Leveraging PEP and EMI Data to Improve Institutional Value and Student ROI:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 173 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Michael Itzkowitz

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 173 Leveraging PEP and EMI Data to Improve Institutional Value and Student ROI
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

19 September · Episode 173

Leveraging PEP and EMI Data to Improve Institutional Value and Student ROI

37 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

What does your institution need to improve to ensure you are providing the best ROI for students and in turn, financial stability for your institution?


One of the biggest challenges students face is determining their return on investment for obtaining a college degree. Now, there is a new analysis based on the Federal government’s College Scorecard that ranks 4,000 higher education institutions, providing prospective students with a clear and detailed view of their earning potential with specific majors, from which colleges and universities, and how quickly graduates pay off their loans. Furthermore, the data identifies the top 1,320 U.S. schools serving low-income students, which challenges and debunks U.S. News & World Report findings.


In this podcast, Dr. Drumm McNaughton speaks with the person who generated and crunched these numbers, Michael Itzkowitz, president of the HEA Group and former director of the College Scorecard under President Obama. Michael discusses the specific type of school that leaves most students earning even less than the typical high school graduate and how university leaders can leverage this information, particularly for programs that aren’t effectively serving students and, in turn, not serving the institution. They also talk about the careers with the best ROI and how those with liberal arts degrees fare by comparison.



Podcast Highlights



  • Michael draws on his background as the former director of the College Scorecard program during his time in the Obama Administration to create user-friendly reports, utilizing the dataset’s 2,000 variables. His analyses cover topics like net cost, expenses for students from different income levels, and earnings for students with specific majors and school affiliations. These reports are made publicly available.


  • Since leaving the Department of Education, Michael has found that college is still worth the investment, providing graduates with more opportunities, on average, than non-college grads. However, it’s important to note certain institutions can lead to no economic return.


  • To measure ROI for higher education graduates, Michael developed the Price-to-Earnings Premium (PEP) for Third Way. This metric looks at the student’s cost for a specific degree and their earnings two years post-graduation compared to the incomes of those with only a high school diploma. If a student pays $60,000 after four years in college and makes $10,000 more per year than someone who never went to college, the Earnings Premium is that the student can use that $10,000 to recoup those $60,000 costs after about six years.


  • Michael used the Price-to-Earnings Premium to evaluate approximately 4,000 institutions across the United States and found that almost two-thirds of students would recoup their costs within ten years or less. However, 442 colleges (14%) left most students earning below that of high school graduates. Making this data available to students and families is vital to better safeguard them and taxpayers who help finance educational endeavors.


  • Effective shorter-term programs from certificate-granting institutions can expedite the path to socioeconomic mobility. However, roughly half of the evaluated programs from smaller for-profit schools leave the majority of students earning less than the typical high school graduate. At 30% of these institutions, students recoup their educational costs within five years or less.


  • Fields such as nursing and STEM offer the most favorable return on investment. While liberal arts majors do yield a return, the trajectory differs. It typically takes five years for liberal arts graduates to hit their stride in terms of earning potential and salary.


  • In addition to the PEP, Michael developed the Economic Mobility Index (EMI), with and for thirdway.org, to examine the top schools serving low-income students across the U.S. to gauge how they are doing. This Index combines the top-performing schools like Harvard, which helps the select few, and those that serve Pell Grant students. The top 10 schools in the Economic Mobility Index are Hispanic-serving institutions that have received seals of excellence from Excelencia in Education for years. Many of the schools on the list aren’t featured in the US News & World Report. Seven HBCUs are in the top 100 in terms of economic mobility.


  • Without considering the number of Pell Grant students served, the best ROI for low-income students are schools such as Duke, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. However, these schools had low Pell Grant numbers. When Pell Grant students were incorporated into the data, Harvard, which originally ranked 4th, fell to 847 out of 1,320. The University of Chicago, which ranked 8th, fell to 860.


  • The data needs to be used to hold schools accountable for student outcomes instead of just providing transparency for transparency’s sake. For instance, there are multiple programs perpetuating socioeconomic inequality that Federal Funding shouldn’t support.


