The State of Higher Education Part 2:

Changing Higher Education Podcast 160 With Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton And Guest Dr. Courtney Brown

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 160 The State of Higher Education Part 2 with Courtney Brown The State of Higher Education: Breaking down the barriers to student enrollment and retention
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Currently enrolled students, as well as people who stopped out or never attended a higher ed institution, are sharing what will keep them enrolled, re-enroll, or enroll for the first time, in addition to what could make them leave, not come back, or never attempt to enroll at all.


In the second half of his two-part podcast, Dr. Drumm McNaughton continues his conversation with Dr. Courtney Brown of the Lumina Foundation about the Foundation’s The State of Higher Education: Breaking down the barriers to student enrollment and Retention report – 2023 that was conducted over three years in partnership with Gallup. Dr. Brown shares her findings on the top three obstacles to continuing or starting education for all three segments, how important student loan forgiveness is to them and how much of their loans would have to be forgiven for them to return to school, what students of color value, and how important access to reproductive rights and divisive topics are in higher ed.


Podcast Highlights


  • Reasons for stopping out. For the third study in the Fall of 2022, the top two reasons students are considering stopping out are emotional stress at 69% and personal health reasons at 59%. The cost of the degree is third at 36%.

  • About half of those who have never enrolled in higher ed say they’ve considered enrolling in the last two years, and 47% of all enrolled students say they’re considering coming back. About 60% of people who stopped out are considering coming back, versus those who have never registered at just under 40%.

  • Cost of degrees. The number one reason why those who have never enrolled still haven’t tried is due to the cost of a degree at 55%. The second highest reason was due to inflation and work conflicts. Emotional stress came in third.

  • Student loan forgiveness. Of students asked how likely they would reenroll if some of their student loans were forgiven, 80% said “very likely” or “somewhat likely.” Of bachelor’s degree students who were asked the same question, 75% said “very likely” or “somewhat likely.” Overall, the minimum percentage of their student loan that would have to be forgiven for them to re-enroll is 70%.

    For those enrolled explicitly in certification programs, students needed about 66% forgiven. For those enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs, students required about 74% forgiven. Although high numbers, these students shouldn’t be considered low-hanging fruit. The system didn’t work for them, so a lot will have to be done to get them back.

  • For students of color, the feeling of belonging is highly important. They are likelier to stop out when they don’t feel like they belong. People feel like they belong more when there’s a great deal of diversity.

  • Diversity of faculty and administration. Colleges or universities shouldn’t just try to increase the diversity of the student body but of their faculty and administration. When students of color see people who look like them and have had the same experiences as them in leadership roles, they will feel like they belong. If the only people who look like them are working in the cafeteria, that won’t.
  • Reproductive rights and health laws are important to students. Overall, 72% of currently enrolled students and 60% of people who have never enrolled said reproductive rights and health laws related to them are important. When asked if they would be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled in a college that had greater access to reproductive rights, 81% of currently enrolled students and 85% of unenrolled students said they would be.

    If a college were located in a state that allowed greater access to reproductive rights, 81% of all enrolled and 85% of unenrolled said they would be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled.

  • Political leaning and reproductive rights. Meanwhile, 86% of currently enrolled Democrats said they’d be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled if the college gave them greater access to reproductive rights, and 65% of currently enrolled Republican students said they’d be more likely to for the same reason.

    Additionally, 89% of Democrats who are not enrolled said they’d be more likely to enroll if the college was located in a state that allowed greater access to reproductive rights, and 74% of Republican people who are not enrolled in college said they’d be more likely to enroll for the same reason.

  • Diversity of thought. Overall, 77% of people said they’d be more likely to enroll in a college and in a state that allowed the instruction of all viewpoints on divisive topics such as race, gender, or racism. Similarly, 82% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans said they wanted those same divisive topics presented.


