RADIANCE BLOG

Category: Higher Education

The Complexities of Higher Education for Low-Income Students

In our recent blog series on Higher Education we’ve been discussing issues like the cost of attending college, the economic value of a college degree, and the impact of student loan debt.  Today, let’s drill down and examine these issues for low-income students, specifically.  Our review of the data on these issues suggests that both the costs and benefits of a college degree may be amplified for low-income students.

Last year, The Atlantic reported on an analysis by the Institute for Higher Education Policy that found that most colleges are unaffordable for all but the wealthiest students.  For students with a family income of $69,000 (which is higher than the U.S. median income) only about 25% of colleges were in reach, even assuming the family saved 10% of its discretionary income for the 10 years before college, the student worked 10 hours a week at a part-time job during college, and the student obtained all the federal student loan dollars they were eligible for.

More recently, NPR reported on a Wisconsin HOPE Lap study showing that in addition to struggling to pay for college, many college students struggle to pay for food and housing while they’re in college, which makes it harder for them to focus and learn as well as less likely to complete college.

Indeed, these pressures make it less likely that low-income students go to college at all. A 2010 study in the American Sociological Review analyzing data from two large single-cohort longitudinal surveys found that college graduates were more likely than those without college degrees to have come from high-income families, to have well-educated parents, to have high levels of cognitive ability, and to have social networks that supported college plans. However, they also showed that the economic returns on a college degree were greatest for those students who matched the characteristics of those least likely to complete college (low-income, less social support, etc.).  In other words, disadvantaged students who made it through college had a greater wage gap with their non-college “peers” compared to the wage gap for more-advantaged individuals. (To be clear, the average post-college wages of disadvantaged students were still lower than those of more-advantaged students.) The article offers the caveat that there may be other unmeasured characteristics that determine which disadvantaged individuals complete college and which do not, and that those characteristics might be responsible for some of the wage gap.

Still, the unaffordability of college for lower-income students functionally means there are fewer spots available for those students.  So, although they may benefit more from college than their wealthier peers, there are fewer options available to them.  One piece of good news for them is that the value of a college degree may be less dependent on the particular school than is often believed.  A 2014 study in the Economics of Education Review found that once student characteristics (e.g., cognitive ability, income) and other selection factors were controlled for, differences in the average earnings of graduates from 30 Texas colleges were minimal.

A final benefit of college for low-income students is social capital.  We’ve covered this previously in our blog series as well. The greater gains in economic returns for disadvantaged students may in part be due to larger gains in social capital. This is a point made strongly by J.D. Vance in his book, Hillbilly Elegy.  Importantly, greater social benefits come from less advantaged students being able to network with more advantaged students.  If the educational system becomes too stratified by socioeconomic status (i.e., some schools enroll only wealthier, academically-prepared students and some enroll only disadvantaged students) there will be fewer social capital gains for the disadvantaged students.  Similarly, stratified systems tend to draw less support for government funding, as a recent article in the Atlantic notes.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the sixth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


Investigating Student Loan Debt

As a firm with collective decades spent earning advanced degrees on top of our professional work with higher education organizations, we are not new to the issue of growing student loan debt. We’ve all heard the complaints about rising student loan debt in America. Many of them stem from uncertainties about the economic benefits for graduates and for society overall. Parents might ask – how will my student ever climb out of the mountain of debt they’re buried under when they graduate? Public officials might ask – how will these students be anything other than an impediment to national economic progress when “70 percent of college students graduate with a significant amount of loans” and “more than 40 million Americans hold student loans, and many struggle with repayment?”

To be clear, this is not intended to denigrate the value of a higher education degree. As we’ve noted both in this blog series and in previous Radiance blogs, the evidence supports the long-term economic value for individuals and for society of a higher education degree. Instead, the goal of this blog is to shed light on the critical perspectives, shifting demands, and various approaches to solving the problems related to student loan debt in America.

From an economic perspective, not only does growing student loan debt potentially impact the career paths and outcomes of individual students, it also places a drag on the short-run of the American economy.  Indeed, over the last decade, student loan debt has more than doubled, growing from ~$500 billion in 2008 to a staggering $1.5 trillion in 2018. When graduates (even those with relatively high-paying salaries) are bogged down by heavy student loan debt, they spend less and they save less.