  • College and university administrators can leverage this information to promote their successful programs and rectify any deficiencies. Underperforming programs may stem from various factors, such as departmental processes, faculty quality, curriculum inadequacies in imparting essential workforce skills, inactive career resource centers in connecting graduates with employers, or institutions awarding credentials for careers that lack regional opportunities.



About Our Podcast Guest


With 10 years of experience in federal education policy, Michael Itzkowitz has held senior roles inside and outside of government. His work and expertise are often cited by national news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and NBC. 


Prior to beginning the HEA Group, Michael worked as a Presidential Appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Education, assuming a number of roles in K-12 and higher education. Most notably, he was the Director of the Administration’s College Scorecard, an initiative focused on higher education transparency and accountability. The Scorecard, announced by the President in February 2013, is the largest federal government release of higher education data ever. 


Michael also served as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of Postsecondary Education, where he helped oversee the policy and administrative functions of the office, which includes over 180 employees across three divisions that disburse approximately $2.5 billion in grants and establish policy for nearly $120 billion in Federal student aid every year. There, he led the office’s Organizational Performance team and directed policy initiatives on accreditation, minority-serving institutions, financial aid award letters, and data transparency.


About the Host


Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategic planning, and mergers. 




Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 173 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Michael Itzkowitz

Leveraging PEP and EMI Data to Improve Institutional Value and Student ROI


Welcome to Changing Higher Ed, a podcast dedicated to helping higher education leaders improve their institutions, with your host, Dr. Drumm McNaughton, CEO of the Change Leader, a consultancy that helps higher ed leaders holistically transform their institutions. Learn more at changinghighered.com. And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.


Drumm McNaughton  00:31

Thank you, David. Our guest today is Michael Itzkowitz, president of the HEA Group, a higher ed consulting and research group that focuses on helping colleges be more affordable. Michael has held multiple positions at the Department of Education, dealing with policy for K-12 and higher education that’s included accreditation, minority-serving institutions, financial aid, award letters, and data transparency.


Most notably, he was the director of the administration’s College Scorecard, an initiative that focuses on higher education transparency and accountability. The scorecard, announced by President Obama in February 2013, is the largest release of higher education data ever by the federal government. Michael’s tenure at the department includes having served as deputy chief of staff in the Office of Post-Secondary Education, and he joins us today to talk about the importance of data and ROI for college presidents. Michael, welcome to the show.


Michael Itzkowitz  01:33

Thanks for having me, Drumm.


Drumm McNaughton  01:35

My pleasure. I’m looking forward to our conversation. You’ve had quite a career in higher ed, including with your own consulting group, the HEA Group, which, I’ve got to ask, how did you come up with that name? I’m thinking, “Higher education something,” but I don’t know for sure.


Michael Itzkowitz  01:55

I think you’re on to something.


Drumm McNaughton  01:58

Other than the HEA Group, you’ve held many positions with the Department as well. For our listeners, please give us a little background on how you got here and about your love of data because you’re an expert in that.


Michael Itzkowitz  02:10

How do you come to love data? That is a wonderful question. Well, I grew up in South Florida in Broward County that’s just a little bit north of Miami. I lived in the same house my entire life. Until I went to college, I grew up in a pretty mixed neighborhood with different types of friends from different types of places, and I went to a very low-performing high school.


When I went to college, I took summer classes because I wasn’t good enough to get into the fall semester. I took some of the hardest “classes” known as the Age of Dinosaurs and Anthropology and ended up getting a C and B- in both classes. That’s when I knew that I hadn’t really learned how to learn. I was far behind a lot of my college classmates. It’s really the first time I felt like I had to learn how to learn and put in significant effort to be able to succeed.


I finally figured out how to do that. Then I narrowed down my major after choosing a couple, going between psychology because my brother studied it and eventually going to business and then sociology. I later started a PhD sociology program at the University of Florida. I then had this weird opportunity where a former senator and governor named Senator Bob Graham opened up a policy center, and he was very interested in civic education and civic engagement. So I ended up changing my thesis from race, ethnicity, and education to how do we encourage more students to become civically engaged and civically knowledgeable beginning in the K-12 classroom?