About Our Podcast Guest – Courtney Brown

Courtney Brown, Ph.D., is vice president of impact and planning for Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making learning opportunities beyond high school available to all. As the chief data and research officer, Brown oversees the foundation’s efforts in the areas of strategic planning, learning, impact, and effectiveness. She also leads Lumina’s international engagement.


She joined the foundation in 2011 with a strong performance measurement, research, and evaluation background. Before 2011, Brown was a senior research associate at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. There, she led studies and evaluations focused on education and post-high school programs within the United States and across Europe.


Brown is a frequent speaker and panelist in the United States and other countries regarding postsecondary strategy, student success, data-driven decision-making, and evidence-based practices. She has developed and shared manuals, working papers, articles, and books related to undergraduate research, performance measurement, randomized-control trials, and other evaluation methods, as well as conducted webinars and workshops on topics such as evaluation, performance measurement, and success in education beyond high school.

Dr. Courtney Brown on LinkedIn →


About the Host


Dr. Drumm McNaughton, the host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher ed institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers. 


See Part 1 of this series  →



Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 160 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Courtney Brown

The State of Higher Education Part 2

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 And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.


Drumm McNaughton

Thank you, David.


Today we welcome back Dr. Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning for the Lumina Foundation. Courtney joins us again to finish our conversation on Lumina’s most recent study, the State of Higher Education 2023: Breaking Down the Barriers to Student Enrollment and Retention.” Courtney, welcome back to the show.


Courtney Brown  00:56

Good to be with you again.


Drumm McNaughton  00:57

I’m excited about this half of the conversation. Last time we discussed the background of the study and Lumina. This half, we’re getting to the findings of the report and what university presidents, boards, and cabinet members can do to start attracting and retaining those 40 million students who have stopped out.


As a quick summary, would you please discuss some of the barriers we touched on with the study? We talked about students ages 18 to 59, those with diplomas, currently enrolled students, those who stopped out, and those who have never enrolled. We talked about some other demographics as well.


Courtney Brown  01:49

We talked about the current state of higher education and what barriers currently enrolled students are facing, as well as people who have either never enrolled or those who were part of higher ed and then stopped out before completing a credential. At Lumina, we gathered all this data from a three-year partnership with Gallup to better understand the student experience and the student viewpoints about what’s holding them back and what would get them to stay enrolled, enroll, or re-enroll.


Drumm McNaughton  02:22

In your latest study, you found that current students are finding it just as difficult to remain enrolled as they did. But now it’s for different reasons. More of it has to do with emotional stress and mental health as the top reasons versus the cost, as it was before the pandemic.


Courtney Brown  02:44

We started asking about emotional stress early in the pandemic. The first year we did this study, the number-one reason people were thinking about stopping out or were not enrolling was for financial and health reasons. Now we are finding out from over 40% of those who are currently enrolled that it is difficult to stay enrolled. That’s a little similar to what we saw last year. It’s a little higher, but it’s been consistent.


When we asked them why they were thinking about stopping out, the number-one reason for currently enrolled students in four-year institutions is emotional stress. Sixty-nine percent of them said it’s for emotional health reasons. That’s compared to 12% who said it’s because of COVID, which was the number-one reason two years ago.


Drumm McNaughton  04:00

That is very high. Thinking back to my own experience as an undergraduate, I went to the Naval Academy, where we didn’t have the financial stress, but there were an awful lot of other stressors. My class was the largest one to come in. We had over 1,500 students, and we graduated about 971. The attrition rate was huge. It was around 40%. The stressors I had were significant. But the students now seem to have more stressors than we did.


Courtney Brown  04:39

Absolutely. It goes back to what we talked about last time. It’s really about who today’s students are. A third of them are over 25. A quarter of them have children of their own. And 66% of them are working, and many of them are working full-time. You can imagine the stress these individuals are under. Many of them are under the poverty line. These people are facing a lot of emotional stress on top of anything else that’s going on in the world, such as a pandemic, wars, and violence. So there’s a lot going on.


