As skeptical as the Biden administration may be about the return on investment (ROI) for-profit institutions provide, one college may be a guiding post for higher education at large, hoping to graduate more students with good career prospects and low financial baggage.
Lightcast found that students from the American College of Education (ACE) earn nearly $20 for every dollar invested, amounting to a 120% average annual rate of return, according to a report from the global leader in labor market analytics. Furthermore, 87% of ACE’s graduates do not carry debt after graduation, and its nearly 37,000 alumni contributed $587.7 million to the U.S. economy in 2022.
Economists from Lightcast studied ACE over the 2022 calendar year to assess ACE’s contribution to the national economy and the benefits generated by the college for students, taxpayers and society.
ACE is an accredited online private university offering non-degree certificates, continuing education programs and undergraduate and graduate degrees. Known for its affordable tuition, its master’s degrees and professional doctorates in education cost less than $10,000 and $24,000, respectively.
“I think that within higher ed, there’s a real opportunity to focus on the student, on teaching and learning and leveraging a business lens where you’re creating a scalable, impactful and sustainable institution that creates value,” says Geordie Hyland, CEO and president at ACE.
Here are a few strategies ACE adheres to to keep its tuition low, its ROI high and students’ career prospects abound.
Lower students’ credit requirements by reviewing earned credentials
One way ACE stays on top of keeping students’ costs down and improving their ROI is by prospecting how many credits they have earned before entering a program, effectively lowering the total amount students will have to spend to complete it.
For example, ACE degrees can “stack” on each other, limiting the amount of credits students need to earn at a higher level. “Our programs stack together,” Hyland says. “If you take a degree with us, you can apply credits to future degrees.”
Additionally, the college works with professional development providers to gauge students’ experience and transmute it into college credit. For example, ACE partnered with MedCerts, an online healthcare training provider, to transfer students’ earned certificate credentials toward ACE’s bachelor’s programs.
Stay vigilant with costs to maximize ROI
Because ACE does not accept Title IV federal aid, students lack a traditional source of tuition support found in most traditional colleges and universities. However, the constraint proved to be a source of innovation and critical thinking.
“I think by not accepting Title IV, it required us to have discipline in terms of our costs because students couldn’t leverage the debt,” Hyland says.
Managing student costs is easier with a clear investment strategy and a focused governing team. For example, ACE can primarily commit to initiatives that support student success without being distracted by the requirements of a campus-based institution.
“Ensure your executive team and board of trustees commit to a strategy and revenue model that keeps costs and tuition manageable,” wrote Hyland in Forbes in October. “How much are you investing in non-academic staff, marketing, amenities, athletics and Title IV administration?”
While ACE can better mitigate its costs as an online institution, there’s still plenty of room for traditional colleges to focus their investment strategy. The Wall Street Journal recently found that some of the nation’s most prominent public universities have been forced to raise tuition due to an “unfettered spending spree” on its amenities, additional layers of administration and other similar costs.
Preference for quality over quantity
The bulk of ACE’s student success comes from its K12 education, healthcare and, most recently, business programs. ACE’s limited scope has allowed its stakeholders to build out its offerings with deep intention and maximize collaboration with community partners.
In total, the college partners with over 2,000 school districts, hospitals, businesses and organizations, hosting various advisory board groups that provide feedback on their content to keep it relevant to the workforce’s needs. Additionally, their academic programs are accompanied by certificates and micro-credentials to ensure their flexibility and robustness.
As a result, its academic reputation has blossomed. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) identified ACE as a leading conferrer of graduate degrees in education. Its M.Ed. in Health and Wellness Education ranked first, and 10 other education-based master’s or doctorate level programs ranked in the top 10 in their specific field.