Good morning everyone. I am delighted to welcome you all to the beginning of a new academic year. This year is one that begins cheerfully with an intensification of catastrophic prognostications about the future of American higher education. We have been watching for some time the abandonment by states of traditional levels of support for public colleges and universities. Here in New Jersey, we have been leading the nation in that trend, and, across the country, there is a general sense that the economic model on which American higher education has been based is crumbling. Tuition at public institutions has been rising in the face of declining governmental support, and prospective students and their families are concerned about escalating costs of attendance in an economy that continues to be difficult.
There are worries about mounting student debt, low completion rates at some institutions, and there is less confidence that a college degree will guarantee a good job and success in a chosen career. There is impatience with the perceived diversion of faculty time to scholarly endeavors that are of interest to only a handful of people at the detriment to more time spent teaching. The more imaginative prognosticators see all these lovely, but clearly obsolete and over-priced, ivy-covered colleges and universities being inevitably annihilated by the rapidly growing on-line offerings of proprietary institutions, whose profitable bottom lines are being heavily subsidized by government, and the newest challenger, the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by elite institutions.
And, yet, in the face of all this doom, I did not get up this morning and turn the shingle on our front door from “Open” to “Closed.” Instead, I came here to welcome all of you to the beginning of a new academic year. Is that because the summary I just gave is all nonsense and the rightness of our enterprise will, of course, prevail? No, it is not. It is because I do believe in the rightness of our enterprise and because I think we have every reason to fight both for it and for the promulgation of more accurate information about the nature, the value and the economics of public higher education.
Over the past century, there have been few institutions whose stability and longevity were so clearly assured, few institutions so stable as the American college or university. Through good times and bad, they have stood, while corporations dissolved, businesses were shuttered, whole categories of work became obsolete, and entire cities died. The colleges of America stood, and the colleges of America grew. The fundamental model of the enterprise did not change, even while the fields and disciplines of knowledge expanded and the institutions became increasingly more complex and technologically sophisticated. At the heart of the university, students and faculty continue to gather, face to face, to learn and to teach, to expand the base of knowledge, and to assure the advancement of society and the protection of a democratic way of life through the education of the nation’s citizens.
However, as we gather here today, it is certainly my view that we are seeing some diastrophic shifts in the environment, and complacency in the face of current circumstances would, indeed, be foolish. Quite simply, we cannot go forward as we have in the past and expect to survive. At the same time, if we do not carry forward a vital and inherent understanding of our value, conceptions based on decades and centuries of thought and action about the meaning and purposes of education in society, than we will not be worth survival.
There are reasons for the current crisis. Some of those reasons reside in the circumstances of state, national, and international business, tax structure, and economic policies and conditions that are beyond our control. Public higher education is, in that respect, an ocean-going vessel on a massive and unpredictable sea. Our ability to control the currents and the weather is nil. But other reasons for the current circumstances are more closely related to how we have charted our course, how we have fitted out our ship, the cargo we have selected to take on board, and the various enterprises associated with our journeys. Among the most significant of this latter category of reasons is the collaborative decision made by American higher education and government to open the doors of higher education to a huge proportion of the population, a decision which has created a demand for higher education in this country that has never been greater and that accounts in large part for the reason why there are entrepreneurs emerging from all corners hawking their, in some cases, quite dubious educational wares.
Fifty years ago, about 49 percent of recent high school graduates attended college. That percentage is now over 70 percent and continuing to rise, and the largest gainers have been women and African Americans, particularly African American women. Just in the first decade of this century, college enrollment in America grew from 15.3 million to 20.4 million. Of that 5.1 million increase, 60 percent were women, and, of those women, 54 percent were women of color. To put that into some real numbers, that meant an increase of close to 1.7 million women of color pursuing higher education – an increase of over three-quarters of a million African American women and an increase close to that number of Hispanic women.
