Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, January 23, 2014
This Week's Headlines
Health Care Costs and the Public
Engaging Faculty Can Boost Student Success
Public Agenda in the News
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Health Care Costs and the Public: Transforming Confusion to Common Ground

Polls repeatedly show broad public support for "reducing health care costs." Yet, as Jean Johnson explains in this month's Beyond the Polls, our newest research suggests the public may not be thinking about health costs in the same way experts do. In fact, if left to their own devices, the public may end up dubious and confused about cost containment ideas.


There's no doubt that we face tough choices when it comes to staving the cost of health care in this country. Regardless of the effect of the Affordable Care Act, health costs will remain problematic if not devastating.


Any major policy effort to curb costs will require the support of the public. But the public's understanding of the problem may be piecemeal at best -- a gap which could ultimately thwart needed reforms. How can we help the public develop a deeper understanding of health care costs? And, beyond that, are average citizens even willing to or interested in considering cost-curbing policies, which are often quite dry and technical?


Signs from our newest research - focus groups with average Americans on health care costs and cost containment - point to yes. As Jean explains, what citizens need is a setting that encourages learning and deliberation. Our focus group participants were provided with such a setting. They were not only willing but eager to talk about cost containment. They were fair in assessing policies and able to attain common ground.


Citizens can accept hard facts and wrestle seriously with tough choices, they just need the right kind of help. We wonder, how different would our country's interaction with health care reform be if more communities engaged citizens in this way?

Read more here about our newest research, "Curbing Health Care Costs: Are Citizens Ready to Wrestle with Tough Choices?" and let us know what you think. Share your thoughts on Twitter with #CurbCosts.
Engaging Faculty Can Help Boost Student Success. Here's How to Do It Well.

How can community colleges keep faculty, staff and students in the loop about reforms they're undergoing? Can these colleges focus both on measuring completion numbers and ensuring educational quality? How do they know if their efforts to boost student completion are successful?


With community colleges serving nearly half of the country's undergraduate population, these sorts of questions are on the minds of leaders in higher education policy, research and reform.  And they were just a few of the questions that participants discussed during a Twitter chat (#CbDChat) on Tuesday. The chat was hosted by Completion by Design, or CbD, and drew in an audience of community college and other higher education leaders.


CbD is an initiative, started in 2011 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which works with community colleges to help increase completion and graduation rates. Public Agenda is a National Assistance Partner for CbD. We help to build the capacity of participating colleges in facilitation, engagement, meeting design, qualitative research, communications and related issues.


The chat served as a reflection on the first half of  CbD's implementation process and some of the major themes that had emerged from the early efforts of colleges participating in the initiative. One of the top concerns that participants discussed involved how to engage faculty in the reforms that are happening across community college campuses.


Public Agenda's Alison Kadlec ( @AlisonKadlec) has been working for years to help institutions meaningfully engage faculty in reform and was a key resource for chat participants. She sought to share best practices from our work with CbD and elsewhere. One chat participant asked her for three secrets to engaging faculty in big changes at an institution.

Alison called for good planning ahead of hard conversations, which particularly means having neutral, trained facilitators and making sure tough issues are framed in a careful way. She also emphasized the need for engagement that starts early, continues throughout any reform process and is respectful of everyone's time.


As we've seen in our experience, faculty and staff that are thoughtfully engaged and encouraged to collaborate with leadership and with each other consistently report higher levels of confidence and trust in leadership. This climate of trust also often allows for innovations to take off.


Have a look back at the #CbDchat here and  check out other tips for engaging adjunct and full-time faculty in community college efforts to boost student success. To learn more about our engagement services or to find out how we can help your school implement an innovation,  visit us online.


Public Agenda in the News 

Students 25 and older continue to grow, and they account for roughly 15 percent of all degree-seeking undergraduate students. This U.S. News & World Report Short List, separate from their overall rankings, looks at the schools with the most older students.

The average caseload for a guidance counselor is 471 students. This article tells the story of overstretched guidance counselors, just one of the initial roadblocks students face on the road to college completion.

A study of 38,000 community college students in Texas found that 94 percent had at least one period where they took a break from their studies. The top reasons students "stop out" include juggling work and school and inability to afford tuition. 

A group of 20 institutions that offer competency-based degrees are teaming up to share best practices and influence the national conversation of competency-based education. This article describes the network and Public Agenda's role in it. 

The debate over the legitimacy and value of massive open online courses (MOOCs) continues, and this time it's about the public's confusion over online courses, which mostly aren't massive or open.   
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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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