President's Blog


Posted by on in President's Blog

It is hard to believe that summer is winding down … at least on college campuses. We have recently completed two weeks of enrichment programs for new students. Student athletes arrive in a few days to begin their pre-season training. And freshmen arrive in less than three weeks.

The return of students brings an excitement and enthusiasm as the core mission of the College … teaching and learning … takes place within our community of scholars and learners. But students also present challenges as a few exhibit behaviors that are inconsistent with college values and dangerous for their own well-being. One of these is binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming five or more drinks in less than two hours (four or more drinks for women). Most binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent. Rather, it is a behavior practiced periodically and sometimes regularly by the young and the old. For example, one in six adults binge drinks about four times per month. And for colleges, the following statistic creates a major concern. Approximately 90% of the alcohol consumed by men and women under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking. In other words, when they drink, they often binge.

All colleges have programs and services to address this issue. At freshmen orientation, for example, I give a talk to all new students where I graphically describe the effects of binge drinking on their personal and academic lives. We also provide training and education programs in the residence halls and through our counseling and health centers. We sponsor and host events regularly where students can (hopefully) see that they can socialize and have fun without alcohol. But the reality of binge drinking remains.

About two weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran a feature story entitled, “Dartmouth College Tackles Binge Drinking Culture.”  I typically look for ideas about addressing this problem in hopes that we can improve our programs, better serve the needs of our students, and ultimately reduce the number of binge drinkers on our campus.

According to this article, Dartmouth has experienced a significant drop in the number of students requiring hospitalization with blood alcohol levels of 0.25% (three times the legal limit to drive). This past year, 31 students were hospitalized. Two years earlier, that number was 80.

The key to the Dartmouth program is peer driven initiatives. They have increased their focus on student to student education programs and more individualized counseling and education. One idea that makes a good deal of sense to me is called the Green Team at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth pays students to attend parties in small groups and to remain sober. These students look for ways to help other students who are drinking to excess or acting in ways that can be dangerous for them and others. They do not report these students to authorities, but rather try to help them by offering them something to eat, asking that they not be served additional drinks, and/or finding friends to take care of them for the rest of the evening. They speak to women about the risks of being with/dating a binge drinker. These actions are done as discretely as possible and seem to be well received.

No one expects to eradicate binge drinking. Sadly, alcohol consumption is as endemic to college life as it is to social life throughout America. Just attend a sporting event or a concert and watch the levels of alcohol consumption.

But we can do better in our efforts to help students make good decisions about their lives. We will always need enforcement and sanctions, but peer led programs may prove more effective. Maybe I should have a student give my speech at Orientation this year. I am willing to try anything that works.

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

This is an interesting time on a college campus. We are in the midst of welcoming our new students through summer orientation and enrichment programs. Student athletes report to campus in less than two weeks. The new semester begins in less than a month.

At the same time, we are actively recruiting the freshman class for Fall 2014. High school students are visiting the campus every day and admissions counselors are preparing for their travel and communications activities.

One of the great mysteries of the college search process is why students prefer one school over another. Is it the impression of the physical campus? Is it the tour guide? Is it the curriculum or academic opportunities? Is it the athletic or cocurricular program? Is it the faculty or staff? The answer is “yes” to all of them.

Last week I conducted a class on leadership for the new students in our summer enrichment program. As they introduced themselves, it was no surprise that most of the students were from New England with a smaller number from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond.

While there is no common answer as to why a prospective student prefers a specific school, a recent ACT report helps us to understand the type of student who is interested in attending a college further away from home.

ACT, formerly known as American College Testing, is one of the two standardized tests administered nationally to high school students and used by many colleges and universities as one of their admissions acceptance variables (the other test is the College Board’s SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test]). In addition to the ACT exam, ACT conducts research and provides other assessment resources for all levels of education.

ACT analyzed data and found that there were two clear correlations. First, the higher a student scored on a standardized exam (like the ACT or the SAT), the further away from home they travelled to attend college. Second, the more education that their parents have, the further away from home their children go to attend their higher education experience. Why?

It is not because higher achieving students want to get away from their parents or more highly educated parents want to send their children away. In fact, parents typically prefer their children to attend college closer to home.

The reasons seem to be related to knowledge, opportunity and confidence. There is evidence that higher achieving students and parents with more education tend to know more about the college admissions process, are aware of more colleges and have the awareness and skill to conduct better research on academic programs, scholarships, etc.

These students and families also tend to have the financial resources needed to both visit colleges further away and to attend these institutions. Finally, they also have more confidence in being away from home and letting their children be further away.

In the end, the college decision process should be about fit. Whether near or far, big or small, it should be the institution that best serves the educational needs and personal values of the student. And there is no single answer for every prospective student.

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

Over the past several years, the value of attending law school has come under great scrutiny and high criticism. Just two weeks ago, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that law school enrollments keep plummeting. For 2013, law school applications are down 36% compared to 2010 and enrollment is down nationally by almost 10%. With the exception of the elite law schools, declines in enrollment are ever increasing.

The reality is that due to the economic recession, law firms are reducing their staffs and law schools are reducing their faculty. In some cases, law schools have adjusted their admissions criteria and provided increased financial aid. But the downward trends continue.

