If we’re to consider higher education as a supply chain, what would it’s output be? There are a lot of really important supply chains to consider in higher education, whether the supply chain of books and lab materials, or the whole host of materials a mini-city like a university needs to feed and house thousands of students. But in this episode, we explore an entirely different supply chain of higher education: the supply of students entering into the university and all the challenges and complexity that come with that. Ron Volpe sat down with the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Ross Aikins to discuss the implications of tuition, inequality, admission hurdles, and medication on the supply chain of higher ed.
Here are a few highlights from the episode.
If higher education is a supply chain, what is the end consumer product delivered?
In this altruistic field of higher ed, we often don't like to talk about students in marketing terms because students aren’t simply products or consumers. But on the other hand, there's no doubt that this consumer mentality has seeped into higher education especially given the huge exorbitant cost of tuition. I can't blame students and families for thinking of higher ed this way. So certainly to answer your original question, there's a lot of ways to think about supply chains in higher ed.
How vital is transparency in admissions to ensure we have an equitable supply chain of higher education?
If you're looking to engage in the college admissions process, you first need to know it's even there, and that it's something that could help you and help your future. The thing is, college admissions may seem transparent to some families and students and opaque to others. But a lot of people who could benefit greatly by attending our colleges and universities either don't know how to engage with the process, or are more likely turned away by the prohibitive costs of attendance.
It's not like a lot of these families haven’t heard of college, it's more like a huge number of American households are working paycheck to paycheck and can’t even fathom taking on tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or loans. It just seems like an impossible thing to justify. From figuring out how to fill out FAFSAs, getting bogus information from “net price calculators” on college websites, dealing with short-staffed high school counseling departments, to navigating standardized testing, there are myriad roadblocks for families to try to overcome.
Who does the supply chain of higher education leave out?
Educational attainment is associated with economic prosperity, earnings, quality of life and job satisfaction with ever-increasing levels of degree attainment, and on the whole, people live longer and earn more. The problem is that higher ed has been too slow to broaden its reach to those who could really benefit from participating in it like underrepresented minority populations: Native Americans, Latino, Chicano, or Latinx, Black or African Americans, and then Asian Americans. But once your family or community begins to reap the benefits of exposure to higher ed, those benefits can really be enduring, which is why many institutions are rightfully prioritizing and emphasizing bringing more first-generation students into the fold. That's an expensive thing.
This is important because the US Census estimates that white Americans are actually going to be a minority in the United States by the year 2050. You know, higher ed has been historically very efficient at educating white students from middle and upper-class backgrounds. But we have to get better and adjust equitability to change these demographics. Otherwise, who's going to fill these jobs that the economy will need in the future?
So higher ed is becoming more and more difficult for some families to access in large part because it's becoming more and more expensive. Back in the day, the UC system was free for all Californians and a lot of public universities used to be this way. But state appropriations for higher ed dwindle more and more every year. Some of this is because of the projected cost of Medicaid, some because of prisons and other public services. And when state budgets get tight, as increasingly they do, governors tell chancellors to just raise their tuition. And that's what's been playing out for decades. We also have public institutions that are spending sometimes hundreds of millions of taxpayer and tuition dollars to build state of the art facilities, while also paying million-dollar salaries to football coaches and presidents at public universities just to compete with other elite institutions. So you need more administrators and more staff for these almost university mini-cities.
And all of this compounds to raise tuition more and more and the cost of going to college. I keep coming back to that family who may have talented college-age students who've never been a part of this system before, but believe correctly that this is perhaps a ticket to a career and prosperity. But they may be seeing this rising price tag, and they decide they’re unable to afford it.
So higher ed has always been efficient, but only for certain segments of our population.
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Ross Aikins 0:02
So higher has always been relatively efficient, but only for certain segments of our population.
There's actually a projected shortfall in terms of degree attainment,
our economy will fall short, an estimated 5 million workers by by next year by 2020.
But it's still arguably and with evidence, the most reliable vehicle for social mobility that we have.
