“Back to School” Time to Ask: Are Our Universities Endangered?


The beginning of a new academic year–before nitty-gritty details of enrollment numbers, exam scores, and graduation rates lower our horizons and our sights–is a chance to think about what college really means for our students and for society.

We in the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education believe that college at its best involves access to a broad, liberal education preparing graduates for full participation in a democratic society.  One of our core principles is that all students deserve this opportunity and that our society benefits from an informed, well-educated population.

Jeff Kolnick reminds us of the crucial yet endangered role of universities as places where the status quo is examined, questioned, and sometimes challenged.  His piece asks that we examine the diminished version of “college” in our public discourse today and recapture the value of college as a place to “shock students into thinking, into realizing the power of their own minds and ideas.”

These considerations are crucial as we work to develop a new sort of society, as demographic change and growing economic inequality present us with the challenge to change, and as our dysfunctional national politics undermine our ability to do so.  Now, more than ever, an affordable, high quality, broad conception of college is important for our students and our country.

Something surely is missing when values like “cheaper,” “quicker,” and “quantifiable” define the goals of higher education.