Over the past few months, we have been working on a Higher Education Diversity Index tool, which you can view and toy with below. This data visualization tool takes data on tuition and race and ethnicity on college campuses around the nation and tries to make some sense of it. We recently had a Q&A session with Lee Huang (LH), President and Principal, ESI, Lucie Doran (LD), ESI’s Drexel University Co-op, and Tony Moore (TM), Principal and CEO, Paradigm Group Consultants, LLC to capture interesting insights and findings from the data.
LH: Lucie, can you tell us different ways to the cut the data included in the Tableau database?
LD: There are various ways to cut the data and look for specific things. You can look up particular institutions via the search bar, switch through different years ranging from 2011 to 2018, split it up by regions around the nation, choose between public or private institutions, and also the cut it by size of the institutions.
LH: Where did the data come from?
LD: All of the data came from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for 2011 through 2018. We took out any institutions that were missing data. We removed from the data set if the percentage was completely unknown or did not respond. If there were any schools that had over 50% non-response, we took out that institution because it wouldn’t be an accurate representation of the percentage of non-white students.
LH: What is the definition of average net price?
LD: Average net price is two things: it’s tuition minus the aid.
LH: Are there any main takeaways you see from the data set from 2011 to 2018?
LD: It’s pretty clear that while in 2011 there was a cluster. That had changed significantly in 2018, mainly because the cost of university has changed a lot and sometimes it comes down to how much aid they are able to give out and in general, the price is increasing as time goes on. The increase in net price is one or two of the following trends: rising tuition and less aid being given out.
TM: It looks like in 2011 there was much more of a consolidation of pricing for colleges and universities and they all tended to be fairly close. When you go to 2018, there are a lot more universities that are seeing themselves as providing more value to students and having the need for higher education, so you start to see a two or three tier pricing structure.
LH: Tony, have you seen any trends from schools and clients you have worked with in the past?
TM: In many cases, the larger schools have much more access to student aid. Unfortunately, for the smaller liberal arts schools, you have particular audience of students. In many cases, there is less financial aid because you’re getting the students who can pay more. It’s not just the size of the school but also the size of the endowment that creates the stability of resources. The question for the big-hit endowment schools is (Yale, NYU, Harvard, etc.), has it incented increased diversity?
LH: The story is, what’s the trend overtime? We’ve been tracking the insolvency amongst the smaller schools that are burdened by proportionally high fixed costs, whereas the bigger schools can spread that out among more students. What does that mean for affordability, and in term, what implications does that mean for diversity?
LH: Tony, do you have any thoughts on the intersection of financial issues that higher ed institutions faces that are endemic to the industry and to this time, and implications on affordability for households. What does that mean for accessibility to ALL families?
TM: The higher ed world is totally unsettled. We are still asking the questions “Do we bring students back? Do we go back in as a hybrid model? Do we go totally remote?” This is a huge financial and mental worry for not just campuses, but for a lot of parents.
The problem we’re going to see the universities struggling with is not just the pandemic, but the offshoots of issues from the pandemic. For example, the cost of creating an environment that is safe (e.g. being able to social distance in regular classrooms). What is the pandemic’s buy-product around issues for students of color? For example, families may have been struggling before the pandemic to afford keeping their children in college, and now these parents may be laid off or furloughed. How do they keep the students enrolled?
LH: You have an already financially destressed sector, and you’re adding an additional stress factor. You’re going to see solvency issues amongst these institutions and you’re going to see these institutions struggle to support families that need additional support for parents that want their kids to succeed.
LH: Tony, what do you say to a pre-dominantly white institution that has pre-dominantly white student body, that wants to become more diverse and then encounters COVID-related financial destress?
TM: This may not be the best analogy, but it’s sort of like knowing you need new tires on your car but in case something else happens, you don’t want to get new tires, so you’re willing to risk getting a flat tire soon. These schools know that they have issues around diversity, not only around diverse students but a significant number of these schools also have an issue around diversity of their staff.
Most of the employees of any kind of diversity would huddle around the bottom three level tiers of a university. Without regard to the pandemic, can you really afford to wait any longer to address a hundred-year-old problem? If you think of it in a proactive way to see what happens with the pandemic, you’re also saying you’re willing to risk the diverse employees you already have. Your employees are more aware and more sensitive to what’s going on around them with the unrest and protests. So, they’re thinking “Should I stay here and endure? Or, do I go find another place that’s a better, more diverse place to work?”
LH: This stress test is exposing where people are on this issue, whether it’s something they do from a position of strength and resource, or if it’s more fundamentally important to them.
TM: If you talk to senior level folks on a college university campus, prior to the pandemic, they would say diversity is important because it’s a part of the educational process on our campus. A diverse student body provides opportunity for our students to not only have an educational experience, but also a diversity experience, while intertwining the two. As you move away from that because of the pandemic and let that progress move away, it says you’re willing to risk removing that intertwining of the educational and diversity experience from your campus.
We hope in future blogs and to add more detail to our data visualization index. Among the things we want to go deeper on in this data are endowment size, teasing out tuition and aid separately, and looking at different race/ethnicity categories.
Lee Huang brings over 20 years of experience in economic development experience to Econsult Solutions’ (ESI) public, private, institutional, and not-for-profit clients. He leads consulting engagements in a wide range of fields, including higher education, economic inclusion, environmental sustainability, historic preservation, real estate, neighborhood economic development, non-profits, retail, state and local government, strategic planning, tax policy, and tourism/hospitality, and is a sought-after speaker on these and other topics.
Anthony K. Moore is the Founder and Principal of Paradigm Group Consultants, located in Philadelphia, PA. As the Principal and CEO of the management-consulting firm, his role is to define the change theory and consulting direction that paradigm group implements with its clients. He is also the relationship partner for the executive and senior level clients of the firm.
Lucie Doran was a 2020 Drexel Co-op with ESI. Lucie is pursuing a degree in Economics and Mathematics from Drexel University.