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Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 2

March 31st, 2014 by dfarish

Last week, I described in some detail how state support for public higher education first waxed, then waned, over the last 60 years. Much of the decline in state subsidies for the institutions’ operating costs stemmed from pressure on state budgets to meet the growing needs of other state-supported programs, and an inability (coupled, to be sure, with an unwillingness) to continue providing public institutions with the same percentage of the states’ overall budgets as seen previously.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that all of the problems associated with public higher education derive from a decline in state financial support. It would also be a mistake to assume this decline is entirely the result of mean-spiritedness on the part of state legislatures and governors. Things are much more complicated than that, and in order to understand the situation today correctly, we must take a short trip back in time.

Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 1

March 24th, 2014 by dfarish

Of the 21 million students in higher education in America, nearly 75 percent are in public institutions, roughly equally divided between two-year and four-year campuses. Although the total number of students grew steadily until three years ago, the distribution in public versus private, and two-year versus four-year, has stayed relatively steady over the past decade.

What hasn’t stayed steady is the level of state financial support for public institutions, and the level of regard the public at large has for its state institutions. These two factors are related, as I will demonstrate shortly.

First, a few facts:

How Much Does It Cost to Educate an Undergraduate?

March 17th, 2014 by dfarish

Wow! Such a big question! Let’s start by making a key distinction:

(1) One might interpret this question as, “How much does a university charge the student and parents?” Allowing for such significant complications as different sticker prices at different universities, different financial aid packages for different students at the same university, different fees for different majors, additional charges (primarily from rising tuition prices) in the sophomore, junior and senior years – it is nonetheless the case that, when the incoming freshman arrives on campus, he or she (and the parents) know fairly accurately what their out-of-pocket costs will be, at least for the first year. So while this is an important question, and answering it can be confusing and time-consuming, in the end it is answerable. But consider the second alternative.

"It's the Economy, Stupid!"

February 24th, 2014 by dfarish

 

During the presidential election campaign of 1992, and on the heels of a short, sharp national recession, James Carville, a political advisor to the Clinton campaign, famously characterized what the election was all about by coining the phrase that I’m using as the title of this blog post.

Now here we are, 22 years later, and in every political campaign since the Great Recession of 2008, this same phrase—although now tellingly focused specifically on jobs—is the basis of the platform of almost every candidate for office.

The problem is that the focus on jobs—understandable, given that in almost six years the economy has not fully restored the jobs lost in 2008 and 2009—goes well beyond mere political sloganeering.  It permeates every conceivable facet of society:

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 5)

February 10th, 2014 by dfarish

In my four previous posts to this blog, I discussed a series of expectations, concerns and remedies that politicians, parents and the media have for higher education (“Now Everyone Has a Solution for Higher Education,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 29, 2013). Taken collectively, this list contains items that are often unrealistic and, at times, contradictory.

Well, that’s easy for me to say. As a university president, I might be expected to be an apologist for the status quo in higher education. But this is an important issue to get right: what aspects of our current economic dilemma properly belong at the feet of higher education, and what components are someone else’s responsibility? It does no one any good for society to create expectations of higher education that higher education has neither the capacity nor the intention to resolve.

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 4)

February 3rd, 2014 by dfarish

Three weeks ago I presented a list of expectations, complaints or remedies for all that ails higher education that have received media attention in recent months. In two subsequent blog posts, I discussed subsets of this list at some length. In this post I will review the remaining items. They are:

  • Too much student debt – and it’s rising;
  • Too many students learn too little in college;
  • We need more technical education; and
  • Higher education needs a scorecard on affordability, access and outcomes (including salary of graduates).

These four items represent three criticisms and a proposed remedy. Allow me to examine each of them independently.

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 3)

January 27th, 2014 by dfarish

Two weeks ago, I presented a list of 10 expectations, predictions and suggestions relating to higher education that have received extensive media coverage in recent months. A week ago, in Part 2 of this topic, I selected three related topics from that list, and offered an opinion about what higher education can do to address them, and what is beyond our capabilities.

This week, I’d like to select another three items from my original list of 10 for more detailed analysis and comment. These include items number 3, 4 and 6. They are, respectively:

  • Higher education is hidebound;
  • Higher education is going broke; and
  • Large numbers of colleges will go out of business – unless…

Well, is higher education hidebound? Are we hopelessly mired in the past, unwilling to examine, let alone adopt, new ways of thinking about teaching and learning?

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.