Every week brings news of colleges in financial crisis. Everyone agrees that declining state support, a shrinking population of high school graduates, the rising costs of tuition that are making higher education unaffordable, and competition from cheaper providers or on-line programs have created a new climate where the old models are not working. At the same time, employers and the public are questioning whether our colleges are delivering an effective educational experience.
In her book, Higher Education at Risk, Sandra Featherman – from the intimate knowledge of the workings of higher education she gained from her position as former President of the University of New England, as a former administrator at private and public institutions , from Research 1 Universities to Community Colleges, and currently as a board member of a new University of Florida system institution, Florida Polytechnic University – demonstrates a clear-eyed understanding both of the threats of higher education as we know it, and of the damage that colleges have inflicted on themselves that have led to unaffordable tuition, high overhead, and debt.
While I don’t want to give way her sure to be controversial prescriptions for restoring fiscal health to the higher education sector, and her vision for how institutions need to change current ways of doing business to meet the inexorable competition to that is coming from technological innovation and the nimble early adopters of new models who are better meeting the needs of students, I can say she offers a real way forward. She believes the time has come for hard choices, proposes the slaughter of some sacred cows, such as college athletics and tenure, calls for a clear focus on higher education’s teaching mission, and offers eight prescriptions to reduce costs, improve student learning outcomes, and create institutions stronger and better able to respond to a world of constant and rapid change.
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