Kathryn Primrose

Higher Ed: Past & Future

Month: February 2016

Chasing the American Dream…If You Can Afford It

As the issue of funding for higher education becomes an increasingly debated, increasingly publicized, and an increasingly complex issue circulating through the American public as well as its political system, a wide array of questions begin to surface on a wide array of issues, some immediately faced in the present while others tempting theory as the future becomes progressively murky. One of such theories poses the question pondering what would happen if federal/state funding acquired a concrete cap, and how elitist schools (or the “Harvards of the world,” if you will) would handle such a financial impact on their institutions and the students that comprise it. In particular, many wonder if such establishments would move to attempt to soften the increased financial burden on students by contributing their own funds to “cover the difference,” or if they would transfer the marginal increase in financial contribution directly to students to further contribute to the elitist nature and reputation of their various programs.

When contemplating the notion of how such institutions would respond to funding shifts and how they would allow these shifts to affect their students, one must first be in full awareness of what the true mission of such institutions really are. According to the official Harvard website, the mission of Harvard College is “to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society…through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.” (https://college.harvard.edu/about/history) If institutions such as Harvard are truly striving to produce the future leaders of society, and truly believe that a liberal arts and sciences education has the power to transform a student’s life, then exclusion by means of financial capability should theoretically not be intentionally allowed to exist as a roadblock to such students’ potential Harvard experience. The very nature of the term transformative implies that some sort of transition has occurred, a change from one state of being to one completely different. This sort of transitionary aspect could take place within a variety of realms, such as pertaining to knowledge, character, professionalism, capability f.or global impact, or even financially. When an institution makes the decision to eliminate a potential pathway for transformation by narrowing the financial scope and background of the students enrolled, i.e. limiting the population to those only already possessing the financial means to afford such an education, they in turn eliminate an aspect of the diversity of their identity itself, and by extension somewhat deny the power of higher education to be a transformative tool in the lives of students from all different backgrounds and sets of resources.


All this to be said, one might idealistically hope that such institutions of higher educations, if so equipped, would move to absorb such new financial constraints in hopes of instead liberating their students, as opposed to constraining students in an attempt to liberate their budget/selectivity preferences. However, in the modern era, the character of higher educational systems has been heavily impacted by the fusion of the identity of a given university as a place of knowledge with a coexistence as a  place of business. According to Stephen Pelletier’s article entitled “Rethinking Revenue, “ “the erosion of traditional support from public coffers has opened the door for public universities to broaden their thinking and become more resourceful—and aggressive—about securing revenue.” (http://www.aascu.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=5569) At the end of the day, universities cannot educate if they cannot financially keep their doors open, a fact that has been emphasized to the extent that the bottom line of the university as a whole has become significantly more important than any potential bottom line of an individual student.

Another aspect of discretionary distribution of financial aid is evident in the posed question of whether or not financial aid allotments should be dependent on or influenced by an undergraduate student’s choice of major. This is quite frankly a bit of a trickier theory to ponder, particularly when trying to keep in mind how such a movement might ethically be perceived by the population as a whole, as it would require those in charge of allocating funds to decide which academic concentrations hold more value in society as a whole/should be compensated as such. Based on the argument presented in the above theory, one might conclude that no, by no means should student aid be differentiated purely based on major. One might claim that many other factors are more important indicators of merited aid, such as academic record, involvement, or even raw financial need. One might even say that if one really believes that the bare essence of education itself is so transformative, regardless of specific area, there is no reason to believe that some majors agiphy-1re more “important” than others, so long as transformative education is being achieved and transformative impact is being produced. While all this may be true, the “devil’s advocate” of blunt logistics may have a few points of his own to make. In terms of careers present in today’s society, there are some that can be designated as those that concretely serve to better society, and more of it, in more significantly observable ways than others. Particularly in occupations that require an academic and financial commitment to a certificate mandating schooling far beyond a four-year bachelor program, such as medical or law school, it is undeniable that a higher amount of raw expenses will be incurred by the student for the purpose of pursuing their education and late career. From this standpoint (and admittedly a bit of a biased one as a student currently aspiring to pursue a medically related certification requiring such prolonged educational commitment), some might throw out that to prevent discouraging such students from abandoning such society-impacting occupations for fear of greater debt, a greater financial aid commitment should be awarded. However, in the political realm, one must counter yet again with the question of whether or not such subjective and personally differentiating allocation of funds would have a chance at being smoothly received by educational institutions as well as the public at large.

