TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson: The Future of Undergraduate Education

"We must focus on how to provide, at scale, the knowledge and skills that will help students make sense of — and thrive in — a time of great demographic, economic and technological change," writes Ferguson.

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TIAA is No. 27 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list


(Originally published on LinkedIn)

Commission members Mitch Daniels, Roger Ferguson, Michael McPherson, Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Jack DeGioia, appear at the National Press Club to discuss the final report from the Commission of the Future of Undergraduate Education (CFUE).

Each fall, over 17 million students enroll at the more than 4,700 colleges and universities in the U.S. About one-third of these students are over 25 and almost 40% attend part-time. These statistics underscore that we've come a long way from the days when a college education was reserved for the social and economic elite.

While we're not perfect, our nation has made great progress in making higher education more accessible to students of all ages and backgrounds. The key challenge we face today is of educational quality. We must focus on how to provide, at scale, the knowledge and skills that will help students make sense of – and thrive in – a time of great demographic, economic, and technological change.

One of the obstacles to effectively meeting this challenge is the issue of completion.

Far too many students who set out to obtain a post-secondary education fail to complete it. While almost 90 percent of high school graduates will enroll in an undergraduate institution at some point during their young adulthood, only about 60 percent who pursue a bachelor's degree will actually complete it. The completion rate is even lower – about 30 percent – for those who pursue a certificate or an associate's degree.

Moreover, completion rates are highly unequal when analyzed by gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Women complete their degree programs at higher rates than men. White and Asian students graduate at higher rates than black and Hispanic students. High-income students complete their degrees at higher rates than low-income students. Part-time students complete at much lower rates than full-time students, and students from rural areas lag behind their urban peers.

These dis­parities mirror and reinforce other social inequi­ties, and they are an obstacle to social progress.

Cost and affordability are also significant issues. Student debt is a growing challenge for our nation, but it's particularly problematic for students who do not complete their degrees. Many of them are unable to pay off their loans and end up worse off financially than when they first enrolled. Their default rate is almost 25 percent, compared to 9 percent for students who complete their degrees.

Addressing these issues is vital to our progress as a nation, because higher education is increasingly important in the 21st century. The economic benefits associated with a college degree are clear in measures like lifetime earnings and employment rates. A college education also correlates to a host of other positive outcomes. For example, college graduates have nearly twice the voting rate as high school graduates and report better health throughout their lives.

A growing proportion of jobs require either a bachelor's or associate's degree or a certificate – and that trend will only accelerate. Yet the United States has fallen to 11th among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who hold an associate's degree or higher.

There is no single model for a successful undergradu­ate experience. Indeed, the diversity of educational pathways in the U.S. is a strength of our system. One thing is clear, however: now that most high school students have access to some type of college option, the nation's success depends on our ability to realize the untapped potential of the many students who begin but don't complete their undergraduate education.

To explore solutions to these challenges, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, with the support of the Carnegie Corporation, formed the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in 2015, enlisting the service and wisdom of leaders from across all sectors of society. I was honored to serve as co-chair along with Mike McPherson, former president of Macalester College and the Spencer Foundation.

The commission recently released a report that takes a broad view – covering all types of institutions, students, and degrees – and that offers a range of practical and actionable recommendations in three priority areas: strengthening the educational experience, increasing completion and reducing inequities, and controlling costs and increasing affordability. Our hope is that it starts a national conversation and spurs action among all sectors of society. It will take a broad-based and sustained effort, but the payoff is huge: a nation in which all students can afford, complete, and enjoy the benefits of an education that truly prepares them for life in the 21st century.

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TIAA Celebrates Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by Addressing Overcoming Stereotypes​

One of the national events featured Amy Chua, Yale University law professor and New York Times best-selling author of multiple books including "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and "The Triple Package," which is particularly relevant to the workplace and ERGs.

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By TIAA

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates the history, heritage and contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month started in May 1979 as a week celebration, and in 1992, Congress passed a law that annually designates May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

To honor and recognize this heritage month and its employees with this heritage, the TIAA Asian-American professionals' Employee Resource Group (ERG), called Engage ERG, hosted events in multiple TIAA offices for employees to enjoy and learn more about the Asian culture. One of the national events the Engage ERG hosted was a speaker event on May 10 with Amy Chua, best-selling author of multiple books and law professor at Yale University. Amy Chua is well-known for her New York Times bestseller books, including "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and "The Triple Package," which is particularly relevant to the workplace and ERGs.

The TIAA Engage ERG's motto, "loud & proud", was a theme in Chua's internal speaker event to TIAA employees. She shared her journey growing up with immigrant parents in the US, and how she felt like an outsider at school and work. She later used this feeling as a strength and it motivated her to be proud of her heritage; using her unique skills as a competitive advantage to connect with global issues.

As a part of this month's activities, TIAA employees were encouraged to stand "loud and proud" and be their authentic selves and deterring individuals from "being" what society expects them to be, and to let the workforce embrace all types of cultures, skills, strengths and backgrounds for the company's advantage.

Amy Chua's story and experience resonated with many of the over 380 TIAA employees who attended the event in conference rooms and on the phones nationwide. She encouraged employees to embrace their culture, and to not let their individuality hold them back simply because it is different.

"Although Amy talked a lot about the challenges and struggles of Asian Americans, I think these are struggles that everyone can relate to. Regardless of your race, gender, beliefs, or sexuality, we are all trying to fit in, trying to overcome stereotypes, trying to make our voices heard," said Wen-Fu Wu, National Co-Chair of the Engage ERG and Managing Director of Asset Allocation at TIAA. "Conversations like these really help us realize that we're all more alike than we are different, and ultimately bring the organization closer together."

Carolynne Singerman, the National Communications Chair of the Engage ERG and a Financial Services Consultant at TIAA, said what resonated with her the most was to realize that positive things can come out of terrible and misfortunate events. . "To me that means instead of looking at it as "why me?" look at it as a way to learn and grow." Singerman added, "I believe it is important to have cultural discussions in the workplace so that we, as employees, can embrace and respect our differences and that we all are human. This acceptance also projects through our business practices."

The TIAA Engage ERG started in 2015 and currently has 501 members. Its mission is to elevate the success of the firm by providing recognition, development, and networking opportunities, especially for Asian-American employees. The ERG hosted additional events this month, including another guest speaker, a kite festival in Denver, and a Dragon Boat festival in Charlotte.