16.10.15

EMERGENCE.

It's long been a theme of mine that institutions of higher education ought think of themselves as in the same business as the Ivies and the hundred other institutions all claiming to be in the top twenty according to whatever rankings are popular at the time.  I'm not alone in this: there's a term of art, Spielberg Effect, referring to accomplished graduates of less-highly-regarded institutions who qualified for admission to the high-status institutions yet didn't attend.

I must have been otherwise busy in the late fall of 2011, when Via Media suggested that, as a matter of public policy, ditching the Ivy League might be desirable.
Top-tier schools like Harvard and Yale provide great opportunities, but they can be prohibitively expensive for many families, and there is no guarantee that graduates from a more prestigious school are smarter or more hard-working than those who chose a cheaper alternative.

More work needs to be done to ensure that students from less-known schools are able to compete with their name-school peers. A national baccalaureate test, which would make passage of a standardized test a prerequisite for a college degree, would be a good start, allowing students from lesser-known schools to compete based on mastery of their subject. Knowledge base, experience, and work ethic are the most important lessons of a college education, and these can be acquired anywhere. We should work harder to make sure opportunity is equally available. Kids who can’t afford “name brand” schools should not be penalized in the quest for good jobs.
That sounds like a dual proposition to the Spielberg Effect, which involves students who qualified for the Ivies but enrolled elsewhere.  (Now, as far as work ethic being a college lesson, no, that starts in kindergarten, or the scouts, but let's stay on topic.)
In fairness to individuals, to promote social mobility, and to make it easier for true talent and accomplishment to be rewarded and put to use, government should be working to undercut the ‘snobbery premium’ for expensive colleges.  Offering good students from less expensive, less well known institutions and opportunity to demonstrate their accomplishments in head to head competition with the Ivies is simple justice and sound national policy.
In a way, government -- at the state level -- is doing some of this, with the flagship state institutions aggressively going after full-fare-paying international and out-of-state students.  That's a change on four years ago.
Public universities, which educate nearly 70 percent of our college graduates, have declining graduation rates, rising costs of access, and higher rates of dissatisfaction from families and public investors such as state legislatures. Universities, both public and private, have generally reacted to the economic slump and escalating costs of the past few years with retrenchment rather than even minimal expansion. Their lack of creativity in adjusting to the reduction of resources has shocked governors and business leaders alike who want to see universities innovate in order to educate more students better, faster and cheaper.
There are limits to doing more with less, something that the railroads have been discovering, the hard way, for the past thirty years.  The author of the quote, Arizona State president Michael Crow, can be excused for simply parroting the company line.  Arizona State was messed up back then, and it's messed up still.  But, by recognizing that they are in the same business as the Ivies, and offering a value proposition (sorry, that will be the last business-speak for the week) to ambitious students, the flagship campuses are, contra this Atlantic lament, offering an opportunity to the regional comprehensives and converted teachers' colleges.
The idea behind public colleges is to provide students with a quality education for a reasonable price. They often provide opportunities for middle-class students who wouldn't qualify for need-based aid to attend private colleges or for first-generation college-goers who prefer to attend school close to home. These students feel the squeeze when institutional priorities shift toward their out-of-state peers.
Yes, if the faculty and administration of the state campuses other than the flagship continue with business as usual. There's no reason for those campuses to continue with business as usual.  The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee now enrolls more Wisconsin residents than the Madison campus.  And Milwaukee has long offered place-bound students a chance to broaden their horizons.  But I see no reason to change a single word of a recommendation I offered about the same time the Via Media post first appeared. "What matters, though, to the citizens of Wisconsin is that Milwaukee, despite having neither high-visibility football nor royalties from rat poison, now has more Wisconsin residents enrolled than Madison, and Milwaukee's part of the social contract is to make sure that its brainiacs and strivers get the intellectual challenge they might have hoped to get at Madison, had Madison provided a slot for them. The incentive to the former teachers' colleges ought to be to lift their academic profiles as well."  Yeah, I've used that quote several times before, but in the words of the Distinguished Professor, even the brightest among you could benefit from a modicum of repetition.

No comments: