In 2017, the Citizen brought five Philly college and university presidents together for a conversation about the role of higher education in cities. It was the first time the presidents — of Temple, Penn, Drexel, Jefferson and Community College of Philadelphia — had ever been in a conversation together.
Amy Gutmann, then President of Penn, urged her colleagues to find ways to collaborate more together. It hasn’t happened. It should.
Philadelphia-area colleges and universities need to work with each other and with K-12 schools to provide greater opportunities for Philadelphia students. This accountability goes beyond the call for PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes). It’s an ethical obligation for both private and public institutions to serve local students, because the students and institutions live together, sharing geography and aspirations. These schools should direct their efforts toward — and exercise responsibility for — first-generation college students, who may see the university in their neighborhood as a place unavailable to them.
The world of higher education is mysterious enough to first-generation college students without the unhelpful messages communicated by colleges and universities searching for the phantom of “prestige.” Too many institutions compete with each other for privileged 18-year-olds who managed (or whose parents managed) to get their act together in high school. Too many Philadelphia-area institutions focus on recruiting the diminishing number of upper-middle-class high school achievers (many from out-of-state) who can pay full tuition. (Temple, I’m looking at you!)
Nationally, higher education is under attack by those who fear an educated citizenry. Universities acting like snobs and elitists give fuel to the fire — and the fire burns books. Never has it been more important for higher education to be united in its values, principles, and plans.
I heard from a reliable source recently that the Temple board thought that their latest president, who is now gone, would make Temple more like Penn. Someone should tell the trustees that anyone playing that game with Philadelphia’s only Ivy League university is guaranteed to lose. Philadelphia needs Penn — and not an additional aspirant. Temple should be inspired instead by Detroit’s Wayne State — truly the people’s research university.
Only about 6 percent overall of Penn applicants are admitted. How many of the 94 percent rejected are Philadelphia kids who would have benefitted from cooperative college advising programs sponsored by Penn, Temple, and other Philadelphia-area colleges and universities?
Competition for prestige gets in the way of cooperation
It may seem like a radical suggestion for universities to cooperate on college recruitment and advising. But it can be done. I participated in a small version of this approach in Illinois. The flagship University of Illinois (U of I) understood that as great as their three-campus institution was, some Chicago-area students would be better served by regional publics like Governors State University, which I led.
Wonder of wonders, under the leadership of U of I President Timothy Killeen and Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson (now president of the University of Iowa), we recruited together. These U of I leaders understood that true university stature was achieved by creative and effective service to Illinois students, most particularly first-generation students who deserved the best possible guidance on successful college pathways.
Unfortunately, too many universities ignore their obligation to the public good and compete for empty accolades from US News and World Report.
Universities also compete for designation in the Carnegie Classifications as a “Doctoral University with Very High Research Activity” — abbreviated as Research 1 (R1). Don’t get me wrong. Productivity in research — creating new knowledge — is a key feature of universities. But it is not the only element of prestige. The University Innovation Alliance “is the leading national coalition of public research universities committed to increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in the United States.” It’s possible to be R1 and committed to educating first-generation college students, students of color, adults, and military veterans — the New Majority in higher education.
It’s also important to note that the Carnegie Classifications, first published in 1973, are now being reimagined through a collaboration between the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the American Council on Education (ACE). Experts are working on a classification system that makes social and economic mobility an indicator of success.
Philadelphia-area institutions should wake up now to the prospect that “prestige” will soon be more closely associated with the public good.
A pivotal moment for higher ed cooperation
The times they are ‘a changin.’ Nationally, higher education is under attack by those who fear an educated citizenry. Universities acting like snobs and elitists give fuel to the fire — and the fire burns books. Never has it been more important for higher education to be united in its values, principles, and plans.
In the Greater Philadelphia area, on the grassroots level, we have an exemplary consortium of 25 colleges, the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), housed at Penn’s Netter Center. Under the leadership of Hillary Kane and Janine Wright, PHENND coordinates inter-institutional cooperation and K-12 outreach through conferences, networks, fellowships, and summer programs. Student-centered and civic-minded middle managers participate enthusiastically in PHENND activities and accomplish much. The problem is that higher-level leaders — university presidents and provosts — are not sufficiently involved to bring about cooperation on direction and strategic policy leading to systemic change and inter-institutional cooperation.
Start with a partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia — and other regional community colleges
Large numbers of first-generation and minority students start their college careers at community colleges with the intention of transferring to a university for a bachelor’s degree. This pathway is economical and should be widely available. Unfortunately, many community college students discover that the courses they took at the community college are not accepted for credit at the university. University snobbery is part of the problem. Some university professors simply cannot imagine that a community college professor will teach a course (even with the same readings) as effectively as a university professor. I call it the Maimon Hierarchical Fallacy, which goes like this: “If you teach at a community college, and I teach at a university, I must be smarter than you.”
I challenge anyone believing in that fallacy to read Christina Hassan and Sara Goldrick-Rab’s “Applause for CCP Teachers” and watch the embedded video of Dr. Faye Allard’s Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award lecture (which is not really a lecture but an interactive presentation, exemplifying high impact practices — the best in college teaching).
Beyond getting over snobbery, the other responsibility for university people is to understand that they have a significant role in working with community college faculty and counselors to advise students on a four-year pathway. The advising burden should not be left entirely to the community college. Universities can also contribute financially to transfer student success. The Kresge Foundation has sponsored a guidebook illuminating the university’s role in preparing students for transfer.
Drexel University has taken first steps in embracing university responsibility for community college transfer. Drexel and other universities must do more.
Citywide higher ed cooperation should lead to regional and state-wide communication
It would be amazing if citywide higher ed cooperation could lead to regional and statewide communication and policy-making. Frankly, it’s ridiculous that Penn State, PASSHE, and independent colleges and universities simply go their merry way without consulting with each other. The long-time mode of competition rather than cooperation has led to inefficiencies in state resources and confusion for applicants. For example, why does Pennsylvania lack a public liberal arts college like Ramapo in New Jersey? I’m not in favor of a statewide higher ed bureaucracy, but it’s essential for leaders of PA colleges and universities to voluntarily communicate and plan together regularly. It’s in everyone’s best interest and might even lead to greater higher education support in Harrisburg. In Illinois, public and private colleges and universities join together in lobbying the legislature for increased state student aid. Larry Platt’s article on general regional cooperation applies emphatically to Pennsylvania higher education.
Things we can do:
- Encourage your alma mater to cooperate with local community colleges.
- Contribute funds to colleges and universities, including the Community College of Philadelphia, that value social and economic mobility over false indicators of prestige.
- Support the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND) and the Penn Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
- Insist on citywide, regional, and statewide cooperation on higher ed.
- Support innovative, creative, ground-breaking ideas for colleges and universities to work together.
- Lobby the legislature to financially reward cooperation among colleges and universities.
- Lobby Philadelphia’s new mayor to convene Philadelphia-area college and universities presidents.
- Lobby Governor Shapiro to convene Pennsylvania college and university presidents.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is an Advisor at the American Council on Education. She is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her long career in higher education has encompassed top executive positions at public universities as well as distinction as a scholar in rhetoric/composition. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter
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