Monday, January 3, 2022

Hard Jobs

At the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in early December, Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said “Being a university president is the hardest job in America.”

 

Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated tweeted the quote and followed up with “One of my grandpas was a shrimp boat captain for 40 years. The other was a roofer. I’ll just leave it there.”

 

Thus began a bad week for Mr. Emmert as the quote made the rounds of most news media and became fodder for dozens of opinion pieces.

 

Millions of people do harder work every day, and most them are sadly under-rewarded for it. Being a university president isn’t the hardest job I have had. Serving as a custodian in a hospital (including drain-cleaning and biohazard collection) and clearing brush come to mind as being harder work. Both were important, and I had the rare luxury of knowing that neither was a lifetime assignment.

 

Being a university president isn’t even the mostly intellectually taxing job I have had. Conducting an opera or an oratorio (hearing the mental sound of all the components of the written page just before they happen, signaling what the players and singers need to see to make it happen while concurrently listening in the present and making adjustments) is the highest mental peak I have climbed, and I am sure there are many even more intellectually arduous jobs, but few as satisfying and frustrating at the same time.

 

What I think Dr. Emmert (who was president of the University of Washington and chancellor of LSU) meant, and probably wished he had said, is that the role of university president is one of the most complex jobs. This is one of the features that makes it so interesting and rewarding.

 

No two days are alike. Each day is dominated by breaking stories much like the editorial desk of a metropolitan newspaper, except most of these stories are serial novels taking turns in the spotlight.

 

The focus of our work is and always should be the development of our students in and out of the classroom and laboratory, which we do in part by supporting what Thomas Jefferson called an “academical village.”

 

Mr. Jefferson was referring to the Rotunda and Pavilions that form the architectural core of UVA, but the campuses of residential universities like Susquehanna are communities in every sense. Presidents become the keepers of campus sagas. We are charged with the amorphous duty of curating, cultivating, and sustaining our campus stories to shape culture and affinity, but we also have defined logistical responsibilities.

 

In addition to offering over 100 majors and minors from over 25 academic departments. Susquehanna sponsors a wide range of research and creative work by faculty and students. We maintain labs, studios, field stations, and we have a great bespoke academic library to support all of these programs. We have a career development office and an academic support operation.

 

We run a small city. Our campus has just over 90 buildings. We house over 2,000 students each semester. Dining Services prepares a little more than one million meals each year (really). We run a theatre and a regionally significant art gallery. We produce scores of concerts and theatrical productions. We offer 23 intercollegiate athletic teams that compete publicly, as do a number of our nationally ranked club teams. We have the most powerful campus radio station in Pennsylvania. We develop and maintain all of that programming and infrastructure.

 

The largest component of our budget is financial aid. After scholarships and grants are applied, on average, our students pay a fraction of our tuition. Therefore, we also offer engagement opportunities and communication with about 20,000 alumni, and we run a grants office and a highly professionalized fundraising operation to make it financially possible for our students to benefit from an SU education. We also run a philanthropic foundation in the form of our endowment.

 

No president has expertise across this range of endeavors, but we are responsible for them. Being literate enough and balancing the many incumbent priorities in such a multifaceted organization is where the complexity lies. This is why teamwork is so important. It is a hallmark skill developed as part of a liberal arts education, and it is in full display on our campuses. Expertise matters, and we are fortunate to have many talented colleagues with diverse gifts and experiences to collectively guide our institutions.

 

Being a university president isn’t the hardest job, but it may be the most interesting, and it is definitely the most rewarding.

 

 

 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Good Questions

 

Good Questions

 

Our oldest niece is college shopping. Being a smart consumer, she asked her uncle (me) what questions she should be asking each school she visits as she determines where her best fit will be.

 

Here are a few of those question and some additional considerations for soon-to-be college students and their families.

 

How many of my classes will be taught by faculty (vs. graduate assistants)?

