From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2016

Readers Weigh in on the Future

I found the discussion in “What Is the Future of Higher Education?” interesting [Summer 2015]. I had the same experience as Dr. Blank in that I could easily fund my education at the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate by working.

I found the remainder of debt discussion a bit unrealistic. When Dr. Brown spoke of annual tuition of $44,000, was that tuition only or did that include room and board, laboratory fees, books, healthcare, etc.? It is generous to cover the majority of that $44,000, but what are the terms of the financial aid? Is a student accruing interest on loans while still an undergraduate? What are the monthly payments required upon graduation? If in graduate school, is interest deferred? It is completely unreasonable to average debt across all students, including those whose education was fully funded. The debt increasingly falls upon the shoulders of the populations that can ill afford it. That is, we all encourage impoverished, bright students to go to college, blind to the factor of poor advising regarding loans and the need for a financial safety net. Students from poverty have greater responsibility to issues at home such as parental illness, foreclosure, debt, or unemployment.

There has been much recent discussion about a university’s role in student finances. For example, how responsible have financial aid departments been in making sure students know how much their monthly payments will be and how long they will be required to pay on a loan? How many colleges compete in the “brain gain” ploy by offering free rides to talented students of means, simply to pad academic ranks? What is the ethical role of a college to ensure that financial aid goes to those who need it, not the progeny of wealthy alumni? Another question of late is how universities can keep growing their endowments while increasingly pricing students out of contention for attendance. I find all of these worthy of examination.

It is true that states have increasingly defunded universities. The University of Wisconsin is a sad recent example. I feel, however, colleges are disingenuous if they do not examine their own ethics of money lending, scholarship awards, and financial armaments.

Mary Kemen (B.S. ’78, B.A. ’79, M.D. ’84) Cedar Rapids, Iowa

We hope to think of educators as progressive thinkers who understand the power of innovation. Unfortunately I saw no such thinking in your article. Learning to do more with less seems completely beyond the grasp of education leaders, even this distinguished group.

Educators appear to be stuck in a world of 19th century methodology and are incapable of self-analysis. There is no discussion here of the possibility of finding ways to do more with less and asking hard questions about why embedded costs cannot be controlled. There seems to be only the assumption that to do more always requires more resources. We are in the 21st century. We have tools to improve higher education without adding cost. We can no longer rely on credit as the antidote to runaway cost. If educators are unwilling to analyze their own situation with critical thinking, how do they maintain credibility with students who are already asking the hard questions about why higher education cannot deliver more for less?

Roger Norberg (B.A. ’80) Edina, Minnesota

I have had several discussions over the past year with fellow engineering graduates from the U of M about the rapid rise in tuition and none of them were aware that the rise in tuition was a direct result of the sharp decline in state support. They were generally aware of the decline in state support, but none realized how drastic the cuts had been.

The rapid decline in support for higher education in the United States should be cause for alarm and thoughtful reflection. Might I suggest that a worthy topic that the three Presidents might address is: Why has the public support for higher education declined so precipitously in the past two or three decades? How do universities contribute to this decline? What has changed in our society that has diminished support for education? What needs to change to reverse this trend?

This article is a good starter. It makes clear the problem. Now the issue is, what can be done to solve the problem?

Dale F. Stein (B.S. ’58) President Emeritus, Michigan Technological University Tucson, Arizona

I do not know [what the future of higher education is]. However, I am sure the group responsible for the article stands little chance of discovering the answer either. The article lacked any objectivity and left no room for exploring issues. No daylight here buried deeply inside the present box. Little thanks for a boring read full of excuses by those responsible for the situation today.

Lawrence Stirtz (M.B.T. ’82) Savage, Minnesota

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