The Public Good, Productivity and Purpose: New Economic Models for Higher Education

July 2016
Related Topics

How should the civic work of institutions be measured and related expenses justified? And what does productivity mean when applied to a concept like the public good?  


Tighter resources have led academic institutions and public officials to focus on doing more with less. But what comprises “doing more” with public funds is subject to debate, and where enhancements to the public good fit in remains unresolved. Accounting for the public good when assessing academic productivity is the focus of this paper, which examines the issue from the perspective of institutional responsibility to deliver civic value. In a companion publication, the authors address the topic from the perspective of faculty.

Key Insights
Discussion of new economic models for higher education must account for contributions to the public good.
Portraying public good accomplishments in exclusively economic and quantitative terms impedes understanding of the full range of work done by educational providers.
Because education is the one irreducible contribution all educational providers make to the public good, metrics to assess the public good necessarily must focus on educational outcomes, and civic learning specifically, at the institutional level.
The U.S. Department of Education (2012) defines civic learning as: “...educational experiences that intentionally prepare students for informed, engaged participation in civic and democratic life....”
Credible, independent entities to assess and validate institutional claims for educational outcomes related to the public good need to be identified and built as necessary.

This paper is one of five in the TIAA Institute Higher Education Series: Understanding Academic Productivity. The TIAA Institute undertook this initiative in support of the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ Economic Models Project, which aims to provide colleges and universities with knowledge, ideas and tools to advance the difficult structural, cultural and political changes required for moving to more sustainable economic models.