 

Many graduate assistants are good instructors, but full-time faculty (especially at teaching, vs. research institutions) are subject to rigorous ongoing review of their teaching. They are almost always more experienced in the classroom, and at institutions like Susquehanna, they have access to a wide range of professional-development resources to continuously improve their teaching.

 

What percentage of classes are taught by full-time vs. adjunct faculty?

 

Adjuncts are a valuable resource for colleges and universities. They can provide very specialized expertise (tuba teacher) and the insights of active practitioners (family court judge). Most institutions have a cadre of excellent adjunct instructors who cover some courses across the curriculum. Unfortunately, there are also numerous institutions where a minority of classes is taught by full-time faculty members. This presents students with less continuity and limited accessibility to their faculty outside of class. Ideally, at teaching institutions, about 80% of classes should be taught by full-time faculty.

 

What is the student-faculty ratio and the average class size?

 

Lower student-faculty ratios increase individualized learning opportunities. Tutorials (office hours included), guided independent work, and out-of-class interactions with faculty are hallmarks of deep learning experiences.

 

Because teaching loads vary by institution, average class size is not always parallel with student-faculty ratio. Both matter. A recent marketing study showed that many prospective students associated small class size with remediation. Small class sizes allow students to be more actively engaged in their classes and for the classes to be more individualized to the students.

 

For some activities, a large class can be preferable, like symphonic band. In laboratories and most traditional subjects, smaller is almost always better.

 

What is the 4-year and 6-year graduation rate?

Investing in a college education is equated with investing in the advantages associated with completing a degree: career opportunities and often significantly enhanced earnings.

 

Nationally, only 1 in 4 students that enroll in college will earn a degree (associate’s or bachelor’s) in 4 years. The average graduation rate for four-year institutions is 60.4%, but that is based on completing in six years.

 

In many regions of the U.S, students may be delayed in graduating because of limited access to some requirements. In Pennsylvania, the private sector has higher graduation rates than the state-affiliated institutions, and those privates have a much higher rate of completion in four years.

 

What percentage of graduates have completed an internship, job, or research project that demonstrated that they could apply what they learned in class to real-world tasks?

 

Some degree programs include internships as a graduation requirement. Student teaching for education students was one of the first, but experiential application of what one learns in the classroom has become acknowledged as a best practice. It allows students to use and internalize what they have learned with an opportunity to reflect and consult on the experience with a faculty advisor. These are the graduates who not only have good transcripts, but also compelling resumes.

 

Ideally, students should be able to have some of these experiential opportunities early on in their studies as a way of discerning their true affinity for career paths they are considering.

 

What percentage of graduates complete a study-away experience, and how is it supported?

 

Study away in which students meaningfully engage with a culture different from their own provides a truly profound learning experience. It is one of the principal high-impact practices in higher education, especially for diversity and global learning. Even so, pre-pandemic, only about 11% of college graduates had studied abroad. Institutions with high study-away rates have infrastructures and academic support to help students get the most out of their cultural immersion.

 

Susquehanna is one of a handful of institutions where every student has a study-away experience, which means it is integrated into the life of the university. Rather than being “academic tourism,” it is tied to the university’s learning goals with classes to prepare students for the experience and to interpret what they learned afterward.

 

How is writing taught during the first year?

 

Clear effective writing is one of the most valuable skills in the workplace. Students arrive at college less and less well prepared as writers. Ideally, writing will be taught across the curriculum. First-year writing programs are especially helpful in setting students up for success throughout their matriculation.

 

Be sure to ask about out-of-class support, like a writing center or peer tutoring. In my experience, the students who most frequent writing centers are those who need some extra help and the best students at the university. The latter know that an extra set of eyes and peer review make their work even better.

 

What are their job and graduate-school placement rates?

 

These data are meaningful in revealing how well students are prepared for post-graduate success. They also are a good indicator of how well the career center supports and guides students as they transition into careers and post-baccalaureate education.

