig into that, can you give the listeners a quick background on both the Texas Public Policy Foundation and your rule? They're absolutely so. The the Texas Public Policy Foundation is a think tank located in Texas and we focus on essentially policies and reforms that we think could help improve the the lives of Texans. And one of the things that we've realized over the past few years is that so much of the policy space has federal angle as well. So we have launched within the past couple years kind of a federal branch campus, so to speak, located in Washington DC. So even though we're a SE basin, thank we have kind of a small team that focuses on federal issues as well, and so that's that's the part of the team that I'm on and I focused mostly on federal higher education policy. Wonderful that that background is perfect for today's conversation and you maybe to kick offs off today. What do you believe is currently most important today? The brand reputation of a university or the...

...specific degree programs reputation itself? So I think if we take a snapshot of today, it really depends on which kind of level of education you're talking about. So if you're talking about like a certificat or in associates degree, those are largely going to be kind of convenience providers. So like is this community college, you know on my community to work, or is this online program set my schedule? Once you get to the undergraduate level it's going to be mostly kind of institution reputation, but then once you get to the graduate level, I would say it's mostly program level reputation. So if you think about things like, say, law schools or medical schools, you really don't have the institutional brand being as important as say, like the law school's kind of Solo reputation. And so that's sort of of my sense of where we are right now and I think that as things move forward, we're going to be moving more and more at all the other levels of education are going to start looking like the graduate level education, where the program kind of reputation and quality is really whole that matters. Yeah, let's talk about some of those tools that might get us there sooner than later. Could the college score card become what makes program reputation and even stronger signal to a student than the brand reputation of a university over time? Yeah, I think. I think the the addition of program level earnings and dead data to the College Score Card in the past couple of years has sort of provided like the skeleton to that. And so so this has been a complete revolutionary shift for policy scholars because for the first time we've been able to look at at program Mobil outcomes as opposed to institution level coomes. So this is this is letting US use a scalpel and step a spyge hammer when we kind of come up with, you know,...

...accountability mechanisms or carrots that we want a reward, you know, success with. So yeah, I think the College Score Card is definitely a very, very strong foundation. I would love to see it supplemented with other data and other resources, but just by itself right now it is already revolutionary. And you mentioned some of those. Let's make sure you clarify those. Against we understand what have these new with additions been in terms of debt, in terms of outcomes, where people looking into and trying to glean information of the data are finally able to really really understand the difference between not just institution to it to another institution, but comparing institutions at the program level. Yeah, and so so. So, prior to about two thousand and nineteen, which is when the the first program level data came out, with the with the College score card, you could get some information on, say, average debt or average journeyings at an entire institution and so so there were previous iterations of college score card that just has had institution level data, and then there were also surveys like pay scale and a couple others where you could say, okay, I'm thinking to go into the University of Michigan. What's the the average salary there? You could find at least an estimate of that and you know, that's great, that's better nothing. But you don't just go to the University of Michigan right like you go to the University of Michigan and you major in nursing, where you go to the University of Michigan and you major in Chemistry? And so so what you really want to know is is what are the outcomes for those particular majors that you're considering? And so, starting in two thousand and nineteen, the College score cards started actually releasing the program level data, and so they define a program by a college, the level of degree and and essentially the major to the field of study. And so you can now look up, okay, what does if I get a mass surs degree in nursing from Ohio State University? What are the typical earnings for for those...

