Challenges Facing Higher Education in America

A crisis in higher education

crisishighered fall12The region’s higher education leaders address their greatest challenges and offer solutions

The headline is the same across the nation, and it describes a seemingly inexorable vise that is tightening on colleges and universities. They are attacked for being too expensive and their relevance is questioned as students graduate with higher debt and lower prospects in a tight economy. As public aid is slashed and private donors are strained, academic institutions are asked to rein in costs and increase their economic relevance. And they are expected to continue their basic mission of educating Americans who will be able to think, adapt to change and be good citizens. In this context, we asked the presidents of this region’s leading colleges and universities to offer their insights (in 200 words or less) to the following question: What is the biggest issue or issues facing your institution and/or higher education today, and what are possible solutions? We thank them for their thoughts and invite you to read them carefully, because in Greater Pittsburgh, higher education is important not only for students; it is one of the key sectors of our region’s economy and its future. —editor’s note

Allegheny College
James H. Mullen Jr., president

The most important issues in higher education are affordability, access, student indebtedness and career preparation, and, like our peers, Allegheny is focused on them all. But we are perhaps unique in urging the inclusion of another issue on that list: the declining state of civility in our nation’s public discourse. At Allegheny, we believe preparing college students for the responsibilities of citizenship is of equal importance. For our society to continue to flourish, we believe colleges and universities must not only provide students with the skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing global economy, they must also inspire a commitment to civil participation in the public arena. If the cynical and uncivil state of our public conversations turns young people away from public service and participation—and our national research shows just that—our nation will suffer dearly.

As a college almost as old as America itself, Allegheny feels a special obligation: to graduate students who know and value the virtue of combining rigorous conviction with civility. Because we consider it a fundamental responsibility of liberal arts education, we have taken on national leadership on the issue of civility in public life.

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