 

Don’t assume a school (especially private institutions) is unaffordable until you have gone through the financial-aid process.

 

Private and public institutions have significant financial aid to recognize merit and need. In many cases, private institutions with high price tags may provide the most affordable options to students once financial aid has been awarded. These same institutions are likely to have answered the previous questions more favorably than their seemingly more affordable public neighbors.

 

Don’t assume that a school that is higher ranked provides a better educational experience.

 

I once had a conversation with a friend who had attended a very prestigious institution. I mentioned that I sometimes wondered if I should have applied there. He asked why, and I replied because of three very famous members of their faculty in my discipline. He replied that in his four years there he had only met two of them and one of those taught no undergraduate courses. Be sure to pursue the experiences that will be best for you, not the "designer label."

 

Be sure to choose a college that will challenge you.

 

I often refer to what we do as transformative education. We provide opportunities for students to discover capacities they didn’t know they possessed. Often talented students who have had limited educational opportunities before college will settle for an institution that won’t stretch them. Ethical institutions only admit students who can succeed on our campuses. Be sure to pick one that will help you develop the most fully before and after graduation.

 

 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Some Musings on College Rankings

 

Some Musings on College Rankings

 

College rankings continue to proliferate, and in many cases muddy the waters for prospective students and their families.

 

Most of the leading rankings of institutions use an in-house algorithm that utilizes certain data points to create a score. Many of those data points are meaningful measures of institutional health and how selective they are, but these do not necessarily correlate with students’ academic experiences.

 

U.S. News, the most prominent of undergraduate rankings, continues to adjust their formula. They report that they currently use the following data to build their scoring:

 

·      Outcomes (40%)

o   First-year retention

o   Graduation rates and deviation from predicted grad rate

o   Social mobility (graduating more lower-income students)

o   Student debt

·      Faculty resources (20%)

o   Percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students

o   Percentage of classes with more than 50 students

o   Student faculty ratio

o   Percentage of faculty who are full-time

·      Expert opinion (20%)

·      Financial resources (10%)

·      Student excellence (7%)

o   Acceptance rate

o   25th-75th percentile SAT or ACT scores

o   Percentage of first years who were in the top 10% of their H.S. class

·      Alumni giving rate (3%)

 

Most of these are meaningful measures, but not all are linked to quality. Just because many more prospective students apply to an elite institution than will be accepted doesn’t mean they will have a better experience.

 

The “expert opinion” category is especially problematic. Each year, U.S. News sends a questionnaire to the President, Provost, and Chief Enrollment Officer of each college with a list of all the institutions in their cohort. At Susquehanna, we receive a list of 222 “national liberal arts colleges.” We are asked to rate them on a five-point scale from “marginal” to “distinguished.” In recent years the highest composite score any institution inn our cohort has received in this category is 4.7.

 

Only about one third of those who receive the questionnaire, complete and submit it.

A number of years ago, a significant portion of an Annapolis Group meeting was spent debating whether the leaders of those member institutions should boycott the questionnaire. We discussed the absurdity of any of us having a meaningful understanding of that many institutions. We also noted that it was not a helpful measure for prospective students, but many of us recognized that if we did not report, our own institutions would lose the benefit of our “vote.” There has been at least one news story of a leaked copy of the questionnaire in which all schools were ranked at the lowest level except for the home institution of the completer.

 

When the “expert opinion” component was initially added, high school guidance counselors also completed a ranking questionnaire. This has recently been removed from their process.

 

Other national rankings use different combinations of data and balance each element differently. Some, like Wall Street Journal/THE assess all institutions together rather than separating liberal arts colleges from large universities or institutions that recruit regionally versus nationally. This creates comparisons between remarkably heterogeneous schools. Putting a small residential private liberal arts college on the same scale as a large state university does not yield much meaning.

