Changing Times for Higher Education

Aug 13th, 2007 @ 10:34 am | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
The national magazine for higher education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, is celebrating 40 years of publishing. When it was founded, "Medicare was introduced, the FDA declared 'the Pill' safe, a first-class stamp cost 5 cents, and the Oscar for the best movie was awarded to The Sound of Music."

One article in the anniversary issue is "by the numbers: how higher education has changed in 40 years." Anyone who is about 60 years old today would think of college as it was when The Chronicle began – but my, how things have changed.

There were 2,329 colleges and universities then. We now have nearly 2,000 more. Total enrollment has nearly tripled, to almost 18 million. Women were only 40 percent of the students then, but now we are 58 percent.

Among blacks, the number of graduates has increased more than four times. Back then, 91 percent of freshmen were white. Today, 74.4 percent are white.

Average tuition and fees in the 1960s were $1,456 at private colleges, $360 at public colleges. Now, those numbers are $22,218 at private institutions and $5,836 at public institutions. The average salary of a full professor has gone from $14,402 to $94,738. College presidents made $19,638 on average back then, now $192,155. (Note: salaries at VCSU are far below average!)

Today, fewer than 6 percent of freshmen say they have smoked cigarettes frequently, down from 17 percent (male) and 13 percent (female) forty years ago. Some may have a hard time believing this, but occasional or frequent beer drinking has gone down quite a bit for males (64 percent to 49 percent) and some for females, too (42 percent to 39 percent).

Although they may not be smoking and drinking beer as much, they are late for class more today. Over 60 percent of today's college students report occasional or frequent lateness.

In addition to these changes, The Chronicle reports that information technology developments have transformed colleges and universities – "The world and all its knowledge are now literally at the fingertips of today's undergraduates."

In the 1960s, less than 10 percent of people age 25 or older had completed four or more years of college. At that time, the United States 'led the world in the proportion of our adult population holding both high-school diplomas and college degrees.' Today, that number has almost tripled to nearly 28 percent. But other nations have done more. "We now rank seventh internationally in the percentage of 25-34-year-olds holding college degrees."

At a time when 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education, even these 40-year dramatic increases are far from adequate. With the baby boomers retiring, the number and knowledge base of the incoming work force are critical variables not only for economic success but for the quality of life for all, including the aging baby boomers.

Quotes in this column are from: Frank H.T. Rhodes, "After 40 Years of Growth and Change, Higher Education Faces New Challenges," Chronicle of Higher Education, November 24, 2006)