10 conversations our campuses need to have
Anyone who has been through a breakup has heard the phrase, âWe need to talk. “
This is a clue that a partner is deeply unhappy and the outcome of the conversation is likely to be unpleasant. This alerts you that you had better take this conversation seriously. It translates to, “Listen to me now or I’m out.” “
But it’s not just couples who need to talk. There are conversations that post-secondary education needs to have.
This country’s higher education system may be the best in the world, but it is also extremely inequitable, excessively expensive and of uneven quality.
Far too many students never graduate, and far too many students graduate with high levels of debt that they cannot repay. After college, too many graduates fidget and flounder for years before finally falling into stable employment that often does not reflect their education.
To make matters worse, students of color and those from low-income backgrounds are concentrated in the least resourced institutions – and the least likely to earn a degree or diploma in a field in high demand.
So let me suggest 10 pressing issues that higher education needs to discuss and tackle head on.
How do we get a much larger number of high performing students of color and students from lower income backgrounds to more selective and better resourced colleges and universities? The techniques we’re relying on right now – more aggressive recruiting and various nudges – haven’t done the job.
What then could selective institutions do? At a minimum, they need to dramatically improve their outreach and recruitment efforts and expand their summer bridging and after-school programs.
Although 80 percent of community college students aspire to a bachelor’s degree, less than 20 percent earn one. What can we do to ensure that a much higher proportion of community college students graduate?
Ideas on the table include co-enrollment at 2- and 4-year institutions, transparent transfer that relies on aligned curricula and the application of all credits to meet general and major requirements, and encouraging community colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degrees.
Women not only make up 60 percent of undergraduates, but are much more likely to graduate than men. However, women remain less likely to earn a degree in high-demand fields, such as engineering and advanced mathematics.
What steps should institutions take to close these gender gaps? I can suggest a few ideas, but others will surely come up with others.
To ensure that more women graduate with highly marketable skills, we could create more double majors (for example in health sciences and analytics or computer science). To increase the enrollment, retention and graduation of men, we could put more emphasis on active and experiential learning and provide more cooperative opportunities, which would also benefit women.
Between one-third and 40 percent of students never graduate. As a result, they walk away with debts, but none of the benefits of a college education. What would it take to dramatically increase graduation rates?
Comprehensive academic support programs like CUNY’s ASAP and ACE could provide a model. To help students succeed, these programs provide intensive academic counseling, including an academic advisor and a pedagogical advisor, additional education, career preparation, scholarships, textbooks, community development activities, and training. transportation assistance.
5. Affordability and leverage
It’s not only that too many students leave college with heavy debt, but that they earn too little after graduation to pay off their loans. What steps can institutions take to improve the return on investment of their graduates?
Many of the proposed solutions, such as loan cancellation, depend on policy or rely on reductions in quality, such as increased use of cheaper adjunct professors, increased student faculty, or Imposition of tuition fee freezes. But there are other actions that institutions can take on their own:
- Connect students to public benefits, including nutrition and housing assistance.
- Optimize time to graduation by removing barriers (such as unavailability of courses or obscure major requirements) to timely graduation.
- Substitute needs-based scholarships and grants for those that are not.
- Expand possibilities for accelerated graduation, including credit for prior learning, simultaneous enrollment with neighboring institutions and strengthening transfer agreements.
- Effectively use data-driven advice to keep students on track to graduate on time.
6. Preparation for work
How can colleges better prepare graduates for success in the workforce? The possibilities include:
- Open windows to careers and labor market trends throughout undergraduate education.
- Offer workshops and a training campus to ensure students graduate with skills in high demand.
- Expand internship opportunities and co-op experiences and ensure that on-campus jobs include a professional development component.
- Provide students with more ways to create their resumes, including creative spaces, entrepreneurship centers and innovation centers.
7. Business model
As their costs rise, new fields of study emerge, and standards of care rise, many colleges have failed business models. With demographics, rising costs, and the growth of dual degree / undergraduate college programs, the situation is likely to worsen. What measures should institutions take to stabilize their finances and increase enrollment without compromising their mission, the quality of education or their commitment to liberal education?
- The first step is to understand: your institution’s niche, competitive threats, market opportunities, and program revenues and costs.
- A second step is to design a strategic plan for enrollment and revenue growth that aligns with your institution’s mission and market.
- A third step consists of optimizing resource allocations and curricular offers.
All stakeholders should take part in these strategic planning discussions.
The U.S. higher education system is among the most stratified in the world in terms of resources, student-faculty ratios, and student readiness levels. To make matters worse, the most needy students are concentrated in the least resourced and less selective institutions. What steps can we take to ensure that all students have access to a quality education that better meets their needs?
In my view, the answer will require that the most resourced institutions take action to benefit many more students and to contribute to the higher education ecosystem as a whole.
It also requires all institutions to ensure that every undergraduate student on their campuses has access to the same opportunities as your most privileged students. These may include opportunities for membership in a specialist cohort or learning community, supervised research, and interaction with a faculty mentor.
9. In Loco Parentis
Sometimes you hear professors complaining that a college is an educational institution – and that it shouldn’t be responsible for tackling every aspect of student life. In fact, colleges have a moral and legal obligation to accommodate students with special needs, to provide an environment free from sexual harassment, assault or hazing, to meet students’ basic housing needs, and food safety, tackling alcohol and drug abuse issues, policing fraternities and sororities, and addressing student mental health issues.
But how can colleges best meet the needs of students and ensure their safety without unnecessarily intruding on their privacy and freedom or their morals? Institutions must:
- Affirm their duty to protect students from harm and to ensure that all students have access to a supportive and inclusive learning environment.
- Educate students about inappropriate and illegal behavior and the potential consequences of policy violations, not only through tick-box training programs, but through real conversations on campus.
- Do more to encourage a sense of belonging and to combat student stress, for example, with wellness programs and opportunities to interact with counselors, counselors and faculty.
10. Culture wars
Colleges and universities have become the ground zero for the country’s cultural wars. Many Americans fear, not without reason, that academic freedom is in jeopardy – from cancellation of culture, political correctness to madness, interference from lawmakers and special interests, and attacks on tenure. . How can higher education institutions reaffirm and reaffirm their commitment to open debate and free scholarship in the face of pressures for intellectual conformism from within and without and from the right and from the left?
The formal defenses of academic freedom and freedom of expression are insufficient.
- Host conversations on campus that discuss academic freedom, including the freedom to discuss controversial or difficult topics and the need to avoid discriminatory, threatening and disruptive language and behavior.
- Expand opportunities for dialogue on difficult campus issues.
The expression âwe need to talkâ is scary. The very words signal that we won’t like the conversation or the likely outcome. Nonetheless, there are conversations that need to take place. So remember the words attributed to Winston Churchill: “Jawbone is better than war-war.”
Higher education faces urgent problems which we must not avoid. It is time to face this fact.
Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.