Public Purpose Magazine, Fall 2016
Public Purpose Fall 2016 - Cover

Table of Contents

Between The LinesLeading Responsibly, Engaging ActivelyBy Susan M. Chilcott
Last year an issue of The Atlantic featured an article titled “The Renaissance of Student Activism.” It attributed the rise of activism during the past couple of years to a number of conditions including growing inequality in educational opportunity, bigotry among students and faculty, protests against sexual assault and, on some campuses, institution-specific grievances. And the writer posits “school officials are . . . less sympathetic now than in the past.” Whether “sympathetic” is the right description regarding the attitude of AASCU campus presidents, certainly smarter is appropriate. 

Engaging Learning Through Student ActivismThe rise of student activism creates powerful “teachable moments,” as well as opportunities for public universities to contribute to their communities through civic engagement.By Stephen G. Pelletier
With students demonstrating, presenting demands and even occupying the occasional building, college administrators may feel like 2016 is the new 1968. The new student activism raises a host of challenges, starting with the need to keep the campus safe and secure. But AASCU institutions have also quickly realized that students’ engagement in social and political issues can create fertile ground for learning.

Further, some leaders of AASCU institutions have begun to view student activism in a broader context. Stepping back from specific moments of conflict, those leaders have come to recognize that the process of helping the campus community learn from lessons sparked by student activism often fits very well with public higher education’s mandate to contribute to its community through civic engagement.

Diversity of Leadership in Higher EducationAn Imperative for Our FutureBy Mary Evans Sias
The system of higher education developed in the United States has long been the envy of nations around the world. Nothing, perhaps, has been thought to provide a greater “equalization” of opportunity in America or in the world than having a college degree. Initially, our colleges and universities were private institutions; up to the early 1900s, only 4 percent of this country’s population was able to attend college. Most of those who did were male and wealthy. That began to change with the introduction of the Morrill Act in the late 1800s, and public higher education opened the doors for a much more diverse cadre of students. However, most of us know that our higher education system has not opened its doors wide enough to admit and graduate a more diverse student body. As alarming, though, is the fact that there also has not been any appreciable cultivation by the higher education community of a diverse cadre of higher education leaders.

Crowdsourcing Solutions to Improving the First YearA critical piece of AASCU’s Re-Imagining the First Year of College initiative is the online community.By Gayle Bennett

In mid-August, William McKinney, senior advisor for regional campus affairs at Indiana University (IU), wanted to know how other higher education institutions are dealing with student hunger. In a country where a large percentage of public K-12 students gets free or reduced meals at their schools, it’s not surprising that food insecurity would be a problem in college. 

McKinney posted his query to the Re-Imagining the First Year of College (RFY) online community. Community members from other institutions responded, sharing what they were doing on their campuses to deal with student hunger, and RFY staff posted resources on the topic. 

By no means has this difficult problem been solved through one online conversation, but McKinney and the rest of the more than 400 community members from the 44 RFY participant institutions provided greater insight into how to tackle it, and maybe just as important, an understanding that their institution is not alone in dealing with this issue. 

American Association of State Colleges and UniversitiesCan Lead the Way in CubaBy Janet Dudley-Eshbach
In the culminating scene of the novel The Kindgom of This World (1949), the hero and protagonist, Ti Noel, reflects that the greatness of humankind emerges from the need to take on tasks. The Spanish expression that Cuban author Alejo Carpentier uses is imponerse tareas, which literally might be translated as to impose tasks on oneself. Through meaningful work, Ti Noel finds that humanity expresses its transcendence. 

After more than a half-century embargo, American and Cuban state colleges and universities are presented with an opportunity to take up the seminal task of building relationships and partnerships where few existed: Our countries are on the brink of dramatic increases in tourism and other exchanges. As president of Salisbury University (SU), a member of the University System of Maryland (USM), I believe that it will benefit our campus to embrace this opportunity, and I encourage leaders at other public institutions to do the same.

Optimizing the Federal and Academic Research PartnershipBy Pollyanne Frantz

Word clouds visually represent keyword frequency and importance in textual material. For example, a report on regulatory burdens related to federally funded academic research might have a word cloud featuring these words: burdensome, diminishing, duplicative, inefficient, reassessing, recalibrating, harmonizing and optimizing, with “harmonizing” being the most prominent and important term. 

