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State of the Union and Higher Ed

28 Jan Posted by in Academics, Business | 1 comment

The nation is not eagerly awaiting my comments on the State of the Union address, and I will keep them short.

Like the rest of you, I observed that Democrats got a lot more exercise during the speech than Republicans did, which might suggest they need health care reform less.

The brief but pointed support for higher education was of course cheering. Those of us in 4-year institutions will seek to expand creative links with the more-targeted community colleges, out of self interest but also an awareness that more community college students will ultimately create demands on and opportunities for the rest of us as well. (Mason has a new degree program ideally suited to help people who thought community college would be enough but later realize they need more.)

The even briefer presidential aside, that higher ed should learn how to keep its costs down, was inevitable. I worry here about the confusion between higher tuition rates that really simply respond to reduced state support – not, in other words, reflecting some new profligacy — and higher rates that really should be stemmed by greater cost control. This is not an easy PR moment; noting a responsibility for careful self-evaluation is fair enough.

The push for more exports might seem to have little to do with higher ed, but it does prompt a final reflection. American colleges and universities that attract international students actually generate our 6th-largest export industry. We receive very little federal support or encouragement (and a number of roadblocks), at a time when competitors like the UK and Australia have quite focused and successful government policies. I wouldn’t expect this detail to reach State of Union level, but I hope the feds realize that there is an opportunity here that should be more widely discussed.

There were, in sum, a few things to think about from the higher ed angle.