MTV partners with College Board Advocacy and Policy Council

MTV is partnering with the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center to fund a grant for an individual who proposes an innovative digital tool that will simplify the financial aid process.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

MTV and quality education are probably not two phrases one would think to find in the same sentence.

But that’s exactly the partnership a well-respected higher education institution is forming with the controversial entertainment station in efforts to combat the complexities of providing higher education.

MTV and the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center will grant $10,000 to one individual who makes the proposal for an innovative digital tool to help simplify the financial aid process. The program, Get Schooled, is an undertaking of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to boost college degree completion and address one of the greatest roadblocks to it — cost, a theme that resonates with Biola students and students everywhere.

U.S. no longer world’s educational leader

“What MTV and Viacom is doing is extraordinarily helpful to us,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, in a press conference call last week.

America’s education has fallen behind other countries, something the White House is trying to reverse. In July 2009, Obama announced his goal to reclaim the U.S.’ title as the world’s educational leader. The U.S. now lags behind eight other nations in college completion rates, a trend Obama is seeking to change by 2020. Obama has dubbed this move the American Graduation Initiative.

“We have to again lead the word,” Duncan urged.

National leaders recognize that the greatest barrier to college education continues to be the issue of affordability, which colleges across the nation — including Biola — have addressed with increasing fervency over the past few years.

Affordability affects college education

As of 2009, about a quarter of full-time students were enrolled in colleges with published prices of $21,000 per year or higher, according to the College Board. With a tuition of $28,852, Biola is undoubtedly in the priciest quartile. Though it isn’t the only factor, cost is one of the greatest barriers to obtaining a Biola degree, as Carrie Stockton, director of academic advising and student retention, confirmed.

“We kind of talk about the fact how there’s a tipping point for students,” Stockton said. “… There are students [for whom] affordability is a huge reason why they leave our institution even though they love it and they feel like it’s the school for them.”

President Corey’s emphasis on affordability

President Barry Corey’s administration has placed a spotlight on affordability. Corey made addressing the issue one of the 12 aspirations in the university plan and initiated an affordability task force to actualize that aspiration.

Corey’s vision reflects a national one. President Barack Obama’s administration, in efforts to create a youth-friendly, forward-thinking culture, has taken unusual educational measures by increasing Pell Grants and simplifying the FAFSA form, among other things.

U.S. affected by low graduation rates

The fears of the nation’s leaders regarding failures of education in the U.S. are well founded. A recent study by the College Board places the U.S. in 12th place in the world for the percentage of citizens ages 25-34 with an associate degree or higher. Just 40.4 percent of U.S. citizens in that age bracket have an associate degree or higher, compared with 55.8 percent of Canadians, who ranked first in the world.

But much of the overall college predicament lies in low graduation rates. Only 57 percent of students who set out to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution graduate in six years or less, according to a 2010 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Graduation rates at not-for-profit private institutions, of which Biola is a member, have slightly higher graduation rates at 64 percent, compared with 55 percent for public institutions. Only 31 percent of U.S. students graduate within four years.

Graduation rates on the rise at private universities

At Biola, the most recently available graduation rate information shows that 69.4 percent of first-time freshmen who arrive with the intention of obtaining a bachelor’s degree do so within four years, placing the university’s students well above the national average and slightly above the average for students attending non-profit, private institutions. Graduation rates at Biola have risen steadily from 56.4 percent in the 1988-1990 time bracket to 69.4 percent in the 200-2003 time bracket.

Peer schools rank similarly. In 2008, Point Loma Nazarene University’s four-year graduation rate was 68 percent, while Westmont College betters Biola with a 73 percent four-year rate, according to their school websites.

Stockton said students are generally more satisfied with their college education than at secular schools, which is likely part of the reason why they stay.

“At a four year private, they [students] may not have as much of that emotional connection,” she said, referring more specifically to retention rates.

College degrees more important now than ever

But while college attendance and completion rates are arguably abysmal, more Americans obtain college degrees now than ever. In 1950, just more than 5 percent of the population 25 years and older had a bachelor’s degree. By 2000, that number had climbed to just around 27 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Experts anticipate that number to be even higher by the time the 2010 census is released.

But that rate isn’t outpacing the need for college degrees given today’s economic climate. It is no secret that college graduates generally earn more than those who don’t graduate from college. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for those without a college degree to land a job at all. Recent studies by Georgetown University indicate that the dilapidated economy is accelerating the need for post secondary degrees for employment. By 2018, the study projected, 62 percent of jobs in the U.S. will entail some college education, compared with 1973 when just 28 percent of jobs entailed college education.

“The college degree is so much more important today than ever,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, in last week’s conference call.

Stockton reaffirmed that Biola leaders desire to help students achieve, realizing that cost is key. However, affordability will always be a barrier at some level, she said.
“There’s always going to be a gap between what we want to do and what we can actually do.”

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