Presidents / chancellors

New presidents or provosts: Charleston Edison Fullerton Hamilton Kentucky Rosemont Southwest Virginia WSU Tri-Cities UT Dallas

  • David Blackwell, dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky, has been appointed provost and chief academic officer there.

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Wick Sloane asks college leaders to team up to boost college completion and end poverty (opinion)

Friends, colleagues, detractors, all 2,000 here at the 100th annual meeting of the American Council on Education, champion for the self-proclaimed greatest higher education system in the world. Good morning.

Assignment, due at dinner this evening:

  • Read this, the "Statement on Visit to the U.S.A.," by Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Look at the photos in this December 2017 report from The Guardian.
  • Referring to the data from this U.N. report, write an essay, 250 words, explaining why you, why I, why any of us in U.S. higher education deserve our next paycheck given this report. Discuss, with examples, how you, we, higher education, will provide immediate training to repair this mess.

Welcome, all, to Not the Atwell Lecture at this ACE gathering. For years I’ve offered to give the Atwell, higher education’s highest-profile talk focused on higher education leadership. A guy in a community college workstation cannot rival yesterday’s Atwell, by Nancy Zimpher, former chancellor of the State University of New York.

Still, not seeing the U.N. report on the agenda, I’ve hacked into the Jumbotron for moment. To scold us all? To inspire us all? Both. Sit tight.

Ted Mitchell, ACE’s new president -- hi. Please have this U.N. report and the Guardian article printed and distributed to all conference venues by noon today. Send me the bill. (Black and white, double sided, please.) People can send the essays to me. I’ll forward to ACE. Thanks.

Ted, you were one of the few federal officials even in the Obama era to recognize how poverty prevents millions of students from completing college. You know I am correct here. The good news? You can now blame me for bringing up this disgrace to us all.

I do have a positive proposal with a potential $100 million grant attached.

First, let’s return to our failures as educators. Alston, the U.N. rapporteur, traveled through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia. He spoke with experts, civil society groups, state and federal officials, and people who are homeless “or living in deep poverty.” (Again. Click here to look at the photos from The Guardian. Just two quotes from the eleven-page, footnoted report:

“The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. It is against this background that this report is presented.”


“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”

Why us? Why ACE? U.S. higher ed would be out of business without federal aid provided by every one of we, the people. I mean Pell Grants, federal research grants with what percentage attached for overhead, stadium skyboxes built with tax-deducted dollars, and favored endowments (even with a modest new tax) to support operating expenses that soar even against stable enrollments.

For these billions of dollars, why is an educated citizenry too much to ask of us? Why do we accept the current college completion catastrophe? Any numbers I’ve seen are bad. The nation has about nine million students eligible for Pell Grants, the federal aid for students with the lowest family income, and no one I know expects more than half of these students to complete whatever they set out to do.

Remember the saying that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting anything to change?

Enough. We must move beyond endless conferences like this one, funded by students who will not complete their certificates or degrees. We must move beyond modest questions and studies funded by still more modest grants. I honor all completion efforts.

But versus the U.N. report on poverty? Versus the need to solve this for 4.5 million students? Time to push “Restart.”

My proposal? Beginning in June 2020, low-income student completion will be 100 percent. No, we will not stall at the start debating how to measure completion. For this completion project, we’ll pick a definition out of a hat. Anything is progress.

Starting point? Join me on a proposal for the next round of the MacArthur Foundation 100 & Change initiative. “A competition for a $100 million grant to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress is solving a critical problem of our time.” First meeting is 10 a.m. Eastern Time, this Friday, March 16, at one of the tables in the lobby here at Bunker Hill Community College.

I need help. Who better than the 2,000 of you at ACE this week?

I lost the first round of the 100 & Change competition, awarded in December to the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. They won $100 million to create early childhood education for Syrian refugees. An impressive, courageous and important project.

When MacArthur announced the program in 2016, I cleared my desk, opened Excel, sharpened my pencils. I downloaded the application and began my path to fix completion once and for all.

Ha. My best thinking, stretched and padded every way I could imagine? My highest budget was $20 million, and that was rounding up.

