It’s Time to Take Back The Narrative
For years, and on an almost daily basis, there has been an assault on higher education. In the media. Around the dinner table. And in government. And it’s easy to understand why.
It’s not because there’s nothing positive to say about higher ed, but because colleges and universities have done a poor job telling their stories and educating the public on the value they deliver. As a result, what have dominated the news are stories focused on all the shortcomings that plague our colleges and universities.
Not a pretty picture.
There’s a heapin’ helping of negative news for critics, bloggers, parent groups, state and federal legislatures to feast on. Here’s the short list:
- Double-digit increases in the cost of a 4-year college degree
- Employers frustrated in the lack of knowledge and skills of graduates entering the work force – especially soft skills
- Decreasing enrollment numbers in colleges and universities and decreasing attainment rates
- The recent problems with safety on campuses
And when taken in total over the course of years, all these issues have played a role in the massive decrease in state investment over the past ten years, further spawning a seemingly endless plethora of publications questioning the very value of a college degree.
There’s no argument – there needs to be some serious attention paid to our perception outside the industry.
A few bright spots.
In every institution of higher education, good and important work is being done every day. Consider the University of Texas at El Paso, California State at Bakersfield or Stony Brook, just to name a few. These schools are taking in students from the bottom of the economic ladder and sending them firmly into middle-class and often times beyond.
David Leonhardt in his recent article for The New York Times provides a fascinating look at what he calls “working class colleges.” He states:
“To take just one encouraging statistic: At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.”
Good news, indeed, and there’s more.
New data indicate the earnings gap between four-year college graduates and everyone else has soared in recent decades and the unemployment rate for college graduates sits at a low of only 2.5%.
So, what can change?
If we want the media to focus on all the good we know is happening at our institutions, we need to be diligent about seeking out examples and shining a spotlight on them.
- What greater good is your higher education institution providing to your local community/state?
- Does the public have access to arts and knowledge they would not otherwise have? Can you find a concrete example of any individuals whose lives have been impacted by these things?
- How does your university positively affect your community’s diversity or fill a need that local employers have?
- What programs are available through your institution for those interested in trade or other careers that fill a societal need but don’t necessarily require a four-year degree?
The list goes on. It’s up to us to look for these bright points and get the story out. It’s a theme we heard at the AMA Higher Education Symposium in December. Throughout the course of three days, much time and attention was given to taking back the narrative on the value higher education brings to all of us. Now it’s time to put words into action.
So, to all those colleges and universities out there, you know what needs to be done. Please get to work, this industry and country could use the help.
Please share with us your thoughts and ideas. We would love to hear what you have to say.