Colleges must do more to regain the public’s trust, argues Catharine Bond Hill, former president of Vassar College and current managing director of Ithaka S+R. In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, she identified three issues colleges and universities should focus on to fix their image problem.
Issue #1: College affordability
In recent years, rising tuition has made it more difficult for families to afford college, preventing qualified students from getting degrees and perpetuating the cycle of income inequality.
But colleges are financially strapped for a number of reasons, including rising labor costs for faculty and staff and reduced support from states. A long-time advocate for low-income students, Hill argues for increases to need-based financial aid, as well as improved access for all students regardless of income.
Issue #2: Campus politics
The public doesn’t like the free speech debates or the student protests associated with changing campus politics. And instances of students silencing those whose opinion differs from their own only fuels the fire.
“Taxpayers, including parents, wonder how students receiving financial support are spending their time,” Hill explains. Though many institutions have condemned these activities and shown support for free speech and academic freedom, Hill urges colleges to do more to encourage “greater political diversity and diversity of thought” on campus.
Issue #3: Perceived value of a degree
The public is quick to mistrust higher ed when it comes to the financial return of a college degree. Skeptics point to high loan burdens and lack of job preparation. But evidence shows that associate and bachelor’s degrees are worth the investment. And the burden of paying student loans is better than the alternative of foregoing a college education and losing the chance to increase lifetime earnings.
The best way to achieve positive outcomes is to ensure all students graduate, according to Hill. She recommends colleges work to improve timely graduation rates and help students transition to the workplace (Hill, Inside Higher Ed, 5/8).