 

I must confess that I celebrate when Susquehanna climbs in a ranking, and I complete the reputation survey to be sure that we receive one more distinguished ballot. I give that same rating for a number of other institutions that deserve it, and I don’t provide ratings for schools about which I am uninformed. I don’t find ratings to be of value, but they are an influential reality.

 

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) was developed in the late 1990s as a measure of the student experience and a scholarly counterpoint to the ratings system. This survey of currently enrolled students (usually first years and seniors) measures student engagement including academic rigor, learning with peers, engagement with faculty, and the campus environment.

 

The NSSE survey also measures how much students are engaged in selected high-impact practices including: a learning community, service learning, independent research with a faculty member, internships, study abroad, and a capstone project.

 

Early in NSSE’s history, they reported that among the surveyed institutions, there were four schools in the top quintile in all categories they measured. None of those institutions were in the U.S. News top 50. NSSE’s leadership encouraged prospective students to focus on the experiences they would have in college as the driver for choosing an alma mater.

 

Students who are selecting an institution should look at graduation rates and placement in jobs and graduate schools. These are important measures of outcomes. Families may also be buoyed in their confidence by consulting the recent Georgetown University study on the return on investment of a degree, which provides lifetime earnings data. Those data are most meaningful when comparing otherwise similar institutions. Comparing earnings between graduates of schools that mostly educate teachers and social workers with schools focused on engineering and business is not revealing.

 

Abstract rankings do not provide meaningful discernment for which school will be best for a given student. Understanding the student experience is a much better evaluation.

 

Prospective students should find out how many of their classes will be taught by faculty vs. graduate students. They should ask how big those classes will be. Small classes aren’t a guarantee of quality, but they increase the possibilities of individualized learning opportunities. Lastly, students should ask how many of those high impact practices are built into the curriculum and co-curriculum of the institution. If these aspects of an institution are favorable, there is a quality program in their chosen field of study, and they have a positive campus visit, that institution should move to the top of their list.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Give Rise

Give Rise

 

This weekend, Susquehanna University announced the public phase of our Give Rise capital campaign.

 

After years of careful planning and “quiet” fundraising, we announced that we have already raised $140,529,670 toward a goal of $160 million. That goal is more than twice what has been raised in any previous campaign, and going public with nearly 88% of that goal completed is a testament to the hard work of my colleagues and an affirmation of the commitment alumni and friends of the university have for this great university.

 

Susquehanna University is truly a manifestation of philanthropy, which comes from the Greek, meaning “love of man.” It is gifts for the betterment of others. Each year, we welcome hundreds of talented young people to our campus (itself a gift) who are able to be here because of the generosity of strangers.

 

Our students come here to figure out who they are and how they make our world better. As a university, we make good citizens and good neighbors who give back to their communities many times what we have invested in them. Much of our campaign’s success is a reflection of their gratitude for what a Susquehanna education has made possible in their lives.

 

I can think of no better investment in our collective future. As I said to a gathering of over 500 supporters of Susquehanna at the launch:

 

I have the best job in the world. I am surrounded by brilliant faculty and talented staff who share a passionate commitment to our wonderful students.

 

Every day, Lynn and I witness the life-changing things that happen on this campus. Students are truly transformed here. Their seemingly unattainable dreams become reality because of what our collective philanthropy makes possible.

 

Susquehanna was founded as a gift. Local farmers and business people in Selinsgrove gave land and funds to create this place because they believed in Benjamin Kurtz’s dream that talented young people should have access to higher education no matter what their families’ station in life might be. Those first donors wanted to support those students, and they wanted their own children to join them, and so began our first tradition.

 

The New York Times ranked Susquehanna as having the 9th most economically diverse student body in the nation. We are not an institution of students born on third base, Susquehanna is a living and learning community representing the breadth of socio-economic backgrounds and experiences, and yet, according to a recent Georgetown University study, the average lifetime earnings of our graduates is among the top 8% of all colleges and universities in the U.S.

