15 new ideas on how to 'fix' higher education

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July 15, 2019

15 new ideas on how to 'fix' higher education

Summer is an important part of the educational calendar. It marks the final months before many high school graduates pack up their belongings, leave home, and start the next stage of their lives at college. For most, this marks the first real step that they'll take toward their future professions.

For many, though, this step will end in frustration, Of all the students who enrolled in a four-year degree program in the United States between 2011 and 2018, only 60% are expected to complete it within six years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. For two-year degree programs, the completion rate is 32% within three years.

The reasons for not completing vary, from lack of financial resources to poor academic preparation and performance to other life priorities. However, these numbers go beyond circumstance to illustrate a higher education system that is flawed and possibly broken.

From biased selection and financial assistance in prestigious schools to a lack of academic preparedness in high school to a lack of critical job market information, failures in the current system are leaving large numbers of students underserved. Per one survey, only 13% of millennials agree or strongly agree that today's higher education system is "fine how it is."

Stacker has identified 15 areas where the higher education system today is negligent. For each of these areas, we have offered a suggestion on how higher education can be approved to increase rates of graduation and educational satisfaction. We have opted to avoid highly political issues such a professors' tenures, racial biases in selection and financial aid allocation, and support of public schools serving poor and disenfranchised communities, as a list cannot adequately detail all the intricacies these issues bring.

For most people, obtaining a college degree is essential to earning more over one's life. With the unavailability of skilled workers affecting many local and state economies, the failings of the higher education system have become a national crisis.

Keep reading to see what solutions could just revolutionize this broken system.

You may also like: The price of college has increased 125% in 30 years—inside the staggering rise

Emphasizing work-based learning

A report by Gallup found that students that engage in internships have better odds at securing a full-time job post-graduation. Being able to gain work experience while in college gives students a chance to apply their learned skills to real-world applications. By offering internship and externship opportunities, schools can provide students a better chance to hit the ground running once they enter the workforce.

Improving career placement post-graduation

One concern high school graduates have when considering attending college is if the choice will improve their employment options. If a graduate cannot secure a well-paying job, the investment made to secure one's education may never be returned. This has led to an increase in vocational school enrollment. The development of partnerships with the private sector, a focus on skills in high demand in the workforce, and preparation of graduates entering the workforce for the first time can improve the likelihood of graduates securing a job in their field after graduation.

Focusing on student well-being

Sometimes, in the push for students to get a high return-on-investment regarding performance and job prospects, the well-being of the student gets lost. Is the student happy? Does the student feel that the school is a good fit? Does the student feel that he/she made an informed choice in choosing the school? Improvement in information sharing—particularly, about employment outlooks for educational pathways, in-demand jobs in regions and states students are interested in working in, and assessments of students' educational wants—can help address this issue.

Fixing for-profit colleges

The bankruptcy of Educational Corporation of America highlights the problems with for-profit colleges. With most credits earned at for-profit colleges ineligible for transfer, there is a general feeling that the value of for-profit college credit is less than nonprofit college credit. With students continuing to patronize for-profit schools—largely, because of the lack of support nonprofit schools offer adult and other non-traditional learners—there needs to be a greater focus on the accreditation, debt management, and oversight of these programs.

Developing clarity of purpose

A school must have a clear identity. Students must know what the program's mission is, what to expect from the program, and what the expected outcomes of the program will be. This will help students find the program and school that best matches what they are seeking. Poor clarity is one of the key reasons behind low student well-being and a lack of confidence in education.

Focusing on proving job readiness

A GPA does not tell a complete story about a person's ability to compete in a professional setting. Instead, a skills inventory, where schools can see what a prospective student offers and how it meshes with the program he/she chooses, could provide institutions with a more accurate model for student success. A skills inventory can also be useful for college graduates as it can, similarly, demonstrate to employers the content of a student's educational portfolio.

Improving post-graduate employability

Schools typically focus on concentrations when teaching students. Some have argued, however, that there must be a greater focus on skill development. Education and job training should occur simultaneously, instead of the traditional model of job training happening on the job. By incorporating job training into the educational model via internships and other work opportunities, students will not only be better suitedto quickly find meaningful work but would know what the work prospects for their fields are like prior to graduation.

Adult learning

Many students are older than the typical college demographic of 18-24 years old. A large number are mid-career students who are seeking to continue their education after a disruption in their schooling or after deciding to switch career paths. The problems these students face usually revolves around balancing coursework around jobs, family, and other obligations. This typically requires strategies like non-traditional class structures, mentoring programs, and online learning opportunities. While some schools have committed to adult learning, the general lack of support has allowed alternatives like for-profit colleges to prosper.


The cost of attending college has skyrocketed. This is happening against an average national income that has largely been stagnant when adjusted for inflation. This translates into college becoming more expensive for the average family as times move on. With the prospect of incurring a significant debt burden in the cost of education, students should be better informed of low-cost school options and non-loan funding opportunities. Efforts to make higher learning more affordable through improved financial aids or through limiting future tuition increases must be explored.

Creating effective mentoring

Students typically need support throughout each step of their educational careers. High school students will need help in picking the best schools and programs for them. Current college students will need help in ensuring their well-being and developing their skills portfolio. Graduates will need help in gathering information about career paths and job prospects. All of this can be achieved through an engaged and proactive mentoring strategy.

Focusing on developing STEM skills

There is a shortage of workers skilled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills in the United States. The gap is so severe that in some states it has stalled or stopped job growth. Furthermore, many non-science jobs require basic literacy in STEM skills. To maintain current job needs and requirements, colleges must promote the development of STEM skills, through creating public-private partnerships, offering specialized degrees and degree programs, and improving curricula to embrace STEM development.


Technology changes quickly. New innovations mean that there will always be a moving target on skill sets new graduates must learn to be competitive in the job market. For example, a computer science or liberal arts program that has not changed recently may seem dated and inadequate. Colleges must recognize the speed of innovation and likewise adapt their program offerings. This does not mean that schools should abandon the fundamentals. Colleges should both offer the basis to a mindful education while being aware of the current job market.

Improving loan forgiveness

In 2019, college loan debt hit $1.5 trillion, its highest point in history. $101 billion of that debt is in default or is more than 90 days delinquent. Despite this, in 2018, only $12.3 million was forgiven for public service. Considering the effect this high level of debt is having on the economy and on graduates' ability to gain financial stability post-graduation, an investment into loan forgiveness make sense, although the idea is controversial.

Emphasizing associate degree programs

Per a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a bachelor's degree is not always the best investment choice. For the bottom 25% of bachelor's degree graduates, their lifetime earning—once you factor in the cost of their education—is less than those that just graduated from high school. For some, pursuing a four-year degree makes little sense. By encouraging associate's degrees and other alternative college programs, colleges can offer value to students that would otherwise forego higher learning.

Starting early

Perhaps if a student is not ready for college when he/she arrives on campus, the student's education will be impaired. Either the college will have to waste time offering basic remediation or the student will be overwhelmed, increasing the chance of dropping out or being dissatisfied with the quality of education. This can be mitigated by an increased focus on college preparation in high school, increased access to college-level courses, improved mentorship programs, and access for high school students to college programs.

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