In the fourth of five posts, I’ll look at one more force faced by public universities, as described by Hunter Rawlings during his recent talk at Carolina. Rawlings is president of the American Association of Universities. You can watch his presentation at the end of this post.
The next force cited by Rawlings was ‘ideological difference.’ I think the best way to think about these differences is to break down the concepts into the issue of what a college education should be and how people get access to it. This really breaks down into three questions (a) the nature of a liberal arts education, (b) how many people should get a four-year college education, and (c) how should we ensure that everyone who qualifies for a college education gets a chance to get one. So here are my thoughts on these three aspects:
Importance of liberal arts. I always talk about how important a liberal arts education is to the future of N.C. and the U.S. In my travels around the world, I see the extraordinary efforts that other countries are making to emulate our liberal arts model. Indeed, I believe it’s the most important distinguishing feature in differentiating the trajectory of the US economy. (The Ivy League universities were formed prior to the formation of the US federal government, and Carolina was chartered in 1789, the same year George Washington was inaugurated.)
Imagine if, 20 years ago, someone came to us and told us to write a vocational curriculum to prepare the information technology workers of today. The college students of 1992 are 38 years old today – at the peak of their working careers. But we could never have imagined in 1992 that we would today be carrying computers in our pocket that we can use to watch television, access the world’s information, and communicate voice and video to anyone in the world. Instead, what we did in 1992 was what we did in 1892 and 1792, which was to teach students to learn and how to understand the world. We prepared students for jobs that hadn’t been invented yet. Vocational training can only prepare students for the jobs that exist now. That won’t cut it. That’s why we have to stay committed to the liberal arts model.
College attainment. There’s a lot of talk now about how many people should get a college degree. President Obama called several years ago for the U.S. to be #1 in the percentage of young people getting a college degree. Philosophically, I agree. But practically, we need to be mindful of the true capacity we have to produce high-quality degrees. I don’t believe Carolina should aspire to produce a huge number of additional degrees, and I think we need to be careful about advocating for a dramatic increase in college degrees if we’re not prepared to step up and produce a lot more ourselves.
One place where I think we can increase degree attainment is in getting more students to complete college. There are 23% of North Carolinians who have some college. Getting those individuals to a college degree is a worthwhile goal for the UNC system, and Carolina should be a partner.
College access. The way to keep graduation rates high is to make sure the most qualified and motivated students are the ones attending college. And the best way to do that is to make sure that the most motivated and qualified students are the ones who have the opportunity to come to college. The financial aid system is a must in ensuring that we enroll the best possible class. People don’t always realize that financial aid is not something we do just to give students an opportunity – it’s also what we do to attract the best students.
At the September meeting, the BOG wisely voted to give campuses the ability to determine how much tuition to set aside for financial aid.