 

This is why Lynn and I have made Susquehanna our primary philanthropy and why SU is the largest beneficiary of our estate planning. We know first-hand what supporting this university makes possible. It is so rewarding to us see our gifts changing lives every day, and we are so grateful that so many of you join us in that philanthropic vision.

 

As part of our celebration, we unveiled a new campaign video featuring our students, faculty, and staff that will give you a glimpse of what wonderful things they are doing on campus, and quite literally around the world.

 

Knowing what philanthropy at Susquehanna has done and will continue to do for the betterment of our world for generations to come makes supporting this campaign immensely satisfying and abundantly consequential.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Chautauqua

It was not only colleges and universities that slaked America’s thirst for enlightenment. In 1874, John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller founded Chautauqua Institution.

 

Chautauqua Institution is sited on the western shore of Lake Chautauqua in the county of the same name, the westernmost in New York State. Each year (COVID aside), for nine weeks visitors gather in this idyllic location to attend days filled with lectures, exhibitions, and performances by premiere thinkers, practitioners, artists, theologians, performers, and leaders from around the world.

 

Vincent was a bishop in the United Methodist Church committed to enhancing adult education. Miller was an inventor and philanthropist who was especially generous to UMC causes. Incidentally, Miller was also father-in-law to Thomas Edison.

 

They had taken their inspiration from the Lyceum movement that flourished in the earlier decades of the 19th century. The original function of the Chautauqua Assembly was to provide training for United Methodist Sunday-school teachers. Vincent and Miller recognized that for many adults and older children, Sunday school was the only continuing education available, so from the beginning, their summer sessions included lectures on moral philosophy, the newest scientific developments, literature, artistic performances, and even religion.

 

What began as a “church camp” for adults, with participants staying in tents on wooden platforms, transformed into a village of Victorian gingerbread cottages and a non-sectarian center of American intellectualism in only a few years.

 

President Grant appeared during the 1875 season and instantly lent prestige to the fledgling movement. In 1879, Schools of Languages and Music were founded. These included continuing education opportunities for school teachers. Today, the Music School is one of the leading summer festivals for aspiring professionals, as are the Schools of Dance, Theatre, and Art. A School of Theology began in 1881, followed by the School of Liberal Arts in 1885. By that year, the Chautauqua Press had already published 93 titles, and there were “Chautauquas” in more than 30 states.

 

In addition to these “sons of Chautauqua,” for about fifty years, traveling tent Chautauquas were a staple of American culture, and for many rural communities were their only imported cultural event. There was no direct association between these tent Chautauquas and the Institution, and the traveling shows ranged from very legitimate intellectual revivals to little more than vaudeville shows.

 

Chautauqua Institution served as the summer home of the New York Symphony. When that group merged with the New York Philharmonic, Chautauqua formed its own symphony in 1929, which provides a summer venue for musicians from many of our nation’s finest orchestras. Also in 1929, the Institution founded one of the longest continuously operating summer opera companies.

 

An early and important initiative of the original Chautauqua Institution was the founding of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.) during the summer of 1878. The C.L.S.C. was a four-year course of assigned home reading. It was the first organized reading circle in the country — a Victorian MOOC. The Chautauquan was published as an anthology of course readings, old and new.

 

Its charter states that:

 

This new organization aims to promote habits of reading and study in nature, art, science, and in secular and sacred literature, in connection with the routine of daily life, (especially among those whose educational advantages have been limited,) so as to secure to them the college student's general outlook upon the world and life, and, to develop the habit of close, connected, persistent thinking.

 

The participants received study guides. Regional discussion groups were formed. Initially all participants were expected to return to the Institution for four summers for lectures and discussions of what they had read the previous year. Material was offered in a four-year sequence, and new students could join in at any year. Exams were administered, and at the end of four years, diplomas were awarded.

