Among the key challenges facing higher education in the U.S. today, said Catharine Bond Hill, managing director at Ithaka S+R, an organization working on economic and technological issues in education, and president emerita of Vassar College, are declining graduation rates, rapidly rising costs, and barriers to would-be enrollees, including lower family incomes.
Speaking at the March 4 Mega Session at CAMEX (Campus Market Expo) in Salt Lake City, Hill outlined four possible recourses to help address these challenges.
The first is to direct more public funding to higher education, although she acknowledged this is unlikely to occur at the state level right now. “Our best hope is we won’t face significant cuts in the coming years,” she said.
Because of state reductions and growing costs, families will be asked to shoulder more of the expense to educate their children and loans will be one of the means they use. Although media coverage has focused on the small percentage of students with unmanageable debt, students who do graduate are typically able to meet their payments. Hill advocated giving more attention to helping students get their degrees, rather than on limiting loan programs.
Hill also suggested reallocating existing higher-ed funding toward improvements in outcomes, to ensure institutions remain focused on access to education, affordability, and student success.
Finally, Hill expressed hope that higher education “will somehow benefit from the technological advances other sectors have experienced.” Some new tech has generated a lot of hype—massive open online courses, for example—that has distracted from conversations over how emerging technologies can be harnessed to improve higher ed.