Is Higher Education Economically Unsustainable? An Exploration of Factors that Undermine Sustainability Assessments of Higher Education

Antonios Maragakis 1 , Andy van den Dobbelsteen 2 , and Alexandros Maragakis 3
  • 1 Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • 2 Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • 3 Eastern Michigan University, the United States of America

Abstract

As students continue to review the sustainability of higher education institutions, there is a growing need to understand the economic returns of degrees as a function of a sustainable institution. This paper reviews a range of international research to summarize the economic drivers of higher education attainment. Although the cost inputs to higher education are fairly well understood, the economic return of a degree is not. Students misperception of economic returns coupled with a dynamic definition of employability create the framework for unsustainable debt loads for graduates. This paper proposes three metrics that can be used to assess the economic sustainability of students graduating higher education that can be used to supplement the broader definition of sustainability within higher education.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Anchor, J., Fiserova, J., Marsikova, K., & Urbanek, V. (2011). Student expectations of the financial returns to higher education in the Czech Republic and England: Evidence from business schools. Economics of Education Review, 30, 673–681.

  • Ashford, N. A., Hall, R. P., & Ashford, R. (2012). Addressing the crisis in employment and consumer demand: Reconciliation with financial and environmental sustainability. The European Financial Review, October-November, 2012, 63–68.

  • Becker, G. S. (1964). Human capital, a theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  • Bell, D. N. F. & Blanchflower, D. G. (2011). Youth underemployment in the UK in the great recession. National Institute Economic Review, 215.

  • Bone, E., & Agombar, J. (2011). First-year attitudes towards, and skills in, sustainable development. UK: University of Bath, The Higher Education Academy.

  • Cammaerts, B. (2013). The mediation of insurrectionary symbolic damage: The 2010 U.K. Student Protests. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 18 (4), 525–548.

  • Carroll, D. & Tani, M. (2013). Over-education of recent higher education graduates: New Australian panel evidence. Economics of Education Review, 32, 207–218.

  • Comm, C. J. & Mathaisel, D. F. X. (2003). Less is more: a framework for a sustainable university. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 4 (4), 314–323.

  • Connolly, T., Arkes, H. R., & Hammond, K. R. (2000). Judgment and decision making: an interdisciplinary reader. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Cortese, A. D. (2003). The critical role of higher education in creating a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, March-May, 15–22.

  • Cowan, B. W. (2011). Forward-thinking teens: The effects of college costs on adolescent risky behavior. Economics of Education Review, 30, 813–825.

  • Datal-Clayton, B., & Bass, S. (2002). Sustainable development strategies. London: Earth scan Publications Ltd.

  • Denny, K. (2013). The effect of abolishing university tuition costs: Evidence from Ireland. Labour Economics, 26, 26–33.

  • Dwyer, R.E., McCLoud, L. & Hodson, R. (2012). Debt and graduation from American Universities. Social Forces, 90, 1133–1155.

  • Egne, R. M. (2014) Gender equality in public higher education institutions of Ethiopia: The case of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, 5, 3–21.

  • Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Oxford: Capstone Publishing.

  • European Higher Education Area (2014) Bologna Process – European Higher Education Area. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.ehea.info/

  • Greener, U. (2010). Higher education sustainability ratings, rankings and reviews (A Greener Guide). Retrieved May 3, 2015 from: http://www.greeneru.com/

  • Hemelt, S. W., & Marcotte, D. E. (2011). The impact of tuition increases on enrolment at public colleges and universities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33 (4), 435–457.

  • Hemsley-Brown, J., & Oplatka, I. (2006). Universities in a competitive global marketplace: A systematic review of the literature on higher education marketing. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 19, 316–338.

  • House of Commons Education and Skills Committee. (2007). The Bologna Process: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 20062007. London: The Stationery Office Limited.

  • Hübner, M. (2012). Do tuition fees affect enrolment behaviour? Evidence from a ‘natural experiment’ in Germany. Economics of Education Review, 31(6), 949–960.

  • Iliško, Dz. & Badayanova, J. (2014). A case study of ESD implementation: Signs of sustainable leadership. Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, 5, 38–48.

  • Jucker, R. (2002). “Sustainability? Never heard of it!” Some basics we shouldn’t ignore when engaging in education for sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3(1), 8–18.

  • Kates, R. W., Clark, W. C., Corell R., Hall, J. M., Jaeger, C. C., Lowe, J. J., Dickinson, N. M. (2001). Sustainability science. Science, 292, 641–642.