Ron Volpe 0:23
This is Supply Change. And I'm Ron Volpe.
If were to consider higher education as a supply chain, what would its output be? There are a lot of really important supply chains to consider in higher education. But one of the more interesting ones is the supply chain of students entering into the university and all the challenges and complexity that comes with that. I met with the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Ross Aikens to discuss the implications of tuition, inequality, admission hurdles, and medication on the supply chain of higher ed.
Today we're fortunate to have with us Dr. Ross Aikens. So thanks so much for joining us.
Ross Aikins 1:11
It's awesome to be here. Thanks for having me.
Ron Volpe 1:13
Why don't we start with you know, as I think about supply chains and education, I think of a lot of things. And one of the first questions I had is if you look at higher education as a supply chain, who is the end consumer? What is what is the end consumer product that you guys deliver?
Ross Aikins 1:28
That's a really interesting question. I gotta say that, you know, having listened to this podcast a little, I kind of first chafed and struggled a little bit when thinking about how is higher education a supply chain or what that would be? I mean, at the surface level, you know, there are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States, and they do need, you know, actual supplies to function. You know, things like lab equipment, books, food, physical facilities. I mean, many of these institutions basically resemble small cities and there are surely vendors like Aramark, Microsoft, Nike and so one that supply them. So certainly higher ed relies on supply chains in terms of procurement and you know how I've heard it used here on this podcast before.
But but higher it is a vastly different industry than others. And so when I think about the products coming out of colleges and universities, you know, I think you could take this a few ways. The first is that one really important supply chain is of degrees. And this is what we call degree attainment, meaning like, you know, associate's degrees, bachelor degrees, the degrees your kids are hopefully on the way to earning maybe this include advanced degrees, like MDS, JDs, PhDs and so on, you know, these are these are important indicators of the development of human capital that are, are produced in higher ed. In other words, people go to college, they earned those degrees and then they enter various professions to become a doctor, lawyer and so on. And so this degree attainment is a super important supply chain function of higher ed.
But but then it's also important to understand that there's more that happens in college university Is that just like, degrees, like, these aren't just degree factories, they produce vast amounts of knowledge, which is actually measurable in terms of grants, patents, you know, nerdy stuff like journal articles published and other sort of tangible researchy things. But that's kind of a complicated amorphous supply chain to think of. So, so really, for me, like the easiest, you know, supply chain of higher ed, for me to wrap my head around, was the supply of students into the university, and all the challenges and complexity that comes with that. And, you know, I should probably disclaim here that, you know, in this altruistic field of higher ed, we often don't like to talk about, you know, people or students in these sort of, like, you know, marketing terms, you know, like students are simply products or consumers that, you know, can seem a little bit reductive or maybe even offensive to some but now, hey, on the other hand, there's there's no doubt that this consumer mentality has seeped into higher education and especially given the huge exorbitant cost of tuition like I I can't blame students and families for thinking of higher ed this way. So, certainly to answer your original question, there's a lot of ways to think about supply chains in higher ed. But I think that degree attainment and at the student level as in like the supply of students into higher ed, I think those are the some of the more thought provoking and challenging ways that I see it.
Ron Volpe 4:15
You look, you started in student admissions. What was that like? And how is that evolved over the last few years?
Ross Aikins 4:21
Absolutely. I mean, I went to college myself, which is, I guess, when I entered the supply chain of higher ed, just to backup before I got into work as admissions professional, that was sort of my process for getting there. And that's the process for a lot of families and students. It really starts in high school actually even starts before that a middle school and some economists and researchers might argue that could start even earlier than that. And that's an important one because the pipeline to higher ed runs through K through 12 K through 12 schools. And you know, without an equitable working K through 12 education system, students might not be adequately prepared for higher ed, which is a huge problem, but for--yeah, for me personally, a lot of my insight to how college access works or How it doesn't work comes from those few years I spent working in undergrad admissions at USC. And I also, it's worth noting, had admissions responsibilities at a small grad program at Carnegie Mellon University. And I currently have, a big part of my role as a faculty is in graduate admissions here at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. So, so yeah, working in undergrad admissions at a select University, like USC was really sort of my peek behind the curtain like, Oh, so that's how this whole thing works.
