Mamie Voight is president and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy and served as managing partner of the Postsecondary Value Commission. Mildred García is president and CEO of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and served as co-chair of the commission. José Luis Cruz Rivera is president of Northern Arizona University and served as a member of the commission.
One year ago today, the Postsecondary Value Commission released a clear definition of equitable postsecondary value, an innovative and practical framework for measuring value, and an action agenda to guide federal and state policymakers, college leaders and families. This group of 30 higher education experts and national leaders, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, sought to define the value of postsecondary education in the United States.
In the 365 days since, we have been deeply encouraged by the momentum toward ensuring our nation’s system of higher education recognizes that, per the commission’s definition, “students experience postsecondary value when provided equitable access and support to complete quality, affordable credentials that offer economic mobility and prepare them to advance racial and economic justice in our society.” In our roles leading the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Institute for Higher Education Policy and Northern Arizona University, we are energized by this demonstrable shift in the field, as evidenced in the use of data, ambitious institutional strategic plans and bold statewide goals.
For starters, institutions, researchers and policymakers, as well as higher education journalists, have turned to the Equitable Value Explorer, an online tool IHEP helped create to better demonstrate the economic value that 4,000 postsecondary institutions deliver to their students. By understanding the return on investment for students across the country, we as a field can more clearly see where students are getting ahead, just getting by or even falling behind, and then thoughtfully put the data to use to improve student outcomes.
As one inspiring example of institutional change, NAU has fully embraced the call to enact change and measure the value delivered to students across race/ethnicity, income and gender, and to use that data to guide equitable policy and practice.
NAU’s equity-driven strategic roadmap sets forth a bold vision to serve as an engine of opportunity for students and the communities they represent in Arizona and beyond. Already, NAU has made significant strides to deliver equitable postsecondary value, including a new admissions policy and the Access2Excellence initiative that provides tuition-free education to Arizona students with the greatest financial need. NAU joins four other thoughtful and dedicated peer institutions on the cutting edge of the equitable value movement as part of AASCU’s Postsecondary Value Commission Task Force.
We see exciting momentum at the state level as well, including in Texas, where leaders embedded equitable postsecondary value in their strategic plan for higher education by tying completion goals to the increased earnings associated with credentials. What’s more, conversations are underway with several states that are interested in participating in the inaugural cohort of the Value Data Collaborative, which is IHEP’s national evidence-driven effort designed to ignite economic mobility through postsecondary education. The VDC will apply the Postsecondary Value Framework to answer critical questions about equitable value and inform state and institutional improvement strategies through a data-centric community of practice.
The commission first met in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended every aspect of our society, including our postsecondary system. Today, one year after the release of its findings, improvements are increasingly urgent at every level.
Given how significantly the pandemic worsened racial and socioeconomic inequities, our country needs higher education to fulfill its potential as a pathway to earn a better living and enjoy a better life for all students. Our work to promote equitable postsecondary value for Black, Latinx and/or Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander students, and students from low-income backgrounds, remains imperative to our collective ability to create an equitable and just society.
The commission spent over two years exploring and assessing postsecondary value and developing foundational resources to kick-start this field-driven equitable value movement. Over the past year, the higher education community has stepped up to turn the lofty idea of delivering equitable postsecondary value into a reality by outlining clear goals and actionable objectives. Across the country, higher education leaders and decision-makers are embracing this new wave of postsecondary policy development and explicitly prioritizing economic mobility and equitable value.
The field’s progress over the past year is energizing. Given the growing momentum today, we look forward with optimism and determination, eager to see what additional policies, priorities and progress in the years ahead will transform countless lives through the power of postsecondary education.