As President of Woodbury University in the multi-ethnic Los Angeles area, I am committed to delivering quality higher education to deserving students in pursuit of their dreams. Their needs inspired this blog post, which I started writing while attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, D.C., last January. It was an extraordinary event with like-minded colleagues. Of particular value was the forum on President Obama’s Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class.
The President’s Plan would create a new rating system, the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), which will determine which colleges and universities offer “best value,” measured by educational access, affordability, and outcomes. The plan also includes having Congress pass legislation tying federal student aid to the “best value” ratings.
AAC&U questioned whether the PIRS will lead institutions to deny access to students who could eventually benefit from college but may take longer to complete their degrees. This is particularly true for students whose socioeconomic backgrounds would require them to have jobs to support their college education. Taking longer to finish a degree could be perceived as diminished value.
Another concern is the definition of “best value” relating to salaries of graduates. The system will definitely reward institutions with multiple business, engineering, and technical programs, and punish those that produce large numbers of teachers and public service workers.
In her book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Professor Martha C. Nussbaum wrote: “Without people with a liberal arts background, the world would be filled with narrow, technically trained workers, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition and authority, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements.” I agree with Nussbaum because the study of history and culture imparts the ability to approach global issues as a citizen of the world. The study of philosophy teaches the critical thinking skills that help us reason about our choices. Participation in the creative arts fosters an empathetic capacity and allows us to imagine the challenges facing someone unlike ourselves. Continue reading