As we’ve seen when working with our higher education clients in recent years, students are increasingly focused on the return on their investment as they seek assurance related to their ability to pay off the debt they’ve incurred. This compels them to be shrewder consumers of the products of higher education; a potential benefit for both students as well as institutions of higher education. Students not only have to do more research into the services being offered across different institutions of higher education, they must think more carefully about personal finance and learn a few fundamentals, like what it means to default on a loan payment and the difference between a variable and fixed interest rate. Simultaneously, colleges and universities have been challenged by the career-related demands from students to be more innovative, distinctive, and societally relevant.

An alternative national approach to the burden of student loan debt is simply eliminating the costs of higher education altogether. Some countries, like Germany, have taken this approach by doing away entirely with tuition fees. Convinced of the long-term societal benefits for a highly educated workforce, Germany has invested in their students through overwhelming access to a higher education. Whether or not this approach will work, however, is still up for debate as some predict that, eventually, Germany will have to reinstate tuition fees to some degree.

Regardless whether the solution to growing student loan debt in America lies in policy, in higher education as an industry, in the shrewdness of students as customers, or in something else entirely, perhaps there is a silver lining in the burdens placed upon students and higher education as an industry as they are now. Namely, students have had to be considerably more intentional in planning for their careers while simultaneously new skills and financial fundamentals that set them up for success in the long-run. At the same time, colleges and universities operating in an industry that is notoriously slow to adapt to evolving societal demands have had to be innovative in their approaches to attracting students and persuasive in maintaining higher education’s vital civic role in society.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the fifth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


The Economics of Higher Education: An Interview with Jill Tiefenthaler, President of Colorado College

As Corona Insights explores the state of higher education, we turned to one of the experts in Jill Tiefenthaler, the 13th president of Colorado College. President Tiefenthaler is a leading scholar in field of the economics of higher education and has a thorough understanding of the key issues facing colleges and universities today. See our interview below:

  1. To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your background and areas of expertise in higher education?

I have a background in both higher education teaching and administration, which has informed my scholarship on the economics of higher education. After receiving my M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Duke University, I joined the faculty of Colgate University, where I also served as department chair and associate dean of the faculty. Prior to becoming president of Colorado College, I worked as provost and professor of economics at Wake Forest University.

I’ve served as president of Colorado College since 2011. During my tenure, I’ve overseen a historic alliance that created the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, the development and implementation of the Building on the Block strategic plan, and the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history.

My academic focus is on the economics of higher education, particularly in relation to the liberal arts. I published an essay on the economic challenges facing liberal arts colleges in “Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts” (Johns Hopkins University Press, October 2013). I also teach a course on “The Economics of Higher Education” each year.

  1. In your view, what is the economic value of a higher education degree, both in terms of individual social mobility and in terms of the contributions to society as a whole? In other words, what are the economic benefits of higher education?

On both an individual and societal level, education pays. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the economic returns (net of costs) to the individual of both a bachelor’s and associate’s degree are about 15% per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 Current Population Survey indicates that the median weekly earnings for persons 25 and over with a Bachelor’s degree are $1,156, compared with $692 per week for those with a high school diploma. And, this earnings gap is only widening, suggesting that there is less economic mobility for those without a college degree than in the past. A report by the Pew Research Center indicates that the median annual earnings gap between college and high school graduates for Millennials in 2013 was $17,500. By contrast for the “Silent” generation in 1965, the earnings gap was only $7,499 (in constant dollars). Additionally, the unemployment rate for those holding a Bachelor’s degree (2.7%) is almost half the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma (5.2%) (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2016).

Beyond the individual benefits, there are many public benefits of higher education in terms of civic engagement and use of public services. Those with college degrees are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer and have better health outcomes including lower obesity rates, lower smoking rates and increased frequency of exercise. They are also less likely to be unemployed or in poverty and more likely to have saved for retirement.

  1. How have federal and state policy shaped the landscape of the economics of higher education, both in general and for private colleges like Colorado College? How do policy changes related to government subsidies play into the rising average cost of tuition and fees?

