HUFFINGTON POST: Some Thoughts on What College Presidents Think

Career College Central Summary:

  • Inside Higher Education recently released a summary of its fifth annual survey of College and University Presidents, in advance of the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, the cross-sector presidential national higher education association. Gallup Education conducted the survey with responses from public, private, nonprofit and for-profit higher education institutions.
  • The results are interesting in part because IHE conducted the survey anonymously, although Gallup coded the individual responses by institutional type. They offer insight into what presidents are thinking, where they feel stress, and how they see themselves and their role in America.
  • Let's look at a few of these findings.
  • Significantly, the response to President Obama's free community college proposal offered the widest division by institutional type. Community college presidents (68 percent) favor the plan, while private (20 percent) and public four-year presidents (nearly 25 percent) are strongly opposed. While hardly unexpected, the response demonstrates a failure of Department of Education officials to see past policy to test the likely implications of its proposed actions.
  • If those presidents opposing the free community college plan see the proposal as a direct threat to the financial sustainability of their tuition-dependent institutions and a challenge to their ability to attract first-generation students, is it any wonder that they will oppose or wait out the proposal? Absent a thoughtful explanation from the Department of Education, why should they?
  • Further, is the government really prepared to shut down scores of four-year public and private colleges across the country whose leadership, faculty and staff are committed to an unsustainable financial model but historically serve first generation students without any alternative proposed by the government or other thought partners? Have the policy makers thought through the economic implications of their actions, whether in urban areas with large four-year college concentrations like Philadelphia or in rural districts across the country?
  • The tragedy is that free community college tuition may well be a good idea. But it should be developed with broad cross-sector support, appropriate bridge programs, and some sense of how higher education sectors relate to one another.
  • The second federal proposal to "rate" colleges and universities fared about the same. Only 12 percent of the presidents who responded graded the rating system higher than a "B," and almost none of them thought that it would describe their institution accurately. When asked what type of ratings might work best, the group split with some favoring input measurements like the number of first-generation students and the percentage of Pell grant recipients. Others looked to financial statistics like net price or outcomes including degree-completion and graduate employment rates.
  • In this area, American colleges and universities have some work to do. It is not possible to act like "Mikey the Cereal Kid" who is about to test the new cereal after his young friends refused to try it – "give it to Mikey, he hates everything." Higher education institutions have not looked comprehensively enough at how good research can build a stronger case for their efforts. In particular, they are weak at developing and agreeing about how outcomes can build support.

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