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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

Best education bargains

Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?

Many college presidents have found innovative ways to reduce expenses - renegotiating contracts for campus services, delaying construction and capital expenditures, finding entrepreneurial ways to raise revenues, such as renting facilities, selling intellectual property, creating new programs for businesses or government. But a special tilt of the tassel goes to those who have increased financial aid and resisted the urge to raise tuition, ensuring that their campuses remain affordable to students with low and moderate incomes.

Unfortunately there are a few bad eggs. In higher education it is those presidents -- who continue to ingratiate themselves to state lawmakers, large donors or noisy alums by building expensive football stadiums and country club dorms, or by giving "merit based scholarships" to families who have the financial resources to send their children to college. These presidents are too frequently raising tuition or fees and reducing needs-based aid -- placing even greater pressure on families who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of college.

The best bargains in education today can be found in smaller liberal arts colleges, community colleges and some state programs that have concentrated on what really matters: excellent teaching that inspires students to learn. College presidents and trustees might find inspiration from ideas born of necessity in these schools, such as three-year degrees; night-time or year-round programs, internships and hands-on learning so that students are equipped to enter or return to the workforce sooner; reinvented curricula that combines classroom and online learning so students can move through materials at an accelerated pace.

The heroes of higher education are those who adopt these types of reforms and keep accessible, affordable education their chief priority.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  May 25, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The following article in Washington Monthly - written by Lumina Foundation for Education President/CEO Jamie Merisotis and Complete College America President and former commissioner of higher education for the State of Indiana Stan Jones is relevant to this conversation:

Posted by: landerson3 | May 28, 2010 12:25 PM
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On the one hand, we say that students coming out of high school are woefully unprepared for college, then we propose shortening the route to a BA/BS by 25% in the name of efficiency?

To those who don't see why the same education could be "delivered" in 25% less time: What do you see as the purpose of an education? I think you are making huge assumptions.

Education takes time. It takes time to digest and internalize ideas enough to be able to integrate them with your already-acquired ideas, to question your assumptions, to be able to use them in relation to other ideas.

It takes time to acquire, practice and develop new skills of analysis, critical thinking, interpretation, and expression. It takes time to learn how to do meaningful research and to perform meaningful research. It takes time to have ideas and to develop them intelligently and responsibly. It takes time to develop the imagination, to expand our world beyond our personal experience.

Where would I like to cut back on educational costs? We could cut back on the country club lifestyle during students' four years of college. In the race to compete with other colleges for students, we have spent so much money on fancy admissions brochures, horrendously expensive athletic facilities (I'm very athletic, but really), information technology that costs endless money. At the same time, we have cut way back on full-time faculty and pay part-time instructors (who often have no benefits and no idea if they will be employed from one semester to the next) shamefully low wages.

If we reoriented the priorities of education to educating and away from marketing a lifestyle, we could bring down the cost of education.

We also need to acknowledge that our society used to believe that investing in education was good for all of us. We seem to have given up on that belief for the time being. Disinvestment of state governments in state universities is a big part of tuition increases. We can pay in taxes or we can pay in tuition - the money has to come from somewhere.

Posted by: lxp19 | May 28, 2010 4:08 AM
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It is good to see online learning advocated as a wave of the future for higher education. Since a recent meta-analysis by the Department of Education found online can produce better learning than face-to-face, online does stand ready to support the future of higher education.

Some three year degree proposals would merely accelerate the pace of courses, so the students take courses year round to complete the required credits in three instead of four years. It would get the student into the workforce early, but without opportunities for experiences from summer jobs. It seems like tuition and campus housing would likely end up being about the same cost. On the other hand the author of the article in the "three-year degrees" link in the article above advocates a shorter, smaller bachelor's degree.

There seems to be strong pressure today for reducing the cost of college. Cost saving measures include AP classes, CLEP/DANTES credits, programs to take 12th grade classes on campus for college credits, etc. Perhaps in the future high school students will be able to take college online courses to get dual credit in high school and college.

