Late one evening not long ago, I had left the TV tuned to the David Letterman show while I finished up some writing. As the former president of two different public universities – one in the United States and one in Canada – imagine my shock when I heard the following: “I’m dumb, I went to a state college.” Let me repeat that: “I’m dumb,” said Mr. Letterman, “ I went to a state college.”
In recent weeks, there has been much reaction, both positive and negative, to President Obama’s plan to make college more affordable. The plan involves creating a ratings system for colleges and universities based on access, affordability and a variety of outcome measures and, eventually, linking levels of federal student aid to these measures. In order to implement such a ratings system, accurate data would need to be collected in such areas as tuition levels, graduation rates, student demographics and graduates’ earnings – a tall order, indeed, as one contemplates the extreme diversity of our nation’s system of higher education.
Fifty years ago, a tiny newborn struggled for life. Born five and a half weeks premature, the son of then President John F. Kennedy was one of some 25,000 infants who succumbed annually to Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or RDS, the then leading cause of death in premature newborns.
On July 16th, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York voted to separate CNSE, the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, from its university, the University at Albany. Many opinions have been voiced, both pro and con, since the possibility of such a split was “leaked” this past March. As the president of UAlbany when the nanotechnology initiative was begun and moved through critical phases in its growth, I have expressed my opinion regarding this decision in a recent interview with The Business Review. Indeed, an editorial expanding on my deep concerns will appear tomorrow in the August 8th edition of this same publication.
A recent article by Larry Rulison in the Times Union posed the question, “Research Triangle found the right formula -- can we?” As the article acknowledges, there is no simple answer to this question. Champions of the concept of university–driven innovation made it happen: creative faculty and administration at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a committed state government; and, industry leaders who saw the competitive advantage of partnering with faculty at research-intensive universities in areas of research and development relevant to their particular product lines.
The recent release of a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences entitled, “The Heart of the Matter,” has inspired much discussion in the halls of universities and the halls of Congress regarding the importance of the humanities versus the sciences in the education of our nation’s young people. As stated by Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times, this report, commissioned by a bipartisan group of legislators is “… intended as a rallying cry against the entrenched idea that the humanities and social sciences are luxuries that employment-minded students can ill afford.”
In 1972, The United Negro College Fund, now known as the U.N.C.F., adopted what was to become one of the most widely recognized slogans in the country. That still well-known slogan was : “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” And now, this statement is being expanded upon in an effort to focus on the return people who donate to the fund can expect … to focus on such donations as investments in our country’s future.
Around the country, thousands upon thousands of young people are graduating from colleges and universities, eager to enter the next phase of their lives – the world of work. They are looking forward to obtaining employment which will make good use of their particular areas of study; and, in many cases, allow them to begin to pay off the often staggering amounts of debt they have accrued.
Each year at this time, thousands and thousands of young people across our country are readying themselves for one of life’s major passages: graduation from college. Two-year or four-year, public or private, our nation’s institutions of higher education have, once again, provided a learning experience which has profoundly changed the outlook of and prospects for our nation’s students. These graduates leave their alma maters more confident, more poised and more knowledgeable. They appear ready to undertake new challenges and new opportunities, to advance their education or to join the world of work. Most have the maturity necessary to move forward with clarity of purpose and, hopefully, the self-awareness required for personal growth and advancement. They appear, by and large, to be ready to fulfill their own unique potential.
Ben Nelson, former CEO of Snapfish, an online photo service, is determined to stand higher education – at least part of it - on its head. His goal is a simple one: provide large numbers of intellectually-gifted students with an education which will challenge them and prepare them to be the “thought leaders” of tomorrow. The approach Mr. Nelson has laid out to do this “breaks the rules” in many ways, and has been variously described as daring and innovative by some, and ineffective, reckless and over-reaching by others.