A frightening idea was on the minds of those at a conference recently at Lafayette College. The conference was called “The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World.”
Attending were 200+ college administrators, including about 50 college presidents, from many top national liberal arts colleges. The idea that was worrying them was that elite liberal arts colleges might have to make significant changes in the next few years if they are to remain relevant (or present) in the current educational market.
Not a new idea to me or this blog and it's getting late for colleges to be just thinking about it now and not attempting to do something about it. Unfortunately, they seemed to believe the problems and solutions are economic.
But even among the fairly homogeneous group represented here, there was significant disagreement about how pressing the economic challenges are and the best ways to tackle them. And liberal arts college administrators still seem reluctant to adopt some major ways of cutting costs that other sectors of higher education have adopted.
And the solutions administrators did offer, many of which have high up-front capital costs, such as increased collaboration through technology, might not be options for the many less-wealthy liberal arts colleges (generally not represented here) that are facing some of the most immediate threats.
I would say that the cost of an education and its ratio to the quality of that education is what should be their main concern. Yes, technology is part of a solution. Colleges realize that's the case because they see that "less-elite" institutions are beginning to draw off their students whether or not they have a prestigious name or can even offer a degree.