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Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 2)

January 21st, 2014 by dfarish

Last week I complained about unreasonable expectations being placed on colleges and universities. I rather quickly assembled a list of 10 such issues (there are actually a few more), and I indicated that in Part 2 of this topic, I would offer an opinion about what higher education can (and should) do – and what is simply beyond our capacity to correct.

I’d like to start with three related issues that represent numbers 1, 2 and 7 in my list from last week:

  • More low-income students need to be admitted at top private schools;
  • The pipeline to college must be widened; and
  • It’s all about college completion rates.

On January 16, President Obama convened more than 100 higher education officials (most of whom were either the presidents of elite colleges or heads of community colleges or public university systems) to seek commitments on four areas of concern:

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 1)

January 13th, 2014 by dfarish

It’s an interesting time to be a university president. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t raise a new expectation of what universities can or should be doing. Often, this expectation comes in the form of criticism. Sometimes, it arrives as a recommendation about improving a process.

Taken collectively, the various tasks and expectations now being dropped on higher education administrators are often highly unrealistic, frequently mutually exclusive, and ultimately are doomed to fail.

It’s time for a little straight talk. Let me start by acknowledging two things.

First, higher education in the United States has, at least for the last 150 years, been more responsible than any other component of our society for the American success story – both as a country and as the ladder to individual prosperity and accomplishment. We should therefore be wary of radical changes to a proven track record.

To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

January 6th, 2014 by dfarish

Last month, voting members of the American Studies Association passed a resolution calling for colleges in the United States to boycott Israeli universities. In the weeks since, that measure has been discussed, debated and reported on widely.

On Monday, Jan. 6, President Farish and Provost Workman shared the following message with the Roger Williams University community, outlining the University’s position on the boycott:

In December, the nearly 5,000 members of the American Studies Association were asked to vote on a resolution calling for U.S. universities to boycott Israeli universities, based on a request for such a boycott by Palestinian academics. Just over 1,250 ASA members voted, and those voting supported the resolution by a two to one margin.

The Jobs of Tomorrow Require a College Degree – Or Do They?

December 3rd, 2013 by dfarish

I have been sorely troubled in recent months by conflicting – even diametrically opposed – reports that claim either that most jobs in the future will require a college degree, or, alternatively, that most jobs will not require a college degree.

Here are two quick examples. A report from October 23 from TheBlaze TV quoted Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” and many TV commercials for Ford Motor Company) in an interview with Glenn Beck. In the interview, Mr. Rowe belittled the notion of taking on debt to obtain a college degree when there are so many jobs available in the skilled trades. (Just for the record, Mr. Rowe earned a B.A. in communication studies from Towson University.) Summarizing the interview, TheBlaze TV noted, “Of the roughly three million jobs that companies are struggling to fill, Rowe said only 8 to 12 percent require a college degree.”

When Did the Tail Start Wagging the Dog?

November 18th, 2013 by dfarish

Readers from an earlier generation might remember the 1940 movie, “Knute Rockne All American,” starring Pat O’Brien as Rockne and Ronald Reagan as George Gipp. Rockne was the greatest football coach of his day – possibly the greatest ever – and he fundamentally established Notre Dame as a football power, winning four national championships between 1919 and 1930.

In 1920, George Gipp, a star player from early in Rockne’s career, died at the age of 25 of a streptococcal infection. In 1928, with Notre Dame down 6-0 to Army at the half, Rockne gave the team his famous “Gipper” speech, recalling Gipp’s (probably apocryphal) deathbed request to tell the team, some time when it was down, to “win just one for the Gipper.” Now highly motivated, Notre Dame went out for the second half, promptly scored 12 unanswered points, and won the game.

And that’s how college football used to be (at least in the movies).

Today? Not so much.

The Beginning of the End for the Humanities?

November 4th, 2013 by dfarish

In an article on Oct. 30, The New York Times reported that in Stanford University’s undergraduate division, 45 percent of the faculty are in the humanities, but only 15 percent of the students are humanities majors. Harvard University has seen a 20 percent drop in humanities majors in the last decade, and nationally only 7 percent of students are majoring in the humanities, half the percentage seen in 1970. Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university in North Carolina, may eliminate degree programs in seven programs, including history, in part because of declining student interest in these majors.

Do the humanities still have a place in American higher education? Or are colleges and universities destined to become a collection of training programs for the professions? Is there no middle ground?

Merit Versus Need

October 21st, 2013 by dfarish

The New York Times published an article by Catherine Rampell on Sept. 24 titled “Freebies for the Rich.” (Another version of the same article was published in the Times Sunday magazine on Sept. 29.)

In the article, Ms. Rampell points out that, at public universities, the share of aid devoted to “merit” has tripled, to 29 percent, over the past two decades. She also points out that metrics used to determine merit, such as SAT scores, are closely correlated with family income: whereas only one student in 10 receives merit aid in families earning less than $30,000, one student in five receives merit aid in families earning over $250,000.

Our ‘Best’ Universities: Investment Companies That Do a Little Teaching on the Side?

October 15th, 2013 by dfarish

When did money become the yardstick by which universities measure themselves?

What prompts this question is a Sept. 24 article in The Boston Globe, reporting an increase in Harvard’s endowment during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, of 11.3 percent, to $32.7 billion – a gain in one year of roughly $3 billion. In the same article, the Globe mentioned that Harvard has also just announced a new capital campaign with a goal of $6.5 billion, to be completed by 2018.

‘College Education Is Underpriced.’ Really?

October 7th, 2013 by dfarish

Yep, that’s the title of an op-ed in Forbes on Sept. 12, 2013. (Actually, the full title is, “There’s No College Tuition ‘Bubble’: College Education Is Underpriced.”)

Well, that contention came as a bit of shock to me, writing as I have been for many months about runaway sticker prices, and how colleges and universities need to address the issue before the federal government does it for them. What gives?

The author, Jeffrey Dorfman, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Georgia, is a believer in the free market system and a self-described libertarian. Let’s see how his reasoning holds up.

Affordable Excellence: Year 2

September 12th, 2013 by dfarish

Yesterday, in my annual State of the University address to the RWU community, I spoke about matters familiar to readers of this blog: the concerns of prospective students and their parents about the cost of higher education; rising debt loads for far too many graduates; and securing well-paying jobs after graduation.

I referenced President Obama’s challenge to the higher education community to make America’s colleges and universities more affordable and more accountable.

I pointed out criticisms from the media (including a recent cartoon in The New York Times on Sept. 1 that ridiculed higher education), and I referenced many polls and surveys that found both college presidents and chief financial officers overwhelmingly agreeing that the current high cost/high aid model for higher education is broken – yet choosing not to do anything to change the model.