Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Provocative New Report on Higher Education

I know we in Wisconsin are sick and tired of hearing about Virginia....but please bear with me, because a new report out of UVA will likely resonate-- especially with my UW-Madison readers.

A new Lumina Foundation-funded report from the Miller Center and the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, based on a December 2010 meeting about "how to maximize higher education’s contributions to the American economy" makes the following provocative statement:

The past few decades have seen far too many colleges and universities engage in a rush toward elite status. The more selective an institution is, the better. The more research money it collects, the better. The higher it ranks in national and international publications, the better. But what has the race for status contributed to the public good? It is possible to build state institutions that are noted in U.S. News & World Report and national rankings of research universities but ignore the needs of many or most of a state’s people.

Among the report's recommendations:

(1) Rethink the purpose and functions of governing boards (e.g. like our Board of Regents). Give them new leadership roles, including setting clear goals for their member institutions and creating funding mechanisms linked to these goals. "The state governing and coordinating boards are still needed, both for their leadership and for the “buffer” role that they play between higher education institutions and state governments...In addition to measuring and paying for performance, state boards should encourage institutional redesign, curriculum revision, and the introduction of educational programs.. that meet the needs of new kinds of students...State boards should promote review of the missions of institutions,and create conditions in which it is in their own best interests to focus on the public mission of higher education...Reconsidering the missions of colleges and universities requires participation by faculty, institutional management, institutional governing bodies, and those who are responsible for the statewide coherence of higher education. It also requires consultation with the executive and legislative branches of government, with employers, localities, and the business community in general."

(2) Assign greater percentages of [institutional] operating budgets to instruction in order to achieve higher rates of degree completion. "The percentage of increases in student tuition over the past several years is far greater than the increases in expenditures on instruction. Where is the money going? What expenditures can be reduced or eliminated?...Many institutions have grown used to spending their money on things that may not reflect the needs of the states or regions that they are supposed to serve."

(3) Increase faculty teaching responsibilities. "Reduce the number of non-permanent and adjunct faculty -- this almost certainly will require that many regular, full-time faculty members teach more courses and be relieved of other duties for which they have volunteeredor to which they have been assigned."

(4) Restrict research efforts to a limited number of institutions. "..Say clearly that the “research” obligation of the great majority of faculty members is simply to remain current in their fields. Relatively few of them are going to make historic contributions to human knowledge."

(5) Adopt tighter, more focused curricula with key learning objectives."..The “electives” that have proliferated in the past half-century often are far less cost-effective, in part because enrollment in them is voluntary and usually smaller, and not required for particular programs of study. A core curriculum of required courses may seem less attractive than a wide array of choices, but it also may be less costly and more focused on key learning objectives. It is also likely to lead to higher levels of program completion."

(6) "Institutions should be required to assess what students learn and to measure and report their progress in clear and unambiguous terms."

Now, I don't agree with every idea in here-- but I do think this is a very useful report for framing a discussion about the future of Wisconsin public higher education, and I urge you to review it in full.

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