Over the last fifty years, American higher education has been about leveling the playing field for access and opening the doors of opportunity to a broader cross-section of society for participation in our post-industrial, knowledge-based economy. This expansive exercise in democracy, which has taken place largely in the public sector of higher education, the sector which accounts for approximately 75 percent of all college enrollments in the nation, has had both monumental successes and some distinctive failures, as was inevitable in an undertaking of such magnitude. Among the failures has been the reality that the desire not to exclude potentially high achieving students who, through no fault of their own, are less well prepared, has resulted in the admission of some students who lack the capacity to succeed and who, consequently, fail to graduate. It has been difficult to calibrate the sieve, and public institutions have generally opted for giving more students a chance. So, yes, there have been some failures. However, among the major successes has been the opening up of the professions – in health, science, law, business, government, and education – to large segments of the population that had traditionally been blocked by the lack of a college education.
One consequence of this expansive exercise in democracy has been a significant change in the costs associated with public higher education, as millions more people entered these institutions, many of whom did not have the resources to pay for their education and many of whom required additional services to assure their success. These millions more created a demand for new and different programs, for more faculty, more classrooms and laboratories, more computing, library, and advising services, and, on the simplest level, more parking, more plumbing, more chairs.
Case in point: Montclair State University last year granted 4,262 degrees. That number constitutes a 92-percent increase over the 2,222 degrees granted in 1999.
Was it conceivable that the University could so substantially increase its production of well-educated graduates without any increase in its cost of operations? A huge demand and expectation has been created in this country, a sense of entitlement to higher education, and that entitlement carries commensurate costs.
A second reason for our current crisis resides in an area little understood by the general public, and that is the investment in scholarship and research that is generated by the nation’s colleges and universities and the relationship of that research enterprise to the states’, the nation’s, and the world’s economic vitality and social well-being. Sophisticated scholarship and research, both theoretical and applied, contributes to basic knowledge and to every aspect of our universe and its inhabitants.
Often, the considerable investments necessary for research are dedicated to specific areas where a need for greater knowledge has been identified, areas such as cancer research, but, equally often, we cannot know at all what the value will be of a discovery made in a biology lab or a fact uncovered in a historical study or how they will lead our thinking or impact the future of society. What we do know is that the quest for knowledge is as inherently human as our quest to survive and procreate and preserve the species. And scholarship and research is expensive and increasingly so. It requires people, often teams of people, laboratories, library and information resources of all kinds, and sophisticated equipment.
A society that does not invest in the advancement of knowledge will wither, and the one place in our nation where the broad advancement of knowledge is pursued, without regard to the specific limitations of profit motive, is the colleges and universities of the nation. While a large amount of this research is accomplished in large research universities, vast amounts are also undertaken by comprehensive universities such as Montclair State University, or even smaller liberal arts colleges, and that is because faculty of quality are to be found in all of these institutions and faculty of quality are intrinsically scholars and researchers, engaging their students not just in a recital of what is already known but in the process of creating more knowledge.
Case in point: The Federal government invests millions of dollars in scholarship and research at Montclair State University. For a few most recent examples, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will invest $556,000 in the work by Professor Stephanie Silvera of the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences to explore the sociodemographic and behavioral factors underlying racial/ethnic disparities in cancer prevention behaviors in New Jersey. The National Science Foundation (NSF) will invest $279,000 in the work by Professors Eric Forgoston and Lora Billings in the Department of Mathematical Sciences to explore the dynamics of stochastic disease spread in metapopulations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $350,000 in the work by Professor Pankaj Lal of the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies to assess the socioeconomic impacts of forest biomass-based biofuel development on rural communities in the southern United States.
These very costly investments and others like them release the intellectual and creative potential of scholars and scientists across the nation for the benefit of the nation and for the advancement of society.