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a reversal in how public college is funded. For example, in Colorado in the year 2000, the state funded approximately 2/3 of the cost of attending public college, and students paid about 1/3 in the form of tuition. Now, the funding structure is reversed, with students shouldering roughly 2/3 of the cost of college (Colorado Commission on Higher Education).

In Colorado, a significant factor in curbing state funding for education has been the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), passed in 1992. TABOR limits the amount of tax revenue the government can collect and spend, essentially limiting the state’s ability to invest in the future. Although the economy is currently growing and there is greater demand for highly educated workers, Colorado cannot retain the revenue to increase spending on education.

I would say that these cuts in state funding have affected public institutions more than they have affected Colorado College as a private institution. CC only receives about 1% of its total revenue from state and federal funding, so we have long been a tuition-dependent institution. Our tuition has actually increased at a slower rate than public institutions in recent years, in part because we’re able to provide each student a subsidy from the college’s endowment and annual philanthropic giving beyond what their tuition covers. State schools are now having to operate more like private institutions, raising tuition and growing their endowments to compensate for the loss of government subsidies.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the fourth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


Graduate Students and their Changing Expectations

At the risk of coming off as someone with early-onset curmudgeon-ness, back in my day graduate students went to graduate school only focused on their academic education—and liked it! (We also walked uphill in the snow both ways, or something.) The program I joined (originally with the intent of pursuing a PhD) was very academic-focused—a terminal master’s wasn’t a thing in that program, and all students, even master’s-enrolled students, were expected to develop the skills necessary to become high-quality researchers. The program thus intensely focused its resources on high-quality teaching, conference attendance, and various research opportunities. Scant few resources (time or money) were put towards the overall student experience in the program or even the college.

After working with various higher education institutions, I have found that student expectations are changing. I see students wanting more than just a good education; they want to connect with those around them. I’ve found alumni looking back and wishing they had been given more opportunities to build stronger relationships with those in their programs and even their programs’ broader communities. In many cases, these students and alumni are looking to the university, individual college, or even department or program to provide the opportunities to build those connections.

Why are they changing? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps the societal focus on the quintessential college (undergraduate) experience has residually affected the graduate experience, with students making the transition expecting something more akin to, albeit more mature than, their undergraduate experience. It’s also possible that, with the ever-expanding graduate offerings (certificates, short courses, terminal master’s, etc.), a greater number of students are entering programs that are less life-consuming than the classic PhD. Or perhaps graduate students are behaving more like a classic customer, reviewing their options and realizing that most graduate programs will offer the basic education they need, giving them the opportunity to make decisions on what else the program offers. Even more likely, it’s some combination of the three.

Universities must realize they cannot disregard these changing student expectations. Most universities are facing competition that is fiercer than ever. Many states and regions have a plethora of options for the future graduate student, and chances are that one or two of those options are breaking free from pervasive perceptions of the university as rigid, unchanging, and traditional—and are innovating their offerings, including the student experience.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the third post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


Cousins with a Lot in Common: Culturals and Colleges—Part 2

In this blog post, we’re exploring how some of the trends in arts & culture also apply to higher education. Previously, we focused on how arts & culture and higher education are both facing a shifting paradigm that is forcing them to rethink what it means to be a cultural or a college or university. Today, we’re going to dive deeper into changes in how people interact with these organizations and what they expect of them.

User-defined experiences

Technology has allowed a high level of personalization across many domains, and as a result, there are higher expectations for being able to personalize products and experiences. One of the big findings from CultureTrack ’14 was that people were interested in self-curating their experiences when going to an arts & cultural event or space. Further, CultureTrack ’17 found that different groups of people were interested in using technology to enhance their arts & cultural experiences.

What might self-curation mean for higher education? Many colleges and universities have already realized that the experience of getting a degree can be as or even more important than the actual degree. Offering students ways to customize this experience is vital. This doesn’t necessarily mean changing the content of your offerings. It does call for engaging and relevant messaging that resonates with students with their own big future goals. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they’ll look to self-curate their education someplace else.