Ron Volpe 5:27
And I don't know if you have any perspective on this, but does that process admissions process look different? As you go from university to university, Is it pretty, is it quite common across all universities? And I've got data points only for my two younger kids. And I've got two older kids. But my third child is about ready and looking at colleges now. So it does seem like sometimes there's some differential in terms of how the process works. So I don't know if you have any perspective on that.
Ross Aikins 5:56
I have some I mean, it does. It's wildly diverse. Depending on, I'd say mostly the size of the institution. USC, and I know this is the case at Penn undergrad admissions as well, where you have very large admissions operations reading 10s of thousands of applications that, you know, actually those numbers grow over the years as more and more students — It's not that there are more students entering college but they're applying to more colleges, which creates a bigger volume. And so yeah, I mean it at Penn SC, you know, I can't talk too much about the nuances of those systems, but versus a liberal arts college like I went to Occidental College and you know, when I would talk to a lot of admissions colleagues, as a professional at various conferences and whatnot, they would talk about how we actually have committees, you know, we get down a room with a stack of applications, sometimes at the time, at least,—it's gonna make me feel old—paper applications, pass them around and actually debate the merits of certain candidates. I think smaller institutions or more regional institutions may have a more intimate process. But you know, it's it's a real challenge to sift through, you know like maybe 30-40,000 applications, some of these large institutions at UCLA used to have the most, maybe still, but it's it's a gargantuan task. And it varies that along the lines of selectivity to
Ron Volpe 7:16
But the competition nowadays just seems a lot tougher. And the stress that kind of falls back on students etc. and families seems a lot tougher. So yeah, I don't know if that if you have any comments on that, but it's, I just my visceral reaction to the admissions process is I'm going through it right now with my daughter is, it's really tough, and it's really stressful.
Ross Aikins 7:36
You know I think these experiences are wildly different for families across the country. I mean, I don't know much about your background, Ron, but I grew up near Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. I went to a public high school, but it was a public high school with a lot of knowledge about college-going. I came from a family and my mother attended college her her father went to college. So you know, I think that family like mine—maybe yours and maybe others—aren't like the majority of families in the United States in terms of households where there may not be a lot of stress or pressure to attend college because there might be a critical lack of knowledge about the college-going process, which is really a problem that we can, you know, understand a little bit as we go and or talk about more as we go on.
But, um, yeah, it really varies from from certain communities in terms of, you know, where that stress comes from. It is true, though, that I don't doubt it feels that way. As I mentioned earlier, you know, college students are applying to more universities. And so that's why admissions, I guess, admin numbers, selectivity is going up in that admit rates are going down. But mostly, that's just because of the volume of applications that individual students the average of application submitted per student, not by any sort of sweeping demographic changes or any sort of systemic pressure that it's all getting harder necessarily.
Ron Volpe 9:05
You know, changing gears a little bit. So obviously right now everybody has seen some of the scandals that are out there in the admissions space, with people buying their way into schools for their kids. So, you know, I want to get into that a bit. And my first question is, how vital is transparency in admissions to ensure we have an equitable supply chain of higher education, if you will?