The picture for recent law school grads would appear to be similarly bleak. According to the American Bar Association, only 56.2% of those who graduated from law school in 2012 were able to find full time legal jobs within the subsequent nine months. According to the National Association for Law Placement, starting salaries for those able to find a legal position were down 20% from 2009 to 2012.

But a recent study paints a very different picture. Co-authored by Michael Simkovic, an associate law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, and Frank McIntyre, an assistant professor of finance and economics at Rutgers University Business School, the report is entitled, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree.”  The report does not refute the trends delineated above. It affirms the data that job opportunities and earning potential have decreased for virtually everyone due to the recession.

The authors of the report however did attempt to analyze the relative effect of the recession on those with a law school degree and those with only a bachelor’s degree. While their analysis did not look at specific law schools and specific undergraduate programs or tuition expenses, their conclusion is significant. According to this study, on average, a law school graduate will earn $1 million more during his or her lifetime than someone who only holds a bachelor’s degree. Those at the lower end of their data comparisons earned $350,000 more and those at the upper ends earned well over $1 million.

It should be noted that the study does not compare law school to other graduate degrees. “We’re not saying that everyone should go to law school,” Simkovic said. “We’re really looking at the choice between going to law school and stopping at a bachelor’s degree.”

And for me … that’s the most important point. Once again we see the value of education … the value of more education. Other studies which I have shared in this blog find clear evidence that there is a correlation between years of education and earning potential. This study supports the notion that this is true even for very specific graduate degrees.

As the media reports on the challenges in student financial aid programs and the high cost of education, there needs to be some balance with the value of higher education. Yes, college is expensive. Yes, students may face increased interest rates on student loans. But a college degree, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is a good investment. And apparently, there are a million reasons to go to law school!

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

I want to conclude my discussion of the report from the Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences entitled, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation, with some comments about why I think this report is so important.

Some have said that there is nothing new in this report. That the recommendations are all fairly self-evident and simply restate commonly understood values and learning objectives of education. For those who believe this, I would suggest that they may be unaware of the current state of education and the slow but persistent erosion of the emphasis on the humanities and the social sciences.

Education at both the K-12 and higher education levels is moving towards a skill-based system where the goal is preparation for professional careers. Research is increasingly focused on STEM. While this is certainly valuable, it is not sufficient. This report is important because it emphasizes the need for both balance and a holistic approach.

Education must include the sciences and the arts. Education must be both practical and aesthetic. Education must help to form the whole person. Education must help students to live personal lives of fulfillment and citizenship as well as becoming globally competitive. Education must engender civility and acceptance so that we can live in diversity and harmony.

Perhaps the reason this report resonates the most with me is because of its focus on leadership. As I referenced two weeks ago, the report asks and answers a very important question: “Who will lead America into a bright future?”   Their answer, “Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public, who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history. We must prepare the next generation to be these future leaders.”

From its very founding, this country has been built on the notion that our democracy depends on “citizens who can think critically, understand their own history, and give voice to their beliefs while respecting the views of others.” As this report emphasizes, these qualities are not innate, they must be taught. And in our current society, they are so rarely modeled in public discourse and government that education must overcome the perception that incivility and partisan, ad hominem behavior is acceptable.

As this report concludes, “(The humanities and the social sciences) go beyond the immediate and instrumental to help us understand the past and the future. They are necessary and they require our support in challenging times as well as in times of prosperity. They are critical to our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as described by our nation’s founders. They are The Heart of the Matter.”  I agree.

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

Last week I began my discussion of a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, developed by its Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences entitled, “The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.”  Last week I provided an overview of the report and shared why I believe this report is so important.  This week, I want to begin to discuss the content in more detail.


The report focuses its analyses and recommendations on five areas:1) K-12 Education; 2) Two and Four Year Colleges; 3) Research; 4) Cultural Institutions and Lifelong Learning; and, 5) International Security and Competitiveness.


In each of these areas, the Commission’s recommendations are framed by three overarching goals that they believe cannot be achieved by science alone:


1. To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy;

2. To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong; 

3. To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.


Here are their overall recommendations related to each of these goals:


To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy.

Because education in the humanities and social sciences not only allow learning about the “what”, but also the “how” and “why”, the Commission recommends:

     -Support for full literacy as the foundation for all learning;

     -Investment in the preparation of citizens; 

     -Increased access to online resources, including teaching materials.


To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong.

Because the ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world requires “the development of professional flexibility, inquisitiveness, perceptiveness, the ability to put a received idea to a new purpose, and the capacity to share and build ideas with others," the Commission recommends:

     -Increased investment in research and discovery;

     -The creation of cohesive curricula to ensure basic competencies;

     -Strengthening support for teachers; 

     -Encouraging all disciplines to address “Grand Challenges; 

     -Communicating the importance of research to the public.


To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

In order to participate in the global economy, we need to understand diverse cultures and be sensitive to different perspectives, the Commission recommends,

     -Promotion of language learning;

     -Expansion of education in international affairs and transnational studies;

     -Support for study abroad and international exchange programs; 

     -The development of a “Culture Corps.”


These are ambitious goals and recommendations.  But they are central to individual and national competitiveness and success.  Next week, more details and some of my thoughts and reflections.


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