But the fact that we see that it’s 69% for emotional stress is a big deal. For our past study in the fall of 2022, we also asked about personal mental health for bachelor’s degree students at a four-year institution, and it was 59%. So the top two reasons people are considering stopping out are emotional stress at 69% and personal health reasons at 59%. Meanwhile, the cost of the degree is only 36%. We usually think that cost is a big barrier. I don’t want to diminish that because we have to find a way to solve that, but emotional stress and personal mental health are the top two reasons by far.


Drumm McNaughton  05:53

Are the two of those related?


Courtney Brown  05:57

Absolutely. In a survey, it’s hard to get at what people mean by their answers and how they’re experiencing it. It’s self-reported. So nobody’s saying, yes, they have mental health reasons or emotional stress. But if somebody’s feeling it, and they’re willing to admit it, then I take that as a valid response. But I’m sure there are many similar things when you have mental health issues that put a stressor on your life, too. All of these things intersect.


Drumm McNaughton  06:24

When I think back about mental health and emotional stress, I can’t help but think that the students nowadays are different, like you said. They have different pressures than we did going through college; for my generation of Boomers, if you went to a public university, it supported 50% to 70% of your tuition. It was significantly higher. The parents were able to afford that. There were very few students who had to take a student loan out. That’s not the case anymore, what with them being elderly parents and having to deal with the healthcare situation in our country. There are a lot more stressors on the students.


Courtney Brown  07:13

Absolutely. Also, many of these students don’t have parents who are paying for it. They’re financially independent from their parents. They are also probably taking care of their parents or are financially responsible for them or their own children. So they don’t even have that cushion, unlike more privileged college students who do have that opportunity. The majority of college students don’t.


Drumm McNaughton  07:34

There are also a lot more first-generation students attending.


Courtney Brown  07:41

Absolutely, and they need more support to understand how to navigate college. They don’t have somebody in their family who attended and can help them sort out what to do and how to experience it.


Drumm McNaughton  07:56

Okay. So that’s the enrolled students. How about the unenrolled?


Courtney Brown  08:03

One of the things that that we need to acknowledge for the unenrolled students is they’re interested in post-secondary education. They absolutely see value in it. In fact, about half of those who have never enrolled say they’ve considered enrolling in the last two years. We’ve seen that over the last few years. But that’s a pretty high number. 

Forty-seven percent of all enrolled say they’re considering coming back. It’s much higher for those who have stopped out. About 60% of them want to come back, versus those who have never enrolled at just under 40%. But they do value it. They understand that they need post-secondary education to get a good job and life and that it’s really important for them.


But the problem is when we say, “Okay, then why aren’t you enrolling?” The number-one reason for those who have never enrolled is the cost of the program, the tuition and fees, the housing, etc., is cited by 55% of those who have never enrolled, followed by inflation. 

Both of those are related. Then there’s the need to work, where classes conflict with their work schedule. And then, interestingly enough, emotional stress comes next. So emotional stress is still cited by these people who have never enrolled. But the first ones are the cost of the degree, the work conflicts, and inflation. It’s therefore no wonder that emotional stress is part of that. If they’re worried about inflation, then they have emotional stress.


Drumm McNaughton  09:45

Well, that makes perfect sense, given that there is less financial aid coming from the States. The state schools are not picking up as much of the tuition. Now the overall cost of tuition hasn’t changed a whole lot. But the allocation from the government paying it to students paying it via student loans has changed significantly.


Courtney Brown  10:12

It has changed significantly. It’s not just the cost. It’s the opportunity cost of not working at the same time. They don’t have the luxury of not working because they have to pay their bills, get food on the table, maintain childcare, etc. 

So those are definitely barriers. The interesting thing is, though, when we ask currently enrolled students what keeps or helps them stay enrolled, besides seeing the value, the other number-one reason is their financial aid package. That’s what’s keeping students enrolled. So there is financial aid for students, and they see it as a great benefit to keep them persisting toward their credentials.