Additionally, convenient formats are increasingly important for the higher education consumer. Instead of declaring online courses and degrees as inferior, colleges and universities should be figuring out how to make the quality of these options as high as the on-campus options because for some students, these may be their only options.

Another major finding from CultureTrack ’14 was that cultural consumers were “promiscuous” when it came to experiencing arts & culture—they wanted to experience a little bit of everything. And there is a similar pattern in education. As STEM transforms into STEAM and then STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math), we can see how the focus on a well-rounded education has become popular again. Given the growth of the knowledge economy, students are interested in experiencing a broader array of education opportunities, even after they have a degree, for both personal growth and career growth.

Wanted: Civic leaders

CultureTrack ’17 also examined people’s philanthropy for arts & culture. Most of the major reasons for giving or not giving to arts & cultural organization involved social impact. That is, cultural consumers are more interested now in the type of impact that arts & cultural organizations are having on society and their community. They are expecting arts & cultural organizations to act as civic leaders.

This pattern seems to hold true for institutions beyond cultural ones, such as colleges and universities. Both donors and students are expecting colleges and universities to be interested in having a social impact. Academia rewards faculty for scholarship and knowledge creation, but colleges and universities also need to encourage faculty to figure out ways to apply that knowledge in the community in an impactful way.

One of the other outcomes of recent technological advances is that people spend less time engaging with other people in real life. However, people crave contact, connection and a civic commons. Plus, we know that loneliness is bad for our health. Community institutions, like culturals and universities or colleges, are some of the remaining spaces for engaging with other people. Civic leaders can provide opportunities for people in the community to engage with other people.

Where to next?

While change is often stressful, it is exciting to see the ways that higher education and arts & culture are evolving to meet the needs and expectations of the future. Some colleges and universities and some culturals have been adapting to meet the needs of their students, patrons, and community. For example, the San Francisco Opera has been using pop-up events to reach new patrons. Importantly, the opera is using these pop-up events to test an idea quickly, learn from the outcome, and move forward. Similarly, Georgetown University is testing different ways of delivering higher education. In both these examples, the organizations are giving themselves permission and space to experiment.

If you are a higher education institution or a cultural who needs to adapt to this shifting paradigm, there are a couple of things to consider:

  • What parts of your identity as an organization are critical (like your mission and vision) and what parts could be adapted? Where is there room to experiment?
  • How can your organization bring people together? How can you have a greater impact on the community? How are you sharing the story of your impact?
  • How are you addressing issues of access and inclusion?
  • Can people create an experience at your organization that aligns with their needs and interests?

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the second post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


Cousins with a Lot in Common: Culturals and Colleges—Part 1

One of the benefits of our work at Corona Insights is the sheer variety, both in our clients and their respective industries. This breadth allows us to cross-pollinate ideas across seemingly disparate fields and share industry-spanning trends with our clients.

Our work in arts & culture and higher education is long-standing. That long arc of time, combined with several curious minds, has led us to a few insights.

Arts & culture and higher education have more in common than one might think. Both industries are tradition-bound, often collections-based and led by knowledge experts. Tenure matters in these fields; as do professional credentials. Both are slow to change and find it difficult to anticipate emerging consumer demands.

Each is also experiencing seismic shifts as consumers, most notably Millennials (and now Gen Z too), are making vastly different choices than previous generations. Plus, technology is redefining how we engage with just about everything.  Take food for example. As Applebee’s market share declines, the demand for freshly prepared grab-and-go snacks increases. Did you hear that we aren’t really eating meals anymore? Welcome to the snacking era. No wonder napkin use is down too.

In this blog post and a follow up one, we will explore and apply some of the trends in arts & culture to higher education.

Shifting paradigms

In this new context, culturals are having to rethink just about everything. From engaging younger and more diverse audiences to leveraging technology to augment the visitor experience, museums and arts groups are seeking relevance in news ways.

As LaPlaca Cohen revealed in their most recent national study of cultural consumers, CultureTrack ’17, things have changed dramatically since they conducted their first study in 2001.

