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09.15 The public may be losing faith in higher education

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

This week, we released new research suggesting the public is losing confidence in higher education:

  • Just 42% of Americans say college is necessary for success in the workforce. This reverses a previous trend. (See our blog for more on this trend.)
  • 46% say college is a questionable investment due to high student loans and limited job opportunities.
  • 69% say there are many people who are qualified but lack the opportunity to go to college.
  • 59% say colleges today are like most businesses and care mainly about the bottom line.

Yet experts overwhelmingly agree that college credentials are the best opportunity to improve the economic prosperity of individuals, families, communities and the nation.

What should policymakers and education leaders take away from this research? Given their many efforts to boost college attainment, they ought to take these findings seriously. In particular, the findings should provoke them to better understand and respond to the factors underlying the public's skepticism about the value of higher education.

The research should also provoke leaders to reflect on their efforts to communicate with the public about the value and benefits of college. For example, leaders may need to better articulate the job opportunities a college education can provide and the return on investment of a college degree or certificate. They may also consider the best ways to engage the public regarding the varied types of higher education and the opportunities each can deliver.

Let's start the conversation! You can help by sharing this research with others - forward this email or share this infographic. And let us know what you think. We believe it crucial that higher education leaders be aware of the shift in public opinion this research strongly suggests, and consider the best way to respond.


09.15 Public Skepticism of Higher Education Is Growing. We Need to Confront It.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

One of the great things about the work we do is the opportunity we have to speak frequently with the public regarding their views toward education. This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, and it often enables us to sense and identify emerging trends in public opinion.

The idea that post-secondary education can lead to better economic well-being is often considered by policy elites to be common sense. Yet for a few years now, we've heard rumblings in focus groups which suggest the public’s perception of higher education is shifting.

Survey findings we released this week affirm that shift: the public is far less likely now to perceive a college education as necessary for a good job. And policymakers and experts ought to sit up and take notice.

This view is a reversal of an earlier trend – one of growing support for the necessity of college. For a long time, the public was increasingly likely each year to say that a college education was necessary for success in the working world. The increase held steady for nearly a decade, growing from 31 percent of Americans who said college was necessary in 2000 to 55 percent in 2008 and 2009.

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09.13 Helping Participants Make Group Decisions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 13

In some participatory processes, people will need to select among options or alternatives, or make other kinds of decisions about implementation or action. Two skills may be particularly helpful for making decisions in participatory processes: dotmocracy and keypad polling.


One technique for making decisions is dotmocracy, also known as dot-voting or idea rating. This technique is useful for ranking or selecting ideas, alternatives or options.

In dotmocracy, the facilitator gives all participants an equal number of stickers – usually dots, but any stickers will do. Markers can also be used in place of stickers. The options are written legibly and largely, usually on individual flipchart sheets that are posted on a wall. Participants are then invited to “vote” for their favorite options by placing their stickers on the flipchart sheets.

Participants may spread their votes among a number of options, or consolidate their votes on a single option. The option(s) with the most dots at the end of voting “win.” One variation of dotmocracy uses different color stickers to signify different values, for example, a green dot means something is liked and a red dot means it is disliked.

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09.09 Engaging Ideas - 9/9

Friday, September 9th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Can a Japanese Business Process Help Solve Our Complex Social Problems? (Governing)
Governments are using the "Lean" model to bring efficiency to their operations. But it could be doing a lot more writes John M. Bernard, chairman and founder of Portland, Oregon-based Mass Ingenuity.

Against transparency (Vox)
Matthew Yglesias writes: It’s impossible to write about this issue in today’s environment without thinking of Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. But while the question of whether she appropriately followed the existing laws is obviously important, so is the question of whether the laws make sense. And the answer is: no. Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind.

Public Engagement

Reading Beyond the Headline: Why Seattle’s Ideas Are Worth Stealing (Governing)
Seattle’s Mayor Murray ups the ante on inclusive citizen engagement -- and helps pave the way for the rest of us writes Ron Littlefield, a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a senior fellow with the Governing Institute.


What Homer Simpson's 100+ jobs tell us about America's middle class (Vox)
Homer Simpson has economically stagnated, just like the real American middle class. I plotted out Homer’s hypothetical job salaries in a linear order, by episode number. Over the course of 597 episodes — from 1989 to 2016 — it’s clear that Homer has not climbed the economic ranks.

As 5 States Vote on Minimum Wage, Not All Look to Raise It (Governing)
Most of November's minimum-wage ballot measures would increase workers' pay. But one state's would actually reduce it for some.

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09.08 Reinventing Economic and Political Opportunity

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Photo: Nathan Keirn

Most Americans do not particularly resent wealth. In fact, they respect those who make it big, especially if they do so through ingenuity and hard work, and hope to do the same themselves.

But if they feel that their own economic opportunities are diminishing rather than expanding, people begin to feel mounting frustration as they question society’s basic fairness.

If more and more of life’s essentials—housing, college, health care—skyrocket in price well beyond what people can reasonably afford, people begin to feel desperate.

And if they believe that the wealthy have undue political influence, so that the average person’s recourse in both the economic and political spheres has closed down, then people begin to feel enraged.

This brings us to the present political moment.

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09.06 Helping Participants Generate and Evaluate Ideas

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 12

A common practice in all kinds of participation settings is generating, refining, evaluating and ranking ideas. Two skills are particularly helpful for supporting these activities: brainstorming and visioning to generate ideas, and using ABC standards to evaluate ideas.

