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Business Officer Magazine

Business Intel

A roundup of short news articles and useful resources for business officers

Loan Debt Surges for Middle-Aged Students

Educational debt among students 35 to 49 years old rose 47 percent over the past three years. This is by far the fastest and most significant growth of any age group, according to an analysis of student loan debt by Reuters. Within the middle-aged-student ranges cited in the analysis, those students between 38 and 41 comprised the biggest group of loan recipients. Average student-loan debt among these students rose to about $12,000 in 2011, up from approximately $9,000 in 2009. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics also reveals the heavy use of student loans by middle-aged undergraduates.

Fast Fact

“By 2018, more than 60 percent of American jobs will require some kind of postsecondary qualification, and community colleges are uniquely poised to answer the needs of both employers and students looking for economic security.”

—Richard Riley, former U.S. secretary of education and governor of South Carolina, co-chair of Aspen Institute jury selecting top community colleges

Double-digit Debt Growth

NCES's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) shows that the percentage of undergraduates between the ages of 35 and 49 who had any student loan debt jumped from 36 percent in 2004 to 46 percent in 2008 (the most recent year of available NPSAS data). The cumulative education-related debt among these middle-aged borrowers jumped 27 percent in this four-year period.

In contrast, debt among students under the age of 35 increased about 24 percent. In 2008, according to the NCES data, for middle-aged borrowers the average cumulative educational loan debt—which includes federal student loans and nonfederal loans—was $15,359, while younger borrowers had an average of $13,729.

Financial Factors

Reuters cites two main causes for the rapid increase of educational debt among middle-aged students.

  • Since the onset of the economic recession, many more older persons are attending higher education institutions to retrain for new jobs. The U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics shows that the number of persons 35 and older attending American postsecondary institutions jumped from roughly 3.1 million in 2007 to more than 3.8 million in 2009.
  • These new older students have been more likely than younger ones to attend private for-profit (proprietary) schools, which tend to charge higher tuition and other fees while offering fewer grants to help students pay their educational expenses. In 2009, about 18 percent of students aged 35 to 49 attended proprietary institutions, compared with 5 percent of those between 18 and 24, and 9 percent of all undergraduates, according to the Digest of Education Statistics.

According to NPSAS, 94 percent of the middle-aged students at proprietary schools had student loan debt, compared with 54 percent at four-year public colleges and universities and 28 percent at two-year public (community) colleges.

U.S. Department of Education projections show that the number of persons age 35 and older attending college will top 4 million by 2019. It is thus possible that borrowing trends among these students will continue to reflect growth as well.

SUBMITTED BY Kenneth Redd, director, research and policy analysis, NACUBO

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Excellence Program Finalists

Highlighting the need to improve student learning and graduation rates in community colleges, the first annual Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced that Valencia College, Orlando, is the nation's top community college. Four other “finalists with distinction” will share with Valencia a $1 million prize.

Announced at the National Press Club late last year, the program recognizes extraordinary accomplishments at individual community colleges.

For Valencia, that refers to the college's “unique culture of continuous improvement and innovation [that] has a real impact on student outcomes that is amazing to see,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program, at the press club event.

Nearly half of Valencia's students are underrepresented minorities, and many are from low-income families. Yet, more than 50 percent graduate or transfer within three years of entering college; this compares to a rate of less than 40 percent for community colleges nationally.

The four finalists with distinction are: Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, South Dakota; Miami Dade College, Florida; Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, Washington; and West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah.

For further details, go to

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AASHE Releases an Online Database of Campus Solar Installations

Have you been wanting to see where your institution stands when it comes to solar sustainability efforts? If so, you can now search the online database, recently released by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), to track solar installations on college campuses. You'll find that solar power has grown by 450 percent over the past three years, and that higher education installations represented 5.4 percent of all solar power installed in the United States in 2010.

Fast Fact

“Online sales are not yet a significant percentage of purchases at every college store. For U.S. stores reporting e-commerce, online sales were an average of 8.3 percent of total store sales.”

—Higher Education Retail Market Facts & Figures, February 2011, National Association of College Stores

The Campus Solar Photovoltaic Installations Database, free to the public because of solar company sponsorship, allows searches for specific institutions by state, institution type, and other attributes. It also ranks institutions in various top-10 lists. For example, the database lists the top-10 states where higher education institutions have installed solar power—which include several states that don't have great solar resources. “For all the campuses that don't have solar installations, we are trying to show them what's possible,” says Niles Barnes, projects coordinator for AASHE. “I think this is going to be inspiring to people.”

For more information or to search the database, go to

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White House Roundtable Takes Aim at Affordability

“It's clear that we can no longer risk our future because we're indebted to the past,” wrote Thomas J. Snyder, president, Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, after participating in a meeting convened by President Obama in December. The president hosted White House senior officials, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and a dozen college presidents and higher education thought leaders from across the country to discuss rising college costs. During the meeting, the president conveyed the urgent need to pursue bold and innovative solutions to help more Americans attain a higher education at an affordable price.

In response, attendees shared how they have worked to promote innovation, reduce costs, and increase productivity during a time of reduced funding for higher education at the state level. In his opinion piece written after the roundtable, Snyder—the only community college president in attendance—said, “I was reminded once again that while institutions of every kind will need to be involved in reshaping higher education in America, community colleges must lead the way. Our unique position with regard to affordability—the most critical area that needs to be addressed—combined with our collective impact (given that we serve 44 percent of all U.S. undergraduates) means that we have a special responsibility to the nation.” Snyder went on to explain that Ivy Tech has embraced productivity, quality, and efficiency in its strategic plan, Accelerating Greatness.