This recently published report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century (doi: 10.17226/21824), was generated at the request of the U.S. Congress. In 2014, Congress asked the NAS to study the regulations and policies of all federal agencies supporting basic and applied research at higher education institutions. The U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health sponsored the study. The NAS Committee on Science, Technology, and Law and the Board on Higher Education and Workforce created the ad hoc Committee on Federal Relations and Reporting Requirements: A New Framework for Research Universities in the 21st Century, and charged it with addressing widespread concerns that “… federal oversight and its accompanying burdens raise significant questions about whether the nation is optimizing its investment in our extraordinary research enterprise” (p. xi). As part of its task, the committee did determine that the government-academic research partnership is under stress, an unsurprising finding given that academic researchers seeking and securing federal research support interact with over 20 federal agencies that all have differing regulatory and administrative requirements. 

Accreditation in the Policy CrosshairsBy Barmak Nassirian
For well over a century, voluntary accreditation has served as the main mechanism for quality assurance and institutional improvement in the United States. This non-governmental peer-review model of academic self-regulation stands in stark contrast to standard international practice in the rest of the world, where colleges and universities are recognized and overseen by ministries of higher education. American skepticism about governmental control of academic matters has proven wise on multiple grounds. Not only has governmental non-interference created the largest and most accessible range of higher education options for students in the U.S., it has also produced some of the world’s leading institutions of higher learning. Indeed, American-style accreditation has proven such a gold standard for quality assurance and improvement that other countries are replicating it for their purposes, often in connection with programmatic and specialized postsecondary offerings. Ironically, however, just as voluntary accreditation is being increasingly recognized as an effective tool for improving higher education in other parts of the world, it is confronting significant hostility and opposition here at home. 

IT STRIKES ME ODD THAT MANY AASCU INSTITUTIONS SEEM UNAWARE OF THE potential for engaging greater numbers of military-connected students who come with substantial tuition assistance and major educational benefit packages. The Veterans Administration (VA) Education Services Division alone is responsible for processing and payment of claims in the amount of $12 billion dollars annually for over 1,016,000 eligible veteran and family member students. Perhaps it is not a lack of awareness but rather a disinterest in the “strings attached” that have kept state colleges and universities from expanding initiatives to encourage and draw military students to their campuses. 

Presidents & PracticesPromoting Diversity & Inclusion Maximizing the Effectiveness of Financial Aid PackagingBy Lesley Di Mare

Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with student services and enrollment management in my capacity as an associate vice provost, provost and president. My passion always has been to create opportunities for first generation, underserved, and ethnically diverse students who otherwise might not have the good fortune to attend college. Working closely with admissions and financial aid representatives opened my eyes to a strategy for recruitment and retention that I had missed in my role as a dean, department chair and faculty member. The packaging of financial aid is a complex process that must evaluate a student’s need holistically, leading to improved packaging of upfront merit and need. This is particularly important for Hispanic Serving Institutions, which often serve a large minority population. 

When I became president of Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2011, I immediately began to collaborate with our financial aid office to determine the most efficient way to attract students through appropriate aid packaging. 

Currents & Transitions
AASCU Honors Advancing the Educational Experience 
AASCU has announced the winners of this year’s Excellence and Innovation Awards. The awards program, now in its third year, honors AASCU member institutions in several major areas of campus life and leadership. Award categories include: leadership in regional and economic development; student success and college completion; sustainability and sustainable development; teacher education; international education; and leadership development and diversity.

EndSightsBy Frank Sánchez

Changing industry talent needs and the push for degree production are shaping the narrative for many college and university executives. High-skills, high-wage jobs are increasingly being identified as state economic drivers, and institutions are being charged to respond. Similarly, performance funding mandates further signal efforts to improve graduation rates, infusing human talent and resources into local economies. Indeed, our intellectual engines for economic development are being encouraged to have a tune-up. 

Like other higher education institutions, Rhode Island College (RIC) is actively examining how our teaching and learning enterprise can support state economic needs. In fact, the RIC Undergraduate Curriculum Committee is currently examining the feasibility of a 21st Century Skills Requirement, embedding experiential learning elements across the curriculum and better preparing graduates for a competitive regional workforce or graduate school options. Unfortunately, this requirement does not go far enough to provide the kind of portable skills essential for tomorrow’s graduates and today’s workforce.