Unless public colleges and universities become the architects of change over the next 20 years, they will be its victims.
That’s the warning from a 25-member commission of current and former university presidents and chancellors working on major academic reform for land-grant institutions.
Washington State University President Samuel Smith, Oregon State University President Paul Risser and Portland State University President Judith Ramaley represent the Pacific Northwest on the prestigious, nation-wide commission.
“We did this with the understanding that we would try to stimulate a national dialogue about what we should be doing to change,” Smith said.
Otherwise, he said, conventional universities may be replaced by the private sector as the major providers of higher education in the country.
Created with a $1.2 million grant, the Kellogg Commission will issue a series of reports over two years as part of the push for reform. The first, released today, summarizes challenges facing the nation’s 608 public four-year institutions and gives several recommendations for improving “the student experience,” on America’s campuses.
For starters, the commission recommended public universities:
Revitalize partnerships with elementary and secondary schools.
Strengthen the link between education and career.
Focus on undergraduate education by offering students more hands-on learning and undergraduate research.
Improve teaching while maintaining costs.
The report predicts enrollment pressures will continue as the baby boom echo matures, particularly in the West where high school graduates are expected to increase by 60 percent over the next decade.
New corporate and private sector competitors are now offering training, courses, degrees and other educational services, largely using new computer technology. These vendors threaten to undermine the necessity of public universities, the commission said.
To compete, Smith said, higher education must become more like the banking industry, which now has automated tellers on nearly every corner.
“The banking industry changed by going out to the clientele and higher education has got to do the same thing, or frankly the private sector will do it for us,” Smith said.
Public universities also face state funding constraints and an eroding public trust, the commission reported.
Critics claim workplace needs are being ignored, while the public is transfixed by sticker shock over the cost of education.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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