Colleges and universities are facing many challenges in an arena that is expected to undergo significant change under President Obama’s proposed reforms for higher education.
In an interview conducted before Hilbert College revealed Tuesday that it will be looking into the possibility of some type of merger with St. Bonaventure University, Hilbert President Cynthia Zane talked about some of the looming issues with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer. Here is a summary of some key points covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview above.
Meyer: The job market for many college grads has been soft at best. Yet we’re seeing more Americans than ever before going for their bachelor’s degrees. Is it more difficult for colleges and universities to sell those degrees?
Zane: Not really. I think that people really understand that it makes a huge difference in terms of not just your earning power throughout your lifetime, but especially that first job, if you have a college degree and have some experience. What has changed is the importance of students having internships and experiential learning built into their programs during the four years they’re in college so that they’re job-ready when they graduate ... It’s not really an option for a student today. They need to have that experience. And at Hilbert, and I know many other colleges in the area, we’ve incorporated that as a requirement in certain degree programs. I also think that there is in Western New York a unique challenge. Our career services people tell me that frequently while there is sometimes a lack of certain jobs for certain degrees in Western New York, in the rest of the country there are sometimes incredible opportunities. For example, the Customs and Border Patrol have been hiring for (positions in) Texas. Teachers in the Southeast and the Southwest have had opportunities. Oftentimes, it’s a stretch for some of the families in Western New York. If they’re willing to support their son or daughter leaving the area to get that first job, it’s sometimes not as difficult compared to if they’re wedded to this area.
Meyer: President Obama was in the Buffalo area talking about his reforms for higher education – essentially looking for ways to get a bigger bang for the buck, if you will. What do you make of those reforms?
Zane: I certainly support the concept of accountability and that colleges need to deliver on the promises that they make. Holding us accountable as it relates to our graduation retention rates and student learning outcomes, I think, is a reasonable expectation. The question is going to be what are those metrics they’re going to develop, and how broad are they going to define them ... The metrics that you use to measure Hilbert College, where 40 percent of my students are first generation and 51 percent are Pell Grant recipients, are extraordinarily different than what will be a good fit, for example, at Canisius or Niagara or St. Bonaventure, where they’re more highly selective, don’t have as many first-generation students. Or you look at UB, which is ... about 20 times bigger than Hilbert College. So if it turns out that those metrics are a one-size-fits-all, I’m not optimistic ... That is not going to bode well for colleges that, in fact, are like us. We are willing to take that young woman or man who has a GPA from high school between 80 and 85 percent. We have a lot of support systems at Hilbert, and there are other colleges in the area that are similar to us in that regard. If they are going to punish us in a sense for giving that young woman or man a chance ... we’re willing to give (at-risk students) a chance. But if in the long term it’s going to cut off our access to federal dollars to support our students, then that becomes a very difficult dilemma.