...students? What about the bachelor's theory? What about the associates theory? And you can find all those all those data points now. And so what this is really great for is making us be real careful about drawing to to sweeping of conclusions. Right. So, as so, I'm trained as an economist, and so one of the fields we always take on this sociology. Right, they're like a sociology. But when you guys to look at the date that there's a ton of great sociology programs out there that have great outcomes. There's a few that have bad outcomes. And so as an economist like I shouldn't be saying, you know, sociology is, you know, bad field, don't go into it. I should be saying these, you know ten percent of programs and sociology are pretty risky. You should think twice about doing that. But these other ninety percent, they're actually fine. So if you want to do sociology, these ninety percent of programs are her good to go. So that is really the the value of this program level data is. Not only does it allow us to do that at the at the level of kind of the heck a Makefield, but we can also do that at then situation. So no longer it's Oh, avoid, you know state x university, they're terrible. It's so avoid these five programs that stayed x because you know, all their graduates end up on employed living under a bridge, whereas these these thirty programs, they have good outcomes. So it's really going to be great once we once kind of the policy and once the student and advising capabilities catch up to to the existence of this data. Yeah, I think that was going to be my next question because I remember when I was shopping undergraduate degree programs, I went to the bookstore, I bought the US News and World Report, college rankings books. I browsed through potential schools I was familiar with. I made sure that business was a bullet point in their degrees that students go for. It was a fairly low level, non economist friendly analysis of my undergraduate program the College Score Card Right now seems to be very...

...helpful and and a much superior tool for you to do data analysis on. Is there something still missing where it's not yet ready for prime time? It's not yet ready for it's to be the primary or one of the few primary tools that students use when degree shopping. Or do you believe that it now is and there's a there's a marketing problem, where a branding problem that needs to be solved for or to what you mentioned, advisors need to start recommending this tool, that the tools ready to students aren't maybe using it readily enough. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There are a couple of kind of caveat that I throw out there. The first is going to be taken care of naturally over time. So so the first county, I was like when the first data came out, it was literally one year of earning data for two recent courts of of graduate which they combined into one kind of super cohort. And so the problem when you have won the kind of the first year after graduation data is okay. Well, you know, maybe people didn't work the full year. You know, it took a while to find a job or, you know, they took a job that wasn't really going to be their career just while they were looking. So there are a there were a lot of kind of valid reasons to be like, okay, well, maybe the first year of data isn't. Isn't what we should be super concerned about now what the college coore card is doing. is every year they're adding one more year of data to that and so for that first cohort that they that they first released in two thousand and nineteen, when they release the new data in the next few months here, we're now going to have the third year of earnings for those students and so at that point all of the well, maybe this isn't there what the career they're finally going to be in? A lot of those objections kind of fall away at that point and so once you have three years of earnings data, you got a pretty good snapshot of what their early career kind of earnings trajectory is. So that will just kind of be resolved naturally as time goes on as they had more and more data to each...

...of these cohorts. But the remaining caveat, which I don't know if there's any plans to address it or not, is that right now we're basically reporting the median earnings, and so that's that's very useful. You know it's the the midway point. So you know fifty percent of students are earning less, fifty percent of students are anymore. I would love to see that supplemented with other percentiles so, like what about the twenty five, personal the seventy five or sentile, the D S and so what you can you can do. That, I think, would provide a much, much broader kind of picture of their earnings distractories. If you consider a field like law, it's got a very bimodal distribution. So like there's there's, you know, a handful of lawyers who do very, very well right out of law school. You know they learned at the the top law firms and they you know, they're making huge, huge salaries. Then there's a whole other big contingent that doesn't get those jobs and is earning much, much less. So you can calculate a median among those two. Write and and it'll be a valid median figure, but it's not really represented. It's not giving you kind of the complete picture of what the earnings distribution is among recent well grinds. So it would be great if we could get a little bit more information on the distribution and not just the median. You know, as long as we have a median we shouldn't ignore it, but I would love to see it supplemented with this Moodaia. You mentioned how the Longitudinal data will make this even more and more valuable over time. What other long tail effects are possible here? Might we start seeing new or evolving federal restrictions that try to hold certain degree programs accountable, not just their universities themselves? Yeah, I think that's absolutely going to be coming down the Pike, and so there is a big bipartisan movement right now for precisely that. So if you look at kind of accountability and higher...

