The headline of the Boston Globe article reads "Lawrence Bacow promises a more outward-looking Harvard". For those of you who have never been involved in higher ed, and a lot of us who have been, the the first thing that occurs to us is "Who the hell is Lawrence Bacow?"
He's the new president of Harvard. As such, he is at the top of the higher ed food chain. Harvard is one of the largest universities in the US in pretty much any category that actually matters--prestige, endowment, quality of students and so on. No, their football team never wins the Rose Bowl. Heck, they never even smell the roses. But in higher ed, while athletics may often be the tail that wags the academic dog, no academic thinks it actually matters. In reality, I agree with them. Any kid who goes to college to play a sport with the hopes of a further career as a pro athlete is a fool. Look up the stats.
Bacow isn't a fool. Sure, he's been in higher ed most of his career, but you don't get to be president of Harvard if you're a fool. He realizes that higher ed is facing challenges unlike any time in its history in the United States. The cost of attendance to any school past high school has been increasing at a rate far past inflation for years. Too many students are getting degrees that, after graduation, qualify them for work at Starbucks. Colleges and universities are seen as cesspools of far left politics. All in all, higher ed has a big image problem, and it's getting worse by the semester. The public's perception of of higher ed as a whole is only somewhat ahead of Congress and the media.
Having worked in higher ed, I can tell you a lot of this is absolutely true. While I miss my old job, there are a lot of things about it I don't miss.
- I don't miss trying to explain to parents why their kid ought to come to college when I didn't send both of my kids to college and firmly believe that not all kids need to go to a four year school.
- I don't miss watching the cost of attendance ratchet up at a stupefying rate as schools try to outdo each other with facilities that look more like luxury vacation get-aways rather than college campuses. My house isn't as nice as some residence halls I've seen.
- I don't miss watching students signing away years of their lives on the dotted lines of student loan forms. Most of them barely understand the concept of borrowing money, let alone the scale of what they're borrowing. Add to that the methodology of calculating how much they're allowed to borrow, which is too complex to go into here, and they wind up with far more than they really should be allowed to borrow. At the beginning of every semester, the new tats, smart phones, TVs, laptops and so one, paid for by that excess borrowed money, boggle the mind.
- I don't miss watching majors such as sports medicine, art, sports management, religion, communications, religious music and so on being filled up with students attending on borrowed money. The majority of these kids will face three employment futures. They will either A) Never work in the field they're educated in; B) Work in it and face a life of being chronically under-paid and under-employed or C) Both A and B. The world only needs so many of these folks, and the bitty school I worked at graduated enough by itself for the entire eastern half of the US. But they all still have to pay back those student loans, so penury becomes a way of life.
- That "cesspool of liberalism" thing. Great Bleeding Ghu. Scratch an academic and 97-98 times out of 100, you'll find a socialist or a communist. As a staff member, I got pretty good at biting my tongue. It was that or get fired.