Challenges in Higher Education: Impressions While Away from TMC

Challenges in Higher Education: Impressions While Away from TMC

During the 2014-2015 academic year, Maria C. Garriga, Ph.D., professor and chair of foreign languages, had the opportunity to participate in the Senior Leadership Academy (SLA) put on by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI). The CIC strives to “advance independent higher education and its leadership,” and the SLA is in its fifth year of preparing academic administrators for cabinet level positions. The 2014-2015 cohort included 25 academicians from independent colleges across the United States. As part of the mentoring program, Dr. Garriga spent the academic year at DePauw University (Greencastle, In.) working with the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Larry Stimpert. Moreover asked Dr. Garriga to discuss briefly some of the current national challenges to higher education that she was exposed to while working with Dr. Stimpert in DePauw.

M. What would you say are the top three challenges facing higher education today?


Maria C. Garriga, Ph.D., professor and chair of foreign languages.

G. Many stakeholders in higher education have produced “top ten” lists of issues facing colleges and universities. A look at the lists compiled by national media outlets, the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA), the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reveals significant overlap, with (a) cost, (b) increased regulation, and (c) quality of student learning, appearing in all lists. The challenges are daunting; the SLA leadership urged us to be informed and to work with institutions within the CIC to find solutions.

M. TMC froze tuition for the 2015-2016 academic year. How does that compare with national norms?

G. According to the College Board, the average 2014-2015 increase was 3.7% at private colleges. While numbers aren’t available for the current year, TMC’s tuition freeze goes a long way toward showing the College’s dedication to providing a quality, values-based liberal arts education at an affordable price while striving to maintain a balanced budget. During the last 10 years, tuition has increased at a higher rate than both general inflation and personal incomes. A baby born in 2015 can expect to pay $323,900 for four years at a private college; that is without room and board, books, supplies, etc. Clearly, further cost increases are unsustainable. Colleges are looking to cut expenses, diversify revenue streams, and create partnerships with the community. TMC works diligently towards these goals. The Saints Experience provides all students with textbooks at no additional cost beyond tuition and fees; this summer TMC piloted classes for $999; and there are innovative partnerships in place with both St. Elizabeth Medical Center and the Newport Aquarium.

M. What role does federal regulation play in higher education?

G. Increased regulation is expected to significantly drive up the cost of higher education. For example, as of May 2015, there is an unfunded federal mandate that a college or university employ one person with duties exclusive to Title IX compliance. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act also necessitates significant human resources. The 2015 Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education identified a number of challenges that are particularly problematic with federal regulations; they refer to “problematic financial responsibility standards … and policies that result in consumers being inundated with information of questionable value.” It is said that the federal government produces, on average, one page of regulations for higher education per day. Recall that Thomas More College must also comply with requirements set forth by different accrediting agencies. Nationally, colleges and universities spend significant talent and treasure in understanding the regulations and attempting to abide by them. Sexual assault on campus is, for example, rife with change as far as regulations go.

M. What about teaching and learning?

G. Consideration and discussion of the purposes and results of higher education is at the core of what colleges and universities do. It is imperative that all constituencies worry about student learning, success, and well-being. The CIC is spearheading a national effort to focus on the liberal arts. They have collected data that shows that, although employers prefer candidates with the “soft skills” promoted through a liberal arts education, the perception on the general population (including prospective students and their parents) is that of a preference for technical education. However, when employers are surveyed, they say they care about the capacity for continued learning, ethical judgment and integrity, and intercultural skills. TMC is preparing by building on the curriculum maps and student outcomes that currently exist, rolling out the Strategic Plan 2015-2020, and automatizing and revising the workings of the Office of Academic Affairs.

M. It all sounds a bit depressing…

G. Yes and no. While we live in a difficult situation, there are also a lot of opportunities for moving forward. TMC is perfectly suited to contextualize all learning within the liberal arts, in the footsteps of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. It is not a bad place to be. We are also well situated geographically, have very committed faculty and staff, and amazing students. This year away from TMC provided a great experience for me. Each person in the cohort had an individual mentor (mine was at DePauw,) and shared the CIC mentor, Dr. Kepple, from AALI. Some of us came from academics, or finance, or student affairs, even advancement; so we were exposed to different viewpoints from different types of independent colleges and universities. It was enlightening to see what others do, but it is AMAZING to be back home at TMC.