Like most of you, Robert and I both have Master's Degrees, and as Robert mentioned he's working feverishly to continue his education. If there's one common bond that Robert and I share it's our love for learning, and that love for learning has been passed down from our parents and other family members to a common focal point -- college.
In most families, like ours, who have risen out of poverty and blue-collar jobs, the prospect of college is often thrown around like an arrow whenever a unruly teenager gets out of line. In both of our families college was not an option, it was a requirement. There was never any question that my brother and I would attend--and finish--college. There was never any entertaining the thought that "college just wasn't for me." Everything in my education, from pre-Kindergarten onward was focused on college.
To be sure our young people are under a tremendous amount of pressure to achieve that college degree. Neither of my parents nor their parents nor their parents' parents graduated from a four-year University, so while the pressure was on my brother and I, I doubt I experienced any pressure like those of children from severely impoverished families, or those from disadvantaged socio-economic classes. It's the pressure to learn (and eventually earn) that our institutions of higher learning must cradle, nurture and frankly use to prepare students to become better wage earners, better thinkers and hopefully better citizens.
Our "Higher Instituions" should be regaled for the importance they play in our collective future. Yes, all education is critical including early education, but how many doors are closed to those that don't attend college? I can't begin to name how many were open for me, and how many more were opened once I attended graduate school. I've heard the refrain from others saying that college isn't for everbody and I think the best answer is, "but it should be." With that in mind here's a few challenges to our Higher Institutions:
1) Place more emphasis on teaching interpersonal communication and developing and maintaining relationships. There are many outstanding Communication programs in multiple universities. But I would love to see more emphasis placed on this type of curricula for students across disciplines. The world runs on relationships, and the grist for the mill of commerce is communication. We need to not just develop great problem-solvers but problem-solvers who can work with people. Leaders aren't the ones with all the answers, they just have the right people around them. I think too often we dismiss this type of learning as "fluff." It isn't fluff, it's critical, and our lack of attention to building great communicators harms our ability to build great leaders, great workers and great citizens.
2) Emphasize Partnerships with Public Schools, especially those in impoverished areas. The Education Departments of many, if not most Universities are well-schooled in this area. They can provide teaching support and assistance for many under-funded school districts. But what about providing support beyond just student help? If we asked a random University President how involved they were with the ten closest high schools to campus what could they say? Universities need to lead the charge for resource sharing and partnerships in everything from curricula development to athletics programs. This type of work builds more and better future college students, and everyone wins.
3) De-emphasize athletics by instituting revenue sharing across athletic divisions. Collegiate athletics are important, please don't get me wrong. I love collegeiate athletics, I'm a multiple sport season ticket-holder. But the fact that football and men's basketball are supporting so much at so many insitutions begins a sort of inter-collegiate competition that is unhealthy for education. Yes, I recognize that collegiate athletics opens up doors for fundraising and recruitment, and yes, I recognize that these two most visible athletic programs are self-sustaining. However, at some point we need to decide "enough is enough." The NCAA would do well to institute revenue sharing across all schools in a particular division, not just within Conferences. When certain conferences are competing against one another, and school's athletic programs get stronger and stronger, everyone loses. With the massive TV revenues now being experienced by nearly every major conference, we need to put less emphasis on making the best better and more emphasis on raising the ability for all schools to use athletics in positive ways, at lower costs. This too, would require schools agreeing to spending limitations on athletic programs.
4) Continue aggressive efforts to fund education for poor students. True, private universities are not in the business of giving away education. Public universities aren't either...but public universities share a duty to provide education for the "common good." In many ways their outreach and resource-sharing efforts accomplish this, but so too should the substantial resources that larger universities generate from commercial partnerships. True, there isn't enough money to go around for everyone, but expansion of grants, low-cost or forgivable at the Federal and State levels must be coupled with a Universities own efforts to expand its education among those who may otherwise not get a college education. Helping people get out of poverty on their own terms...that's "common good."
5) Expand social entrepreneurship as a discipline through research, teaching and funding. Business is a good field, and we know that sound business principles can lead to meaningful social change and profits for investors. It's important then for our Universities, who by and larget do outstanding work partnering with the private sector, to ramp up efforts to expand this important field. I share the call of Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus to build this "new kind of business" to ensure that we get beyond simple charity and effect lasting change through social business. The type of piecmeal work that many charities and non-profits do is honorable and laudable, it is not my intention to tear them down. But a self-sustaining enterprise can take these efforts to the next level and eradicate many of our social ills. I see our Higher Instituions holding the key to opening this field to the masses.
I'm interested in your thoughts, how would you challenge today's Higher Institutions?