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Commission’s Final Draft Report Recommends Revamping Higher Ed Curricula

Commission’s Final Draft Report Recommends Revamping Higher Ed Curricula
By David Pluviose

Almost three months after its first draft report was met with enormous scorn and criticism, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education has approved a very different final version. The new report
lists recommendations for improving U.S. higher education to ensure that graduates remain competitive in an ever-changing global environment.

Though the report garnered near-unanimous approval, some commission members have expressed concerns about the document, as well as the state of U.S. higher education.

***image:left***“Our findings indicate that, these days, we are principally privileging the privileged — [those] who, by virtue of circumstances of birth and civic status, are able to have expectations that match their aspirations,” says Dr. Arturo Madrid, a commission member and professor at Trinity University, in San Antonio. “All of us had most of those conditions. We need to remind ourselves that a very large percentage of our potential students do not.”

Among the draft’s recommendations:

-Revamp higher education curricula to encourage innovation and emphasize math and the sciences

– Increase higher education access via more aid to low-income students

– Work with the K-12 system to ensure that students are college-ready

– Restructure the financial aid system to improve the measurement and management of costs

– Create a “consumer-friendly” higher education database to track student performance

– Develop a national strategy to promote lifelong learning

– Increase federal investment in “areas critical to our nation’s global competitiveness,” such as engineering and medicine.

Commission member Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, says this new draft is still too pessimistic and critical of U.S. higher education and does not do enough to highlight and promote higher education “best practices.” He is the only commission member who says he will not sign the report.

“I do share with everybody a very positive reaction to the report, but in its entirety, I feel reluctant to sign it,” Ward says. “I wish we could have built our arguments more on the strength of higher education than on the idea that there may be a crisis or even an emerging crisis.”

Commission member Dr. Charlene R. Nunley, president of Montgomery College, in Rockville, Md., says she backs the report because it addresses her primary concerns about access.

She added that she’s pleased because community colleges are well represented in the report. “Too often, although we serve nearly half of the undergraduate students in the nation, we are the afterthought when people converse about higher education.”

However, commissioner and Ohio University economics professor Dr. Richard Vedder has criticized the heavy emphasis the report places on the work of community colleges. Says Vedder, “perhaps we overly stress in this report the vocational dimensions of higher education” relative to other segments.

Vedder also attacks the report for saying, “nothing about the $80 billion student loan industry.” He says efforts by commission chairman Charles Miller to include the subject failed after other commission members protested. Vedder says the omission was “a bad omen for the future of the recommendations of the commission.” He also objects to the report for not addressing U.S. colleges’ “hedonistic culture and lack of high-performance expectations” and the “indifference of faculty”
in addressing students’ moral and civic development.

This latest report is very different in tone than the first draft, issued in June, which drew widespread criticism, specifically over a recommendation to create a national database to track U.S. students’ performance over time to gauge real-world payoffs of an American education. Critics blasted the proposal, saying such a database could amount to domestic spying. They also objected to statements in the previous draft that criticized American higher education for being ineffectual and unaccountable.

In response, the commission toned down some of the rhetoric in the new draft and took pains to note that the national database it called for should be “privacy-protected” and not allow personal information like Social Security numbers and names to be tracked along with performance data.

The completed report is due to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings this month.

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