College access and college admissions are closely related, essentially the two sides of the gateway that determines who can enroll in (and ultimately complete) a college education. On a very basic level, college access refers to the preparatory work that must be done in order for a student to knock on a college’s door with the genuine possibility of being let in and being able to earn a degree. College admissions—at least from the standpoint of admissions officers who work at postsecondary institutions—is about how best to evaluate whether to let that student in.
America’s higher-education system passed a milestone a few years ago that university officials would probably prefer no one noticed: Annual tuition plus room and board at some private institutions overtook the median household income. Going to a selective college, for the first time, cost more than the average family earns in a year.
“Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma,” President Obama said in a February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.“And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education, and half of the students who begin college never finish.” With those remarks, the president put the issue of college completion front and center on the national stage.Calling the situation a “prescri
There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, ranging from open-enrollment community colleges to highly selective Ivy League institutions, from colleges with historical missions to educate the underserved to universities exploring the cutting edge of online education.
So—which college is the best in the nation?
Imagine a “professor.” For many, the idea evokes images of a well-compensated, full-time scholar with the academic freedom, job security and prestige associated with tenure. Now think again, but this time envision a Ph.D. who spends hours a day commuting between the two or three colleges at which he’s taken on course assignments, in an attempt to make a living. The pay is low, the job security is non-existent and a full-time position is a kind of pipe dream – let alone the possibility of tenure.
For-profit colleges and universities are a growing presence in American higher education. The sector accounted for an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. college students in 2009—up from 5 percent in 2001—as well as an outsize share of the federal financial-aid dollars that help students cover the cost of higher education. For instance, nearly 25 percent of Pell Grant funds—need-based awards that the federal government provides to students from low-income families—go to students of for-profit schools.
Higher education is not just big business: It is huge business. If you add up all the revenues colleges get – tuition, government subsidies, ancillary operations, etc. – higher education took in nearly $500 billion in 2009-10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. But despite the magnitude of money that flows into colleges and universities, these institutions have faced considerable financial pressure in recent years as states have cut funding for higher education.
At a 1979 meeting of The University of Texas Arts and Sciences Foundation in San Antonio, Peter Flawn, then-president of UT-Austin, railed against what he dubbed the “widget theory” of education. The notion, he said, is “that a college or university is a manufacturing enterprise that produces products called academic degrees in basically the same way as a company such as Universal Widgets Inc. produces widgets.” He went on to forecast “that the struggle for excellence in higher education over the next decades will be a struggle against the widget theory in higher education and against those who knowingly or unknowingly espouse it.”
There’s an online-learning boom going on in higher education. The focus is on a relatively new model that promises to teach tens of thousands of students at a time for free, with a mix of short Web videos and automatically graded (or peer-graded) assignments. These new offerings are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
When its governing board abruptly dismissed the president of the University of Virginia in 2012, the flagship state university quickly became the focus of national attention. The decision—prompted by board complaints that the president had not moved fast enough to address the university’s challenges—embroiled the board, faculty, and president in two weeks of public confrontations. It also prompted a board member’s resignation before ultimately culminating in the president’s reinstatement.
Stories about campus crime and safety always attract interest, but these issues also are often difficult to summarize simply. That’s especially true with sexual assault, a subject that has been highly visible in recent headlines. Prominent universities like Yale, the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have been the subject of investigations by the Department of Education; the alleged involvement of football players in sexual assaults has intensified the spotlight on incidents at Vanderbilt University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Florida State University and the University of Montana.