I propose we start with the unsolved issues around faculty workload and student time required versus time available. Yes, many wiser than me have considered such questions, but on smaller scales. My focus is scale. My challenge is identifying what’s needed -- people, services, curriculum -- to solve this for 4.5 million students. The scale is a huge, scary problem.

We start with data gathering by research Jedis. A common workload for faculty members teaching these low-income students is five sections per semester. This could be five different courses. We need real surveys of this. How common is five sections? I know faculty with six or seven. What are workload variances across colleges? Across subjects?

Why faculty workload? Does anyone think that nine minutes per week per nontraditional, low-income student is enough time to grade papers or meet with students? At five sections under local rules blessed by the union at my institution, nine minutes per student per week is the number for College Writing I, which I teach, with five sections capped at 22 students per section.

Calculus, biology, physics, engineering can have sections of 30 or more students. I am solving for the usually contracted 37.5 hours per week. Demolish my assumptions. I do not see any promising evaluations of this situation.

Does anyone here today expect such workloads to improve completion for 4.5 million students?

Student time available to study is a more difficult variable. We can start with the common belief that academic work will suffer for students working outside jobs more than 20 hours per week. Do we know how many students, by college, are working more than 20 hours per week? What’s the support plan for these students? No takers so far on my 2012 proposal to use federal work-study funds to pay students to study.

I do not propose that more minutes per student per week will improve completion. I am identifying here flashing yellow lights, screaming sirens, dead canaries in our coal mine. The scale, the scale, the scale is the issue. If hiring more faculty, more tutors is an answer, how many are needed to help 4.5 million students? That’s the scariest issue I can see.

Adding, say, 100 people to one campus might help on that campus. With more than 1,000 community colleges (I am averaging), that’s a total of 100,000 new hires. Are there 100,000 qualified, motivated people in the work force willing to take these jobs for the pitiful salaries offered? What new training would a plan like this require for existing faculty and staff? With these course loads, when would the training happen?

Back to sayings, old chestnuts. Doing what we in higher education have been doing and expecting completion to improve? This strategy declares, then, that the stewards of the self-proclaimed best higher education system in the world are insane.

Back to the U.N. report, identifying 40 million people in poverty in the U.S. Look again at the photos in The Guardian. On my first try, the $20 million, I had wondered why the MacArthur Foundation would fund a project in the wealthiest nation in the world. My proposal will argue that the U.S. is no longer, in reality, that wealthy nation.

Back to the U.N. report:

“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”

Anyone else ashamed? Motivated? We educated the people who created the nightmare the U.N. report describes.

Join me Friday at 10 a.m. in the Bunker Hill Community College Lobby. Skype possible. Ted Mitchell, do you have the report distributed to all conference venues yet?

An idea? Write an even better MacArthur 100 & Change proposal. Leave me in the dust.

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most-highly-selective higher education. Follow him @WickSloane.

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The life story of Harvard's new president embodies the transformative power of higher education (opinion)

At first glance, it is easy to dismiss the selection of Lawrence S. Bacow as the 29th president of Harvard University as a safe, traditional choice. After all, he is a pedigreed academic with three degrees from Harvard itself and another from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a former chancellor of MIT and former president of Tufts University.

But dig just a little deeper, and it quickly becomes apparent that Larry Bacow’s story exemplifies the unparalleled power of higher education to transform lives, institutions and communities.

He is the son of immigrants. Bacow’s father was a Jewish refugee whose family escaped the pogroms in Minsk prior to World War II. Once in America, his dad worked full-time while attending college at night in Detroit. His mother came to the United States after surviving Auschwitz.

The reality is that Bacow comes from just the type of heartland, working-class family that today is said to be increasingly estranged from the American dream and that is skeptical, if not outright cynical, about the value of a college education.

And Bacow now will lead just one of the many U.S. institutions of higher education that every year extend access to the same opportunities he had to thousands of bright and talented young people coming from low-income or middle-class backgrounds. Harvard last year spent $414 million universitywide in financial aid to students across the undergraduate and graduate populations. Twenty percent of Harvard parents have total incomes of less than $65,000 and are not expected to contribute. In other words: free.