Right as I was studying this, I happened to read a book by some guy who was running for president with a funny name. His last name was Obama, and I became very encouraged to get involved. So I left my PhD program, joined the campaign, and eventually ended up in the Department of Education working as a confidential assistant, which is a fancy word for a term scheduler for someone very important. I worked my way up and after six years, everyone else had left except me. And by that fall, I had the most institutional knowledge and came to run this program called the College Scorecard, which is all the higher education data in the United States. Then I slowly started analyzing it before I left in 2016, and I’ve been analyzing data ever since.


Drumm McNaughton  04:25

College Scorecard. That rings tremor in so many people’s lexicon and minds as far as what it does. I like it. I think it’s a fabulous tool. But tell us about how you came to this.


Michael Itzkowitz  04:43

I’m tremoring from excitement, so I don’t know who you’re talking to, but we must be talking to some different folks. Now I totally understand what you’re saying. The College Scorecard itself was announced in the 2013 State of the Union by President Obama, and it was presented as a tool that students and families can use to ensure they’re getting the best bang for their educational buck. And as crazy as it seems, we had all this information on college outcomes and inputs where students come from, but it really wasn’t in an easy-to-understand, centralized place. That was the thought behind it.


When we formally launched it again in 2015, we started to incorporate more and more data. The most exciting piece of data was earnings data or actual employment data for students, and they’ve continued to build on that ever since. Right now, there are about 6,000 institutions in higher education. Including the scorecard data set, there’s about 2,000 variables for each individual institution itself. So there’s a consumer site where anyone can find outcomes. You can be someone who’s interested in where to go or a researcher. There’s all this information in the back where you can really dig in and get dirty. In terms of the tremors that it’s bringing people, it might be because we have more data on college outcomes than ever before, and we’re forced to look at those more than we ever have.


Drumm McNaughton  06:09

Well, I love data-driven decision-making. It’s so important. You can’t only use data. You have to use good judgment with it as well, but it takes a lot of the guesswork out on who’s doing what and how well.


Michael Itzkowitz  06:25

Absolutely. One of the key questions we’re trying to answer through the College Scorecard is, if you’re a student or a family looking at a college, are you likely to graduate, get a decent paying job, and be able to pay your loans, and get on with your life? It essentially answers those questions.


Then you can dig so much deeper, like if you’re this type of student or if you go to a two-year or a four-year institution, what kind of college majors are offered there? What kind of outcomes or earnings are graduates getting after majoring in a specific field of study? From a student perspective, it provides that, and we’ve seen a lot of college presidents now coming to accept that the Scorecard exists and are thinking about creative ways that they can use it.


Drumm McNaughton  07:13

I think that’s important, but when you first introduced it, people wanted to run for the hills.


Michael Itzkowitz  07:19

Yeah. We did receive some hesitation in terms of what folks were thinking when we said that we were going to make all this data available. The other day, you and I talked about how the field and college presidents went through the Five Stages of Grief. It began with denial, thinking where does this data even come from? It’s not even real. Then there was anger. They thought, “Why are they putting this out there? This must be flawed. There must be something wrong with the data.” Then it moved on to bargaining. They thought, “Well, if you’re going to use this graduation rate, why don’t we use this one instead? Maybe it’ll make us look a little bit better. It’s more reflective of our student body.” Then it slowly moved into depression. Now I believe where we’re at is acceptance. Folks understand the data is out there, that it’s not going anywhere, and that we’re going to continue building upon it.


Beyond acceptance, we’re starting to see folks think, “Okay, am I going to be one of the leaders who uses this data to address opportunity and work on continuous improvement? Or am I going to wait a couple of years and potentially fall behind by still intentionally not recognizing that it’s there in the first place?”


Drumm McNaughton  08:43

Well, I now understand how you were able to get to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief,” having been a psychology major for a while at Florida. So thank you for filling in that blank for me. Now, you have left the Department, but you have continued your love affair with data at the HEA Group?


