Survey suggests need for campus innovation

By Sarah Langmead, Assistant Editor
November 28th, 2012

Campus leaders must think outside the box to keep U.S. higher education ahead of the rest of the world and also control costs, survey respondents said.

A majority of Americans still believe that college is very or extremely important in order to experience the “American Dream,” according to a national survey that paints a picture of how higher education is viewed today. But 83 percent of respondents also believe that U.S. colleges and universities must “innovate” to remain globally competitive and keep down costs.

Last October, Northeastern University asked FTI Consulting to conduct 1,001 telephone interviews across the country to examine Americans’ views of college today. The survey, “Innovation Imperative: The Future of Higher Education,” revealed that nationally, 70 percent of Americans think that college is either extremely important or very important, and three out of four older Americans think that college degrees are more important today than in previous generations.

“Higher education is not standing still. When you hear higher education is not moving fast enough—think again,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University.

But the survey found an evident discrepancy between parents’ wishes for their children to attend college, and the current number of students who actually attend college.

Eight out of 10 people surveyed who identified themselves as having at least one child under the age of 18 believe it is “extremely likely” that their child will attend college, yet 64 percent of the 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed reported opting to postpone or not attend college at all. Both younger and older groups acknowledged the heightened obstacles that today’s students face, such as cost, navigating the complex financial aid processes, and allocating the time and resources needed to complete college degrees.

On Nov. 27, Northeastern University and the Governance Studies program at Brookings Institute hosted a panel of higher-education stakeholders who discussed and analyzed the survey results—and what they mean for U.S. colleges.

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One Response to “Survey suggests need for campus innovation”

“Sexton expressed concerns that educators might focus too much on what he called “the cost cloud.” He suggested that educators can become too concerned with lowering educational costs and, in turn, diminish educational quality.”

Mr. Sexton is quite right. It is shocking that a conference like this one apparently did not address perhaps the most important characteristic of contemporary higher education: that 75% of the faculty now have no access to meaningful job security, due process, and the academic freedom that ensures academic rigor. More than half of the faculty are so-called “part time,” which does not mean that they work part-time but rather that they are classified part-time only for the purpose of denying them fair compensation, benefits, and the “expense” of basic, professional working conditions. The shift to an almost all-contingent faculty is the result of higher ed’s focus on cost at the expense of a focus on quality and on the social contract of which Mr. Aoun speaks. Not only are graduates not mastering communication and critical thinking skills, which they could learn from a much better supported faculty, but they are learning by example that exploitative employment practices are perfectly acceptable in America.

Since this problem has been getting worse in higher education for several decades, what would truly be innovative would be for higher education to reinvest in professional working conditions for the faculty who, along with students, are at the heart of the instructional mission of institutions of higher education. Faculty are not opposed to using technology wisely. However, technology without faculty does not equal education.

Maria Maisto, President, New Faculty Majority

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