 

The C.L.S.C. still exists, and one of its contemporary features is that the authors of each year’s books (which are often best sellers) appear on the Institution’s program and lead additional discussion sessions for the C.L.S.C. students.

 

The C.L.S.C. inspired the foundation of the Continuing Education program at the University of Chicago, and I am convinced helped prime the pump for the “Great Ideas” project that would begin there soon after.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Reflections on 9/11

 

There are moments in history that provide a universally shared memory: Pearl Harbor was one for my parents, but it was not part of my generation’s collective experience. Now, as we memorialize the victims of the September 11th attacks 20 years later, it is not part of the memory of our students, but their lives have certainly been shaped in the shadows of those tragic events. Even the recent tragedies in Afghanistan are echoes of 9/11.

 

There are many lessons to be learned from that tragic day. We were all reminded how truly connected we were. It felt as though everyone knew a victim, a first responder, or at least, had a loved one who experienced peripheral trauma. Susquehanna lost two beloved and promising young alumni. We recognized if only briefly, how interconnected we really are.

 

For me, the lasting lesson was what we did in the days immediately following September 11. We pulled together. Crime virtually disappeared in New York City. We became neighbors. Civility and grace were our watchwords, and kindness was abundant. We allowed ourselves to be led by our better angels. We proved that we are better together. Then it wore off.

 

Today, our nation and world are plagued by fractiousness and rancor. As we remember those whom we lost twenty years ago today, we can best honor them by committing to regain those halcyon moments that arose in the wake of their loss.

Monday, August 30, 2021

A Brief History of American Higher Education - Part Three

 

A Brief History of American Higher Education

Part Three — The Democratization of Institutions and Ideas

 

AAUP

 

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, there were numerous threats to academic freedom including a handful of celebrated cases.

 

·      In 1895, Edward Bemis was forced to resign from the faculty of the University of Chicago for speaking against monopolies and in support of the Pullman strike.

·      In 1900, Edward Ross was forced to resign his post at Stanford through the intercessions of benefactress Jane Stanford for eugenics remarks that would provoke volatile debate today as well. Mrs. Stanford exercised her authority over the protestations of Stanford’s president and faculty.

·      In 1915, the president of the University of Utah summarily dismissed two professors and two instructors prompting 14 of their colleagues to resign in protest, which became the first investigation led by the newly founded American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

 

The AAUP was founded by the philosophers, Arthur Lovejoy and John Dewey with significant support from the anthropologist, Franz Boas. The mission of the AAUP from their website is as follows:

 

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country's colleges and universities.

 

It is through their efforts that the standards applied to academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance across the Unites States have been developed and refined. Every faculty handbook has been shaped by their collective influence.

 

Protecting the ability of scholars to report what they have observed and discerned is foundational to a developed democracy. For a fascinating history of the AAUP, I commend University Reform: The Founding of the American Association of University Professors by Hans-Joerg Tiede.

 

Great Ideas

 

In 1917, John Erskine proposed creating a two-year program on classics in translation at Columbia. Erskine reasoned that the Great Books were written for general audiences in each generation, but that language and approach made the classics distant and elitist. The faculty initially rejected it.

 

World War I gave Erskine a chance to test his theories as Director of the Education Department for the Y.M.C.A. and the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Flush from his success on the front, he persuaded the faculty at Columbia University to allow him to teach General Honors, a two-year seminar devoted to the Great Books.

 

Among Erskine's early students at Columbia were future University of Chicago faculty members Richard McKeon, Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, and Mortimer Adler.

 

During his first year as president of the University of Chicago, Robert Hutchins hired Mortimer Adler as a faculty member. Adler suggested replicating the two-year Honors Seminar of his own Columbia student experience. Beginning in 1931, Adler and Hutchins led the seminar at Chicago for two decades. It was in Chicago that the course drew national attention for its use of Socratic method and for the many celebrity guests the course attracted, including Lillian Gish, Orson Welles, and Gertrude Stein.