Michael Itzkowitz  09:08

That’s right. To answer your earlier question, the “HEA” in HEA Group is a play on the main higher education law known as the Higher Education Act. So it officially stands for the Higher Education Advisory Group. I’ve had it for a while but we formally launched just a few months ago in March. Part of what we’ve done besides working with interesting clients across the board and doing good work on behalf of low and moderate income students is create a data warehouse where I’m looking through all this data and can find something interesting.


As I mentioned, there are 2,000 variables in this data set. Some would say it’s unwieldy. Some would say it’s unmanageable. Some would say, “This is super exciting. I can’t wait to dig through the other 1,999 of them.” Now I might be one of the wierdos who falls into that last cohort, but I take all this data, understanding that most people are not like me, and I clean it up to make it presentable and write reports on it.


I look at net cost, how much students pay out of pocket, and if you’re a lower or higher income students. I look at over 36,000 college majors and ask, “How much are students earning? Are they making below $25,000? In between $20,000 and $30,000? Between $30,000 and $40,000? Above 40,000?” I look at the average of majors and see how much graduates are making based on them, also depending on the type of institution they attended, and I write these reports. One of the most exciting things is, I put all my data out into the public and make it readily available for anyone in a very easily understandable format. So here’s my small plug. If you want to go to HCAGroup.com, it’s available to you. You can use it. I’m hoping that folks use it beyond myself because I see that being more transformative, rather than me keeping it on my hard drive and letting it collect dust overnight.


Drumm McNaughton  11:10

I so much appreciate what you’re doing for many universities. You’ve taken the College Scorecard and put it on steroids. We talked a little bit about ROI for a college degree. That’s big in the news right now. So tell us, if you would, a little bit about why ROI is important. For those people who aren’t data wonks, how you measure it, and how can people use it to make better decisions?


Michael Itzkowitz  11:45

One of the reasons why it’s most important is the “I” part, the “investment” part, that folks are focusing on nowadays. College used to be pretty affordable. I lived in Washington, DC for a while, so I’d hear former or current senators saying how college used to cost $50 a college credit. And I would say, “Well, thanks, Elizabeth Warren, it definitely does not cost that much anymore. It’s a lot more expensive.”


It’s about $15,000 a year on average for a four-year degree. If you do the math, finishing a degree in four years is $60,000 on average. Some are way more expensive than that. So we’ve seen prices go up exponentially, which has caused folks to think, “Okay, what am I getting for this investment?” The pandemic also piled onto that. Over the last few years, we saw folks who were separated from actual in-person classes and forced to learn from their own house, or, anecdotally, in their parents’ basement. They’re taking college classes, but they’re paying the same tuition from a basement, and they’re wondering, “Am I getting the bang for my buck?” So you’ve seen those things sort of pop up.


While I was at the Department, I was running all this data. When I got out, I said, “I want to start analyzing it.” So I did, and I started seeing some things that weren’t as promising as I had hoped. On the promising side, I saw that college is still worth it. If you go to college, you’re going to have more life chances than someone who doesn’t on average, across the board. When you disaggregate the data and look at the different types of institutions, you can see that payoff really quick. However, there are others that lead to no economic return whatsoever.


Drumm McNaughton  13:38

That’s not good. That’s not good at all.


Michael Itzkowitz  13:42

No, it’s not good. I started to ask the question, “Are these schools I would want to send my own children to?” And, unfortunately, too often the answer was, “No.” I’ll just give you an example. I started to think about different ways I could measure return on investment. I believe it was 2019 when I created something called the Price to Earnings Premium. It essentially takes two variables. One is cost and asks “How much am I paying to earn a specific degree?” The other is earnings and asks “How much am I earning? What’s my premium?” The way I define that is, am I earning more than someone who graduated high school but has no college experience? It’s essentially the counterfactual. If you didn’t go to college at all, how much am I earning and is going to college worth it?


