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Productivity: Improving Learning Outcomes While Managing Costs

Goal: Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money, and staff.

To reach the President’s goal of regaining global leadership in college graduation rates by 2020, the United States must increase the percentage of citizens holding college degrees from the current level of just under 40% to 60%. That is a sizable increase and, considering that college graduation rates in our country have held steady for more than three decades (OECD, 2009a), a sizable challenge.

Add to this challenge the projections of most states and the federal government of reduced revenues for the foreseeable future, and it is clear that we will not reach this goal simply by spending more money on education.

In fact, over the last 30 years, the United States has increased its real dollar K-12 education spending per student by more than 70% without a commensurate improvement in outcomes (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005; 2008). In higher education, tuition costs are on the rise, yet just 21% of the increased revenue goes to instruction (Vedder, 2004) and spending changes have not resulted in higher degree completion rates (Bound, Lovenheim, & Turner, 2009).

More money for education is important, but we must spend education dollars more wisely, starting with being clear about the learning outcomes we expect from the investments we make. We also must leverage technology to plan, manage, monitor, and report spending so that we can provide decision-makers with a reliable, accurate, and complete view of the financial performance of our education system at all levels. Such visibility is essential to improving productivity and accountability. At the same time, we must make a commitment to continuous improvement by continually measuring and improving the productivity of our education system to meet our goals for educational attainment within the budgets we can afford.

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