Can the next U.S. president make public universities more affordable — and can the federal government do anything to support crucial research that takes place in these institutions?
Yes, said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, and Carnegie Corp. President Vartan Gregorian, in a Sept. 19 panel
co-presented by UCLA and Zócalo Public Square at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times and the program's moderator, opened the conversation by citing Kanye West's album "The College Dropout," which suggests that dropping out of college might be better, financially, than staying in. "Is college worth it?" Leonhardt asked.
Coleman said that before we can debate over whether college is a worthwhile investment, "we need to agree on the data."
She said that, according to the Federal Reserve, close to three-quarters of all students take on debt that's less than $25,000 — and at the University of Michigan, for families making under $80,000, college today is less expensive than it was in 2004. But, she said, universities need to better educate parents and students on how to take on debt and how to manage it, especially when a kid is the first in the family to attend college.
Gregorian agreed that the starting point of the conversation is wrong.
"We confuse job and career," he said. "We short-change students when you're defined by the job you hold." Definitions of success need to change.
"Is there," asked Leonhardt, "enough performance-based financing in higher education?"
Should aid to students be based more on their performance — and should funding to colleges be based more on student graduation rates?
It's reasonable to expect better graduation rates, Block said. But many of the problems universities have with students not progressing or dropping out is a result of their being underprepared by their K–12 education.