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What College Presidents Think

Karin Fischer's Crisis of Confidence Threatens Colleges
What College Presidents Think

Through an analysis of polls of both College Presidents and the general public this article demonstrates the great transition university and college education in America is currently experiencing. Karin Fischer, a senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, based her investigation on simultaneous polls of 1,000 college and university presidents and of 2,182 Americans, 18 years or older about higher education in America conducted by the Pew Research Center. Though a little dated since it was posted in the Chronicle last year at this time, the article’s substance reflects the situation as it remains today.

The statistic that is the most interesting from the presidents poll is the one reflected in the title of the article. To quote Fischer: “…perhaps the most troublesome finding from the surveys is this: More than a third of presidents think the industry they lead is heading in the wrong direction.” The article links this to concern over the global standing of America’s system of higher education, eroding sources of income from the federal and state governments, and general distrust among the general public of the usefulness of higher education given its cost. To some degree these are concerns that do not touch the more elite universities, but even they recognize that they cannot retain their place within the structure of American society without the broad sweep of higher education at all levels remaining strong.

The article fails to mention any discussion in the two polls of the challenge of the massive amounts of “free” knowledge that have become much more accessible through the Internet in the last few years. Nor does it mention the challenge that online universities bring to the established destination institutions, be they four-year universities or two-year junior colleges. Fischer centers more on the work place and how many jobs still do not require a college degree, and the question whether colleges and universities are preparing their students for work in the world after graduation.

The article does affirm that most college presidents do see the primary role of university education as being to promote intellectual growth, as opposed to simply providing skills for the workplace. The general populace disagrees with this, finding the purpose of a college education is “to learn specific skills and knowledge for the workplace”.

This article is intended for Study Center staffs to serve as a basis for their discussion about the universities they serve.

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