March 23, 2010

Four Short Commentaries on Recent News

There were four separate but related items in the news recently that seem to highlight the thin ice higher education finds itself crossing these days.

1)  Students Protest Increasing Costs :  This is a link from the national news which caught my attention the other day.  It seems students and faculty are protesting the decrease in funding to higher education that states are having to impose as they tighten budget.  While I feel for the students, years of self-indulgence and frivolous spending by universities aren't going to be undone by student protests; the change has to come from within faculty and administration.  Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation analogous to healthcare, the costs have gone up so much we can't serve those who so desperately need education to get ahead in the world.

2)  Ohio State Heads Down the Right Path:  President Gordon Gee, who I've lauded in earlier posts, supports two parallel faculty pathways to achieve tenure- one for research and one for teaching.  I've always thought that faculty members who are both excellent researchers and excellent teachers are rare and becoming rarer.  Having followed both paths myself there are inevitable sacrifices if one tries to be excellent in both of these disparate endeavors.  If not professionally, then certainly personally.  Almost every study that has looked at the correlation between research and teaching finds there isn't one.  Go Gee!

3)  Gates Foundation Supporting Transformational Change (alternate link):  The Gates Foundation, a relatively long-term supporter of changes to higher education, is looking more at the breaks in the secondary school to college pipeline, and rewarding schools who have the cojones to challenge the status quo.  I hope that throwing its considerable financial weight behind reform will stimulate schools to actually change their culture, but I am afraid it will simply stimulate university's money-hungry lizard brain without affecting the centers of reason, wisdom, and morality.

4)  John Hopkins crosses the $40,000 Tuition Barrier:  It seems that Johns Hopkins is the twelfth school to charge $40,000 tuition annually.  Consider, according to Wikipedia, that the median household income in the US was $50,233 in 2007, and that persons with doctoral degrees in the United States had an average income of roughly $81,400.  In Maryland (where Johns Hopkins is located) the median household income is $70,545, however.

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