What’s the Biggest Challenge for Colleges and Universities?

TalkingEDU_Logo-576877-editedAs part of its ongoing “Learning” series, The New York Times attempts to identify the most critical issues facing higher education today. “What’s the Biggest Challenge for Colleges and Universities?” is the result of a Higher Education Leaders Forum hosted by the Times in early June. This forum brought together a wide range of academics, administrators, business leaders and policy wonks to share what they see as the single most pressing challenges higher education faces and to offer suggestions for ways to address and correct these critical issues. Here are some excerpts:
  • “Not that long ago, the biggest distractions for college students were alcohol, sex, and parties. Now, there’s another reason they aren’t reading their textbooks and aren’t paying attention in class: the siren song of the smartphone.” - Jean M. Twenge, Professor of psychology, San Diego State University
  • America’s colleges must bring together students of all races and backgrounds “if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized,” the United States Supreme Court ruled in its 2003 defense of affirmative action. Yet, from the moment freshmen set foot on a college campus, this mission confronts a powerful barrier: fraternities and sororities.” - John Hechinger, A senior editor at Bloomberg News
  • “Society’s benefits from the innovations of higher education are priceless. The research, both fundamental and applied, holds great promise for everything … Yet universities today are operating in a relentlessly difficult fiscal environment. Public universities have experienced a decade of weak state support, and more tuition increases are in direct conflict with our mission of access and affordability.” - Eric J. Barron, President, Pennsylvania State University
  • “One of the biggest challenges in education today is an ideological disagreement over whether we should focus on getting every student accepted to a four-year college, or whether we should place far more emphasis on career preparation…too many students are not prepared to enter either college or the work force.”  Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies; mayor of New York City, 2002-13
  • “Fueled from the top and fed by social media, anti-intellectualism challenges the core of higher education. And somehow, the fuel and fire have become indistinguishable.“ - Kay Rothman, Director of college counseling, NYC Lab School
  • Without their basic needs secured, large numbers of today’s undergraduates are struggling to learn. Sleepless nights and empty stomachs distract them from going to class and passing their courses, prolonging or even preventing degree completion.” - Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University
  • Affordability is the most significant challenge facing higher education. Year after year, tuition increases outpace the cost of inflation and growth in most sectors of the economy.” - Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Suzanne Young Murray professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
  • “Today, most students don’t finish college in a traditional fashion. This is the untold college crisis in America — the college completion crisis. In today’s America, the majority of college students do not graduate on time, racking up debt, and undermining the investment and potential that college is designed to offer. At the majority of public universities, just 19 percent of students earn a four-year degree in four years.” - Wes Moore, Chief executive, Robin Hood Foundation
  • When it comes to accountability in education, we’re losing ground. After nearly three decades of bipartisan work, the effort to close achievement gaps and push for steady improvement in school performance has stalled. This drift away from accountability is hurting our most vulnerable students.” - Margaret Spellings, President, University of North Carolina; United States secretary of education, 2005 to 2009
  • “Higher education faces many daunting challenges: relevance to millennials seeking opportunity in a global, high-tech economy; rising costs and exploding student debt; big-money athletics crowding out the core educational mission. But the greatest challenge may be the need to inculcate character.” - Ralph Reed, Chairman, Faith and Freedom Coalition

From technology and fraternities to affordability and graduation rates, there’s no question that higher education faces many challenges. But for these experts, each and every one of these issues presents an opportunity to develop new and innovative solutions. To read the full article and learn more about suggested solutions to these issues,  click here.

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