A third reason for the current crisis derives from the incredibly rapid development of new learning technologies and their applications, that has constituted an educational revolution of a magnitude that could reasonably be said to be unlike anything previously experienced in higher education. These new technologies do not come cheap. There are very considerable costs associated with their development and/or licensing, with the hardware and infrastructure they require, with the support required for their implementation and their use by students and faculty. When viewed from the perspective of the traditional academy, we see in these new technologies the emergence of tools to strengthen pedagogy, to provide much greater and much faster access to information, to enhance students’ ability to experiment and to work in collaborative teams that can even be international in scope, to have anywhere any time access to instruction, study materials, and learning support, to intensify and enhance discourse between students and faculty, and to provide basic levels of instruction more efficiently and effectively.
Case in point: Successful uses of these new technologies at Montclair State include Cathy Holl-Cross’ work in the University’s new math emporium, the Red Hawk Mathematics Learning Center, which blends the attributes of face-to-face and online learning for basic levels of math instruction. The Center will be serving 1,000 students this fall. Another example is the highly successful fully online Winter term developed by Associate Dean Jamieson Bilella. In addition, a number of faculty have made very significant contributions in online instruction. For example, Professors Cynthia Eller and Yasir Ibrahim have taught Religions of the World to over 1,000 students online. Professor Dawn Hayes has taught Foundations of Western Civilization and Professor Patricia Salzman has taught Mythology, both to over 600 students.
However, others see something quite different than we do, and, certainly, one point of view that is gaining in currency is the idea that these new technologies and their applications, for example, the MOOCs I referred to earlier, may actually be providing a model that will make traditional educational structures almost unnecessary. A brave new world is seen in which anyone who wants to learn History, for example, can simply sign on to a free and open course by one of the world’s brilliant historians. Why bother going to college? You can’t, of course, actually speak to the brilliant historian, but you can watch her speak and you can dialogue electronically about the material with 100,000 students from around the world. Just take your certificate of MOOC completion to your prospective employer and say you have a brilliant comprehension of History. Is it really worth the time and money to get a degree from, for example, Montclair State University, or would it not be much cheaper much more convenient to MOOC and would not the quality of the teaching even be better because, after all, you are learning from the best in the world? An interesting question some will think.
And yet, despite the masses of negative attention given to education at all levels in this country, it is interesting to note that those who partake in the process do not share the negative view about their own education. A couple of years ago, the American Council on Education engaged The Winston Group to conduct an independent survey of recent alumni from a cross-section of public and private American colleges, and the fact is that 89 percent of graduates believe their college education was well worth the time and the money, and the vast majority would attend the same institution again. And while graduates value college highly as a way to prepare for employment, it is gratifying that they rate college even more highly as the place where they learned to think critically.
As we look at the current American higher education landscape, I do not believe that the difficult issues we face have to do with the quality of education we offer or the standards and substance of the educational process. As difficult as it is to explain to the general public or to government what I will call the magic of college, it is still a vibrant reality. Students come in, and through a process that is hard to define or measure, a process that is comprised of interactions of students with faculty, with fellow-students, with reading, research and experimentation, learning and transformations occur in an individual that, in many instances, do not even become apparent for many years. In short, the process works. And studies just published confirm all existing data that show, categorically, that a college degree means significantly greater lifetime earnings and significantly less likelihood of being unemployed. The latest studies show that these facts have held true even in the recent economic downturn. While everybody was having a harder time, there was no question that levels of unemployment were significantly lower among those who held a college degree.
So, in the traditional public institutions, at Montclair State University and our sister public institutions across the nation, the real issue of our place and time comes down to the changing relationship between higher education and government, as centered squarely on the question of cost. Government wants the results of a robust system of higher education – the skilled workforce, the innovation, the technical advances, the knowledge transfer – but it does not want to pay for it. Remember that today three-quarters of all American students who attend college do so in public institutions, and those institutions historically have been supported largely by state and federal funding. Over recent years, the states have backed away from their support of public institutions, so rapidly, in fact, that at many so-called state supported universities, state support constitutes less than a quarter of the institutional operating budgets, backed away so rapidly that, in some institutions, large numbers of qualified students are being turned away and the number of courses that students may take is being rationed. In short, the privatization of American public higher education is well underway, and, if it continues, it will radically alter the nation’s socio-economic landscape.
