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I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Notes from a road warrior. (Me.)

Since mid-August, I’ve been reporting in San Francisco, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Woodstock, Vt., Philadelphia, Chicago, and of course D.C. I’ve shared some of that with you along the way in this newsletter (see here, here, and here for a few examples). Now that I’m staying put for a while, I’ve got a little time to digest and describe a few more of the interesting things I heard while on the road.

Preparing for more college closures in New England. Vermont in fall is as lovely as you could imagine it, but there was nothing pretty about the financial circumstances several New England legislators described at the New England Board of Higher Education meeting I attended. The effects of recent college closures, and expectations of future ones, were very much top of mind.

Over the past year, Vermont and New Hampshire have each taken steps to help preserve students’ academic records when institutions shut down. And a bill pending in Massachusetts would go even farther, mandating heightened financial screening of colleges and fiduciary training on indicators of financial distress for all college trustees. “We need to remind them they’re not there to just put it on a résumé,” State Rep. Jeffrey Roy explained.

During the discussion, I was also struck by the comments of a Vermont lawmaker, who noted that several of the state’s public schools were also closing because of low enrollment. Talk about your canary in a coal mine. No wonder they invited me and officials from Indiana and Tennessee to talk about enrolling adult students.

Balancing benefit with cost in the debates about student debt. Mounting student debt continues to dominate the headlines (and the policy platforms of several candidates for president and legislation in Congress), and there’s nothing like that figure of $1.5 trillion in total student debt to get people’s attention.

Yet after attending an innovation-themed event in Indianapolis, I’m still thinking about the less clickbaity side of that equation, as raised by one of the speakers. It came from Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who noted, “When we do cost-benefit analysis without the benefits, things look really bad.”

Circumstances look better, she said, when you consider that the debt yields about $225 billion a year in added earnings to those borrowers, not counting the social returns or the resultant increases in tax revenues. Her number is the product of a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but you get the point. Student debt is an investment that often produces value to the people incurring it and the economy as a whole.

The bigger challenge, said Akers, is making sure that students who incur that debt get what they pay for. She has a few ideas on ways to “de-risk” such borrowing that she’s outlined in this paper on whether college should come with a “money back” guarantee.

Some relief for students on “transcript holds.” No education reporter’s trip to San Francisco is complete these days without a visit to a tech-skills boot camp. Check! Mine was to Make School and its co-founder, Ashutosh Desai, whose institution aims to create a new pathway to employment — and college degrees — for students with less-than-traditional academic preparation. My colleague Eric Kelderman just interviewed Desai about that; read his interview here.

One thing that the interview didn’t cover is a policy obsession that I discovered Desai and I share: the challenge that students face (usually it’s adults) when they can’t get their transcripts because of an unpaid college bill. Apparently, lawmakers in California share it too. A bill prohibiting colleges from withholding students’ transcripts because of such debts passed the Legislature this year and was just signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

I missed that, so I’m grateful to Desai for letting me know. “Exciting news,” he wrote. Yup, it is. Meanwhile, I’m still hoping this potential fix for the transcript-hold problem gains some traction.

In online ed, engagement is key. At Educause last week, I heard that time and again. That applies not only to the “classroom” experience but also to all aspects of student services. As Norma Scagnoli, director of e-learning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s business school, said to me: “This generation is the Amazon customer.” That means budgeting for support services that students can gain access to online. “They don’t grab the phone and call you,” she said.

Yet, like Amazon itself, which has begun establishing physical stores, leaders at the Illinois business school recognize the value of face-to-face interaction. While the online M.B.A. is perhaps best known nationally for its attractive price — total tuition is less than $22,000 — the university also makes a point of inviting all of its distance-ed students for a football-weekend visit to the campus every fall. This September, she said 460 out of 2,500 showed up.

And the beat goes on (for me) with a discussion on ‘skills-based hiring.’

Compared with black and Hispanic people in the work force, “white workers have benefited from historical and systemic educational and economic advantages to build a disproportionate edge in the educational pipeline and the work force that will continue to last for decades.” And even among those with “good jobs,” black and Hispanic workers are paid less than their white counterparts, even those with college degrees.

That’s the essence of a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The findings haunt me, especially as I gear up for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s annual Talent Forward conference this week here in D.C., where I’ll be moderating a panel on the implications of skills-based hiring (and perhaps sharing a special moment with John Legend, the entertainer and social activist, who’s slated to speak on improving opportunity for people in, and released from, incarceration).

The Georgetown report haunts me because it shows that education alone isn’t the answer to social mobility in a society where other factors — tradition? geography? and yes, let’s say it, racism? — still seem to deny equal opportunity.

I asked Jeff Strohl, one of the report’s authors, what he made of the findings. He offered answers as both a pessimist and an optimist, but I think his perspective as a “realist” was most on the money: “It is not clear yet if there is a critical moment when education imparts equity and equality, no matter how much we wish it so.”

In the course of researching my “Career-Ready Education” report, I heard from several proponents of the emerging “skills-based hiring” movement, who described it as a socially responsible reaction to hiring practices that have kept qualified people — many of them in minority groups — from getting jobs they deserved.

In my session at Talent Forward, we’ll explore the merits — and limits — of this growing movement to hire people based on tests or other signals besides their academic pedigree, and the implications for higher education. For me, that now includes this question: Can hiring for skills provide the kind of economic mobility that a college degree may not? What do you think? Whether you’re attending, watching the livecast, or just wanting to share thoughts on this, send them my way (goldie@chronicle.com).

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com.