School of Education News

UW-Madison’s Reilly co-authors article on 'Creating Value' in higher education

July 25, 2019

UW-Madison’s Kevin Reilly co-authored an article in Change: The Magazine of Higher learning, about how faculty and quality instruction can increase the value of a college degree.

The article, headlined "Creating Value," is co-authored with Penny MacCormack, the chief academic officer at the Association of College and University Educators, and David Brailow, the vice president for development at The Council of Independent Colleges.

Kevin Reilly
Reilly is the former president of the University of Wisconsin System and he holds an appointment as a regent Professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He is also is a senior fellow with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and a member of the ACUE Board of Advisors.

Although graduation rates have steadily increased and students are consistently finding positive returns on higher education, there continues to be widespread doubt about the value of a college degree. Only half of graduates report that their degree was worth the cost, and less than one-in-10 U.S. business leaders believe that graduates are well prepared.

Reilly and his co-authors note that higher education’s value is typically enjoyed among those who have graduated, leaving out students who did not complete their studies. They believe that doubts about higher education are a call to create more value and more equitably for Americans. 

The authors argue that more attention must be given to the role of faculty and the quality of instruction –- especially the use of evidence-based teaching practices -– in efforts to improve student retention, degree completion, and learning. Excellent teaching can create the learning conditions that promote the outcomes employers prize and represent a quality, valuable education. 

While students have access to career centers, few utilize those and those who do have mixed reactions. According to Reilly’s article, students’ time with professors is the best, most consistent, and sometimes only opportunity to create and make higher education’s value clear. They cite a Gallup-Purdue study, which found that graduates are twice as likely to be engaged in rewarding work and lead fulfilling lives when they had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. 

Reilly and his co-authors also argue that more academically challenging work will increase the value of higher education. They suggest that faculty make the material relevant, hold high expectations, and challenge students to push themselves. 

Reilly, Brailow, and MacCormak call for investment in current faculty members, redesign of doctoral requirements for future faculty, and the realignment of professional incentives. According to their report, failing to do so ignores the needs of students, the discoveries of learning sciences, and the expanded mandate to graduate many more students. 

Read the full article on Change's website

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