President's Blog


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Last week I wrote about the issue of gun control and a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”  The responses to this blog have been interesting. Most who took the time to write shared my views on gun control. A few questioned the value of gun control and someone even challenged my patriotism.

This week I want to share some of the recommendations made by this report. None of these ideas are new, but they will take action…. your action, my action … and ultimately the action of our elected leaders.

The first recommendation is to “urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence. Support common sense gun safety and gun prevention measures …” Specific actions included in this recommendation are:

-       Universal background checks;

-       Limits on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines;

-       Consumer safety standards, childproof safety features, and authorized-user identification for all guns;

-       Better services for children and families facing violence in their homes and communities and for children with unmet mental health needs;

-       Public funding for gun violence prevention research and programs;

-       Resources and authority for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws.

The second recommendation is to “urge state and local governments to protect children from guns.”  If we can’t change federal laws, we can at least make our own state safer for children. Sadly, since Newtown, only four states have passed common sense gun reform. Specific actions in this case include:

-       Support laws to prevent child access to guns;

-       Support universal background checks;

-       Support limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition;

-       Oppose efforts to limit the ability of schools, physicians and others to do their part to keep children safe from guns;

-       Oppose laws allowing concealed weapons;

-       Demand the repeal of “Stand Your Ground Laws.”

If you are unwilling to work to change federal and state laws and policies, you can take personal action and responsibility. The report urges parents to “remove guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play.”  Even more, we can all “boycott products that glamorize violence.”  Finally, we can help to educate and influence our neighbors and friends by bringing attention to the truth about gun violence and to work against the culture of violence in our neighborhoods and our communities.

It’s not enough to share the belief that gun violence must be addressed. It will take action. I am just beginning to read Pope Francis’ teaching document, “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel). I am sure you will be reading about my impressions and reflections in future blogs.

But one sentence has remained in my mind as I am writing this blog on this topic. Pope Francis writes, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Gun violence is not as important to the media as healthcare, the economy, the rate in which people are spending money on holiday gifts and celebrity news. Here’s what I want for Christmas … new and improved laws on gun control so that more children are safe. Because in this season of Advent …. I believe we can do better!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

I was at a public event a week ago that was stopped several times to acknowledge and thank those from the military in attendance. We stood and applauded and thanked them for their service and sacrifice. While I shared in this expression of appreciation, I thought of statistics from a recent report published by the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

One of many statistics that surprised, shocked and saddened me was that, “the number of children and teens killed by guns in 2010 was nearly five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action that year in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In fact, since 1963, three times more children and teens have died from guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars around the world. That translates to seven children and teens being killed every single day by guns in America. A child or teen is killed or injured from guns every 30 seconds.

Last year, I joined hundreds of my colleagues in support of additional gun control. Our statement entitled, “College Presidents for Gun Safety,” was sent to every legislator, every government official and every media outlet. It was joined by the efforts of many organizations, individuals and communities. But even with the memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School fresh in our minds, modest legislation to increase background checks was defeated in Congress.

Maybe Sandy Hook was not enough to change our minds since the fact is that the number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. In 2010, 18,270 children and teens died or were injured by guns. This means 17 classrooms of 20 children every week... an entire school building every week. The school building your children and my grandchildren attend ... one every week.

If you are interested in this issue, I would urge you to read this report. It can be found online at It provides statistics and analysis, as well as action steps to help address this issue. It also provides a selection of organizations you might join and/or support that are trying to address this issue.

Next week, I will share some of the suggestions for action. But the Forward to the report from Marian Wright Edelman frames it well:

“What can you do? Urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence by supporting common sense gun safety and gun violence protection measures for the nation including universal background checks, limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, consumer safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws. Parents, remove your guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play. Boycott products that glamorize violence.”

As we prepare to begin the Advent and Christmas seasons ... seasons that center so much on life and children ... this issue should not .... cannot be ignored.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

A topic of frequent discussion and debate in higher education is the impact of part-time instructors (also known as adjunct faculty) on the quality of education. As the percentage of part-time faculty increases at all types of colleges and universities, more and more studies raise concerns about correlations with academic success, student retention and graduation rates. Articles appear regularly advocating the need for better employment conditions for adjuncts (e.g., higher pay, benefits, better integration into the life of the institution).

