Universities should be “more gazelle-like and less dinosaur-like” in changing with the times and meeting the needs of today’s students, UM System President Elson Floyd said Tuesday.
Floyd was one of four education experts who spoke at a discussion on a controversial report that could alter the future of higher education.
The panelists addressed more than 100 people as they commented on the report — “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education” — that was presented in September by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The report advocates improving higher education’s accessibility, affordability, accountability and quality.
Another panelist, Gerald Brouder, president of Columbia College, said the Spellings Commission report was created to spark controversy and discussion about the state of higher education. With the exception of Donald Doucette, vice chancellor of education and technology at Metropolitan Community College-Kansas City, all the panelists said the federal government report was too critical of higher education.
“We can improve access, we can improve affordability and accountability, but let’s not fall victim to ‘we’re the government and we’re here to help,’” Brouder said.
Floyd said many universities, such as MU, are already taking steps to improve. By tracking programs through “report cards” that measure their success, for instance, accountability can be improved, he said.
Barbara Townsend, an educational leadership and policy analysis professor at MU who served as Tuesday’s moderator, referred to the report as the college version of the No Child Left Behind report. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law in 2002, is disliked by many educators because it advocates standardized tests and awards more federal funds to schools with better test scores, resulting in educators molding classroom curricula around the tests.
Though the panelists’ comments were often off-topic and rarely referred to the same issues, a general dislike for standardized tests was clear from the discussion. The report suggests that standardized tests be administered to college students once they have finished general education requirements.
Doucette said though he understands how universities can see the report in a negative light, similar to the outcry after the passing of what he called the “No Child Left Untested Act,” he said the report’s view that college should be available to every student is beneficial to community colleges.
The report addresses access to higher education opportunities and accuses universities of not offering enough need-based financial aid. Doucette said community colleges can fill this gap because many students attend them due to their inability to afford a four-year institution.
Floyd spoke out against the “one-size-fits-all” standard that the report advocates. He said each student and academic program should address its own unique needs and that four years — or 120 hours of academic credit — is not necessarily the appropriate time frame for all educational programs.
“Is there something magical about 120 hours that will promote academic excellence and quality?” Floyd asked. “I don’t think so. What we need to do is measure performance of students, what they brought to the institution and what they leave the institution with.”