We’ve all seen assessments like the May 2017 analysis of postelection survey data by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, which included this finding: 54 percent of white working-class Americans over all viewed investing in a college education as a “risky gamble,” while 61 percent of white working-class men felt that way. Or the September 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN poll that found 51 percent of working-class white people said their life would be no different if they had a four-year college degree.

These types of findings will be on the table for a discussion today during an Inside Higher Ed forum, in conjunction with Gallup, titled “Higher Ed in an Era of Heightened Skepticism.” I’m on a panel that poses the question “Has Higher Ed Lost the Public?”

My answer: no, but we have work to do to improve our standing. As I approach the six-month mark at the helm of the American Council on Education, it is clear to me that confronting head-on the higher education value proposition must be a primary focus of our efforts here at ACE as we work to convene and mobilize the higher education community. The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges’ Guardians Initiative and other projects by our partner organizations are a good start, but we must do more.

Focus groups that we conducted last year at ACE confirmed heightened skepticism among many people and anxiety over the cost of college among most. But most of our focus group participants wanted their children to gain a postsecondary education and believed doing so is a prerequisite to a successful future.

And the reality is that, far from making a “risky gamble,” people with a college degree are better off that those without one by virtually every measure that demographers can devise.

College graduates get higher-paying jobs, work more and accumulate greater lifetime earnings, reports the College Board’s Education Pays 2016. For instance, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients with no advanced degree working full-time were 67 percent ($24,600) greater than those of high school graduates. The unemployment rate for those with just a high school diploma is double the rate for those with a bachelor’s (5.4 percent versus 2.6 percent). And by age 34, college graduates match their high school compatriots in lifetime cumulative earnings and rapidly outpace them after that.

The Education Pays study also suggests that those who have completed even some college or an associate degree are less likely to smoke or be obese and are more likely to exercise. Education Pays and other data also indicate that college graduates are more likely to volunteer in their communities and vote in elections, and they have lower incarceration rates. They are happier -- and they even live longer.

In addition to such individual outcomes, higher education cultivates a flourishing civil society and a diverse democracy.

Does all this mean that those of us in American higher education can sit back and just continue operating status quo? Absolutely not. We have plenty of work to do to increase access to a quality education and ensure that more students from diverse walks of life have an equitable opportunity to complete meaningful degrees and credentials. That includes 18-year-olds who will be the first in their families to attend a university, single parents who need to return to school to get ahead in their careers, middle-aged displaced factory workers who need new skills, veterans who want to turn their years of service into civilian careers and countless others.

But we need to be careful that the conversation about higher education value does not take us backward and do more harm than good.

Take the debate over the tax bill that the U.S. Congress passed in December. The bill that initially passed the House of Representatives repealed an array of education benefits that help millions of students pay for their degrees. Lawmakers wisely rethought that, but the final bill still contained a number of provisions that harm students and their families. A prime example is the remarkably flawed tax on college and university endowments that will simply serve as a vehicle to transfer funds that institutions use to finance student aid, research and faculty salaries to the federal Treasury in order to pay for corporate tax cuts.

And much like the original House tax bill, the Higher Education Act reauthorization bill recently passed out of a House committee along a party-line vote would cut nearly $15 billion in student aid over the next decade. This is a bad bill for students and their families that I hope will look very different as the reauthorization process continues to play out in the House and Senate in the coming months.

To return to Larry Bacow’s story, it is worth noting that it is not just about immigrants and the children of immigrants achieving the American dream. It’s about the many contributions that immigrants have made to our country, particularly by pursuing higher education -- an important reminder given the current debate about immigration and its place in American society generally and Dreamers in particular.

It’s very possible that a Dreamer, or the son or daughter of a Dreamer, could turn out to be the next Larry Bacow or Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, whose family fled Czechoslovakia -- or countless other immigrants or children of immigrants who have made enormous contributions to our country and the entire world.

So let’s not dismiss Larry Bacow’s appointment as conventional. Let’s celebrate it as embodying all that American higher education makes possible.

Ted Mitchell is the president of the American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and related associations.

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