Let’s Be Serious About Higher-Ed

The naysayers started their nitpicking the day after
President Obama, in his State of the Union Speech, presented his plan to
kick-start America’s sputtering system of higher education.  George
Leef of the Pope Center said “Obama’s talk about getting tough with
colleges over tuition is pure political blather.”  Hans Bader and others offer
another off-center objection: we don’t need a higher education policy.
Rather, we must reduce bloat!  There is too much frivolous spending on
higher education’s darling programs, such as campus diversity
offices.  There is merit to closely examining the spending side of higher
education institutions.  No doubt many programs do not find the real
target.  But one can shut all the campus diversity offices at every
American college and university, and doing so would do nothing to raise
college completion rates.  In fact, targeting diversity offices for
elimination could well compound the completion problem because many of
the beneficiaries of those programs are the very sort of students who
need to feel more welcome on college campuses, long dominated by
relatively well-off white students, white administrators, and white
professors.


Why don’t these critics address the real problem: Tearing down the many
barriers that have increasingly hindered many Americans from realizing
childhood dreams of a college education.  Data from the International
Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation show that, in
1970, the United States led the world in high school graduation and
college completions.  But that competitive advantage has since eroded so
dramatically.  We now rank 21st in high school graduation rates and a
mere 15th in college completion rates.  The costs of the nation’s
slippage into rampant under-achievement are mind boggling, starting with
the obvious: the billions of dollars in potential economic returns to
individuals and society that instead evaporate into thin air.  But the
societal and cultural consequences of our slow decline may be even more
disturbing than the hard-core economics.

The rapid growth in recent years of for-profit colleges reflects the
desperation for educational opportunity in the United States.  High
school graduates and dropouts eventually realize as adults that they are
lost in the American economy without legitimate educational credentials
and fundamentally sound skills that help them survive long-term
economic change.  In my view, the spectacular expansion of this sector
underscores the limited educational opportunities and avenues of
achievement that many high school graduates currently face.  In the
short run, many wind up foregoing higher education because of financial
reasons, only to find their way to for-profit colleges.  Ed college
completion rates since 1970 come from families in the top quartile
family income.

Obama has some ideas, possibly good ones, such as rewarding individual
campuses that keep net prices (college costs less grants and
scholarships) under control.  But the challenge may be far larger than the
relatively meager proposals that Obama laid out last week.  We’re
talking challenges that rival and far exceed anything posed by the
Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik – the 1957 event that sparked our
educational resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s.  The real question that
both sides of the ideological divide must confront and debate is this:
Though we have no Sputnik, must we nevertheless mount a massive,
Sputnik-like response that could re-frame the nation’s strategic
position for the next 55 years?

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21st Century Faculty

By Charles Tiffin

President Obama’s State of the Union address urged
businesses and higher education to work together to make sure students are
taught the skills they need for immediate employment. Good point. One problem
is that most institutions, when hiring faculty,  still focus
primarily on traditional academic and research credentials. That’s not enough
anymore. If you want to prepare students for workplace success in the 21st
century, you need faculty who are not only academically trained, but who also
bring a depth of real-world experience to the classroom.

At Capella University, where I am provost, we have hired
scholar-practitioners as faculty since our founding in 1993. Dr. Joe
Pascarella, for example, a core faculty for our Public Safety graduate
programs, lives in New York, where he spent several decades with the New York
Police Department. Karla Gable, another of our teachers, lives in
Phoenix.  She has great experience working with children with severe
emotional problems, and has master’s degrees in counseling and in education.
She helped develop our special education administration course. Capella’s
Course Quality Committee, which includes Joe and Karla, leads the internal
review of at least 80 Capella courses a year.  To make a difference for
students, we hire faculty who can share real-world professional expertise along
with deep academic knowledge.

Peter Sacks

Peter Sacks

Peter Sacks is an author, economist, essayist and social critic.

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