Editor's note: This piece is an op-ed contributed by Daniel Julius, senior vice president and provost of New Jersey City University.
Greater fiscal stability for the nation’s colleges and universities can be achieved right inside our classrooms. That’s the important finding of a new paper released this month by the American Council on Education (ACE). The report, Instructional Quality, Student Outcomes, and Institutional Finances, demonstrates that efforts to improve instructional quality lead to stronger rates of student retention and graduation, generating tuition revenue that outweighs the cost of the investment.
This report could not be better timed. The erosion of financial support for public higher education institutions over the past decade is starting to look permanent. For example, here in New Jersey the governor’s executive budget keeps our operational funds flat, at levels 23% below what they were in 2008.
Meanwhile costs have gone up, and there’s only so much we can save through operating efficiencies. Nor can we raise tuition without the risk of putting college out of reach for the very students who will most benefit. As it stands, 50% of New Jersey residents hold a postsecondary credential but by 2020, 68% of jobs in our state will require at least that level of education. For the sake of our students and state, closing this degree gap is an economic imperative.
On this count, we must do better. Nationally, three out of ten freshmen don’t return for their sophomore year. At our community colleges, 70% of students don’t complete their degree in three years; at our baccalaureate institutions, 50% don’t complete in six. Within a global knowledge economy, these failure rates represent a real and present threat to our country’s prosperity.
For all of these reasons, ACE’s paper is a breath of fresh air. Research shows that when college students receive quality instruction their rates of course completion and program retention go up, achievement gaps narrow, and graduation numbers improve. ACE’s report takes the benefits of good teaching one step further: Investments in faculty development and other pedagogical training efforts can generate positive financial returns, given the cost savings from stronger student retention and the increased tuition revenue when more graduate. Simply, fulfilling our educational mission is good financial stewardship.
At New Jersey City University (NJCU), we’ve made instructional excellence a top priority. Over the last year, we’ve joined with colleges and universities nationwide to train and credential our faculty in effective instruction through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). As an institution we’ve decided that the only thing more expensive than supporting our faculty and preparing them to teach, with the approaches that help student succeed, is not doing so.