  • Linsley, I. (2005). Causes of overeducation in the Australian labour market. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 8(2), 121–143.

  • Makrakis, N. K. & Makrakis, V. (2012) Processes, strategies and practices for turning the University of Crete into a Sustainable University. Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, 3, 5–22.

  • Maragakis, A., & Dobbelsteen, A. (2013). Higher education: Features, trends and needs in relation to sustainability. Journal of Sustainability Education, 4, 1–20.

  • Maragakis, A., & Dobbelsteen, A. (2015) Sustainability in higher education analysis and selection of assessment systems, Journal of Sustainable Development, 8 (3).

  • McIntosh, M., Gaalswyk, K., Keniry, L., & Eagan, D. (2008). Campus Environment 2008A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education. National Wildlife Federation.

  • Menon, M.E., Pashourtidou, N., Polycarpou, A. & Pashardes, P. (2012). Students’ expectations about earnings and employment and the experience of recent university graduates: Evidence from Cyprus. International Journal of Educational Development, 32, 805–813.

  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2011). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. DOI: 10.1787/eag-2011-en

  • Patrick, D. L., Murray, T., & Bowles, I. A. (2008). Campus sustainability best practices. Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/eea/lbe/lbe-campus-sustain-practices.pdf

  • Perna, T., Carriere, J., & Chang, J. (2006). Sustainability governance: Evaluating policy development and implementation structures at the University of Toronto (Project for Env. 427). University of Toronto. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from: http://www.environment.utoronto.ca/upload/undergraduateresearchreports/421governancegroup06-07.pdf

  • Puukka, J. (2008). Mobilising higher education for sustainable development – lessons learnt from the OECD study. Proceedings of the 4th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, 7.

  • Rajecki, D., & Borden, V. M. (2011). Psychology degrees: Employment, wage, and career trajectory consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 321–335.

  • Reid, A., & Petocz, P. (2006). University lecturers’ understanding of sustainability. Higher Education, 51, 105–123.

  • Ryan, A., Tilbury, D., Corcoran, P. B., Abe, O., & Nomura, K. (2010). Sustainability in higher education in the Asia-Pacific: developments, challenges, and prospects. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 11, 106–119.

  • Saadatian, O., Dola, K. B., & Tahir, O. M. (2011). Identifying strengths and weakness of sustainable higher educational assessment approaches. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(3), 137–146.

  • Salīte, I. (2008). Educational action research for sustainability: Constructing a vision for the future teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, 10, 5–16.

  • Schomburg, H., & Teichlet, U. (2011). Employability and mobility of bachelor graduates in Europe. Key results of the Bologna process. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

  • Selby, D., Jones, P., & Kagawa, F. (2009). Sustainability promotion and branding: Messaging challenges and possibilities for higher education institutions. Sustainability, 1, 537–555.

  • Sherman, D. (2008). Sustainability: What’s the big idea? A strategy for transforming the higher education curriculum. Sustainability, 1(3), 188–195.

  • Shriberg, M. (2002). Institutional assessment tools for sustainability in higher education: strengths, weaknesses, and implications for practice and theory. Higher Education Policy, 15(2),153–167.

  • State of the Union Address, The. (2012). Retrieved April 6, 2015 from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address

  • Stephens, J. C. & Graham, A. C. (2008). Exploring change towards sustainability in Universities by adapting transition management. Environmental Management of Sustainable Universities (EMSU) 2008 Conference: Barcelona.

  • Sterling, S. (2001). Sustainable education ń re-visioning learning and change. Schumacher Society Briefing, 6, Dartington: Schumacher Society, Green Books.

  • The Princeton Review. (2011). The Princeton review’s guide to 311 Green Colleges. The Princeton Review. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from: http://www.centerforgreenschools.org/docs/Guideto311GreenColleges.pdf

  • TSL Education Ltd. (2012). World university rankings 2012-2013. Retrieved May 7, 2015, from: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2012-13/world-ranking

  • Walker, I., & Zhu, Y. (2011). Differences by degree: Evidence of the net financial rates of return to undergraduate study for England and Wales. Economics of Education Review, 30, 1177–1186.

  • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Wu, C., (2011). High graduate unemployment rate and Taiwanese undergraduate education. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 303–310.

OPEN ACCESS

Journal + Issues

Search