If we look at the private institutions, where the other 25 percent of Americans attend, we see that they, too, are also very significant beneficiaries of government funding, through the billions of dollars provided to subsidize private tuitions from federal and state financial aid, and the billions, predominantly from federal government sources, that support research, equipment, and other programs. If the federal government began to pull back significantly on its commitment to federal financial aid and research support to the private institutions, many would not survive, and, among those well enough endowed to survive, we would certainly see significant changes in mission. Like the publics, private colleges and universities have existed on an economic model that includes feeding deeply at the government trough.
The flip side of the support question is, of course, the issue about costs, and the increasingly asked question about why higher education costs so much? In response to that question, there are several things to consider. First is the obvious question. Does higher education in fact cost too much? One cannot really answer that question without first determining what it should cost to educate a student at the university level at a high degree of quality.
I have never heard the critics of cost ever address that question, and one thing we absolutely do know is that there is enormous variability in cost among institutional types. Let us say that it costs approximately $40,000 a year to educate a student at Princeton University, and let us say that it costs approximately $18,000 a year to educate a student at Montclair State University, essentially the same average cost that New Jerseyans pay for K-12 education. Can we say that the cost at Princeton or at Montclair State is unjustifiably high or troublesomely low? Do we really think that $18,000 a year is too much to invest in the education of a student at Montclair State, or are we really saying that students and their families are being asked to pay too much of that cost? Those are, of course, different issues. Is Princeton’s cost excessive, or is the experience of a Princeton education really worth more than twice as much as an education at Montclair State?
If one thinks so and prefers the Princeton option, should government subsidize the additional costs of that option? Let’s set aside Princeton and consider other private institutions in New Jersey, such as Seton Hall or Monmouth or Rider or St. Peter’s. Those institutions all cost more to attend than Montclair State or the other public institutions in New Jersey, and the taxpayers of New Jersey subsidize those higher costs through larger state Tuition Aid Grants for students who attend those institutions. So, for example, if a student has been identified as having the highest level of need, the State will subsidize that student’s tuition at Montclair State with about $6,500, but if the same student attends a private institution in New Jersey, the State will subsidize the private tuition with about $11,000. Does the state therefore mean that, for some reason, it should cost more to educate a student at Seton Hall than at Montclair State? In fact, I don’t really think the state is saying that; I think, in fact, that the state does not know what it is saying, and state and federal decisions about these matters are often eccentricities of politics rather than intentions of policy.
One thing that we do know is that high quality higher education, whether public or private, is inherently expensive, and the rapid advances in knowledge and technology characteristic of our times is making it more, rather than less, expensive. Scientific equipment is evolving at increasingly rapid rates, and students need to be prepared to understand emerging technologies. If my energy level is flagging in the late afternoon, I can have an espresso, or I can just look at our current IT budget compared to what it was ten years ago, and that certainly gets my heart pounding. (Usually, I just have the espresso.) Of course, we could provide education on the cheap, with fewer and less qualified faculty, with larger classes, with fewer support services, with less hands-on learning and fewer field experiences, and with yesterday’s technology instead of tomorrow’s. But for whom do we want the cheap version? Is the cheap version good enough for our kids, or is it good enough just for someone else’s kids?
The questions that our nation will actually have to answer are tough questions, such as: How many students do we actually want to educate? How well do we want to educate them? What should it cost to educate a student well? Who should bear that cost? What will be the consequences to the nation if government abdicates its responsibility for the higher education of its people, relegating the education of the nation’s citizens to a profit-driven free enterprise system? These questions will get answered; they are getting answered every day in a series of uncoordinated short-term politically driven micro budgetary and policy decisions. What we lack, both in the state and the nation, are answers that seek the rigor of long-term thinking and that have the integrity of intentionality, meaningful planning, and expressed purpose.