Drumm McNaughton  11:03

Which makes perfect sense. One of the things I found interesting when we spoke yesterday was student loan forgiveness. There were some significantly high numbers around that. Students would be willing to come back to school if the student loans were completely or partially forgiven.


Courtney Brown  11:26

Yes, absolutely. Yesterday, we discussed the over 40 million people in the US who started college and, for whatever reason, stopped out. It’s imperative that we get many of these people back to complete a credential. They put in a lot of time and energy. So for the first time, we asked students about student loans this past fall. We asked those who had stopped out if some of their loans were forgiven, how likely would they reenroll. 

If we look at those who said “very likely” and “somewhat likely,” almost 80% of students said they would likely or very likely come back. When we asked the same question to specifically bachelor’s degree students, we found that 75% would likely or very likely come back if some or all of their student loans were forgiven. That’s a huge amount.


We then asked what the minimum percentage of their student loan would have to be forgiven for them to re-enroll. Across the board, 70% was the magic number. It was lower for those who were enrolled in certification programs at about 66%. Bachelor’s degree students say about 74%. So if 74% of bachelor’s degree loans were forgiven, they would be likely or very likely re-enroll, which is huge. It’s really important to understand that this is one way to get these students back.


Drumm McNaughton  13:01

If, in fact, education is about public good versus the economic gain for the individual, and we know it’s actually both, it would make very good sense to get this 75% of students back. That’s 30 million students. That’s huge.


Courtney Brown  13:24

You’re ambitious. If we could get 10% of them to come back, that’s 4 million more people in the US with a post-secondary credential. Also, a lot of these people are what many call near completers.  They have a lot of credit. How do we get them across the finish line?


The problem is that these students may have had their dreams broken, right? Something about the system didn’t work for them. So they’re not low-hanging fruit. It will be hard to reach them because they probably had a bad experience. T

hey are probably still paying off loans and have nothing to show for it. So I’m sure these students are frustrated. Finding ways to bring them back and make higher ed valuable to them is important for these individuals, the institutions, our communities, and our nation.


Drumm McNaughton  14:31

One of the other things I found fascinating was that more students are saying that feeling like they belong will help keep them enrolled. It’s the same for people who have stopped out or have never enrolled. Can we talk about that?


Courtney Brown  14:53

Yes. We discussed this a bit during our discussion about online learning. We found that students need a sense of belonging. They need to feel like they matter and fit in. Specifically for students of color, we found that a feeling of belonging on campus is important. 

When they don’t feel like they belong, they’re less likely to feel engaged and more likely to stop out. So finding ways to increase their sense of belonging is important to keep students enrolled and to help them be successful in their journey.


Drumm McNaughton  15:27

In your travels, you’ve seen a lot of institutions. What are some of the best things that institutions can do to help with improving their sense of belonging?


Courtney Brown  15:39

A report we put up on the Black student experience found that one of the most important things is having a diverse campus. When there’s a great deal of diversity, people feel like they belong more. They fit in, and they’re more comfortable there.


Another thing is to not just think about the diversity of your student body but of your faculty and your administration. Ensure they are also diverse. When students see people who look like them and who have had the same experiences as them in leadership roles, they feel like they belong. 

If the only people who look like them are working in the cafeteria, that won’t. Colleges can do a much better job at ensuring diversity on their campuses.


Drumm McNaughton  16:28

People need to believe that they can get there. That goes to mental health and mental well-being, etc. In addition to a sense of belonging and diversity, reproductive rights are also important.


Courtney Brown  16:51

We first asked how important health laws related to reproductive rights were in their desire to enroll or not enroll. Overall, 72% of currently enrolled students and 60% of people who had never enrolled said reproductive rights and health laws related to them are important to them.

So then we asked if they would be more likely to enroll in a college that had greater access to reproductive rights. Eighty-one percent of currently enrolled students and 85% of unenrolled students said they would be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled. 

If a college was located in a state that allowed greater access to reproductive rights, 81% of all enrolled and 85% of unenrolled said they would be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled.


