Higher education has already become an important issue in the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary race. It should receive considerable attention in the first primary date, scheduled for October 13 on CNN. In general, Democrats have been more specific and more vocal about their higher education plans than the Republicans. This is nothing new; higher education has long been a favored interest group and source of power for Democrats.
The extent to which innovations such as open textbooks, textbook reserves, and skirting textbooks altogether and sticking to primary sources will disrupt the cartel-like textbook market is still unknown. But the speed at which new means of delivering written information are appearing suggests that textbook publishers’ best days are behind them.
North Carolina’s community college “earnings gains” measure may make the community colleges look good to those who do not look too closely, but it does not tell us much about how good they actually are. The system needs to go back to the drawing board; the new measure is more public relations than a true measure of performance.
Higher education is often an ignored issue in presidential campaigns. The 2016 campaign, however, may be different. The focus on higher education looks to be unusually strong, with issues such as student debt affecting many millions of potential voters and receiving multiple mentions in campaign speeches and interviews on both sides of the aisle.
Unfortunately, colleges often use their summer reading programs not to help students make the leap to the higher standard of scholarship that should be demanded of them at the collegiate level, but to expose them to books that may influence them to adopt the political agenda of the left.
The emergence of a holistic, individual-centered approach to guidance, which informs students of alternate paths, is promising. New innovations are addressing an issue that public high schools have been straining to solve. Raising awareness of alternate careers, apprenticeships, and earning non-degree certificates will allow more students to enter the workforce early and without amassing debt. That may not be the right path for everyone, but more high school graduates need to be aware of those options and more. Any progress in this long-neglected area is welcome.
College is no longer just for recent high school graduates; in North Carolina’s community college system, the third-largest system in the nation, the average student is 28. College students of the older, “non-traditional” variety need flexibility. They often have steady jobs, families, and other priorities, and they would prefer the option to finish as quickly as possible, without semester-long breaks. Does it really make sense that they are tied to the same academic calendar as their younger peers who prefer summers off?
There is an argument to be made for giving students the commencement speaker they want. Many schools choose based on student input: it’s their graduation, and they or their parents paid hard-earned money to make that happen. But how many of those students would spend money on a commencement speaker if given the choice to save it?
Diversity proponents are pushing an extreme agenda that will go far beyond academia’s already major commitment to the concept. An event at UNC-Chapel Hill illlustrates just how far they intend to go.
Richard Cornuelle, the Indianapolis libertarian activist who started United Student Aid Funds (USAF), had a fight on his hands. His organization, whose downfall led ultimately to the creation of today’s college-access giant known as the Lumina Foundation, was created with the goal of competing with the federal government’s nascent student loan programs.