It measures the time it takes students to recoup their educational costs. Let’s say, hypothetically, I wanted to go to the University of Georgia and saw that it costs $15,000 a year out of pocket. I made the assumption that it would take students four years on average to graduate from the University of Georgia. We know it takes a little bit longer. Through National Student Clearinghouse, it takes 5.1 years on average to graduate from four-year institutions. But I give colleges the benefit of the doubt. I said it’s going to take four years. So if the cost is $15,000 a year, it’s going to cost approximately $60,000 after four years out of pocket. Now, that’s a pretty hefty sum. But how long does it take students to recoup those costs?


If I was a student in Georgia who went there but was making $10,000 more a year than someone who never went to college, that’s my earnings premium. So I’m able to use that $10,000 to recoup those $60,000 in costs after about six years of attending the institution. So I did that for about 4,000 institutions across the United States and saw some really promising numbers. Almost two thirds of institutions allow their students keep their costs within 10 years or less. As I mentioned, overall, college is still very much worth it, and that’s promising.


But at the other end of my sample, I saw that there were 442 colleges, so about 14% of the colleges I was looking at, that left the majority of students earning even less than the typical high school graduate. That number really shook me. Number one, for transparency purposes, we need to make this information available to students and families. It also made me think about what the federal policy role was on this. How can we better safeguard students and protect their well beings, as well as taxpayers who help finance our educational endeavors every single year?


Drumm McNaughton  16:16

That 14% number is shocking. It really is. Did you see any particular trends on the types of colleges that graduates were not getting a good return?


Michael Itzkowitz  16:29

I did. What I’ll say is there are good colleges across the board from every sector and there are some not-so-good colleges in every sector. However, there were some disproportionate numbers that stood out. So public institutions are seen as the most affordable and provide a very quick return on investment.


On the other end of the spectrum, what I saw was that, oftentimes, shorter-term programs from certificate-granting institutions that work well provide one of the quickest paths to socioeconomic mobility. You’re only in school for a year or maybe 18 months. You get your certificate. You gain your skills. You enter the workforce. And you start earning money immediately. So there are not a lot of opportunity costs that you’re missing out on. But what I also saw was about half of those programs left the majority of students earning even less than the typical high school graduate, and it happened to be located specifically within the for-profit sector. So there were a lot of short-term, for-profit certificate programs from smaller schools that left the majority of students earning little, even after they’d spent so much time and money.


Drumm McNaughton  17:39

Is this a good basis for gainful employment?


Michael Itzkowitz  17:43

It definitely gives some weight to question of if the Department is limited in its ability to focus on a specific type of institution. Right now, it’s limited within statute. It’s only allowed to focus on all for-profit programs, but also certificate-granting programs, and public and private nonprofit institutions. So, if you were to think about the most risky programs, it is all of those programs that fall into this bucket. So until there’s some congressional action to where we can think about more comprehensive accountability for all higher education institutions and all college programs, I think it’s a good start.


Drumm McNaughton  18:20

I can’t say that I am surprised, but I am surprised that it was weighted so heavily in the for-profit sector. I have a number of friends who work in that sector. There are a number of good schools out there who are doing good things. But I’ve got to think that there are some good not-for-profit private schools that are running into the same issue as well because of the cost of tuition.


Michael Itzkowitz  18:46

There are, and a lot of times we’ll see that those students are earning more, but they’re also paying more. So they take longer to pay off. I also looked at college programs across the United States. So I wasn’t just limiting this to institutions.


To your point, I thought there are certain institutions that may be doing really well or maybe really poorly, and that what I was seeing might just be a bad apple. There can also be a certain program that weighs the whole institution down. So I’m also looking at graduates across all institutions. These are students who have done everything right. They paid their tuition. They’ve received their certificate or degree. They’ve entered the workforce. We’re able to measure their earnings many years after graduation. But for my study, I limited it to two years. What I saw is that at certificate-granting institutions, 42% of them showed no economic ROI whatsoever. This means that even two years after graduating, the majority of students were earning less than a typical high school graduate.


So there are things we do know. We can make action-driven decisions based on numbers, but it doesn’t mean that we need to immediately stop offering an education and a sector. To your point, you mentioned the for-profit institutions. At 30% of them, students are recouping their educational costs within five years or less. So it’s concentrated in certain areas. However, we do notice some good apples and some bad apples across the board.