Although the measures to expedite college seem likely to save time and money for the ambitious students with limited money, I have the feeling that the traditional college experience will survive, perhaps serving those fortunate enough to have deep pockets, good scholarships, or just the strong demand for the full treatment.

I think the future will bring greater diversity in how college is completed, but the traditions will survive especially in the elite universities. How will expediting affect college job recruitment and prospects for big money in entry jobs? Will prestige employers demand student with the full-four-years, or will they value the student who demonstrate flexibility and problem-solving in how they get their degrees? I guess we will find out.
Bernard Schuster

Posted by: arrive2dotnet | May 26, 2010 2:22 AM
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The three year degree already exists in some fields. I did that 40 years ago as did several of my friends, and that was before the wide availabilty of AP or community college classes for high school students. Two problems exist. One is that sometimes it requires time to learn something; the brain can only move so fast. The other is typified by a friend of one of my children who entered college as a sophomore, graduated in three years, and headed off to grad school only to discover halfway through her first year of grad school that her chosen field was not what she wanted at all. After a few years of messing around she returned to school, took the undergrad classes needed for her new program and is now living happily ever after as a professional in a completely different field. How much did that year save her? The three year degree suggestions also tend to downplay the importance of the reduced faculty teaching load in the summer for research. Talk to the biologists, environmental scientists, and others whose research is done outdoors and is governed by the seasons or the weather or other natural factors or, for that matter, anyone whose research requires travel. And then we can open the can of worms called remedial classes.

Posted by: abbyandmollycats | May 25, 2010 4:38 PM
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Some good views in this thread. Let all stakeholders critically assess our behaviors and determine how we can improve. Costs can always be squeezed out of any enterprise or institution. Innovation, even if it means changing long-held practices and beliefs, should continuously be pursued. Strengthening the community college should be a focus - indeed, long live the community college which is a gateway to higher learning for so many! And so on.

Posted by: demiwhy72 | May 25, 2010 4:37 PM
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NOW is the time for a free, comprehensive online university, available 24/7 with lectures and related study material. Instead of spending (over $100 billion last year) on loan subsidies to keep the bloated college behemoth afloat, let the feds spend a small fraction of that to provide real educational opportunity to everybody who is willing to learn. Consider it a public good on par with the interstate highways or the Internet.

What are we waiting for ?

Posted by: dan1138 | May 25, 2010 4:31 PM
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Explain to me how a 3-year BA is a good idea? You are not just cutting out 1/4 of your coursework. You are cutting out the most challenging portion of your degree, those seminal courses where you are required to synthesize your 4 years of study into higher level thinking and produce real research.

IMO, someone with a 3-year BA is someone who needs another year of schooling.

Posted by: AxelDC | May 25, 2010 4:26 PM
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See this classic "PhD" comic strip, containing true information about academic salaries.
When you find a university president willing to do something about the pay inequities in academia -- which inevitably lead to higher costs for the students -- then you'll have something to write home about. Hint: He'll have to start with cutting his own salary.

Posted by: dmm1 | May 25, 2010 3:27 PM
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Why should merit-based scholarships be concerned with whether or not the parents "have the financial resources to send their children to college"? The key here is merit.

A child who excels academically should, regardless of parental income, have the same opportunity to compete as any other merit scholarship applicant.

What constitutes adequate financial resources? Information from the FAFSA? Arbitrary income levels with no regard for expenses? Some parents who seem financially flush may be saving frantically for retirement or potential long term medical expenses.

Parents have no rights in the college experience other than paying for it. It should be the student's achievement that creates the opportunity for financial reward, not the parents'.

Posted by: leuchars | May 25, 2010 2:47 PM
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If people want to save money, they should get two-year degrees at community colleges. Shaving a year from a bachelor's degree just to save tuition cheapens the academic experience to get the degree. Who wants discounted degrees? College is more than vocational preparation. It's a total experience designed to help you learn, assume responsibility, compete, think critically, and amass the knowledge required for the degree.

Posted by: SteveL5 | May 25, 2010 2:35 PM
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