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ENE Memo: June 25, 2012

From the Head: 6/25

The Year Ahead: Reform in Higher Education?

Higher education in the USA is at a critical juncture, some would say a crossroads or an inflection point. With the rising cost of college, student debt, concerns over the future of the economy and the nation and questioning of the inherent public good of higher education, the academy is being asked by an increasingly skeptical community and their political representatives to demonstrate the value we bring. Books like Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do About It (published in 2010) is one example of the growing chorus of critics questioning the assumptions on which our sector is based. While there are counter-arguments, we can no longer ignore these critics.

Various groups have been putting forward solutions to the perceived problems. One such example is the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, whose focus is to “to help people achieve their potential by expanding access to and success in education beyond high school.” It has 50 staff and an endowment of $1Bn. Their audacious goal is “to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.”

They propose Fours Steps to Finishing First, an agenda for increasing College productivity to create a better-educated society as listed below. They make for interesting reading.

  1. Performance Funding - Targeted incentives for Colleges and Universities to graduate more students with quality degrees and credentials.
  2. Student Incentives - Strategic use of tuition and financial aid to incentivize course and program completion.   
  3. New Models - Lower-cost, high-quality approaches substituted for traditional academic delivery wherever possible to increase capacity for serving students.
  4. Business Efficiencies - Business practices that produce savings to graduate more students.  

This is not a model of “business as usual” in the academy.

Another vision of a way forward for major research universities such as Purdue is the “grand bargain” articulated in the recently released NRC (National Research Council) report entitled "Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security." In essence, they affirm the vital role that the research university must play in the future success of the nation. However, universities cannot expect to get everything they want or ask for but instead must be willing to work in partnership with each other and with industry and other agencies and be willing be open to some reform in terms of how they operate.

I recommend you read these reports as examples of two perspectives on reform in higher education and that you search out similar white papers and policy prescriptions that are emerging.  

While both of these reports presuppose the continuing existence of higher education institutions in a form that we would still recognize, a more disruptive innovation might be at hand. Many employer groups, not least in the high-tech sector, are looking for ways to know precisely what future employees can do rather than what formal qualifications they have. This has led to the idea of the digital badge, akin to badges that girls and boys in the scouting movement earn by demonstrating competent performance in some area of endeavor. This idea is gaining some recognition in government circles. We all know the argument about education, especially a broad education, versus training and rely on the common sense of this argument prevailing. However, in times of change, when old assumptions are being questioned and new solutions are being sought and offered, you can never be certain about what solutions might gain traction.

Perhaps this public policy discourse about future directions for higher education takes on more significance locally following the announcement last week of the new President of Purdue, Governor Mitch Daniels. 


News and Information: 6/25

New President of Purdue Named

In case you were not paying attention.... Governor Mitch Daniels was named the 12th President of Purdue at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees on Thursday June 21. Below is the link to the Office of our President-elect.

Calendar: 6/25

Summer 2012

  • June 18 - July 12 - STAR (Student Transition Advising and Registration)
  • June/July - ENGR 132 Summer Section

Fall 2012

  • Aug 14 - ENE Research Advance (10am-3pm)
  • Aug 17 - New PhD student Orientation
  • Aug 20 - Classes Commence
  • Aug 23 - ENE Research Seminar, ARMS BO71, 3:30pm
  • Sept 28 - Inaugural ENE First Year Friday (A celebration of FYE)
  • Sept 28-29 - Alumni Weekend
  • Sept  29 - Family Day (ENE Booth)
  • Oct 12-14 - Homecoming Weekend (ENE Booth and i2i Learning Lab Tours)
  • Oct 24/25 - PhD Open House (TBC)
  • Nov 1 - 2nd Annual ENE Interdisciplinary Colloquium - "Where did I leave my chariot?"
  • Nov 2 - Engineering Education Industrial Advisory Council (E2IAC) - Theme: Research

National or Independence Days around the World

  • June 25 – Mozambique - Independence Day
  • June 25 – Slovenia - National Day
  • June 26 Madagascar National Day
  • June 27 Djibouti Independence Day
  • June 30 Congo Independence Day

Kudos: 6/25 Emily Zhu on receiving ASEE's award for best Graduate Division student paper, with Cyndi Lynch. Sean Brophy and his co-authors on receiving the 2012 Woody Everett Best Poster Award for their ASEE paper entitled “Work-in-Progress: Linking a Geographically Distributed REU Program with Networking and Collaboration Tools.” 

To suggest content for future issues of ENE Memo, contact David Radcliffe or Lisa Tally by midday Friday for the following week's issue.