Drumm McNaughton  20:18

I’m curious. If there were three programs you would say students definitely needed to pursue for the highest ROI if they have an aptitude for them, of course, what would they be?


Michael Itzkowitz  20:31

Specific types of programs. I would say everyone should become a nurse. Send your child to nursing school. Get over your blood phobias immediately. It’s really interesting. If you get a certificate, Associate’s, or a Bachelor’s in nursing, they’re consistently some of the best ROI programs. Well, we’ve also heard that there’s a huge demand for nurses across the United States right now. So that’s going to be a strong profession moving forward.


Unsurprisingly, the STEM fields, like computer science, have been skyrocketing, not only in terms of outcomes, but also in terms of employment. To raise another question, is this coming at a detriment of liberal arts programs? And the answer is, I’m not sure.


When I publish studies like this, Drumm, some folks will say, “Michael, why do you hate the liberal arts? Why do you hate theater programs so much? What’s your beef? Are you not a cultured person who appreciates drama, theater, and the liberal arts?” I’m a sociology major. I have to remind them of that.


Some of this is a little bit counterintuitive. If you went to a four-year school and majored in the liberal arts, you’re still going to have an ROI. It might take a little bit longer than if you’re a STEM major. But we do notice that four-year liberal arts degrees show an ROI. What we know about liberal arts degrees is that after about five years, students seem to get into their stride in terms of earning potential and salary. So our earnings are still short-term right now. That’s what we’re limited to. That’s something else to keep in mind. But I think it’s worth it for everyone to take a look at these numbers and to make sure they’ll be able to afford it, feel comfortable with whatever major they decide on, and realize that different majors may have different outcomes at different institutions.


Drumm McNaughton  22:32

Which makes perfect sense to me. Typically, someone who is solely focused on STEM doesn’t have what we used to call the “bulk courses” or the liberal arts courses. If you don’t have a balanced education, how do you learn how to work with people if you’re just so focused on a computer screen?


Michael Itzkowitz  22:56

There’s also this other thing of just learning how to interpret stuff. Geez! I’m not going to say I’m good at it at all. But if I just studied data science, I really wouldn’t understand what to do with the data. I would know how to run the numbers, crunch them, have all the formulas, and how to manipulate it most effectively and way more than I do right now. But I would literally have no idea what to do with it or put them together in a way that would hopefully answer some of the questions that folks have regarding if schools pay off or not or where our taxpayer dollars are going in higher education, or which college majors pay the most? So to your point, there are tangible and intangible benefits that come out of college that just aren’t measured economically. These numbers show if students do get an economic return or not, and I don’t believe they’re exclusive of each other. You can get a good economic return and also have a well-rounded education.


Drumm McNaughton  23:56

Well, I certainly hope so. It’s the kids nowadays who are going through college and getting their jobs that are going to take care of me and maybe even you in our old age. So let’s hope they can figure out what to do with the data and use it properly.


Michael Itzkowitz  24:12

I remind my two children every day that they will be taking care of me when I’m older. So let’s hope that they will.


Drumm McNaughton  24:21

Absolutely. You mentioned something a little bit earlier about economic mobility and how important that is becoming. Tell us a little more about that.


Michael Itzkowitz  24:31

Because I decided to run for lower-income students, I was interested in answering the question about how much lower-income students paid and earned since I knew these numbers were different so I could come up with my own Price Earnings Premium for which institutions are serving low-income students the best across the U.S. So I put in my formula, ran this code, pressed “enter” on my keyboard, and what popped up in terms of the best ROI for low-income students happened to be schools like Duke, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago.


I said, “Congratulations, Michael. You just created the US News & World Report rankings lists. You can send out your resume and be hired immediately. Job well done. Time to go home.” So I started thinking about this, and I looked at the numbers. I saw this other number next to them, and it was the number of Pell Grant students and the number of low and moderate income students that attended each of those schools. I noticed that they were all below 20%.


