President's Blog

What college presidents discuss

I’m spending the day at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ Council of Presidents. In the odd chance you’ve been wondering what presidents discuss when they get together, here’s a rough sample of topics:

– As a former university president, Senator Lamar Alexander feels the pain of ever-growing higher education rules regulations and is committed to reduce them. He’s therefore advocating to pass Sen. McCaskill’s bill that relies on a bipartisan report (Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities) led by Maryland Chancellor Kirwan. Kirwan, in attendance, clarifies, we are not asking to eliminate regulation but to streamline it. Call it what you will but let’s hope it goes somewhere.

– On the crisis of affordability, Sen. Alexander argues that “we should stop telling students they can’t afford college when in fact most of them can”. The average Pell grant is enough to cover the average community college tuition. That can take care of two years. Then, with Pell, work and moderate loans, most people should be able to make it work.

Technology Enhanced Learning – Carnegie Mellon U. President Suresh and colleagues Lovett and Koedinger present their work to improve learning outcomes with the used of technology in collaboration with a new Global Learning Council. They highlight widespread beliefs about learning technology that are not supported by data. For example, many professors believe learning is improved if instruction matches learner’s style (more visual, more auditory, etc.), while in fact there’s no evidence supporting that idea. Indeed, adding extraneous, distracting images to a learning object can reduce learning effectiveness.  Big question for us: how to drive evidence-based transformation of high enrollment, high impact courses.

– As the role of universities in regional economic development grows, tenure and promotion policies should explicitly acknowledge the merit of technology transfer efforts, subject them to peer review, and recognize the variety of mechanisms: patents, licenses, industry grants, graduate placements, faculty or student start-ups, software adoption, etc. I agree.

– A study commissioned by APLU of six-year bachelor’s degree completion rates was circulated. Overall, and sadly not surprisingly, Asian Americans (73%) outperformed Whites (64), Hispanics (51) and African Americans (41). How fortunate are we at Mason to be one of the rare exceptions to this pattern and not have a performance gap by ethnic group!

– But, muy interesante: non-native English students outperformed native English speakers in graduation success (64% to 61). Contrary to widespread notions, bilingualism may be an asset, not a handicap!

– It’s almost sad that the question still needs to be asked, but since some decision makers may still wonder, I’m glad the American Academy of Arts & Sciences decided to provide some answers.  Why do public research universities matter? A short report is available here. Every year, public research universities, including George Mason, educate 4 million students every year, produce 41% of baccalaureate degrees and 60% of doctorates in the U.S., plus about 13K patent applications, more than 3,000 patent awards, more than 3,000 licenses and more than 500 startups.

– Interesting view from National Academy of Engineering President Dan Mote: without the threat of the Soviet Union for 45 years, the U.S. wouldn’t have built its great research universities. We won’t be able to mobilize national resources in a similar way and make a new qualitative leap in science and technology unlike we find a compelling reason that ties university research directly with the national interest.  I suppose the prospect of hanging does concentrate one’s mind. What is the vital threat that can mobilize our research efforts today?

– Finally, a confirmation that the painful funding reality we have faced is not unique to Mason. 2014 state appropriations per student were 19% lower than in pre-crisis 2008 (in constant dollars).  Since 2006 and 2013, state appropriations per student nationally went from $9,250 to $6,880. Meanwhile, tuition revenue went from $7,111 to $9,051. The lines indeed crossed. Ouch!