Is the American higher education system out of date?

Washington Post web page

This week, the Washington Post is running a series titled, “Do we need to remodel our university system?”  The Post invited me to contribute an essay to the series in which I argue that one of the strengths of our system is the many forms of postsecondary educational institutions we have, and that it provides students with many options.  I invite you to read my essay as well as the others in the series.

USF and San Francisco’s Pride Parade

Last Sunday my family and I had the opportunity to march in San Francisco’s Pride Parade with members and supporters of the university’s LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) Caucus.  It was a beautiful summer day in 27389225483_ab5648035e_zSan Francisco, which means, I am finding out as a new resident, it was sunny and about 70 degrees on Market Street in the city.

There were over 200 participants in our group, which included faculty, staff, and students; young and old(er); and members of the LGBT community and those who are supporters of it.  Everyone appeared to be having a wonderful time, and it was great to see all the enthusiastic supporters of the university along the parade route. San Francisco has long been known as being welcoming to the LGBTQ community, and this was demonstrated throughout the entire parade route.

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My reaction to the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court decision

 

The Washington Post asked me to write a commentary in response to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in which the court upheld the university’s use of race-based affirmative action.  This was a historic decision for the Supreme Court, and an important one for higher education institutions across the country.  As someone who has done research over the last two decades on college access and success for underrepresented students, I was extremely pleased to see the court affirm the importance of allowing colleges and universities to use the tools they need to create a diverse class of students.

A potentially misleading aspect of the It’s On Us campaign

In 2014 the White House launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign to help combat sexual assault at the nation’s colleges and universities.  Titled “It’s On Us,” the campaign uses celebrities to help raise awareness about the problem – what some are calling an epidemic – of sexual assault and rape in higher education.

itsonus.org website image
itsonus.org website

This issue has received much attention from policymakers as well as the media over the last few years.  The U.S. Department of Education, through its enforcement of Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1965, has stepped up its oversight of how colleges adjudicate reports of sexual harassment and assault.  The recent case of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student athlete convicted of sexually assaulting a woman while she was unconscious – and who received only a 6-month prison sentence for the act – has brought the issue to the forefront of the news once again.

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Welcome to my (new) blog

Welcome to the relaunch of my blog, which I first started in my previous position as Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University.  I have brought over some of my favorite posts from there, and in the coming weeks I will begin adding more from my experience as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of San Francisco.

Since joining the university on January 25, it’s been a whirlwind semester which just wrapped up the week before last with the commencement ceremonies for our four schools and the College of Arts and Sciences.  The semester flew by as I did my best to learn about all of our academic programs, got out to meet people across campus, visit each of our five branch campuses in the bay area and in Southern California, and experience the many cultural, athletic, and spiritual events at USF.

As I’ve been meeting people across campus, I am often asked, “How are you doing juggling the many things you have to do as provost?”  I generally respond by saying that juggling is perhaps not the best metaphor for my job.  Instead, or at least if they are old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan show, I suggest that a better metaphor is Erich Benn, the plate spinner who often appeared on that show (you can watch a video of him).

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The New York Times misrepresents student debt – again

NY-times-logoAs I have written in the past, The New York Times has had a pattern of sensationalizing the status of student loan debt in the country through a series of articles that misrepresent the true status of borrowing. It is a mystery to me why the Times persists in doing so, as they have also published articles that more accurately show the true state of affairs. The most recent misrepresentation appeared last week in an article authored by Kevin Carey, a frequent critic of higher education in this country. Earlier this year I wrote a critique of Carey’s most recent book, The End of College.

In his Times article Carey tells the story of Liz Kelley, a 48-year-old woman who borrowed $26,278 to earn a bachelor’s degree in English in 1994, but whose student loan debt today totals $410,000 – yes, $410,000! As Carey points out, this is a sum of money Ms. Kelley is unlikely to be able to ever pay back given her current career as a teacher at a parochial school. Her total borrowing ballooned because of additional debt she took on for graduate programs (in law, which she didn’t complete, and then education), and the fact that she was infrequently, if at all, actively repaying her loans.

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Duncan’s higher education legacy

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Courtesy U.S. Department of Education

As Arne Duncan, one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Education, announces his forthcoming resignation, observers are starting to reflect on his impact on education policy in the nation. Duncan will most likely be remembered more for his focus on K-12 education, not surprising given his background as the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, third-largest school district in the country. In that domain, he was known mostly for extending the Bush-era focus on accountability via testing. And it was that focus that led him to be reviled by many in traditional K-12 schools. As education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch wrote in the Huffington Post recently, “It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education.”

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Hillary Clinton’s New College Compact

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Photo credit: HillaryClinton.com

Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, recently released a set of policy proposals to address the rising cost of college. While there are many good aspects to her plan, there are also some problems with it. In a recent op-ed on the website of The Conversation, I analyzed Secretary Clinton’s plan and some of the barriers to its enactment.

Don’t craft student loan policy based on Governor O’Malley’s experience

Untitled-300x94Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, challenging front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among his key proposals as a candidate are to offer students in public colleges and universities “debt-free college” and for states “to immediately freeze tuition rates.”

While these may sound like good ideas to address the rising price of college, what is concerning is that Governor O’Malley has evidently crafted these proposals based on his own experience with student loans. As The Washington Post recently wrote,

The proposition is deeply personal for O’Malley: Aides say he and his wife have already incurred $339,200 in loans to put the two eldest of their four children through universities. . . “Right now, student loan debt is holding us back — student by student, family by family, and as a nation, we have to do better,” O’Malley said during an event at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

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Awarding financial aid to students earlier

Untitled-221x150Grants and scholarships are critical for helping many students afford college. Data from the College Board show that the largest single grant program, the federal government’s Pell Grant program, awarded $33.7 billion to 9.2 million students in the 2013-14 academic year. Without the support of Pell Grants, millions of students across the country would not be able to enroll in college.

A limitation of Pell Grants for traditional students who are graduating from high school and contemplating attending college, like many other financial aid programs, is that most students do not find out about their eligibility for the grants until late in their senior year in high school. This is often too late for students to take the steps necessary to prepare themselves for college – including preparing academically, financially, and socially – to have an impact on their college going behavior.

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