Our Hopes for Higher Ed Reform in 2020 | Beaufort County Now

As priorities shift in the minds of higher education leaders and students, itís important to take stock of recent changes on the local and national levels. james g. martin center, higher education, reform, 2020, december 27, 2019
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Our Hopes for Higher Ed Reform in 2020

Publisher's note: The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2003. It was known as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until early January 2017.

The author of this post is Martin Center Staff.


    As priorities shift in the minds of higher education leaders and students, it's important to take stock of recent changes on the local and national levels. At the Martin Center, we have our eyes on some reforms at the top of our list for 2020:


Jenna A. Robinson, President

More Colleges Experimenting with Income Share Agreements

    Student debt poses a problem for many young people, especially those who are underemployed or unemployed after leaving college. A better alternative is Income Share Agreements (ISA). ISAs are contracts between students and their schools. The university pays for the student's education and the student, after graduation, agrees to repay the university with a certain percentage of his or her income for a pre-determined number of years after graduation.

    ISAs have several advantages over traditional debt. First, students know exactly how long it will take to "pay off" their debt since that's part of the agreement from the beginning. Also, students who don't earn very much money in their first jobs won't be crushed by sky-high loan repayments. And there's also no interest, which means that the balance won't grow over time.

    Most importantly, ISAs align the interests of students and schools because the school recoups more of its investment from students who graduate and find lucrative employment. Universities and students both have a financial stake in student success.

    Purdue University was the first four-year school to offer ISAs. It began its "Back a Boiler" plan in 2016. Other schools that offer ISAs include Colorado Mountain College, Allan Hancock College in California, Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania, Clarkson University in New York, Norwich University in Vermont, and Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

    In 2020, I'd like to see that list grow. ISAs are a powerful tool to prevent the worst consequences of excessive student borrowing.


More Due Process Protections for Students

    Most students who face disciplinary actions on college campuses are treated as guilty until proven innocent. And the process for determining guilt is fraught with problems. Campus hearings often lack the kinds of procedural safeguards and basic fact-finding mechanisms that exist elsewhere in society.

    In 2017, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) graded universities' disciplinary proceedings. They found, "49 out of the 53 universities reviewed receive a grade of D or F from FIRE for at least one disciplinary policy, meaning that they fully provide no more than 4 of the 10 elements that FIRE considers critical to a fair procedure."

    Late last year, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights proposed new federal regulations that would require schools to provide many important procedural safeguards. But those regulations haven't been finalized-and could be changed by future administrations. States should act to enshrine due process on public university campuses.

    I hoped to see legislative action on this topic in 2019, but there has been little activity. Last year at this time, I wrote:

  • States should remedy this problem-at least at public colleges and universities-by adopting legislation that guarantees student defendants the right to counsel, requires parties to make good-faith efforts to exchange evidence, and allows students and their advocates to make opening and closing statements, and to present and question witnesses.

    States should also ensure that accused students are given adequate notice of adjudication processes, including details of the allegations. Most importantly, states should demand that universities use "clear and convincing evidence" as the standard of proof of responsibility for proving sexual misconduct.

    For the many students facing university disciplinary proceedings, the Education Department has been too slow to act. States should move forward on this issue.

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Jay Schalin, Director of Policy Analysis

Leaders Should Start to Lead

    One thing I'd like to see for the New Year is for the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to grow a spine and become a serious force for reform. I'm not holding my breath on this one; the cluelessness exhibited by that body over the last year or so has been breath-taking.

    This lack of awareness was on full display in the Silent Sam debacle, in which they tried to avoid criticism and please all the various factions when no such compromise position existed.

    There was clearly only one appropriate move: to keep the statue on the campus and to come down hard on anybody who committed an illegal act (meaning expulsion for students, firing for staff, and full prosecution for outsiders).

    Instead of facing up to the actual problem of mob rule, the board sought some sort of sweet spot that would appease the radicals on both the left and right while ignoring the 65 percent of the population who wanted the statue restored. So how is that working out for them? Apparently not so well; their critics are more intense than ever and the credibility of the board is at a low.

    The board may try to excuse their sorry solution by claiming it "allows the University to move forward and focus on its core mission of educating students." But they cast aside the real opportunity for education. Long after the classroom quotations and equations are forgotten, the real lessons offered by the sad saga of Silent Sam will remain, including:

  • When you don't get your way through ordinary processes, resort to mob violence.
  • Authorities are essentially cowards who will back down when threatened with adverse publicity.
  • Respectful negotiation, compromise, and trying to understand other perspectives are for losers. The loudest voices get their way.

    So, it would be nice if the board were to regard Silent Sam as a teachable moment for themselves, realize that appeasement is no way to govern, and take a proactive approach to reform a system that is losing its way.


Institution-Building May Be the Last Resort

    My other wish is predicated upon the unlikelihood that we will see any serious reform in higher education. Given that unfortunate state of affairs, I would like to see a flowering of alternative institutions that will uphold standards and teach the best-known truths rather than what is fashionable or politically expedient. They can be entirely new colleges, or they can be centers, institutes, and programs that maintain some degree of independence as part of existing campuses.

    Over the last 20 years, there has been an explosion of such centers. Many of them continue to thrive and influence their campuses. However, others are starting to suffer from attempts to subvert them, limit their ability to disrupt the academic zeitgeist, and drive them off-campus. One pernicious development is the "UnKoch my Campus" campaign, which attempts to destroy any centers that take money from the Koch Foundation.

    (Although, maybe that's not the worst idea ever. Maybe there should be a new organization called "UnSoros My Campus.")

    On the other hand, new college start-ups with traditional, Christian, conservative or unique emphases have been few and far between. A couple of them were founded in North Carolina recently, but they are the exceptions. One reason is the lack of awareness of the need to for alternate institutions. Prosperous people continue to give big donations to their alma maters that are then used to undo everything these same donors hold dear. Talented students still want to attend the most prestigious schools rather than seek alternatives that may provide a better education.

    And, even when donors do look for alternative ways to give, their money goes to well-funded schools such as Hillsdale College or Liberty University.

    I'm hoping these established patterns will change and we will start to see more start-ups of both colleges and centers. It may be that the only way to have intellectual diversity is to have institutional diversity.

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