“For today’s audiences, the definition of culture has democratized, nearly to the point of extinction. It’s no longer about high versus low or culture versus entertainment; it’s about relevance or irrelevance. Activities that have traditionally been considered culture and those that haven’t are now on a level playing field. With the traditional notion of “culture” no longer being a distinguishing factor, it is up to cultural organizations to reassert culture’s purpose in an increasingly complex world, by powerfully articulating and delivering on their essential impact.”

With seemingly endless ways to spend one’s leisure time and endless modes of communicating and consuming content, the definition of “cultural” has expanded to include activities such as outings in city parks and watching Hulu. Curators and arts critics are finding that their roles are changing as consumers self-curate their experiences. They want to consume collaboratively and share with their friends (as revealed in CultureTrack ’14).

So too is the definition of higher education changing, much to the chagrin of academics. Long gone are the days when professors were sages on stages and students spent four years sitting at a series of desks, turning in assignments on time, and deciding whether or not to live on campus (and go to the occasional kegger, let’s be honest).

Consumers are demanding choice in higher education, and they are demanding evidence that the education they purchase will lead to their desired outcomes. A college degree is a capital investment after all. Higher education, like arts & culture, is being scrutinized more closely for its ROI – return on investment. Increasing student loan debt, questions about the value-add of a college degree, and high-growth jobs that don’t require a post-secondary education are making the consumer stand up and say, “why?”. They are also voting with their feet when it comes to demand for online offerings (which offer the same convenience that online streaming of entertainment does) and an understanding of the total cost of ownership (i.e., what’s my degree really going to cost once you figure in housing?). Employers are seeking alternatives as well – alternative credentials, badges, and certificates that prove someone has what it takes to be successful in the job today.

Higher education’s role in society is also being questioned. As democratization permeates industries, one can’t help but ask, “If it isn’t for everyone is it worth keeping?”. If a college degree is only for the well-to-do or those who live in larger cities as opposed to small, rural towns, is it accessible enough? Is it inclusive?

Today, power is in the hands of the consumer. And consumer behavior is changing industries. Restaurants, shopping malls, content consumption, and transportation are all being redefined for relevance. Higher education and arts & culture are no exception.

Next Time

In part two of this blog, we’ll explore further the similarities between higher education and arts & culture in terms of how people interact with these organizations and what they expect of them.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the first post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.


The State of Higher Education: A Corona Insights Blog Series

In 2011, Pew Research Center published a comprehensive report entitled “Is College Worth It?” that shed light on the primary issues within higher education, including cost and value; monetary payoff; views on the mission of colleges; student loans; and more. Despite the daunting title of the report, the survey results suggested that, overall, Americans in 2011 understood the benefits of higher education, as “an overwhelming majority of college graduates—86%—say that college has been a good investment for them personally” and that those with a college degree earn roughly $20,000 more a year than those without a college degree.

In 2014, Corona Insights considered the same question posed in the 2011 Pew report and similarly concluded, “Yes, that college degree is still worth the cost of attendance.”

Gelling with the 2011 Pew report findings, the table included here shows a large gap in 2012 median wages between Colorado adults aged 30-34 with at least a bachelor’s degree and those without. As noted by Corona CEO Kevin Raines, the value of a college degree lies in the long-term financial payoff: “As a general rule, unless you plan to retire at 30, it’s pretty clear in this simple analysis that there’s a positive long-term financial payoff to pursuing higher education.”

Now, in 2018, higher education still contends with this question about the value of a college degree as well as a new slate of issues, including stout public skepticism, ballooning student loan debt, and the growing gap in access for low-income and minority students. In light of these issues (and others), the state of higher education in America is as fuzzy as ever.

A simple Google search of “higher education in America” demonstrates the complexity and the breadth of the issues facing colleges and universities today, as the search yields article titles ranging from “Higher Education Is Bad for America—Here’s How” to “Americans love higher education, just not their universities.” At a time when 58% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe higher education has a negative effect on America, the average cost of college in America is higher than anywhere else, and student loan debt nears $1.5 trillion, higher education, as an industry, needs to be cognizant of these complicated issues as well as intentional and imaginative in responding to them.

This quarter, the Corona Insights team takes a deeper dive into the main issues, trends, and opportunities lying before the industry of higher education in America. While higher education is a vastly complex system that cannot be fully analyzed in a blog series over the course of a few months, we hope to illuminate what the most recent studies, pertinent data points, and established experts can tell us about the state of higher education in America and how institutions are rising (or not) to the challenge.