My own experience is that adjunct instruction is typically high quality. Despite their part-time status, most adjunct faculty I have known and worked with take their teaching very seriously and do everything possible to help and support students. Especially in pre-professional programs, adjunct faculty bring real world experience, currency and applicability to the classroom in ways full-time faculty cannot. Part-time faculty may be less versed in research methodologies, but often are more connected to the work our graduates will do after graduation.

A recent study presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education annual conference is entitled, “The Effect of Part-time Faculty on Students’ Degree and/or Certificate Completion at Two-Year Community Colleges.” While the data analyzed and the study findings relate more directly to two-year institutions, I found the study helpful and applicable to all types of colleges and universities.

One of the key findings of these researchers was that part-time faculty had “no negative impact on student degree or certificate attainment.” It didn’t necessarily have a positive impact either. Rather, lower completion rates were more closely related to the size of the institution, the location of the institution and the student’s high school GPA.

Unfortunately, the summary of the research I read provided few details related to these findings. The importance of the size of the institution and the student’s high school GPA correlate with other research on multiple perspectives of student learning.

Students typically learn better and achieve greater success in environments with smaller class size, more personal attention and direct interaction with the faculty (whether full-time or part-time). Regardless of the type of institution, more able students entering college (higher high school GPA’s, college prep courses in high school, etc.) tend to do better academically and are both retained and graduate at higher levels. The impact of geographic location is less explicable. Perhaps it relates to resources of the campus, access to the campus by adjunct faculty, access to the faculty by students, etc.

This study is not a license to increase the percentage of instruction provided by part-time faculty. Nor is it a defense against improving the employment conditions for part-time faculty. But what it affirms for me is the professionalism and commitment of all faculty. Regardless of status, terms of contract, etc., faculty members, full-time and part-time, care deeply about their students, work hard to help them succeed, and are diligent in their efforts to provide the highest quality instruction possible.

I often ask students to tell me about their courses. From time to time, I hear about a “bad” professor. Typically this means boring or a hard grader. But I always hear accounts of great professors who make student success their highest priority. Think about your own college experience. I am sure you remember the best faculty members who impacted your success. And I doubt you even know if s/he was full-time or part-time!





(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Last week I shared some recent research on the issue of the value of a college degree. A study entitled, The Economics of BA Ambivalence: The Case of California Higher Education provides a more balanced perspective on the return on investment of a college education. While concluding that a degree is likely worth the investment, the findings of this study suggest that the question of value is not simplistic and requires additional analysis. According to their findings, the ambivalence to a college education expressed by many families and prospective students may be more justified than some of us may realize.

The authors point out that too many studies about this issue assume best case scenarios that likely create a bias in their findings. For example, most other studies assume that the student completes his/her baccalaureate degree in four years. In fact, many graduates take five years or more and a good number drop out before completing their degree. Some begin at a community college and complete their bachelors degrees at a four-year institution.

The authors also clarify that most other studies determine their estimated earning power on pre-tax earnings without consideration of progressive tax rates. These other studies also assume a single rate of economic return without consideration of the graduates ability, the chosen profession, the economy, etc. Their point is that the investment in a college degree, while clearly worthwhile, has a degree of risk. A college degree is a good investment for both the individual and society, but factors like rising tuition rates and the widening distribution of earnings among those completing baccalaureate degrees has increased the risk for every college graduate to recoup his/her investment, earn enough to repay loans, and increase overall earnings in their lifetime.

As indicated last week, the data analysis for this study was drawn from the California higher education system. While this educational system of public institutions may not mirror all of higher education, this study is broadly illustrative. Furthermore, the California job market and economy may not be typical of every state or region, but this study identifies clearly the complexity of this issue and the types of analyses necessary before drawing unequivocal conclusions. Here are their key findings:

The BA is a good investment for the average student. The graduates earnings will be greater and outpace interest rates on loans.

The BA is a good investment for both society and the individual. College graduates contribute more to the economic stability of the community and their increased earnings help to fuel the economy.

The investment in a BA is increasingly risky. Because of rising tuition rates and the potential of low earnings in certain professions, more college graduates will experience student loan problems in the years following graduation.