Ross Aikins 9:30
Oh, yeah, I like the word equity. I want to put a pin in that, but it's really important, more than transparency, kind of. As I mentioned, if you're looking to engage in the college admissions process, you first need to know what's even there. And that is something that could perhaps help you and help your future. I mean, college admissions may seem transparent to some families and students or opaque to others but, but the promise that a lot of people who could benefit greatly by attending our college university either don't know how to engage with the process, or are more likely really turned away by the prohibitive cost of attendance. I mean, it's not like a lot of these these families have never heard of college, it's more that a huge number of American households are working paycheck to paycheck so that to even fathom taking on 10s of, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or loans, it just seems like an impossible thing to justify. And sure you know, there are loans, scholarships resources available but that requires a lot of help to navigate. So, so back to transparency or the lack thereof. I mean, just a few examples that come to mind. I know that a lot of institutions have these net-price calculators on their websites, which which, when done properly can be a really useful tool to enhance the transparency around cost, but but some of them are, are just kind of deceptive or bogus or just plain wrong. And there's no regulation on these net price calculators. But there's been some interesting studies by some my colleagues about that. You may have heard of the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Yeah, you may have filled it out a few times. And it's a complicated form. And not to mention that that college counselors at high school are in really short supply. I mean, we're talking a-thousand-to-one student accounts, and the ratios were worse at many public high schools across the country. In addition, you know, this, this pertains a little bit to recent scandals that comes to mind, but standardized tests are also intimidating. They also cost money. And in all of this college, especially tuition a college is expensive. And these costs are, as you mentioned, not always transparent.
Ron Volpe 11:32
From a parent's perspective, it feels a bit like a black box, the admissions process: and you plug in, you set up the forums, and then somebody, some answers come back. But is transparency something you think will drive more look to drive greater amounts of transparency?
Ross Aikins 11:47
Yeah, I think there's definitely—I mean institutions generally consider themselves to be pro social actors and forces of good. I think if you were to ask admissions offices, you know, they want to be as transparent as as possible. You know, it's important to have a process that people can can trust. But I think that a lot of the problem in terms of students getting into college isn't really around transparency. It's partly about academic preparation. It's partly about affordability. You know, I think that the knowledge around that getting into certain communities maybe isn't an issue of the process or institutions themselves not being as forthright as they could with with critical information, but it might just be about more more communication, going to where it needs to go in order to educate the parts of our country—the segments of our population, that that need more degree attainment in order to for us to be economically competitive as a country.
Ron Volpe 12:53
You know, and I think you said it really well. I think that and I think it ties into my next question because students obviously experienced stress in higher education for a lot of reasons. And in your, you know, the work you do you obviously have good line of sight to that. So what's that like? And you know, is there has there been research done to identify the types of stress students are finding upon them?
Ross Aikins 13:15
I mean, absolutely, there's this—Yeah, you're definitely entering my wheelhouse. So I'll try to keep it pretty, pretty tight here. But it's important to sort of define what we're talking about when we talk about mental health and stress, you know, things like depression, anxiety, trauma, debt, financial burdens, sleep problems, you know, addiction to alcohol and other drugs or even non substances of abuse, things like gaming, gambling, sex, pornography, addiction, procrastination, perfectionism, I mean, all of these things are sort of mental health pitfalls that are sometimes abundant in college.
And we even have research and how abundant I mean, there's just a sort of establish a baseline. There's the survey the the American College Health Association has a National College health assessment survey that a lot of Institutions participate in. And you know, first of all, about nine, little over 9% of students are entering college with psychiatric conditions, not including ADHD, that's about 8% on its own. But then students are asked about dozens of factors, stress related, that affect them academically. Within the past 12 months: number one was stress, which may seem pretty broad, but 32% of students reported that. Followed by about a quarter of student support anxiety within the past year. 20% was sleep difficulties, depression at 17%, and so on. And that that represents a lot of students who encounter some kind of struggle, and all this important is because we want to retain students in this this supply chain, it's important to retain and not have students, you know, drop out that that's a big concern.