In essence, the blade that is higher education serves as a profoundly double edged sword. One face represents the historic and idealistic principles on which such institutions were initially intended, echoing themes of the value of pure knowledge and the need for the universally transformative power that lies in an education. However, the other face slices the political and economic scene with the cold hard facts that reflect the current state and evolved nature of such systems, gradually leaving less and less room for true and unadulterated educational idealism. The American dream has been described as embodying “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each…” (http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/american-dream/students/thedream.html)

But will becoming richer and fuller grow to become a chance only able to be afforded by the already rich and full? Only time (and a battle of the blades) will tell.

The Secret Diploma – The Impact of College on Human Nature

dictionary.reference.com defines the term “university” as meaning

“an institution of learning of the highest level.”

In regards to the deeper examination of the notion of higher education itself, this can be viewed as a very apt and fitting definition in many senses. The concept of college, university, and the umbrella that encompasses higher education in general is perpetuated by the notion that all such institutions are driven by the concept that everything that they do, teach, implement, or aim to produce is done at the “highest level” attainable. In a bare view, this can be interpreted as providing the highest attainable academic depth of education for students in various fields and trades. However, this pursuit of education at the highest level is often incorporated into things not shown on a report card or revealed within a raw GPA. Often the most distinct and diversifying aspects of American universities are the ones that emphasize how students are being impacted beyond the bookstore or scantron sheet. College/higher education is not only a turning point in the lives of many young adults in terms of their professional and academic careers, but is also a pivotal time in determining what kind of human being an individual will transform into in their adult lives. Through making substantial and intentional strides to emphasize the development of the virtues, character, and citizenship in the modern student, institutions of higher education are able to directly impact the makeup of the society that will be leading the world of tomorrow.

Virtue. In an essence, the piece of a person that defines the nature of their being and the moral compass off of which they operate. Not everyone’s compass is the same, and part of college is allowing students to discover which ways theirs point, in which ways they will allow them to be impacted, and in which ways they will staunchly fight to firmly keep them. The virtue of a person will impact every major decision they make, how they treat others, and even what path they choose to follow throughout their life/career. By creating a culture that values WHAT kind of person you are as opposed to simply what you accomplish AS a person, universities have the opportunity to dispatch people of value as well as people who have values of their own out into the world they desire to change.


Character. The strength, depth, and determination of character one possesses is often praised as one of the most critical aspects of what makes a truly great worker and professional peer. Once personal virtue is established, it is the resolution to uphold that same virtue that gives birth to true force of character. Establishment of true character fuels respect, trust, reliability, and a number of other key relational aspects that are in high demand in any working relationship or dynamic between human beings. By giving students real world examples of professional character and integrity through careful selection of instructors, staff, and other mentors, universities have the opportunity to provide a first hand illustration for students on what steadfast belief and commitment to personal ideas mean in a world that is perpetually flippant.



Citizenship. The idea that not only do individuals hold responsibility for themselves personally, but that they have a higher responsibility to an idea and structure greater than simply the individual. Citizenship means knowing that you as an individual possess a sense of greater belonging than you can fathom, and that your identity can be impacted by what you are a citizen of just as easily as you can impact the identity of the greater body itself. It means that you understand what path of trial, tribulation, and triumph your body of allegiance has undertaken to arrive at the point you are currently connecting with it, as well as the role one plays in writing the very future path of that same body. In chapter six of his book “A Letter to America,” OU president David Boren includes an assertive quote from Bruce Cole, stating that “defending our democracy…also requires an understanding of the ideals, ideas, and institutions that have shaped our country…and why our country is worth fighting for.” By emphasizing the critical need for not only a bold sense of belonging but also a passionate awareness of the past, present, and future that impacts that belonging, universities have the opportunity to produce students not only proud of being a citizens of a nation, but students that a nation would be proud to have as citizens.


These arguably intangible although timelessly relevant aspects of education have been a topic of discussion practically since the formation of such institutions themselves. From the earliest days of “finishing” young people to produce the best possible members of high society to the present day of bearing the burden of molding the world’s future leaders, problem solvers, and innovators in a world of persistent need, aspects of the human condition itself have been an integral component of higher education. In the words of William Bizzell taken from his 1933 convocation, “it is reasonable to assume, in the light of what is happening today, that the world into which you will go after your graduation will be vastly different from what it is today.” Although it a practical sense I would argue that the main mission of higher education in its most concrete nature remains the task of educating students in the practical fields necessary to be properly equipped to step into more complex areas of the workforce, this persistent, personal aspect cannot be ignored. While trades, facts, and figures may continue to evolve and change throughout the student educational experience, some so rapidly to the point where they can be almost rendered obsolete by the time of graduation, the personal areas of growth and discovery prompted and fostered through the higher education system will not fade no matter how the outside world transforms.


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