Higher education, in Texas and nationally, faces a crisis. Studies testify to grade inflation’s erosion of standards (An “A” is the most common grade given in America’s colleges), to poor student learning (36 percent of students surveyed nationally show no significant increase in learning during four years of college), to skyrocketing tuitions (while state funding to colleges declined a relatively modest 10 percent during the past decade in Texas, average tuition collected jumped 115 percent) and to crushing student-loan debt ($1 trillion nationally). One study finds 31 percent of 2009 graduates, unable to secure full-time employment, moved back into their parents’ homes. Consequently, 57 percent of prospective students told a Pew survey that college no longer delivers a value worth its cost; 75 percent deem college simply unaffordable.
Addressing this crisis requires strong leadership. Who can provide it? Senior administrators? Regents? Ideally, both. But former Harvard President Derek Bok, in his book “Our Underachieving Colleges,” finds presidents “often reluctant” to lead for fear of “faculty opposition,” which could “threaten their jobs.” College CEOs lack the power of their corporate counterparts. Facing a faculty no-confidence vote, few presidents possess the wherewithal to lay down their jobs.
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Thomas Lindsay, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. He served as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during George W. Bush’s second presidential term.
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