So, while the oceans roil about us, we sailors chart our course, tend to our engines, and swab the decks, that is to say, quite seriously, we have work to do, and I will remind us that a couple of years of University-wide effort resulted in a Strategic Plan that outlined that work. In the Periodic Review Report produced by Middle States this Spring, the reviewers gave the University the very highest marks for its overall planning and implementation of its plans:
“The institution has been energetic in its efforts to systematize and integrate its assessment efforts and to direct those efforts to the improvement of student learning outcomes and institutional strength and resilience. In addition to focusing on its assessment program, Montclair has also expanded its work in hybrid and distance education and has completed several new facilities, both residential and academic. A new Strategic Plan, adopted in 2011, directs the University to capitalize on ‘a deep reserve of vision, creativity and adaptability that will be necessary to meet the challenges that await the University over the course of the next ten years.’ Montclair State University appears to be planning carefully to maintain success in the face of challenges and changes in the higher education sector.”
Consistent with that very positive assessment of the University and consistent with the Strategic Plan and from among its goals, I would call attention to the following 25 very critical tasks on which I hope we will make good progress this year:
- Complete a review and revision of both undergraduate and graduate admissions policies that takes into account the changing demographics of the University’s applicant pool, changing modes of program delivery, the University’s intellectual and physical resources, and the evolving nature of workforce demands.
- Realize the effective implementation of a Sophomore Year Experience program that is focused on supporting students in selection of a major and the development of a study plan geared to graduation in four years.
- Define and begin the implementation of plans to provide enhanced and more comprehensive academic advising for all students.
- Assure that all courses within a program sequence exhibit advancing rigor, and assure that course prerequisites exist that are consistent with that expectation.
- Increase the utilization of internship, co-op, and service-learning opportunities in all programs.
- Continue the incorporation of new modes of instruction into the curriculum, including use of networked devices, social media, and computing technologies.
- Assure responsible scheduling of courses and other instructional activities to maximize use of faculty resources and assure that students have available the courses they need to complete their programs in a timely fashion.
- Improve the utilization of the full 7-day week in the scheduling of University instructional and non-instructional activities to enable the University to make more efficient use of all of its physical assets.
- Continue our successful initial efforts in the development of University-wide assessment activities to be documented in the University’s Study leading to the next Middle States accreditation review.
- Make very significant progress in the implementation of OneMontclair, the Enterprise System that constitutes the University’s comprehensive computing, data, and information infrastructure.
- Continue the development and implementation of new curricula, including the creation of three Professional Master’s degree programs and the launching of two fully online graduate programs, the revision and realignment of existing curricula, and the elimination of obsolete or unsuccessful programs.
- Begin the realization of the new School of Communications and Media and achieve broad visibility for this new venture.
- Identify the specific national rankings onto which we wish to see at least one of each college’s programs find a place. The importance of securing external validation of the quality of what we do cannot be overstated.
- Initiate asynchronous, synchronous and online joint instructional opportunities with selected international partner institutions, increase the number of international students studying at the University and the number of Montclair State students participating in study abroad.
- Implement a plan for the full utilization of the summer term for instruction and for complementary revenue-generating activities.
- Increase partnerships and joint ventures with research organizations, businesses, government, and non-profit organizations.
- Continue to increase extramural support for scholarly and research activity.
- Increase both university and external audiences for all cultural activities at the University. As we sit in this beautiful Kasser Theater, I want to take a moment to note the extraordinary Peak Performances season that Jed Wheeler and his staff have prepared for this coming year. One of the tenets that has driven performances in the Kasser Theater is the search for what is exceptional and unique in the larger metropolitan region. People from New York City come here because what you see here cannot be seen in New York. Many Kasser performances provide exciting opportunities to work into your classes, and tickets are free for undergraduates and Jed is delighted to work with interested faculty. So before you leave today, pick up a brochure and take a peek at what has been laid at your feet for the coming year. In addition to Peak Performances, there are a wide range of superb student theater, dance and music performances, and you can find those listed in brochures and on the College of the Arts website.
