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ERIC Number: ED541919
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Apr
Pages: 19
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
Addressing the Declining Productivity of Higher Education Using Cost-Effectiveness Analysis. Stretching the Higher Education Dollar. Special Report 2
Harris, Douglas N.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Higher education productivity, as measured by academic degrees granted by American colleges and universities, is declining. Since the early 1990s, real expenditures on higher education have grown by more than 25 percent, now amounting to 2.9 percent of US gross domestic product (GDP)--greater than the percentage of GDP spent on higher education in almost any of the other developed countries. But while the proportion of high school graduates going on to college has risen dramatically, the percentage of entering college students "finishing" a bachelor's degree has at best increased only slightly or, at worst, has declined. What accounts for declining productivity in higher education? Prior research provides an array of potential explanations. Most analysts point to the role of rising costs, and others focus on declining degree attainment. Collectively, these explanations reinforce a widespread perception among higher education administrators and many scholars that productivity is impossible to control. In this paper, the author shows that policymakers and college leaders do in fact have some control over productivity, but generally lack the information necessary to take the appropriate steps toward improvement. Specifically, decision makers have little information about which programs, policies, and resource decisions are most cost-effective. Relative to other areas of public policy, cost-effectiveness analysis is rarely applied to specific education policies and programs. Even research that looks at the higher education system as a whole rarely considers the relationship between the costs and output--that is, productivity. This paper is one of three in a series on higher education costs. (Contains 2 figures, 1 table, and 64 notes.) [For the first report, "Initiatives for Containing the Cost of Higher Education. Stretching the Higher Education Dollar. Special Report 1," see ED541921.]
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 1150 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-862-5800; Fax: 202-862-7177; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Lumina Foundation
Authoring Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research