But then there's also a particularly meaningful question that the survey asked, which is about how students report feeling within the past year, and about 53% of students report feeling things were hopeless—more women than men, but 53 is the average. 85 percent said that they felt overwhelmed which you may think, you know, college is hard, it should be overwhelming, not overwhelming but properly whelming, you know. And then about I think 63 felt lonely. And 41 said that it was difficult, they felt so depressed, it was difficult to function. And here's what gets even more somber 11.3% of students seriously considered suicide, and almost 2% (1.9%) had actual suicide attempt. So if you take two out of every 100 students at any given institution: that represents a real mental health crisis. A lot of people use that word "crisis" pretty loosely, but that's that's an important thing. These are important issues that can bubble up and take huge tolls on campus communities. But you know, just to keep going a little bit, I think that the issue that I worry about the most in the immediate future—and I'm framing this in, in part of the mental health issue—relates to sort of inclusion. And I don't know about you or some of our colleagues but in higher ed, almost all of us who were on a campus somewhere in 2015 in 2016, those were not awesome or harmonious years in higher ed. Where hundreds of campuses held walkouts, teach-ins, other demonstrations where students were organizing, making demands: and this was the biggest wave of activism in the country since the 1960s. And these issues/demands focused on social justice, diversity inclusion.
And this, some researchers did do some great work to compile and look at these lists of student demands. From leadership they are demanding an acknowledgement of a history of racism, demands for servings advocates for diversity and social justice, but of these various categories of demands of what they wanted from their institutions, there's five categories: there's legal services, Career Services, mental health services, activities, and then academic services. And the number one demand from students was was mental health services. So I'm not suggesting there's a mental health deficit, at all, among those students. But what, to me, this says that our students are saying that this this climate for inclusion, particularly among those students who have historically been left out, or who are currently underrepresented, you know, these are the students who we need most to attract and to retain in the supply chain. They've been, they've been woefully neglected. So I think that message was sent loud and clear.
Ron Volpe 17:19
And not to too gratuitously use the term supply chain, but I'm going to go ahead and use it, but do you think that, do you think there's a dynamic that exists that students actually don't know, or people forget about, before they're a college student, perhaps kids growing up just don't have the access to plug into, here's where the gratuitous use of the term comes "supply chain of," both mental health care and drugs and prescription drugs, and that college kind of it opens up a bit like a flower and kind of make you feel like you know, okay, now I feel like there's a place I can go to get to talk to somebody about it, and oh, by the way, by the way, there's a plethora of things I can do from from a medication perspective to to address it. Do you think college serves a purpose of helping provide visibility to that supply chain? Again—I want to use that term—for students in college.
Ross Aikins 18:14
With an understanding of the way we're using this idea, I definitely think that college could be a place to educate people about sort of adult, you know, temptations and vices. I mean, I used to think of college—college is awesome, so much good developmental things happen in college. So I don't want to keep talking like college is this precarious bummer that it's so risky. It's expensive. Why would I send you know, My son is only two years old? Why would I sent him there? Well, it's because it's great. There's so much good things that happened there too.
And I think that colleges are being challenged openly to really help foster young adults with safe development. It's not a position that colleges want to be in this sort of "in loco parentis" historical role where, you know, once you get out of the home, you're the college's problem or colleges act as parents. I don't think that's an easy position for college to be in when there's so much dynamism on campuses. But, but yeah, you know, I think that colleges could be a very good educated space for students to healthfully develop, you know, sexual identities, healthy habits around sleep, eating, I'll say responsible consumption of various things, you know, everything in moderation, I guess.
Then you mentioned this sort of mental health care and overall concern for wellness and ensure you psychiatric drugs. And that that's all part of that. Essentially, I mean, I think you're also right, I sort of took embedded within your question. I took this part where, you know, the research shows is that over time, at least with things like non-medical prescription drug use of say, like Adderall, you know underclassmen, use these things non-medically a lot less than upperclassmen, which makes sense, is you're exposed to more and more peers over time, a fourth year student is going to be much more worldly and just just have a lot more perspective and may have made choices to dabble here or there because there's, there's been more opportunity to do so. So that happens as well.
Ron Volpe 20:21
So I'm going to go another direction and just, you know, pose a question and it's kind of a follow on to the last question. So a couple of podcasts ago, you may have heard it we did a podcast with a cannabis company, the CEO of a cannabis company based here in the Bay Area. So if I look back at my years in college, I roomed with a dude named Steve and he sold weed out of my dorm room and it was just, it was mayhem all the time. It's much more organized now. So do you have any light—you may have no line of sight to it so feel free to say that—but give me a line of sight on if if the legalization in some states of marijuana is, is creating a new kind of a supply chain that students are finding accessible?
