Have you ever noticed that as the holidays get closer and the semester nears the end, that all sorts of meetings pop up on your calendar? Well, that’s my excuse for not posting yet in December.
A couple of important events took place in the last few weeks that may not seem to be linked but in my head they are.
One event was a private meeting that President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan had with a dozen college presidents. The purpose of the meeting was to engage the President and the Secretary in discussions with higher education leaders related to increasing access and success, improving graduation rates, and curbing the rising cost of college. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/education/obama-meets-with-college-leaders-on-rising-costs.html?_r=2)
Accounts of the meeting would indicate that discussions ranged from the sharing of best practices to enhance excellence and contain costs, to the role of the federal government in encouraging innovation in higher education.
At first blush, the fact that the President and Secretary are engaged in these types of discussions about higher education should be celebrated. One can only hope that this will lead to positive results. While I wasn’t invited to the meeting, I would have suggested that in terms of expanding access there are some very quick wins to be had. The first is to rethink the state approval regulations that the Department of Education is enforcing. It seems to be that this has only curbed the willingness and ability of higher education institutions to provide access.
The second is the recent Department of Defense’s (DoD) Memorandum of Understanding for the Military Tuition Assistance program. Many institutions have not and will not sign the MOU because there are inconsistencies between the MOU and other existing academic policies and administrative practices.
I understand that both of these are efforts to combat fraud and questionable educational entities; however, efforts to create regulations to keep out the bad apples often create collateral damage to good institutions providing greater access to students. And worst of all, these sorts of policies end up punishing the student by limiting their access to education.
If I had been at the table, I would have reminded folks that the unfortunate prejudice is that courses and programs offered using innovative technologies and approaches are simply not as good as on-campus courses. We know that this prejudice is not correct, and if we are to address the concerns of the President and the Secretary, we must embrace and champion the potential these innovative approaches have for increasing access, enhancing quality and controlling costs.
The other large event has everything to do with someone finally being invited to join the club. The club in question is the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the invitation was given to a long-time Cubs fan, announcer, and one of the best third basemen that ever played the game.
My friend and long-suffering Cubs fan, Larry McGill, said it best in a note to me the day that Ron died a year ago: “Can’t believe Ron Santo passed away today….This is a nightmare I’ve long feared. Santo’s qualifications for the Hall are bonafide and he deserved to go in before he passed away. Most serious baseball analysts have rated Santo among the top ten third basemen of all time (including Bill James, who rated him 5th in the first edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract). What people may not realize about Santo is that during his heyday, he was one of the best run producers in baseball. And not just among third basemen. Between 1963 and 1970, he hit 25 HR and drove in 90 or more runs every year. And during those eight years, he drove in more runs than any other player in the major leagues except a guy named Hank Aaron and Aaron only surpassed Santo by a total of 10! Santo AVERAGED 105 RBI per year during that time. What more does a guy have to do to get into the Hall of Fame? Play with a potentially debilitating medical condition? Oh yeah, he did that too.”
Yes, the Baseball Hall of Fame waited too long to put Ron Santo into the club, but at least they got it right and he now joins his Cubs teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, as well as my all-time Cubs favorite Ryne Sandburg.
Two big events: one may start a conversation that will benefit higher education and more importantly our students. The second: heck, simply better late than never.