Higher education is confronting massive change and great uncertainty; institutions are challenged like never before.

Keene State College partnered with the American Democracy Project and hosted on the subject of  the state of public higher education.

George Mehaffy, Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) spoke in the Redfern Arts Center and highlighted the role and importance of a residential college experience in his Red Balloon Project presentation. Mehaffy presented the problem and stated, “In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly forty-five-hundred colleges and universities now operating in the U.S. will have ceased to exist.” Mehaffy predicted that by 2059, there will be no more public support for public higher education.

“I’m confident the state will still own the buildings, I’m confident there will be people paying bureaucracy and lots of forms and things to fill out, but there won’t be funding for higher education,” Mehaffy said. From 2006 to 2001, tuition at public four-year institutions has gone up 18 percent, Mehaffy said. At this rate, students are about to pay a higher percentage than the state pays for public schooling.

Mehaffy shared a Powerpoint presentation with information about higher education.

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor: George Mehaffy talks about harmful outcomes for public higher education in the future. The event took place on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Redfern Arts Center.

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor:
George Mehaffy talks about harmful outcomes for public higher education in the future. The event took place on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Redfern Arts Center.

On one slide, the Powerpoint stated Moody’s Inventor Services Report in Jan. 23, 2012,  found, “Tuition levels are at a tipping point.” They [Moody] said higher education must innovate to remain viable.

Some ways Mehaffy said schools could plan to work on that is by making more collaborations between colleges, more efficient use of facilities, and more centralized management.

Another slide showed the evidence of success had a poor outcome when the American Institutes of Research (AIR) in 2006 found that 20 percent of U.S. college graduates only have basic quantitative literacy skills—they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station.

According to AIR more than 50 percent of students at a four-year college lack skills to perform complex literacy tasks, such as comparing credit card offers, or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials. In addition to this, 45 percent of students didn’t demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) performance during the first two years of college.

Furthermore, the slide showed that AIR conducted another study indicating that 36 percent of students didn’t show any significant improvement in CLA performance over four years.

Kim Schmidl-Gagne, program manager at KSC, organized this event.

She said KSC has been working with ADP since 2008. “The goal of the American Democracy Project is to educate the next generation of informed and engaged citizens. ADP is made up of schools like ours—public, four-year institutions—and part of our mission is civic engagement, and it is the founding principle of public education that you not only, you know, prepare people for life-long learning, and world of work, but to also be engaged citizens, to be able to look at the big picture and look at the common good,” Schmidl-Gagne said.

“When I went to college, it cost six-hundred dollars for tuition and it was all paid for with Pell grants and other things—I left college debt-free,” Schmidl-Gagne continued. Schmidl-Gagne mentioned that leaving an institute  for financial reasons is an intense issue.

On the other hand, if a student stays, she said she finds it upsetting how much debt he or she will leave with.

Mehaffy commented on such debt and said,“In a recent survey, eighty percent said that the education received was not worth the cost.”

Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year, according to Mehaffy. He added that the average debt for those with loans now is $24,000.

Overall, he said the key issue is figuring out a way to educate more students, with greater learning outcomes at a lower cost.

Mehaffey said the key areas of change are course delivery, course designs and course support. Although, he said, “We shouldn’t just focus on creating courses, but instead on creating learning experiences.”

Schmidl-Gagne said, “I think the vast majority of the faculty here is committed to the students, and making sure that they learn.”

She also said she believes the data is correct and that 85 percent of what students learn happens outside of the classroom. She asked, “Can you regurgitate facts from a class that you took as a first year student? Probably not.”

Mehaffy asked the ultimate question for institutions, “Can we transform ourselves before we are disrupted?” He continued, “The challenge is enormous, we have a confusion of purposes, distorted reward structures, limited success, high costs, massive inefficiencies and profound resistance change. This is not simply a difficult moment for higher education: it is the dawn of a very different era. The institutions that will succeed —indeed, thrive—in this era will be those that constantly innovate.”

Mehaffy joked that people who are against higher education should live in N.H. Schmidl-Gagne explained, “We are fiftieth in the nation for per capita funding for public higher education, so we are last, and it would more than tripling of what we get to bring it to get to forty-nine. We have the most affluent state in the nation, and we give almost nothing to public higher education.”

According to Schmidl-Gagne, KSC makes constant efforts to reach out to corporate sponsors and individuals to create more scholarships and enhance the scholarships KSC has. She said KSC runs programs through Continuing-ed to try and generate revenue.

Schmidl-Gagne said George Mehaffy named this presentation the Red Balloon Project after a project created by a government scientific agency project. During the government project, they sent eight red weather balloons up in the air, and challenged institutions around the country to find all eight of them and offered a reward. She said she believes MIT won, in approximately eight hours. She said this school used social networking to do so.

“The idea is that they used a collective to solve a problem—You couldn’t just sit at MIT and figure it out, you had to reach out into the world and work with colleagues and collaborators,” Schmidl-Gagne said.


Bethany Ricciardi can be contacted at bricciardi@keene-equinox.com

Share and Enjoy !