- Increase alumni giving and external support from all sources.
- Implement communication strategies designed to enhance the University’s reputation and visibility.
- Complete the construction of the $90 million campus-wide Combined Heating and Cooling Power Plant preferably without anyone falling into a trench. All of you either are aware, or certainly will become aware, that the University has undertaken a second major public-private partnership to develop a new power infrastructure for the campus which will replace the existing energy plant that dates back to the 1940s. If you are interested in this project, you can find more information about it on the website. Meanwhile, watch where you are walking.
- Make significant progress on the approvals, design, and build-out of the new facilities for the School of Business in the Overlook building, now that we are close to completing the business negotiations for the new space.
- Use all our resources as wisely and efficiently as possible.
- Do everything humanly possible, at the classroom, department, school, college, and University level to facilitate the timely and successful acquisition of degrees by both undergraduate and graduate students.
- Get the Higher Education Bond Initiative approved in the November election. The one positive note in regard to State support for higher education this year was the authorization for a $750 million capital bond initiative to go to the voters this November. Although the initiative is much smaller than we had hoped for and we do not know at this point exactly how much of that funding will be allocated to Montclair State, I am very confident that we should get funds for one or two of our highest capital priorities, our number one priority being the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences, which is fully designed and shovel ready the minute the bond funds are approved. There will be a formal statewide campaign in support of the bond, and I urge you to add your efforts to the campaign, to vote for it and to encourage others to do so.
So, I suspect that those 25 tasks will be sufficient to keep us relatively busy throughout the year, and I am pleased to announce that we have a number of new hands aboard to lend their efforts to the work.
As the critical centerpiece of the University’s investments in the quality of our academic programs and the educational experience we offer students, we continue a steady pace of faculty recruitment, adding dozens of new faculty members every year. I am pleased to announce that 25 new tenure-track faculty colleagues have joined us this September, about half in newly created lines. They come to Montclair State from some of the best universities in the nation and the world. I urge you to familiarize yourself with the newest members of the faculty and staff by reading the 2012-13 edition of New Appointments, which will shortly be available online.
Let me introduce just a few of the new faculty members who are joining us this semester:
The University also welcomes a number of new colleagues to important administrative posts, including, among others, the following:
I urge you to get to know these and your many other new colleagues, as well as those who are not so new. As individuals, as departments, as informal groups with common interests, make this the year that you get to know more of your colleagues and perhaps discover some mutual interests and opportunities for cross-disciplinary and cross-unit projects. The richest resource I have to give you is each other.
For a snapshot of the students, this year will see a freshmen class of approximately 2,200 students, approximately 1,500 new transfer students, and approximately 1,200 new graduate students. We will not have firm numbers until Census Day, the 10th day of the semester, but at this point, we expect our total student population to be close to last year’s number of 18,500 students, including approximately 4,000 graduate students.
Undergraduate students applied from every county in New Jersey, from 20 states, and from many foreign countries. The top four choices of majors among enrolling freshman students will be no surprise and are, in order: Psychology, Biology, English, and Business. Other majors in high demand among enrolling students are Fashion Studies, Justice Studies, and Education-related programs. Some of our highly restricted programs, such as Musical Theatre and Broadcasting, continue to draw hundreds of talented applicants for their very small number of seats.
Behind the numbers, I always enjoy sharing a closer look at a few of our incoming freshmen students:
These are just five among the thousands of students who are entering the University this September, and, as I always remind us at this time of the year, we are the guardians of their hopes and aspirations.
I wish everyone an exciting and productive academic year, and, if you happen to see a MOOC lurking near campus, call the University Police.