Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, February 6, 2014
This Week's Headlines
Students and Employers on For-Profit Colleges
Experts Weigh In on Health Care
Public Agenda in the News
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Students and Employers on For-Profit Colleges

There's a good amount we know about for-profit colleges - information like student demographics, graduation rates, how much debt for-profit students carry and how often they default.


But, so far, we don't know what for-profit students themselves have to say about their schools. What draws these students to a 

for-profit college? What do they think about their classes and instructors, as well as the services these schools offer? How do alumni of these schools view the value of their degree? How tuned in are they to the broader debate about for profit colleges?


Nor have we heard from employers. How knowledgeable are they on for-profit schools? Do they think these schools prepare students well for the workforce? And what do they think about hiring a graduate from a for-profit school, versus one from a not-for-profit institution?


Next Monday, Public Agenda will release a landmark study exploring answers to these and other questions. We hope you can join us for a free webinar for its release. We spoke to current for-profit undergrads and alumni, prospective students, and employers, via representative surveys and focus groups.


The insights of these students and employers provide a critical perspective into the role of for-profits in higher education and the workforce. They also provide guidance as those of us working in higher education policy seek to leverage the benefits of for-profit colleges while limiting any potential negatives.


The (free!) webinar will be an opportunity to learn about the findings and discuss them with lead researcher Carolin Hagelskamp and Public Agenda president Will Friedman. It will take place February 10th from 10:00-11:00 am ET. Space is limited, so register today. Can't make it? The webinar will be recorded and available on-demand. We can send you the link when it's ready - just send us an email. If you're interested in receiving the report when it's released Monday, also let us know.

Experts Weigh in on Our New Health Care Report

Last month, we released a new report examining  how the public grapples with and responds to cost containment efforts in health care. Cost containment is a top priority for health care leaders and experts, though many assume that the public is disinterested in or angered by the issue. But our research yields good news! Under the right conditions, Americans may be able - and willing - to consider complicated proposals and bolster policy efforts to control costs.


We had some experts weigh in on the findings. Their reactions are included in the report, "Curbing Health Care Costs: Are Citizens Ready to Wrestle with Tough Choices?" and you can read them online on our blog. Here are summaries of what they have to say:


On Health Care, We Need More and Better Information and Deliberation

The contradictions and inconsistencies in participants' views on health care indicate the need for continued public information and deliberation, according to Thomas Workman, from the American Institutes for Research. Several of these contradictions are worth noting, as they may hold a key for developing successful approaches to engaging the public in policies and practices that enable quality care and controlled cost.


To Curb Costs, We Must Engage the Public on Health Care 

Public Agenda co-founder Daniel Yankelovich describes his surprise at the extent of the public's "blindness and denial" on issues of health care reform, especially the desire to control rising costs. But he does not blame the public for its lack of knowledge, as Americans haven't played much of a role in shaping public policy on this issue. Yankelovich calls for more public engagement in order to bring about the necessary reforms to the current system.  


 In Health Care, Is Complexity More Problematic Than Cost? 

Consumer Reports' Nancy Metcalf argues that the ultimate goal of health care reform should be a health care system that shields consumers from its underlying complexity as much as possible. Absent the creation of a single-payer system, we are stuck with the patchwork mess we have now, Nancy writes. Health reform will vastly improve the current system in terms of access and affordability but simplify little if at all. So for the time being the focus should be on benefit designs that automatically push consumers towards higher quality, more cost-effective care.


Facing the Facts on Health Care 

Stephen Schoenbaum of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation believes that the findings indicate Americans are ready to engage not only with the issue of rising health care costs but also with questions about quality and outcomes. Why is it important for the public to wrestle with these questions? As Steve notes, health outcomes align with a community's social capital, and public discourse may thus help improve both.

Engaging Ideas

A collection of stories and reports from the past couple weeks that have caught our attention and forced thoughtful consideration on ways to problem solve and make progress on divisive issues. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education released a report, underwritten by Pearson, about who drives change at institutions of higher education. A survey shows that presidents believe faculty should be the leaders of change, but presidents are unsure how to engage faculty members on certain issues.

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee has proposed a plan to allow state residents with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, without regard to academic credentials or financial need, to attend college tuition free. The change requires approval by the state legislature, which reacted favorably. 

Pew's Center for the People & the Press finds that 65% believe the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years, a view shared by majorities across all groups, including 68% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans.
This New York Times article looks at a recent global poll which asked who should "bear the greatest responsibility for people's economic well-being in their old age." In the U.S., as well as in Germany and Britain, the most popular response was older people themselves. 

Last Tuesday, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Ken Ham, founder of Kentucky's Creation Museum, presented their respective positions on evolution and creationism to a live YouTube audience. How do you think they handled the widely divisive subject?  
About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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