Brainstorming and Visioning

Some participation opportunities will directly center on generating new ideas and information, while others may only need to generate ideas as one of the steps in the process. Generating ideas is sometimes called ideation, especially when it is done online. Whether done in online or face-to-face settings, ideation relies on brainstorming and visioning.

The term “brainstorming” was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in his book Applied Imagination. Since then, practitioners and researchers have updated and improved upon his approach.

Brainstorming is now a very common way to help groups identify creative solutions to problems or issues. At its heart, brainstorming combines informal problem solving with lateral thinking and fun. During the brainstorming process, groups are encouraged to develop as many ideas for addressing a problem as quickly as they can.

Visioning is very similar to brainstorming. However, it is more future-focused. Instead of asking people to come up with ideas for problem solving, it asks people to look to some point in the future when the problem has been solved and generate ideas about what the situation looks like without the problem being present.

The steps of brainstorming and visioning are similar and simple. The facilitator prepares the group by explaining the process and the rules, presents the problem or issue to be addressed and guides the discussion while reinforcing five simple rules:

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09.02 Engaging Ideas - 9/2

Friday, September 2nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


25 Years Later, What Happened to 'Reinventing Government'? (Governing)
The ambitious public management crusade of the 1990s has made a mark on governments everywhere. But it’s fallen far short of its lofty goals.

Public Engagement

Where Sixth-Graders Run Their Own City (The Atlantic)
The idea is to improve kids’ economic knowledge—and it appears to be working.


How Academia Is Failing Government (Governing)
Because the incentives for academic research are misaligned, it has little impact on the real world of public administration and policy.


How the Middle Class May Have Gotten a Raise (The Upshot)
The Census Bureau’s estimates of income stop in 2014. It will not release those for 2015 until next month, and early estimates suggest that household incomes may be way up. Sentier Research, a research firm formed by two former Census Bureau employees, estimates that real median household incomes grew nearly 3.8 percent in 2015. This would be the largest annual gain in household income since Sentier began producing the series in 2000.

How Milwaukee Shook Off the Rust (Politico)
While many cities have sought to repurpose their old industrial zones into hip condos, restaurants or commercial lofts for tech companies—or simply knock them down—Milwaukee has invested in resurrecting its own, with intense planning, new infrastructure and exacting design standards. In the process, a coalition of public officials, community activists and manufacturers have created a model for the 21st century industrial park, where manufacturing, recreation and environmentally-friendly engineered landscapes co-exist. Milwaukee is at work applying the lessons learned in the nearby port district and in the 30th Street industrial corridor several miles to the north.

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09.01 Parent Engagement in Schools: What is Working? What Should We Try Next?

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER

For decades now, educators, researchers and school reform advocates have emphasized the importance of parent and family engagement. While the evidence for the impact of parent engagement continues to build, school systems have made key realizations about how best to support it. Some have pushed the concept further by developing practices of "student-centered learning."

Research "repeatedly correlates family engagement with student achievement," according to the 2010 Beyond Random Acts report of the National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement. Research also suggests family engagement gives students better attitudes toward learning, produces better social skills and fewer disciplinary problems, and leads to lower drop-out rates and higher graduation rates.

On the surface, family engagement may seem like a question of good parenting rather than public participation. But it has become clear that family engagement is largely dependent on how teachers and schools interact with parents. In particular, students benefit from schools and communities that support sustained family engagement.

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08.30 Managing Discussions, Blog 3 of 3: Ground Rules and Feedback

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 11

Today, we close out our exploration of managing discussions with two critical skills: establishing ground rules and providing feedback.

If you missed them, check out our previous entries on face-to-face facilitation, recording and online moderation.

Ground Rules

When people are treated like adults, they generally act like adults. But sometimes, extra steps need to be taken to reinforce civil behavior. One way of doing so without removing group control over the process, is encouraging participants to set some basic ground rules – norms or standards for conduct, behavior and conversation that help shape constructive and productive dialogue and otherwise make a group functional.

Specifically, ground rules are used to establish the purpose of group, outline how meetings and conversations will be conducted, ensure that conflict is addressed but not escalated and create a safe environment to discuss difficult and controversial issues. The general premise behind ground rules is that all participants should be treated equally and fairly.

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08.26 Engaging Ideas - 8/26

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


State Budgets’ Forecast: Cloudy (Governing)
At a time when every budget “yes” may mean saying “no” to something else, it can be painful for politicians to be forthright about the decisions they are making. But holding public debates about priorities is an essential part of leadership.

Public Engagement

A Scorecard for Public Engagement (Governing)
Involving members of the community in policymaking is tricky, but it's worth the effort. Those who do it well share some approaches.


The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee (The Atlantic)
Strangely, though nonprofits are increasingly expected to perform like businesses, they do not get the same leeway in funding that government-contracted businesses do. They don’t have nearly the bargaining power of big corporations, or the ability to raise costs for their products and services, because of tight controls on grant funding. “D.C. is full of millionaires who contract with government in the defense field, and they make a killing, and yet if you’re a nonprofit, chances are you aren’t getting the full amount of funding to cover the cost of the services required,” Iliff said. “Can you imagine Lockheed Martin or Boeing putting up with a government contract that didn’t allow for overhead?”

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