Campus Ministry Matters

The State of the Higher Education system

During his speech last evening, Barack Obama talked about the need for universities to make access to quicker graduation available.  He also proposed that states increased their support of higher education and that somehow we have to stop tuition from going up and make sure that “Higher education can’t be a luxury – it (has to be) an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

This is a daunting question for those of us working on college campuses.  Should every single person in this country have access to higher education.  On the one hand, absolutely.  Everyone should have the ability to go to college and get the education needed to get a college degree.  Everyone should be able to afford that.  But on the other, I’m concerned.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a probably hiding out for socialism to exist as I think it’s Jesus’ preferred government of choice, but there are serious issues when I start thinking about everyone having a college degree, or even that we think that college is about the degree.  Let’s start with the first because I’m sure this will draw the most criticism.

At the rate we are headed, and most higher education professionals realize this, we’re heading into a higher education bubble.  Either the tuition rate increases to the point where it continues or once again becomes an exclusive part of our society to go to college or, and this is the case I believe wins out, the BA doesn’t mean anything more than a high school diploma means and the reality becomes that master’s degrees are the thing that begins to set people apart.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely high on education.  I have nine years in a higher education institution just in school.  But now I have to wonder what I say to these students who are putting so much money out there for degrees that don’t necessarily get them a job.

So what do we do.  Actually, I have no idea.  I totally 100% back the idea of more loans, of more student financial aid including work study.  I totally back that everyone should have the chance and the opportunity to go to college.  But can we both lower tuition and raise the stature of the BA degree, or do we resolve ourselves that college is a six or seven year journey from the start.  Do we have to reset out economic system to one where most 18-25, even 27 year olds are primarily paying money to the higher education institution instead of having full time jobs that have taxes being paid that help support other things.  If so, we’ve got to recognize then that our future within both the church and the country will truly have students on campus until they are in their late 20s, people who are not truly settled until probably around age 35-40 (Carol Howard Merritt has shown that to be true in her book Tribal Church) and in order to retire, people will have to work longer and perhaps won’t be able to retire.  I don’t know if I have anything of this correct, but I’m a little nervous about what happens when we look at the 18 year old high school senior and say, don’t worry about undergrad.  It’s grad school that’s the most essential these days.

The second point is what I know many of us have always said: College is not about the degree. I guess if Obama is going to push Universities to shore up their programs, then I guess for them it has to be about the degree. But I’m nervous because one solution he is suggesting is to get students out earlier than ever before.  This means less time in the classroom, and even less time on campus with peers and being a part of the culture of college.  I think we all know that people who live on college campuses tend to have better developmental outcomes than those who live at home or have primarily an on-line higher education experience.  But things are changing and we’re “Bowling Alone” as Robert Putnum attests.

So for me, as I finally get this blog back going this morning, I would really like to hear from you.  My thoughts are my thoughts, and although they are not yet fully formed I’m always nervous as to how to take the changes the government wants to make in higher education.  Perhaps you all will provide more clarity for me.



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