It really got me thinking in terms of what the point of higher education was to begin with. Is it really to reward the few and the fortunate well-resourced institutions across the United States? Or is it to really recognize those that are lifting this generation up and leaving them better off than the previous generation? If it’s the latter, how do we measure that? So I took the schools that were on the top like Harvard and Yale that still scored within the 99th percentile in ROI. If you’re a low-income student and you’re one of the few dozen to get into these schools and you do well, you’re receiving amazing ROI. However, you probably did well wherever you went. You were likely very academically gifted.


But then I looked at this number next to it and asked, “What if I put these two numbers together?” So we’re still recognizing those top-performing schools, but also the percentage of Pell Grant students. So I mashed them together and created something called the Economic Mobility Index. When I took these two numbers into account, the ROI for low-income students and the proportion of low- and moderate-income students at schools like Harvard that ranked number four in terms of the ROI they provide to low and moderate income students, they dropped to number 847 out of 1320. Schools like University of Chicago that were ranked number eight in terms of ROI for low-income students who could get in there dropped to number 860 out of 1320 schools. They just weren’t serving any of these students to begin with.


Then there’s the question of who rose to the top. It happened to be all Hispanic-serving institutions located in New York, California, and Texas that jumped to the top 10. I brought this information to the head of an association called Excelencia in Education. They give a seal of excellence to mostly Hispanic-serving institutions. I showed him the info and I said, “Look at this information. It’s all HSIs at the top of this list.” And they looked at me and said, “Well, duh, Michael. We’ve known that forever. We provide them with a seal of excellence. But now we have the data to back it up.”


There were also some other interesting findings, such as schools that are normally nowhere to be found on popular news rankings lists like the US News & World Report. There were seven HBCUs in the top 100 in terms of economic mobility. So these are schools that have been delivering on the promise of higher education for years. They not only enroll a high proportion of low- and moderate-income students, but they also serve them extremely well.


Drumm McNaughton  28:27

Did you look at community colleges with this information?


Michael Itzkowitz  28:31

That’s the next question I’m usually asked. We haven’t yet but it’s on my list of things to do when I’m able to get around to it. However, they often serve a higher proportion of low- and moderate-income students. So it’s a growing field that needs to be examined. I’m interested in hopefully being able to produce that study in the near future.


Drumm McNaughton  28:51

So what are the next steps we need to take? Do we need more transparency? More accountability? What’s needed?


Michael Itzkowitz  28:59

Both. It’s great that this information is getting out there. But transparency within and by itself is not going to be an equal substitute for accountability. It’s just not. This is me saying this as the former director of the College Scorecard. There’s no one who should be saying “Transparency is the bee’s knees” more than myself. But we really need to couple this with strong accountability now that we have this data. We’re able to see that there are some programs that are just not producing economic mobility and that are, at worse, perpetuating socio-economic inequality. We shouldn’t be supporting these schools with federal funding and taxpayer dollars if they’re actually leaving students worse off. There’s not a lot of them, but we should be holding schools accountable for the outcomes of their students. So I really do think that’s number one.


Number two, we need to get this into the hands of our students so they can make the most informed decision when choosing a college.


Number three is extremely important for college administrators. As I mentioned, Drumm, we have all this information on program level data. If I’m a community college president and have 50 college programs, I could see the economic outcomes for all 50 of my programs. I could potentially see that 35 of them are serving students really well to where they’re able to recoup their educational costs within five years or less, 10 are on the fringe where it takes between five and 20 years, and then maybe five that just aren’t serving students as well as we would like them to and they’re actually earning less than typical high school graduates.


This would put this information at the fingertips of college presidents to where they can, at the minimum, dig deeper and start asking questions, like, is it the department itself or the professors within the department? Is it the curriculum that we’re providing them with? Are we not giving them the skills that are necessary to succeed within the workforce nowadays? Is our career resource center not actively matching graduates up with employers that have open jobs? Or are we actually offering credentials for careers that aren’t available within the geographic region? The answer is usually the latter, but not always. I’ve seen a lot of college presidents talk about using this data creatively and thinking about continuous improvement efforts. This is a really important part, as we think about ways to improve higher education as a whole.