This was more interesting to me. Eighty-six percent of currently enrolled Democrats said they’d be more likely to enroll or stay enrolled if the college gave them greater access to reproductive rights.

Sixty-five percent of currently enrolled Republican students said they’d be more likely to stay enrolled for the same reason. Now, the numbers are even higher in regard to unenrolled students.

Eighty-nine percent of Democrats who are not enrolled said they’d be more likely to enroll if the college was located in a state that allowed greater access to reproductive rights. And 74% of Republican people who are not enrolled in college said they’d be more likely to enroll if the college was located in a state that had greater access to reproductive rights.


Drumm McNaughton  18:54

That is fascinating, and it goes back to what we had talked about initially, which is that today’s institutions have to find ways to serve today’s students.


Courtney Brown  19:09

Absolutely. Let me share another question we asked that was similar. We asked if they would be more likely to enroll in a college in a state that allowed instruction of all viewpoints on divisive topics such as race, gender, or racism. We found that 77% of people said they’d be more likely to enroll in a college and a state that allowed these viewpoints.

And, again, 82% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans said they want those divisive topics presented.


Drumm McNaughton  19:43

Well, college is supposed to be a time of inquiry and exploration. It’s a maturation process. Yes, the degree is incredibly important. The old axiom is that an undergraduate degree trains you to think, a master’s degree gives you specific skills, and a Ph.D. brings new knowledge into being. You’re there to learn how to think. And if you shield people from diverse views and cultures, it doesn’t give them the ability to form their own way of thinking.


Courtney Brown  20:22

Absolutely. We see that people understand and believe that in our study.


Drumm McNaughton  20:30

I want to double back to currently enrolled students. Something that struck me, which is important for university presidents and boards, is that 40% of current students are thinking about stopping out. That’s not good.


Courtney Brown  20:55

That’s troublesome, especially when we see that 40 million people have already stopped out. Many of the reasons why 40% of current students are considering stopping out are that they need more support and/or are suffering from emotional stress along with mental health and financial problems. It’s not because the work is hard.


Oftentimes we think people are stopping out because it’s just too hard for them, that they’re not academically prepared. We do see some of that. More recently, it’s due to the pandemic. Some high schoolers didn’t get the full learning experience during those years. 

But for the most part, it is not an academic-preparation problem. It is due to emotional stress and the other barriers we have been talking about. If you are hungry or have a flat tire, you can’t focus on your studies, and you can’t get yourself to campus.


Drumm McNaughton  22:11

Like that famous quote says, “Nobody should have to decide between paying rent, food, gasoline, groceries, and paying for education.”


Courtney Brown  22:20

Right. And far too many of our students have to do that today.


Drumm McNaughton  22:24

They do, and they shouldn’t have to. Let’s swap into what presidents and boards do. I’m going to start it off with a story. One of my previous guests was Dr. Steven Katsouros, who was the dean and founder of Arrupe College, a two-year institution that is part of Loyola University Chicago. They established a two-year degree program for underprivileged, low-SES, and first-gen students. They worked with the kids going through high school. It was not “Loyola Lite.”

The academics were full on. They put the structures in place to assist these students. They made sure they had jobs, but students were not permitted to work full-time. They had classes in the morning and their job in the afternoon, or vice versa. So they had a regular schedule. 

They put these structures in place to keep these kids in school. The graduation rate after two years was over 50%, and over 70% after four years. That’s one example of what university presidents can do. I know you have tons more.


Courtney Brown  23:48

That’s really impressive. What’s most impressive is that he understood who today’s students are and what they need. He understood their communities. For many of our regional and smaller four-year institutions and community colleges, it’s the people in the community who are going to these colleges.

We’re not talking about the elite colleges, where people have the privilege of being able to go to those and travel across many states to attend them. The majority of students attend somewhere close by. So college presidents who understand who those students are and build the bridges to K-12, as you mentioned, are crucial.