 

At Columbia and Chicago, the “Great Books/Great Ideas” curricula were an elective track for a select group of students, and in Chicago, the curriculum moved into the University Extension program in the 1940s, a berth created decades earlier by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (more on that in the next installment).

 

At St. John’s College, originally King William’s School, founded in 1696 in Annapolis, the great books were successfully expanded into a universal curriculum. St. John’s is one of our nation’s oldest academic institutions, but it struggled for many years to remain viable. To quote an earlier iteration of their website:

 

Rather than close the school the board decided on one last desperate measure. In 1937 they brought in Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, two academics [from Erskine’s class at Columbia and then the faculty at Chicago] who had revolutionary educational ideas, to completely revamp the curriculum. Buchanan, who was appointed dean, thought that the traditional liberal arts could be used as a formal structure for learning; he devised a course of study with the great books as the basis for discussion classes. Another important feature of his plan was the inter-relatedness of the disciplines; he proposed a college with a unified, all-required curriculum and no departments or majors.

 

St. John’s has expanded to two campuses, the second site in Santa Fe utilizes a reading list that incorporates many more Eastern classics than the Annapolis campus. The twin colleges have undertaken a bold campaign, Freeing Minds, to create long-term financial viability and access through an aggressive fundraising effort.

 

G.I. Bill

 

Following the First World War, the American Legion began to actively lobby for benefits for veterans. These efforts were redoubled during World War II leading congress to adopt the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 with strong bipartisan support Broadly known as the G.I. Bill, the Act provided a variety of financial rewards including low-interest business loans and mortgages; up to a year’s unemployment pay; and tuition support for high school, vocational training, and college.

 

At the Act’s conclusion in 1956, 5.6 million G.I.s had completed vocational training, and 2.2 million had attended college. A series of subsequent initiatives have been called G.I. Bills including those after the Vietnam War and Post 9/11.

 

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 created the largest influx of new students in American higher education history. Many institutions created temporary “barracks” to accommodate this wave of new students, which stimulated particular growth at regional public institutions, preparing them for the next growth spurt that would occur when the baby boomers headed to college.

 

The G.I.s who benefitted from the Act were disproportionately White, because the Act accommodated Jim Crow exclusions creating an even greater educational divide between Blacks and Whites. Likewise, many banks engaged in discriminatory lending practices that excluded many Black servicemen from benefits they had rightfully earned. It would be another two decades for fair access to be legally guaranteed.

 

The Great Society

 

Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society produced many of our nation’s most progressive efforts for positive transformation. These included the creation the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, Job Corps, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, and the three most significant pieces of civil right legislation in the 20th century.

 

These were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Related legislation included the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the Higher Education Act of 1965.

 

The Higher Education Act has been reauthorized eight times. The ninth reauthorization has been due since 2013. The act contains eight large-scale sections, called titles. Title IV is focused on student assistance. This created federal loan and grant programs that made a college degree possible for millions of students who had previously been denied access due to their economic status.

 

The most significant of these aid programs, is the Pell grant. Originally called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the program was renamed in honor of Senator Claiborne Pell. Unlike loans, Pell grants do not need to be repaid. They are need-based and are awarded to students whose families are in or near the bottom financial quintile. Over 5 million students are attending college or technical school with Pell support. This year, the maximum Pell award is $6,495.

 

The grant has not kept up with the cost of education, nor has it kept pace with inflation, which is why there is a coordinated lobbying campaign led by numerous national higher-education organizations to Double Pell with the next reauthorization and to tag it to inflation moving forward. This would make college truly affordable for many of our poorest families. The aid would follow the student, which guarantees student choice, and would make many degree programs “free” for the students who have the least capacity to pay.

 

The Higher Education Act profoundly changed the face of higher education. It created access for millions of deserving students who had been excluded in the past. It was one of our nation’s greatest acts of democratization, and the expansion of Pell would make good on its initial promise for generations to come.

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