What 5 higher ed leaders say about the future of colleges

Several higher education leaders gathered recently for a forum hosted by the New York Times. Participants discussed their predictions about the future of colleges. Here are some of their thoughts.

We need to reduce college costs

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island)
Sheila Blair, president of Washington College and former chair of the FDIC

Gov. Raimondo has spent the past few months campaigning for a version of free community college in her state. At the forum, she said access to college is essential for the nation's economic future and pointed out that college degrees are increasingly mandatory for securing a good job.

"Too many students are being denied an opportunity to get a good job because they can't afford college. It's a crisis in this country; it's locking people out of economic opportunity, and we have to take action," Raimondo said.

Blair acknowledged that many accounts of college costs are inflated, because students usually do not pay the full sticker price of attending an institution.

"But nonetheless," she said, "it's still really expensive."

Financial concerns are the top reasons students decline their dream schools

We need to bridge the skills gap

Ryan Craig, co-founder and managing director of University Ventures

If you asked students ten years ago why they're going to college, about half would reply that they want a good job, Craig said. But today, around 90% of students say they're hoping college will help them get a good job.

At the forum, Craig argued that the skills gap leads to underemployment, "failure to launch," delayed homeownership, and barriers to entrepreneurship. He said that colleges need to do a better job of training students in the specific skills employers need right now—and articulating those skills on their resume and application materials.

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We need to protect free speech

Lawrence H. Summers, professor and president emeritus of Harvard University
Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at New York University's Stern School of Business

Campus free speech is one of the biggest debates raging in higher education right now. College students have never been so politically divided as they are today.

Summers said at the forum that he supports the University of Chicago's stance on the issue, saying "There's a safe space with respect to hearing ideas you don't like. It’s your parents' house. It is not any place on a college campus. It should not be."

He added that he believes all speakers should be given a chance to be respectfully heard and that individuals who violate campus standards of civil conduct should be punished.

Haidt criticized what he described as "this new culture of safety-ism." Instead, he argued that students need to learn to be "anti-fragile," borrowing a phrase from Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile. Citing Taleb's research, Haidt said students can learn this skill by repeatedly facing—and overcoming—challenges (Gregg, Providence Journal, 6/13; O'Brien, AP/U.S. News & World Report, 3/12; New York Times, 6/7).

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