“The traditional four-year residential experience is moving out of reach for many people,” he writes. “Over 31 million families are on free- and reduced-cost lunch programs, and they are often the same families borrowing as much as $50,000 for that traditional college experience.” A huge effort is involved in turning this around, notes Snyder. He recommends that community colleges become better at explaining their roles as a more affordable alternative; collaborate with employers to better understand their needs and respond with relevant programs, and “listen to our students, with an understanding that they are the best source of innovation and inspiration that we have.”

Finally, noted Snyder, community colleges need each other. “We must be unselfish in sharing what has worked, and equally as eager to adopt the ideas most likely to move us forward.”


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What's in Your Future?

Marshall Plan for higher education? New funding models? More dynamic learning? These were some of the issues that presenters and participants raised at the Future of Higher Education conference at the New School, New York City, in December. Some of the nation's top academic visionaries charted out a wide-ranging conversation about what tomorrow's university must look like to continue to serve students and remain internationally competitive. While there were no easy answers, participants came away with positive ideas and much food for thought.


“Education is the currency of the modern world. So, what exactly does higher education mean in a modern, global society, and how should it be organized for the masses as well as for the intellectually and financially elite?”

—Tom Brokaw, during a speech at the National Press Club, November 2011.

Current Conundrums

The conference discussion was dominated as much by a ticking off of the top challenges as specific solutions to higher education's untenable status quo.

Curbing rising costs. Noting, for example, that the increasing costs of higher education are unsustainable, Jamshed Bharucha, president, the Cooper Union, New York City, suggested that “addressing access and innovation can help solve the problem. The United States must remove socioeconomic barriers to education access; and we must capitalize on the talent of the campus community.”

Bharucha noted that to slow rising costs, higher education leaders “must look for opportunities to redesign curriculum, pedagogy, and institutional academic and administrative organizations.” To support and shape effective higher education for the future, there is a need, he said, “for a societal push equal to the level of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.”

Increasing involvement in K-12. Matthew Goldstein, chancellor, City University of New York, explained that states are challenged in their attempts to simultaneously accommodate high-achieving students and underprepared students. “It is expensive to serve those diverse populations,” he said. “Higher education administration must get involved with K-12 to address the need for college-ready students.”

To prepare students for a rapidly changing world, higher education must continually reinvent itself to remain relevant.

—New School President David E. Van Zandt

Balancing liberal arts and technical education. “The temptation is to abandon liberal arts studies during hard economic times,” said Bharucha. “But, that is when a liberal arts education is most necessary. It sparks the critical thinking, originality, and creativity that are America's strengths.” Neil Grabois, dean of the New School of Public Engagement, added that the liberal arts “show us how to live life; how to get started. But, there can be a real disconnect between what is needed to get a first job and what is needed for the rest of your life.”

Future Fixes

When it came to suggesting a path for a more sustainable and self-sufficient higher education system, presenters posed a number of strategies.

Globalization, not internationalization. “We might redefine public purpose in global terms—poverty, health, conflict, and sustainability,” explained James Duderstadt, professor of science and engineering and co-chair of the University of Michigan's program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy. “Universities would become institutions in the world and of the world.”

Lifelong learning. “The United States should provide universal access to ongoing learning,” said Duderstadt. “We have an ongoing need to refresh our knowledge and skills throughout life.”

The university in 25 to 30 years. Jonathan Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and provost and dean of faculties emeritus at Columbia University, sketched out several strategic goals, including:

  • Invest in our universities, not as discretionary parts of the federal budget, but in mandatory spending. In particular, noted Cole, “we must sustain state-driven research university education; it's too hard to rebuild once it is destroyed.”
  • Create scholarly competitive leagues and allow students to collaborate across institutions.
  • Rethink the physical nature of universities—what a campus should look like.

To sum things up, Bharucha said: “We need organizational innovation today. Our most difficult challenge is changing as fast as we need to change.”

SUBMITTED BY Randy Roberson and Maryann Terrana, directors of constituent programs, NACUBO

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Quick Clicks

Duplex Printing, Exponential Savings

Arizona State University (ASU) saved more than just paper when university leaders directed staff to reset their printing jobs to duplex mode. The environmental savings, calculated by an assessment of ASU's printers conducted by Canon, estimated that the university saved 75 trees and 2.4 million liters of water, reducing emissions by more than 74 metric tons.

Distance Education Update

Online enrollment now accounts for 31.3 percent of total enrollment, according to the report “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011.” Based on the annual Babson Survey Research Group's study of more than 2,500 colleges and universities, the report notes that while the rate has slowed in the past year, growth in online enrollment continues to increase more rapidly than enrollment in higher education overall. In fall 2010, 6.1 million students enrolled in at least one online course, up 10.1 percent from fall 2010.

Workplace Trends and Issues

Take a look at the Knowledge Center at the National Association of Colleges and Employers for a scan of current and future workplace issues. Recent postings include “Outlook: The Candidate Skills/Qualities Employers Want”; and “Trend: Unemployment Rate for New College Graduates Improving.”

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