| August 5, 2013

OSUIT President Warns of Higher-Ed Tipping Point

The signs are all around us that big changes are afoot in higher education. Here are three more:

  • According to a recent USA Today report, 11 colleges and universities in Oklahoma have students who are more likely to default on their loans than they are to graduate.
  • A former United States Secretary of Education has co-authored a new book asking if college is still worth it.
  • In a new survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, only 13 percent of campus chief financial officers express strong confidence in the viability of their institution’s financial model over the next 10 years.

Thankfully, there are some leaders in Oklahoma’s higher education system who understand the times. University of Central Oklahoma president Don Betz, for example, recently told The Oklahoman that higher education has entered a new era, and that there’s no telling what colleges will look like in the decades ahead. Bill R. Path, president of the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT), believes that “with unemployment rates among college graduates rising, the well-regarded reputation of higher education in the United States teeters precariously between relevance and irrelevance.” Over at the Huffington Post, Dr. Path writes:

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he describes how small incidents can become “moments of critical mass” that trigger widespread changes in public opinion. Perceptions like “relative worth” and “value in the marketplace” balance on a razor thin edge and the “tipping point” for public opinion of higher education is now upon us.

Last year more than 1.5 million new bachelor’s degree holders reported being either unemployed or underemployed — a national tragedy by any measure. These young people enrolled in college with the expectation that a degree would improve their lives. They certainly deserved better.

The general public watches helplessly as the cost of college tuition goes up every year. They have observed that more and more students are burdened with overwhelming school loan debt after college. They have seen unemployment lines growing longer across the country, and have noticed a rise in the number of recent college graduates waiting in these lines. Out of loyalty and respect to its many revered institutions, the public has been very slow to hold higher education accountable in such affairs. But make no mistake — if substantive changes do not take place, the tipping point of public opinion will shift to be against higher education. Even now, many college graduates are recognizing they have been ill-prepared for today’s workforce, and they are beginning to ask, “Was my college education worth it?”

In Dr. Path’s view, “traditionalist attitudes” in higher education are largely to blame. He doesn’t appear ready to give up on the humanities altogether, but he does make a good case that “there must be a curricular balance struck. … Universities must find ways to adopt more applied instructional methodologies at all levels and offer more program options in fields of advanced and emerging technology.”

Whether or not one agrees with his specific remedies, Dr. Path deserves great credit for his diagnosis.

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