Ross Aikins 21:10
I'm fascinated by this issue. I don't know a lot about this issue and I was a big fan of that podcast. So I'll try to like not repeat the points there. But yes, I mean, I did see parallels with the expansion of marijuana and sort of the quasi-medicalization of it to the students who I interviewed who were non-medical users of Adderall and other you know, stimulant medications. Because I would talk to students about hey, my sort of recruitment flyers said like, "is there any drug that helps you? I want to talk to you about your experiences." I was looking for psychological dependence, academic dependence, I was looking for basically drug use that kind of flips the script a little bit in terms of: usually think of alcohol, marijuana other drugs as like congruent to the to keeping you in college congruent to the noble human capital producing functions of higher ed. You know your grades generally don't go up if you have an alcohol or drug problem. But Adderall seemed to be completely different. And what happened was I got about, you know, 90% were prescription stimulant users, but several were marijuana users. They said, "This actually helps me and I it's not just a recreational drug for me. It is a, it's a functional drug." I don't know if I bought it when I you know, ask them about it. I mean, I would talk to many dudes like Steve, who said things like, you know, "I thought I had a really good idea for an engineering project. When I checked out on it the morning, it was actually really pretty bad." stuff like that. But what also happened was, I would ask, "Where did you get the idea to seek Adderall?" They said, "Well, I you know,"—and this was at a West Coast university where marijuana had the status of being medicalized, or guess, medically available at the time—And they said, "well, there were flyers on my car and bulletin boards and you know, this idea of doctor-shopping came to me, not through prescription stimulant seeking, but through this sort of marijuana industry." And that worked both ways where students, and I think people get this idea that I can just seek drugs for various conditions and that, you know, kind of like the admissions fraud, you know, you can kind of fake your way into a thing that you perceive to be advantageous. So, I saw that a little bit I don't have a lot of common about the overall economics. I mean, I, I have friends who are more like to drug policies and, you know, overall, you know, I have opinions I'm, I guess, a recovering California. So, you know, I I've certainly come across my share of dudes in my time. But, but yeah, I mean, it's an interesting idea. I just don't know much about the burgeoning marijuana supply chain.
Ron Volpe 23:43
Hey, Ross. Another question that I wanted to ask you about is what are the implications of a broken supply chain in higher education? I've certainly had glimpses of it with other two of my children that have gone from the university and myself when I was in university. So what are the implications of a broken supply chain in higher education?
Ross Aikins 24:01
Well, you know, currently there's there's actually a projected shortfall in terms of degree attainment. And there's been studies that talk about how the US actually needs more baccalaureate and bachelor's degrees in order to remain economically competitive in the future. This is, according to a Georgetown public policy initiative where they said that our economy will fall short an estimated 5 million workers by by next year, by 2020. And this is happening in part because baby boomers are retiring. But industries are also evolving. The shortfall is occurring especially with with baccalaureate bachelor's degrees. I know the state of Tennessee has this "drive to 55" initiative, which is 55% of their population. That's their target who should have associate's degrees. And as we talked about, the nature of jobs has also changed. Texas and Tennessee are examples of states that have sort of stepped up. Or in Maryland where there's this this rainy day fund based on corporate and income tax to support higher ed shortfalls. So some states get it, that a more educated citizenry with more training, more degrees in their cities, towns, and states are really good for their long term economic interests. You know, I mean, you got to keep that supply chain moving and working.
Because, you know, back to your question when the supply chain is broken or doesn't work, you know, you do on rare occasions have have closures of small private or even larger public universities such as what's what's kind of currently happening at the University of Alaska system, which is really sad, it could be devastating in the long run to that state's economy into various communities.
