This month’s magazine published by the American Council On Education (ACE) (The Presidency) highlighted the top ten myths about higher education. I guess one could argue the attempt is self-serving, but that does not make the facts any less true. I will share the list with a few facts and some editorial comments along the way.
10. Increases in federal student aid drive increases in tuition. This has actually been studied numerous times and there is little to no evidence to suggest that federal student aid affects college prices in any significant way. On the other hand, cuts in state operating support are unambiguously tied to tuition increases at public institutions.
9. College is unaffordable for all but the very rich. Prices vary widely among the thousands of institutions in the United States. The average price of community college for a year, full-time, is less than $3000. For in-state four-year publics, $8250. And for four-year private, non-profits, the average sticker price is just below $30,000. That’s actually Oglethorpe’s sticker price, but the average discounted cost for an Oglethorpe student is half that. College is an investment, no doubt about it. But if a student selects the right college (and by that I mean a college that provides a high quality education at a cost affordable to that student and her family) , the investment is almost always worth it.
8. It’s only worth attending a “ranked” college. Ask your boss where her boss’s boss went to college? I bet you it wasn’t Harvard or Yale. Included in the alma maters of our country’s governor’s (of just the first ten in alphabetical order) are Glendale Community College, Pacific Lutheran, Arkansas State and Mercer. There are lots of colleges that do not belong to the Ivy league, and I include Oglethorpe in the list, that add tremendous value to people’s lives. A recent study found that students accepted at selective schools but who attended one of the less well-known colleges earned just as much money as those that accepted admission to the name-brand place. There’s nothing wrong with going to Harvard, but if you can’t afford that or you feel like you might be just another fish in the barrel at a larger or better-branded school, you will do just fine at a less well-known place if you are committed to working hard and being engaged.
7. College sports are a cash cow. The bottom line: only a very schools make money off sports and even then, it is only big-time football that generates real money.
6. Faculty members are underworked and overpaid. Almost every faculty member I have know works incredibly hard and almost none that I have known make a lot of money. I sure know that’s the case here at Oglethorpe and we benchmark our salaries to a group of more than 50 other colleges. I have had the privilege of teaching from time to time and I know that teaching well is a massively complex and time-consuming task. Don’t forget that teaching is not the only task faculty members are required to do — far from it. And how about part-time faculty who might make $3000 a course with no benefits? Please.
5. College and university presidents are overpaid. I’ll skip this one entirely for obvious reasons.
4. A liberal arts education is becoming irrelevant. This subject is near and dear to my heart, both as a graduate of such a place and as a president. It is a fact that most employers want employees with the kind of education and skills we provide. Career trajectories have become more varied and multiple and that trend will only continue. The skills of a liberal arts graduate are in increasing, not decreasing, demand across the world today. Flexibility, creativity, critical thinking and strong communication skills will never go out of style.
3. College campuses are unsafe. I am not sure how many people actually think this despite incidents like the horrific one at Va Tech. The rates of violent crime on campus are dropping and they were low to begin with.
2. Student drinking is an intractable problem. ACE’s article suggests some creative ideas and examples of strategies that have been effective to reduce binge drinking and even the consumption of alcohol. That said, student drinking (in high schools as well as college) has been with us for decades and is not going away.
1.College and universities are incapable of change. If this were true, dozens and dozens of our institutions would be shutting their doors every year, not just a handful. It is true, in my view, that many institutions of higher learning don’t embrace change easily. The more successful an institution is, the less inclined one is to change. But for most of us in this business, there are massive shifts going on inside and outside our walls. Oglethorpe opened its doors 177 years ago in rural Georgia as a very small school for white men interested in becoming ministers. Today, located in the Atlanta, we draw over 1000 students about half of whom are either of color or international and they come to Atlanta from 30 states and 30 countries. We have adopted a model of the liberal arts that emphasizes connections to the real world, through opportunities for internships, study abroad, and service. Applications for admission in the last seven years have grown 500% because we are changing with the world.
It seems to have become fashionable these days to bash higher education. We are not perfect, for sure. We are also an incredibly diverse industry with quality across the spectrum just like every other large business. That said, higher education in America remains one of the things about which we should be most proud. That’s what I think anyway.