Over the next few months, we’ll examine some of the most intricate and significant topics relevant to the state of higher education in 2018, such as public perceptions of higher education in America; the economics of higher education; the use of data to better serve today’s students; and the need for institutions of higher education to strategically differentiate from other institutions. Stay tuned to the Radiance blog as we tangle with some of the toughest problems facing the world of higher education today.


Writing an RFP

So you’ve finally reached a point where you feel like you need more information to move forward as an organization, and, even more importantly, you’ve been able to secure some amount of funding to do so. Suddenly you find yourself elbow deep in old request-for-proposals (RFPs), both from your organization and others, trying to craft an RFP for your project. Where do you start?

We write a lot of proposals in response to RFPs at Corona, and based on what we’ve seen, here are a few suggestions for what to include in your next RFP:

  • Decision to be made or problem being faced. One of the most important pieces of information that is often difficult to find, if not missing from an RFP, is what decision an organization is trying to make or what problem an organization is trying to overcome. Instead, we often see RFPs asking for a specific methodology, while not describing what an organization is planning to do with the information. While specifying the methodology can sometimes be important (e.g., you want to replicate an online survey of donors, you need to perform an evaluation as part of a grant, etc.), sometimes specifying it might limit what bidders suggest in their proposals.

Part of the reason why you hire a consultant is to have them suggest the best way to gather the information that your organization needs. With that in mind, it might be most useful to describe the decision or problem that your organization is facing in layman’s terms and let bidders propose different ways to address it.

  • Other sources of data/contacts. Do you have data that might be relevant to the proposals? Did your organization conduct similar research in the past that you want to replicate or build upon? Do you have contact information for people who you might want to gather information from for this project? All these might be useful pieces of information to include in an RFP.
  • Important deadlines. If you have key deadlines that will shape this project, be sure to include them in the RFP. Timelines can impact proposals in many ways. For example, if a bidder wants to propose a survey, a timeline can determine whether to do a mail survey, which takes longer, or a phone survey, which is often more expensive but quicker.
  • Include a budget, even a rough one. I think questions about the budget are the number one question I see people ask about an RFP. While a budget might scare off a more expensive firm, it is more likely that including a budget in an RFP helps firms propose tasks that are financially feasible.

Requesting proposals can be a useful way to get a sense of what a project might cost, which might be useful if you are trying to figure out how much funding to secure. If so, it’s often helpful to just state in your RFP that your considering different options and would like pricing for each recommended task, along with the arguments for why it might be useful.

  • Stakeholders. Who has a stake in the results of the project and who will be involved in decisions about the project?  Do you have a single internal person that the contractor will report to or perhaps a small team?  Are there others in the organization who will be using the results of the project?  Do you have external funders who have goals or reporting needs that you hope to be met by the project?  Clarifying who has a stake in the project and what role they will play in the project, whether providing input on goals, or approving questionnaire design, is very helpful. It is useful for the consultant to know who will need to be involved so they can plan to make sure everyone’s needs are addressed.

Writing RFPs can be daunting, but they can also be a good opportunity for thinking about and synthesizing an important decision or problem into words. Hopefully these suggestions can help with that process!


Is your Neighbor an Engineer?

While Kevin has an engineering degree, I do not—my degree is in social sciences.  After reading Kevin’s blogs about income patterns of folks with engineering degrees, I was inspired to take a fresh look at degrees from a spatial perspective. I wondered where engineers are most likely to live, where social scientists are likely to live, and is there is a relationship between them?  What better place to explore than our own back yard.

Since Kevin and I both like maps, I pulled some data from the American Community Survey into our mapping software to take a look. The universe of this data is all adults, 25 years or older, who have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Interestingly, in terms of raw numbers, the census tracts with the greatest number of engineering degrees are on the south to northwest outskirts of the Denver area, especially around the Boulder area (see map 1).  Maybe people with engineering degrees like to live near the foothills? Out of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the Denver area, about eight percent have an engineering degree.