Ron Volpe 25:32
You touched on it in an earlier part of this conversation, but who does the supply chain of education of higher education leave out? So I'm thinking in particular about admissions, are there other people that are left out of the process? And what is it going to take to get be more inclusive in that sense?
Ross Aikins 25:48
It's great question. I don't want to be too repetitive here, but I'm glad you asked. I mean, there's a lot of families who have never had any generation attend college. And that's a huge inefficiency. You know, higher it is by no means perfect is very flawed, but but it's still arguably and with evidence the most reliable vehicle for social mobility that we have. I mean, educational attainment is associated with economic prosperity, earnings, potential quality of life, job and life satisfaction with every increasing level of degree attainment. On the whole, people live longer and earn more.
The problem is that higher ed has been slow. And you asked this question a little bit earlier, but I'd say too slow to kind of broaden its reach to those who could really benefit from participating in it. This is underrepresented minority populations who come to mind—students of color traditionally as defined by US Census in categories: Native Americans, Latino Chicano or Latin x students and families Black or African Americans and then Asian Americans. But of course, if you disaggregate Asian American to various nationality stats, you do see subgroup differences. I know that many Asian American suburbs are doing quite well, and there's in fact lawsuits against Harvard's admissions process over this, this is sort of partly attributed to that model minority myth that's worth dispelling in terms of it applying to a whole population of Asian American applicants.
But but these are all important issues of representation and under representation, that that in terms of who higher education is historically for, meaning in more affluent families, typically white students and families. But once your family or community begins to reap the benefits of exposure to higher ed, those benefits can can really be enduring, which is why many institutions are rightfully, I think, prioritizing and emphasizing bringing more first generation students into the fold, and that's an expensive thing. So it really it is some of the, the more resource institutions that have the funds to do some of this, but there's other programs and opportunities. It's it's a real challenge. As I mentioned, this is important because the US Census estimates that white Americans are actually gonna be a minority in the United States by the year 2050. You know, higher ed has been historically very efficient at educating white students from middle and upper class backgrounds. But you know, we have to get better at and adjust equitability to change these demographics or to adjust to these changing demographics, you know, otherwise you know, who's going to fill these jobs that the economy will need the future?
So, so yeah, so higher is becoming more and more difficult for some families to access in large part, you know, because it's becoming more and more expensive as well. We talked a little about California. But you know, back in the day, the UC system used to be free for all Californians, you know, a lot of public universities used to be this way. And this is less an less so every year because state appropriations for higher ed dwindle more and more every year. You know, some of this is because of the projected cost of Medicaid, but, you know, also prisons and other public services. These are political issues. But But the beauty of higher ed is that there's this thing called tuition. So of course, when state budgets get tight, as increasingly they do, governors say to chancellors, "Hey, no problem, just raise your tuition." And in fact, that's what's been playing out for four decades. So, you know, we have this case where you have public institutions that are spending sometimes hundreds of millions of taxpayer and tuition dollars among other sources to build things like, you know, like lazy rivers, rock walls, state of the art facilities, you know, and also they're paying million-dollar salaries to people like football coaches and presidents at public universities, you know, just to compete with other elite institutions. And then, you know, you need more administrators and more staff for these, like mini-cities. And all all this compounds to raise tuition more and more, and the cost of going to college. So I keep coming back to that family who may have talented admissible college age students who've maybe never been a part of the system before, but believe correctly, that this is perhaps a ticket to their lasting prosperity, you know, they're maybe seeing this, this rising price tag and they're just thinking, "nah." And that, it's sad, but that that does happen. So higher ed has always been relatively efficient, but only for certain segments of our population, and the biggest problem and limitation of its efficiency today, I'd say, is that it's so expensive.
Ron Volpe 30:02
So listen, we've this has been an amazing conversation. I've learned a ton from talking to you and I know our listeners will too about the supply chain of higher education, and Ross Aikens, we really appreciate you joining us today for another edition of supply change. Thank you, Ron, it's been a pleasure.