SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 14, 2014

Column: Higher ed can be market smart and mission-centered

The cost and the value of higher education, the short- and long-term impact of student debt, the role of career preparation and accountability for student outcomes are the subject of intense and increasing examination and debate.

Every higher education professional I know is acutely aware of shifting demographic and business models in our industry, and the need to explicitly provide, and show, value for students and their families. We recognize the need to respond to increasing consumer scrutiny, government regulation, and the legitimate evolving needs of employers and the labor force. We understand the pressure to compete and to be responsive to the need to reduce costs and increase value. Whether at a small independent school like Montserrat College of Art or a major university, this is our work. But, it is also our fundamental work to maintain the integrity, excellence and relevance of the education we provide — to educate and prepare students to enter society as thoughtful and contributing citizens, to impassion curiosity and to challenge them to seek truth.

In their 2005 book “Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered,” Robert Zemsky, Gregory Wenger and William Massy outlined the road American higher education has traveled to become less a “public good” and more a “private gain.” They clearly articulated our collective imperative to maintain the centrality of mission to educate, not just train, even in the face of our need to respond to the markets in which we operate. Almost eight years later, the perspectives articulated in their book could not be more pertinent or their prescriptions for change more acute. We leaders and stewards of higher education must carefully calibrate how we respond to the external pressure of the marketplace while still maintaining our responsibility to hold fast and advocate for the central core of values that have made American higher education the envy of the world.

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