...education, it's sort of been always done in this all or nothing and at the institution levels. So you know, accreditation, cohort, default rates, these are things that as long as you get the green light, you're fine, your golden but if you get the red light you're basically the whole institution is shut down. And so one of the problems with that is that it makes it makes it very difficult to set those cutoffs and kind of a healthy place because you know, you know that if you fall in the wrong side of the core default rate or if you don't get re accredited, you're basically putting that institution out of business. So the accreditors are very reluctant to to actually pull the trigger on that. And then the cohort default rate's like forty percent. So you can have forty percent of your students defaulting on student loans and still be fine. There's another threshold at thirty percent, but you have three years like those are super high default rates. So I think one of the reasons for that is because we know kind of as policy makers that if you don't meet these benchmarks, you're it's basically that sentence. And so one of the great things about this program level approach to accountability which the College score card data enables, is that it's no longer death something. Now it's just a okay, you know these you know seventy percent of your programs are fine, they can continue as is. You know, twenty percent of them or and some sort of probationary period. And then these, these bottom ten percent, we need to talk about. We need to cut off their access for federal financial aid or or new students or whatever. So there's a big bipartisan push to basically make this make this case. So I'm at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. We've put out a lot of work on this. We're kind of a kind of a center right organization. There's another organization that's a center left organization called Third Way. They've put out some work on this. They use a slightly different metric, but we're both basically seeing the same thing, which is that hey, we can use this this new program level data to do program level accountability and then, you know, we can differ about where...

...we want the exact thresholds to be, but we're basically both advocating for the same push here. And there's other organizations that have done some more things, like Georgetown University's Center for Workforce and education, Anthony Kurrn of Ailey shop. They put out a little bit of work on this and President Cooper put out a recent paper as well. So, like there's a bunch of people doing exciting work in this area and I think it's only a matter of time before federal and or state policy makers start start really implementing some sort of kind of carrots and stix approach to to accountability at the program level. And your wonderful thoughts leave us with some next steps advice here. Prince, students listening to this realizing, boy, we used to be focused on just promoting branding positioning our university. Now I have eighty sub brands in our degree programs. I need to position instead, help us think about how much focus we may want to put on marketing or institution versus our programs in this future that seems to be quickly becoming, or perhaps just a better way to think about that problem in general. Yeah, yeah, absolutely, so I would say. I would say, if it's so, if I were, you know, a college trying to think about what opportunities and threats this new data poses, the opportunities are pretty exciting, right, because if you're not at the top of kind of the broad institutional US news and World Report rankings, but you have programs that are better than their programs, that's a huge marketing opportunity, right. So you can say, Hey, come to my school, you will do better than the accountants who graduate from you. So that that's huge, because now you can actually point to hard data that says these programs are doing just as good or better than the schools that you think are better than us, and so you can really differentiate your successful programs that way. The threats are at the other end of the distribution, the programs that maybe are in...

...fields that everybody thinks are safe and fine, or you're at an institution that everybody thinks is safe, but you've got these underperforming programs. So the great example here is, you know, I think it was like six seven years ago, the Obama Administration did gain co employment and it mostly applied to for profits, but they also apply that to certificate programs at the public and private nonprofit level. And so one of the programs that caught caught up in that and failed the test was a theater program at Harvard. Yeah, nobody had any idea that the theater program at Harvard was had these ridiculously bad outcomes. Right. So be aware that some of these things are going to be exposed in the in the very near future. Try to head it off if you can. If you can't, use it as the opportunity to basically overcome any internal obstacles you have to phasing these programs out because really, if you've got these programs that are consistently leaving your your students worse off than that they hadn't gone, it really is your sensibility to stop offering those those programs to kind of new students again. This is this is data that you know is brand new. So it's going to present both both opportunities and threats to and so just just be aware of of kind of the opportunities to basically exploit where you're doing well, but also be aware that your weaknesses are your note. You're no longer going to be able to hide them on the herd right and so so, like the the week Gazelle, gazelles are going to get eaten now and there's a little you can do to fight that. And so so you can basically kind of prepare the ground for for what's going to be coming down the pike. And you. Thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions you? If they have any questions for me, I'd be happy to address them if they can get in touch with me via email. So my email is a Gillin Gil EAN. So it's at you, Gillan,...

...at Texas POLICYCOM and if you get in touch with me there, will set up, you know, a a zoomer or teams meeting or whatever, and will we can chat about whatever whatever you find interesting. Awesome, Andrew, thanks so much for joining us today. Yeah, thank you for having me. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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