Adults with Engineering Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, some of these census tracts are rather large, so I looked at the density of people with engineering degrees by tract (see map 2). When we look at the number of engineering degrees per square mile, we start seeing dense pockets in the heart of Denver and Boulder, but still some good representation in the Southern suburbs.  In case you are curious, there is an average of 106 people with engineering degrees per square mile in Denver and its immediate suburbs (i.e., area within the blue box).

Density of Engineering Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I previously mentioned, I have a degree in social sciences, and I wanted to know if people with my degree were likely to live near people with engineering degrees? First, I mapped the number of social science degrees (see map 3). Around Denver, about nine percent of people with a bachelor’s degree have one in social sciences.   By visually comparing Maps 1 and 3, I didn’t see any strong similarities in number of degrees by census tract. Social science degrees appear to be most numerous on the southeast and east side of Denver, with some in Boulder too.

Adults with Social Science Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about density of social science degrees?  There is an average of 139 people with social science degrees per square mile in the Denver area (see map 4). We see some dense areas near downtown Denver, and I can visually start to pick out similarities between densities on maps 2 and 4. Remarkably, the census tract with the greatest density of social science degrees is just east of the Capital building.  Considering this census tract is just a few blocks from our office, we seem to have a nice supply of potential labor nearby.

Density of Social Science Degrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what does this tell us?  We know that, on average, there is a slightly greater proportion of people with social science degrees than engineering degrees (i.e., 9% vs. 8%), and there is a greater average density of social scientists than engineers.  I guess engineers like room to spread their elbows and social scientists like to live near other people.

Are engineers likely to be neighbors with social scientists?   When analyzed by raw number, there is a positive correlation between the two degrees. For about every one step up in the number of social science degrees by census tract, there is about a half-step up in the number of engineering degrees.

Does density play a role?  It appears so.  When looking at the relationship between degrees based on density (i.e., number of degrees per square mile), we see that the correlation is stronger than the correlation based on raw numbers of degrees.  This means social scientists and engineers are more likely to live in the same census tract in dense urban areas than in rural areas.

Now that I’ve answered this question, its on to my next project where I aim to prove that my proximity to a doughnut shop has a positive and strong correlation with my personal happiness.


Yes, that college degree is still worth the cost of attendance

Is college still a good investmentHere at Corona, we help organizations make strategic decisions via our research and strategy services. But individuals can also use research to make strategic decisions.

We read a lot these days about the cost of higher education. While rises in health care costs get more attention, inflation in higher education costs have actually outpaced them, and the unprecedented question has begun arising about whether an education is worth the cost in modern America.

We have researched supply and demand issues, and have seen evidence that college grads are increasingly competing for jobs that traditionally haven’t required a college degree, and that many college grads are displacing workers without degrees in those positions. That’s not quite the door-opening experience that we would hope to see coming with a college degree, but nonetheless we see that, on the whole, people with higher education levels have more earning power and better employment prospects.

We recently did a quick analysis of wage and salary levels by education level for Coloradans between the ages of 30 and 34. At this age, most people have completed their education, and by controlling for age we can eliminate some factors such as older people being less likely to have degrees. We included all people in this age range, including those who aren’t working, to account for the fact that employment opportunities may differ by age level.

EDUThe results were interesting. We saw the following pattern:

As a quick back of the envelope analysis, we looked at the reported resident tuition and fee costs of public schools as reported by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. We then added the lost earnings of pursuing education beyond high school, assuming two years of lost earnings for an associate degree, four years for a bachelor, and seven years for an advanced degree. We ignored living expenses since you’re presumably buying groceries and housing whether you go to college or not.

If you compare those costs to the income differential, we see a payback period of roughly 6 to 7 years for any type of post-secondary degree, assuming that you get no financial aid during your college years. The earning power of lesser degrees is lower, but the cost and time to get them is lower, and they even out. And obviously there are factors that we didn’t consider in this quick analysis, such as the type of degree a student earns.  But as a general rule, unless you plan to retire at 30, it’s pretty clear in this simple analysis that there’s a positive long-term financial payoff to pursuing higher education.

So for any of our blog readers considering the return on investment of college, we’ve done the data crunching, so you can now use it to make your strategic decision.