In The Heat Of Election Season, Universities Left In The Cold

With the surprising emergence of a boisterous Donald Trump and the growing concerns about truthfulness surrounding Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, a dozen leaders from significant state universities anticipate a wild fall on campus.

They foresee a tortuous and razor-thin presidential election in 2016. The result may be new highs in escalating intensity among campus combatants involving the emotional and loud voices of activist faculty and concerned students.

The university presidents anticipate record heights of participation in student government and in campus political organizations, caused by the questions surrounding America’s future direction and topics like the soaring costs of a college education and the record number of graduates who leave academia buried in hopeless loan debt.

Meanwhile, there is no anticipation of states coming to any immediate rescue with added funding for public colleges and universities. Most expect more of the same continued over-reliance on higher tuition and fees.

The administrators admit to the importance of maintaining undergraduate enrollments, or growing them slightly, while favoring increases in graduate attendees, especially from out of state locations. These students pay much higher tuition and fees than state residents, often two to two-and-a-half times more.

This explains why state universities are working to enroll more able international students who often live in campus housing. It clearly makes economic sense and, in these tough economic times, pragmatic state legislators applaud the logic.

It should be stressed that a majority of international students have a record of staying as long as it takes to graduate since many enjoy financial support from their home countries. Also, American businesses have a keen interest in them since the economy is truly global.

All of the participants expect interest in schools of business to continue to move upward, with many major universities, like the University of Kansas, in the throes of building massive new schools of business buildings. Many are being funded with private sources.

By the same token, the chief executives are distressed with the slippage in interest in the arts and sciences. All of them expressed unquestioned support for the humanities and the fine arts. Faculty share that troubled outlook and believe a college degree rings hollow without a reasonable dose of these historically valued classroom experiences.

Several presidents wondered how much longer there will be such a crush of interest in schools of business, industry and entrepreneurship.There was also some question about future enrollments in schools of medicine, nursing, engineering and programs in the sciences and mathematics.

There is no doubt that the role and treatment of women on campus, once again, will rise to the top of the institutional consciousness as it did in the 2014-15 academic year. And it should, especially at a time when the crisis here is a massive one that has captured a national media audience. More than half of the students at these 12 universities are female and the number is growing. Parents are rightfully queasy over the issue.

The chief executives expect heightened focus on the role of big-time athletics as costs soar and income becomes static. But there are new concerns with the possibility of diminished attendance at football and basketball games. The threat of an over-reliance on television revenues is real for presidents and athletic directors. Many in the media are hinting at diminished returns in the not too distant future, leaving the colleges and universities with massive bonding debt and few plausible answers.

To say the horse is out of the barn when it comes college athletics is a vast and deeply concerning understatement.

Gene Budig is the past president/chancellor of three large state universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas) and of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps was a vice president at the College Board in New York City.