This demographic cliff that’s about to hit in the next two years or so will result in fewer and fewer young people enrolling. Finding ways to ensure that younger people can enroll will be really crucial, as well as figuring out ways to get those same college-degree students back into their communities. 

For people who have never touched higher ed, what programs or degrees can colleges and universities offer that will be beneficial to their community and to the population they’re serving?


Your example was great because it’s about understanding today’s students and their community and coming up with support services to help that. Moving forward, every class coming into college is going to be even more racially, economically, and socially diverse than the one we had before. 

Finding ways to support them is absolutely essential if we’re going to not just get them in our doors but, more importantly, to get them to the finish line by successfully completing a high-quality credential.


Drumm McNaughton  25:40

So what I’m hearing you say is not only do we have to get them to the door and put the structures in place to help them, but to put structures in place to get them through and, even after that, to help them find that first or second job.


Courtney Brown  26:02

Absolutely. People today are attending college to get a degree for a job. They don’t have the luxury of just going to college for the experience or to talk about philosophy without any idea of what they’re going to do in the future. People want a job. They want to know that it will be connected to what the labor market needs. So it’s imperative that colleges think about that and create partnerships with employers to do that.


Drumm McNaughton  26:29

It’s interesting that you mentioned partnerships because we need to meet students where they are. We also need to understand where they need to go. Faculty need to have a better understanding of what’s going on in the job market to give them the right kind of skills.

You look at AAC&U’s reports on what employers want. The top things are teamwork, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze data and draw conclusions. Those are not typically things you can say, “Okay, today, we’re going to talk about critical thinking.” No, it’s one of those things where we’re going to talk about teamwork; you learn by doing it, not by talking about it.


Courtney Brown  27:15

Right. What faculty can do is ensure they’re providing those experiences for their students so they are learning those things. You’re right. It’s not about today’s lesson. It’s critical thinking. It has to be embedded in everything they’re doing so their students are more able to think critically, work in teams, have those experiences, and learn those skills that will make them successful in the job market.


Drumm McNaughton  27:41

What are some of the things that boards can do going forward?


Courtney Brown  27:45

They should be questioning their university and college about that student success piece. They shouldn’t just focus on what their enrollment numbers are. That’s all we hear. What percentage of students got turned away? Or the high record of people who applied to a college or university? That’s great. But that is not where the focus should be. 

The focus should be, how many of those students are we getting across the finish line? And are we getting them across the finish line in a timely manner? I’m not talking about eight years. Who has eight years to finish a bachelor’s degree? How many are we getting across the finish line in a reasonable time? And how many are successfully transitioning to the job market? Those are the questions boards should be asking and getting their universities to focus on to better support and have a better student success record.


Drumm McNaughton  28:40

One gentleman I spoke with in enrollment said how his university is focusing not only on the experience but also preparing students to get that first job. They’re teaching them how to network, how to write a resume, and how to interview. These are all separate classes that students take to prepare them for the job market. Have you seen this?


Courtney Brown  29:08

Absolutely. It’s important to have those programs more embedded in the curricula so it’s not just an add-on. So it shouldn’t be coming in on a Friday afternoon with pizza and talking about writing a resume. It’s more successful when it’s more embedded in the curriculum.


Drumm McNaughton  29:22

I think Yale has a similar course that teaches life skills, etc.


Courtney Brown  29:31

Probably. I am not familiar with that. Many of them incorporate this type of class during freshman year, their first year.


Drumm McNaughton  29:42

And it’s not a one-and-done deal. You have to reinforce these things along the way.


Courtney Brown  29:48

Right, and to provide supports along the way.


Drumm McNaughton  29:51

That’s the critical piece. You have to ask students what they need.


Courtney Brown  29:57

Yes, listen to your students and ask what they need. Pay attention to the data. Who’s struggling? Who’s leaving? How can we get them back? Those are the most important questions to be asking.


Drumm McNaughton  30:09

This is a great segue to our three takeaways for university presidents and boards.


