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Business Officer Magazine

Some Great Minds

Where is higher education headed? The following essays present a range of perspectives designed to engage, inspire, and challenge campus leaders.

Edited by Carole Schweitzer

*The United States has "two types of college education that are in conflict with each other," says Gerhard Casper, senior fellow at Stanford University and the institution's president emeritus. Speaking in Jerusalem at a May 2010 curriculum workshop, he described the contrast. One is "the classic liberal-arts model—four years of relative tranquility in which students are free to roam through disciplines, great thoughts, and great works with endless options and not much of a rationale." The second is more practical, he explained: "A college degree is expected to lead to a job, or at least to admission to a graduate or a professional school."

Casper said he worries that universities will be diverted from basic research by the lure of new development monies offered by the marketplace and that they will shift to "ever greater emphasis on direct usefulness," which might mean less funding and attention to the arts and the humanities.

At the same time, all-time-high student debt makes a curriculum with "direct usefulness" quite appealing to a growing number of students and parents who want a college degree to mean an adequately paid professional career.

Here are thoughts from higher education leaders on all sides of the discussion in considering the future.

CAROLE SCHWEITZER is senior editor of Business Officer at NACUBO. Calls for Remodeling the Higher Education System

In the higher education debate between the theoretical and the practical, Andrew Rosen lands squarely with those in the latter camp, as evidenced by the arguments in Rebooting for the New Talent Economy (Kaplan Publishing, 2011). Rosen, chief executive officer of Kaplan Inc., one of the largest private, for-profit providers of higher education, contends that companies such as his are best positioned to provide needed educational change.

Rosen notes that an obsessive focus on exclusive institutions can sometimes lead to far too little attention to more-inclusive schools that serve a far greater number of students "in far less glamorous surroundings. ... Meanwhile, the selectivity and high costs of traditional colleges serve to exclude too many." The book presents several arguments that make good food for thought, including the following:

  • While higher education may seem like the most staid of industries, it is a field with a rich history of competitive market segments. Think land-grant schools and community colleges. Online learning is only one of a long line of such competitors.
  • The higher education funding system should be focused on providing diverse, quality educational alternatives for a wide range of prospective students, not on subsidizing noneducational competition of institutions in their search for an edge in attracting students or faculty.
  • Despite recent criticism from the media and regulators over private-sector colleges' recruiting tactics and use of taxpayer funding, these for-profit schools are generally acting effectively and appropriately. When you look at the numbers, you see that on the whole this sector uses taxpayer dollars more efficiently and graduates students more successfully than many traditional schools.