What can be done about this? This study concludes with these helpful insights. They suggest that students should receive more and better advising about their choices of a major, postgraduate study and career pursuits. Students need to be better informed about the economic realities of some professions.

They also contend that students need to be better informed about their options for financing their college education. There are a good number of income-based and income contingent repayment plans. The enrollment levels in these programs are low, likely because of a lack of awareness.

The conclusion to their study provides both the optimism and reality necessary:

College remains a good investment for both individuals and the state but it is a stepping stone to the middle class not a ticket. As such, it deserves the scrutiny an individual would give to any risky investment.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

One of the topics I write and speak about regularly is the value of a college degree. While affordability is a major challenge facing prospective students, I continue to believe that there is an indisputable value in earning a college degree. I gave two presentations just in the past two weeks on challenges facing higher education. I was not surprised to be questioned about whether or not the investment in higher education is really worth it. People hear about the high costs of education and observe the continued challenges in the economy.

If you read my blog every week, you know that I am constantly referencing research that clearly supports the return on investment in higher education. Despite the anecdotal evidence to the contrary, almost every study I have read demonstrates that a college degree more than pays for itself over the course of the graduates lifetime in terms of income, professional success, community engagement and happiness.

A study published by College Summit provides even broader evidence of the value of a college degree. College Summit is a national organization that partners with high schools to help to increase the college enrollment rates of youth from low-income communities. They currently work with 180 high schools across the country helping to provide professional development, coaching, and peer influencers. This organization serves 50,000 students annually in 12 states.

Their latest research entitled Smart Shoppers: The End of the College for All Debate? not only provides evidence of the need for more and more college graduates to meet the employment demands of this country, but also that a college degree even helps in those professions typically not requiring an advanced degree. According to this report, even in careers like plumbing and hairdressing, those holding a college degree tend to earn more than their less educated peers.

But a study just released entitled, The Economics of BA Ambivalence: The Case of California Higher Education provides a more nuanced and thorough understanding of this important issue. The study uses data drawn from the University of California System, the states research campuses, and the California State University System, the less selective state college system. While this study focuses on a single state and parts of the state system (i.e., not including private, independent colleges), I think the results are widely applicable and certainly informative for all of higher education.

The authors of this study frame their research in light of the growing ambivalence towards higher education by Americans. Their understanding of ambivalence is drawn from an article written by the well- respected national commentator, Ron Brownstein, which appeared in the National Journal Magazine on September 29, 2012. The article was entitled, Struggling to Advance, and responded to the reality that a majority of Americans now define success as not falling behind. They worry that fundamental changes in the economy are making it more difficult for them—and their children—to get ahead.”

Referencing polls conducted by the Heartland Monitor, Brownstein writes,

“The most fundamental question about the next generation evokes the most unease. Asked if today’s children will have more opportunities than older Americans, only 32 percent said yes. In the four times the Heartland Monitor has tested that question since 2009, no more than one-third of Americans have ever said they expect the next generation to enjoy greater opportunities. In the new poll, an equal 32 percent said they believed today’s children will have less opportunity to get ahead, while the remaining 31 percent said their opportunities would be unchanged. As in earlier surveys, whites remain far more pessimistic than minorities: Just 25 percent of whites believe the next generation will have more opportunity than our own, while 38 percent expect their opportunities to diminish. (College-educated whites are as pessimistic as noncollege whites, who have borne larger job and income losses in recent decades.) By contrast, 51 percent of minorities believe today’s children will have more opportunity than they did, while only 20 percent believe they will have less.

Those anxious responses partly reflect ambivalence, especially among blue-collar whites, about the economic value of a college education. Although studies show that workers with college degrees earn significantly more money over their lifetimes than those without one, just 38 percent of those polled said they viewed a college education as a ‘ticket to the middle class,’ while 54 percent said it was ‘an economic burden that is often too expensive and requires taking on debt to pay for.’ Three-fifths of both whites with college degrees and minorities (with and without degrees) saw such education as a source of advancement, but whites without a college degree split in half on whether the benefits of college justified the cost.”

Next week I will share the results of this study. A college degree is definitely worth it, but the issue may be more complex.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)