Using publicly available data (in hopes of making it easy for policy makers to replicate), the report starts with the total funding for each state's public colleges, combining state and local appropriations and tuition and fee revenues, which account for the vast majority of operating funds for state institutions over all. The analysis then weights the numbers of degrees and certificates that a state's colleges award (by level) by the median earnings associated with them in the state's employment market. Higher degree levels are weighted more heavily, as are credentials and science and technology fields.
According to this study, higher education is to be judged purely and exclusively on the basis of its ability to increase the "median earnings" of its students. Studies such as this are offered as a means for policy makers and university administrators to assess the value of a university degree. As these sorts of "metrics" become ever more widespread - and there is tremendous pressure from every direction that universities provide measurable forms of "assessment" - there will be massive corresponding pressures, incentives and allocation of resources to ensure that students are receiving an education that will directly translate into earning potential. We are in the midst of witnessing a fundamental redefinition of what a university education is. And, lest anyone think that "liberals" are fervent supporters of "liberal education," the article makes quite explicit that "at a time when policy makers, led by those in the Obama administration and in Congress, are focusing intently on higher education's need to significantly increase the number of Americans with a higher education credential of some sort, the focus seems appropriate."
Sadly, the colleges have largely brought this upon themselves. For many years they were content to offer vague suggestions about why a university education was beneficial, with glossy brochures offering bromides about the value of "critical thinking" and "multicultural" experience. Yet, in fact, every major actor in the university game - administrators, parents, students, etc. - knew that what was being sold was a ticket to success. Yet, it wasn't necessary to state this fact quite so baldly, since there was so much excess money in the system, a notional form of wealth that allowed us the self-deception that we were offering something other than what we were really doing. Faculties in the humanities especially - who might have offered a counter-narrative to the universally understood assumption that college was about career advancement - engaged in hostile attacks against traditional norms and structures of power, but offered nothing positive to counter to dominant, if always implicit, assumptions. The humanities itself killed off the ideal of the liberal arts; "political science" ceased to understand itself as fostering the ideal of citizenship (to the point that its leaders now consider eliminating the study of America as a subfield of the discipline); philosophy and theology abandoned their aspirations for knowledge of the true, and instead emphasized (respectively) making arguments and religion as a form of cultural studies. In the wake of the near-universal evacuation of reasons for a college education that went emphasized "the permanent things," all that was left was a saleable commodity that provided a pipeline to Wall Street. And we saw the sort of activities that were the consequence of that sort of "education."
This catastrophe of education as preparation for money-making follows directly upon the evisceration of the liberal arts. As a consequence of these sorts of measurements - to fulfill a hunger by those who write the checks - the faculties and offerings in the humanities will shrink to a near-invisible presence on our campuses. From one perspective, this is not altogether to be lamented, given that the caretakers of the humanities came to despise the thing it was they were supposed to teach. But, from a more important perspective, it is to be lamented, because only the liberal arts helps us to know the appropriate ways to make money, helps us understand what more fundamental ends can be achieved with the fruits of our labor, and finally leads us to see why making money is not in itself the appropriate goal or end for the good life.