Courtney Brown  30:15

Yeah. I would reiterate some of the things we’ve been talking about. However, it’s not just important to understand who you are serving today but who you are not serving. Who do you need to be serving tomorrow? Plan for that so you can be successful and better serve your communities. 

As we discussed, every class coming in will be different and more diverse. Looking to the horizon about what’s coming and making sure your college or university is set up to be successful moving forward is important.


Also, understand what barriers your students are facing, like in the report we’ve done with Gallup over the last three years. It’s uncovered a lot of these barriers. None of them are shocking or surprising. We know that finances are a big barrier. We know that mental health and stresses are as well. But by using that data, you can find ways to support your students.


We also talked a bit about the students with some college credits but no degrees. Again, 25% of all 25- to 64-year-olds in our country started college and, for whatever reason, stopped out. That’s more than 40 million people in the United States. 

How can we help these students come back and complete a quality credential that will be good for them, our communities, and our nation? It’s absolutely essential to realize that the system failed over 40 million people. We need to find a way to fix it, not just for those 40 million, but for everybody who’s coming behind them.


I would also add a fourth. Make sure the credentials you’re offering are valuable, There needs to be ROI. People are investing a lot of money for a degree. Yes, we need to figure out a way to decrease those costs, but either way, it’s a cost. 

Even if it’s $100, there should be a value on the other end that will better equip students. In the labor market, I can have a better job and a better life. I have this credential and invested not just the money but the time because I couldn’t get another job while I was doing this.


These are all important points we need to keep thinking about. Most colleges and universities are thinking about them, but they also have to meet so many other demands. Regardless, continuing to focus on solving these challenges will help us all be more successful.


Drumm McNaughton  32:48

Thank you. Those are great takeaways. I’m going to add one more to that. It has to do with asking students. How many boards have students who are members? A lot of them. How many boards have students who vote? Not nearly as many. University presidents should be meeting with the head of the student body at least once a month to find out what’s going on. 

The board should have at least one student representative and faculty as well. But there has to be at least one student representative who is a voting member on the board. Listen to the students. They will tell you what it is they need, and what it is they’re not getting. So this has been fabulous, Courtney.


Tell me what’s next for you. What’s next for Lumina?


Courtney Brown  33:42

As I mentioned last time, in 2008, Lumina set this goal for the nation that by 2025, 60% of people in the US would have a high-quality credential beyond high school. We are approaching 2025, and we’ve made tremendous progress on attainment. As I mentioned, we’re at 54% for the general population. For 25- to 34-year-olds, we’re at 56%. This is tremendous because that population actually had lower attainment than the general population. So we’re making incredible progress.


We still have a few years to go, especially since the data lags a little bit. But as we move beyond 2025, Lumina will not give up on attainment. That’s still important. We need to continue pushing on the points we just talked about—that there are quality credentials that make obtaining a good job and good life possible. More importantly, we need to make sure that everyone has an equitable opportunity to access and succeed in post-secondary education. 

The gaps we talked about last time when we look at the data by race and ethnicity are just too enormous to ignore. We have to focus our efforts on ensuring everyone—especially Black, Latino, Hispanic, and Native American students—has the opportunity to succeed in post-secondary education.


Drumm McNaughton  35:09

Great, Courtney. Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful couple of sessions. You are welcome back on the show anytime, my friend.


Courtney Brown  35:18

Thank you. It’s been great fun. I really appreciate it.


Drumm McNaughton  35:24

Thanks for listening today. I’d also like to give a special thank you to our guest Dr. Courtney Brown for sharing Lumina’s 2023 State of Higher Education study. To me, the study was fascinating, and I look forward to the next time you can join us, Courtney. Thank you.


Join us next week for a conversation with Daniel Nivern, CEO and co-founder of Virtual Internships. Dan will join us to talk about how Virtual Internships is getting it right by being able to create internships for students across the globe, internships that give them valuable experience in their fields and in their target countries. Until next time.



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 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 Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. Post-production is by David L. White.


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