Year Three of Affordable Excellence: An Update

How we have enhanced educational quality at RWU, even while holding the line on price

In October 2012, following months of discussion and analysis, the Roger Williams University Board of Trustees adopted an initiative called Affordable Excellence®. These two words reference a host of actions devoted either to making an RWU education more affordable to a broader cross-section of families of high school graduates hoping to enroll at a high-quality private university, or to enhancing the quality of that education even beyond its already very high level.

The Slow-Motion Train Wreck Speeds Up

Shrinking enrollments, climbing debt – yet a reluctance to shift the model

For the past 18 months, I have made numerous posts wherein I have described my reactions to seeing the gradual disintegration of both the public and private models of higher education, in a manner akin to watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Well, the rate of disintegration is increasing. The slow-motion train wreck is speeding up. Consider five categories of evidence from the news media in recent weeks:

(1) The gap between the wealthy privates and everyone else is becoming a chasm.

My claim in my blog post of Oct. 15, 2013, that, in some respects, the wealthy colleges and universities seem more like investment companies that do a little teaching on the side now seems more prophetic than ever. Two recent articles make the case.

The Primary Problem with Higher Education, in Four Words: It Costs Too Much

And so the primary task American colleges face today is controlling costs

On Monday, April 14, 2014, the Lumina Foundation convened a group of opinion leaders in Washington, D.C., to discuss college affordability, federal student loan policies and the role of states in supporting public colleges and universities (The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Paying for College: Experts Gather in Search of New Models,” April 15, 2014).

Unfortunately, the experts came up empty.

One commentator noted that “affordable” does not necessarily mean “cheap.” Another touted the merits of a net-price calculator designed to show the number of years after graduation at which “the benefits of college outweigh the cumulative costs.” A third suggested that greater numbers of women and minorities should choose more lucrative majors.

I hope the Lumina Foundation did not overly deplete its endowment to pay for these platitudes and in-the-box thinking.

And Another Academic Year Begins…

Across the country, we’re welcoming students to our campuses – but are there dark clouds on higher education’s horizon?

Colleges and universities across the country are undergoing a seasonal transformation, from relatively tranquil oases to frenetic hives of activity, as the students, new and returning, arrive on campus for another academic year. It’s the circle of life, campus style, playing out in highly predictable ways.

In the midst of the excitement of the students’ arrival, there are poignant vignettes of parents saying goodbye to their sons and daughters. It is often a traumatic time for both students and parents – and this seems to be particularly true for parents trying to cope as their first-born, or last-born, leaves the nest.

Turning Grinches into Santas

Might some of the richest colleges use endowment dollars to reduce the need for public subsidies and tuition revenue?

In my last post, I criticized wealthy campuses for focusing too much on the size of their endowments and the returns on their investments, and not enough on making their campuses financially accessible to more students. In this post, I will suggest why they strayed, and why it is important that they rediscover a more socially useful path.

It all begins with an analysis of mission and purpose. Private colleges were established in this country to meet the need of various religious denominations to prepare members of the clergy here in the colonies, rather than having to import them from Europe. A number of institutions still retain their religious affiliation, although very few of them limit their educational efforts to the preparation of clergy. However, most private colleges today have at best a distant relationship to a particular religious denomination, or have become entirely secular, and their educational programs have expanded dramatically to include all of the traditional arts and sciences, and very often professional programs as well.