Drumm McNaughton  31:36

There are also the Federal and state aspects to it, which we’ve gotten into a little bit. But from a college president perspective, what are the most critical things that they should be looking at to improve their outcomes?


Michael Itzkowitz  31:56

Number one is to look at the employment outcomes and where your students are falling in terms of programs across the board. However, it’s critical to be forward looking, rather than backward looking. We’re looking at graduates four years after graduating. It’s basically a reflection of your programs. So it’s critically important that we not only look at this actionable data, but to also think about our program offerings, enrollment trends, and to be able to match those credentials with the open and growing jobs within your geographic region that will be opening up over the next five to 10 years. It’s critical that we think about not preparing the workforce of the past, but preparing the workforce of the future.


Drumm McNaughton  32:54

Yeah. The Bureau of Labor Statistics should have what the projected jobs are going to be for the next 10 years.


Michael Itzkowitz  33:05

Exactly. There’s even nuanced data that states have available. They’re all going to differ given the geographic region. So it’s important that we not just look at that national number, but tailor it to the communities that we’re serving students in.


Drumm McNaughton  33:29

Does your data take physical mobility into account i.e. moving?


Michael Itzkowitz  33:38

So with national data, you get something kind of cool. You’re able to track students nationally. I’m able to see the income of students regardless of where they went. I may not know if they left the state of Florida, but I’m able to at least understand how much they’re earning after they leave a specific higher education institution. That’s what’s unique about federal data, which matches student’s federal financial aid recipients to their tax returns. Now, I don’t have the information on individual students. It’s privacy protected, but we do see an aggregate number of entire cohorts of students and how much the typical students are making.


That’s one limitation that state level data systems have. It’s more difficult for me to track my students’ employment outcomes if they were to move out of state, as I’m no longer receiving any sort of tax record from them.


Drumm McNaughton  34:35

I understand. This has been fabulous. I am a frustrated data wonk myself, but I know that’s not where I need to be. So in closing, what are three takeaways for presidents and boards?


Michael Itzkowitz  34:50

Number one is to come to recognize that the data is out there and it’s not leaving. This is going to keep coming out. Number two is realizing that the data needs to be at the end of every decision. That doesn’t mean it can’t be incorporated at the start. It’s a piece of data that helps you make better decisions. Number three is to be a leader. If you don’t use it, you’re going to be left behind. So it’s time for more leaders to embrace it and to not be scared of it. We’re all working to better the lives of students. I met so many folks in higher education who have been successful at doing just that. I’m just excited about the future.


Drumm McNaughton  35:35

Thank you very much. What’s next for you?


Michael Itzkowitz  35:37

We’re going to keep trucking here at the HEA Group. We’re going to have a lot more analyses coming out in the future. So please keep an eye out. I do have a newsletter that you can subscribe to. I put on a blog every month or so at HCAGroup.com. So feel free to subscribe. You can contact me there or download all the fun data that we’ve been talking about today.


Drumm McNaughton  36:01

Very good, Michael. This has been a real pleasure. I thank you so much for your time coming on the show.


Michael Itzkowitz  36:07

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.


Drumm McNaughton  36:09

My pleasure. Thanks for listening this week and a special thank you to Michael Itzkowitz, president of the HEA Group, for sharing his thoughts on data and ROI. Thank you, Michael. It was a pleasure having you on the show. Tune in next week as we welcome Dr. Thomas Parham, president of CSU Dominguez Hills, and Dr. Dr. Dilcie Perez, deputy vice chancellor of academic and student affairs for the Cal State system. They will be joining us to talk about alternative strategies to diversifying the student body in the wake of the SCOTUS decision that did away with affirmative action in college recruitment, which the Cal State system has been successfully dealing with since Prop 209 was passed 22 years ago. Thanks again for listening. See you next week.



Changing Higher Ed is a production of the Change Leader, a consultancy committed to transforming higher ed institutions. Find more information about this topic and show notes on this episode at changinghighered.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show. We would also value your honest rating and review. Email any questions, comments, or recommendations for topics or guests to podcast@changinghighered.com. Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. Post-production is by David L. White.


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