Top Ten: Issues Impacting College Administrators

Like their counterparts in K-12 education, administrators running colleges and universities in the United States have myriad issues they need to address to ensure their institutions are providing students a 21st-century education.

Some issues are unique to a particular college or university and are a function of size, location, funding availability or types of programs offered. But most higher-education institutions also face common challenges. Is there enough of the right kinds of space - academic, recreational and residential - to provide students a challenging experience inside and outside the classroom? Has the school created a campus environment where students and staff can feel safe? Does the campus have the technology in place to provide students with the tools they need to compete and succeed in the workplace?

This article highlights 10 of those issues. Most colleges and universities will have to deal with these topics as they work to attract students to their campuses.

Construction and Repair

Most colleges and universities are coping with increasing numbers of students, evolving programs and aging facilities. That means many schools will be constructing new buildings and sprucing up old facilities in the near future to help attract the best and brightest students.

The U.S. Department of Education projects that enrollment in higher education will continue to rise steadily. It is estimated that a little more than 15 million students attended colleges and universities in 2000; by 2009, the number is expected to be more than 16.3 million.

Compared with 30 years ago, today's college campuses are likely to have more women students, older students and part-time students. These students have different wants and needs than those of a generation ago, and colleges must provide the programs, facilities and amenities that attract a more diverse group.

But that costs money. American School & University's 2000 Official Education Construction Report (May) shows that the amount of college construction put in place soared to nearly $14 billion in 1999, compared with about $7.3 billion in 1998. The study also indicates that colleges project to spend $32.5 billion on construction from 2000 to 2002.

Funding

To accommodate more students, as well as add the variety of programs required to meet diverse desires, colleges and universities need funding to pay for improvements.

One option is raising tuition. Government statistics show that the average tuition, room and board at a public four-year college or university has climbed from $2,577 in 1976-77 to $11,834 in 1998-99. Costs at private four-year schools, which can't depend on public funding, have risen even faster, from $3,977 in 1976-77 to $19,970 in 1998-99.

But tuition accounts for only part of the total revenue at colleges and universities - in 1995-96, it represented 18.8 percent of revenue at public colleges and 43 percent at private schools. State and local governments accounted for 40 percent of the funds at public colleges, and federal funds for 11 percent of the revenue. At private colleges, state and local governments accounted for 2.7 percent, and federal funds made up 14.4 percent of a school's revenue.

Like their K-12 counterparts, some public colleges and universities are turning to the ballot box to try to persuade voters to support funding boosts.

In November, North Carolina voters approved a $3.1 billion bond issue to construct new buildings, and renovate and modernize existing facilities at the state's 59 community-college and 16 University of North Carolina campuses.

Private schools can't tap that funding source, but they are more likely to attract donors to help support critical programs and facilities initiatives. Private colleges and universities received 14.3 percent of their revenue in 1995-96 from endowments and private sources, compared with only 4.7 percent at public institutions.

When a school has prestige and deep-pocketed alumni, its fund raising can be considerable. At the end of 1999, Harvard University concluded a five-year fundraising campaign with collections of $2.6 billion - easily exceeding the ambitious $2 billion goal originally set.

Housing

In today's competitive market for students, colleges and universities have to offer housing that consists of more than just a bed and a desk. Students want the comforts of home in their residence halls, and schools are building new residence halls and renovating old housing to provide more amenities.

American School & University's 2000 Residence Hall Construction Report (July) found that almost all campus housing now being built include connections to the Internet, air conditioning and laundry facilities. More "apartment-style" units are being built with carpeting, living rooms, private bathrooms and kitchens.

Schools often provide housing not only for traditional students living away from home for the first time, but also for older students with spouses and children.

Many students find that housing off-campus is significantly pricier than residence halls, and some decide that living on campus will make their college experience more complete. Yet with the growth in enrollment that colleges and universities are experiencing, many schools don't have enough rooms of any kind, let alone ones with the homey characteristics students desire.

Universities pressed for space have had to find alternatives. Some assign three students to rooms meant for two; others establish waiting lists and house students in residence-hall lounges, mobile homes, hotel rooms or other temporary spaces.

Incorporating Auxiliary Services

Most college campuses are made up of a complicated network of departments and divisions. Other systems are composed of several campuses far removed from each other.

To manage this stew of information effectively, schools need computer networks that can streamline the flow of information and be compatible with different kinds of equipment and software so that all who need it have easy access to student academic and enrollment records, financial payments, operating systems and other information.

Many campuses also are using technology to combine many functions and services onto a student or staff member's identification card. With information encoded on magnetic stripes or a computer chip, an ID card can provide student-specific controlled access to residence halls, classroom buildings and labs, recreational facilities and other campus locations.

The cards also can allow students to check out materials from libraries, set up a debit account and pay for meals in residence halls or other campus-dining facilities, and buy materials and services at bookstores, vending machines, laundry facilities and other businesses.

Improving the Learning Environment

Students are more likely to perform well in conditions that are conducive to learning, so colleges and universities that provide these kinds of environments will be more successful in attracting students.

That means classrooms, laboratories and lecture halls that are well-lighted, clean, safe, climate-controlled, aesthetically pleasing, equipped with comfortable furniture and accessible to all students. It means a campus with easy and universal access to computers and the Internet, and libraries and classrooms with multimedia capabilities. It means courses with small class sizes that are taught by professors instead of teaching assistants. Classrooms should be set up to allow small-group discussions or collaborative learning.

In a 1998 study, "Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities," the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University recommended several changes in the typical college program. Among the recommendations are making research-based learning the standard, linking communication skills and coursework, using information technology creatively and removing barriers to interdisciplinary education.

"The principal barrier to interdisciplinary research and study has been the pattern of university organization that creates vested interests in traditionally defined departments," says the report.

The commission also urged schools to cultivate a sense of community on campus.

"Research universities should foster a community of learners," the study says. "Large universities must find ways to create a sense of place and to help students develop small communities within the larger whole."

Maintenance and Operations

The deteriorating state of many of the nation's public schools has received a lot of ink and air time in recent years, but the condition of facilities on the campuses of U.S. colleges and universities is not much better.

Like their K-12 colleagues, higher-education administrators have for years had to put off needed repairs and maintenance while other campus needs took precedence. By the 1990s, many campuses had aging facilities that were inadequate to meet the needs of today's college student.

In 1995, the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA), the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and Sallie Mae estimated in a report, "A Foundation to Uphold," that colleges and universities had $26 billion in accumulated deferred maintenance, of which $5.7 billion were urgent needs.

"While many campuses have made significant progress in reducing and even eliminating deferred maintenance, the problem continues to plague our campuses," the report said.

Through fund raising and more money from government sources, many schools have begun to catch up on some of the maintenance backlog that has accumulated through the years.

Marketing and Recruiting

The amenities a campus offers can tip the scales when a student is deciding where to pursue his or her education. So colleges and universities who want to attract students must view their campus facilities as a marketing tool.

Most residence halls that schools are building offer students the amenities they might expect in private off-campus housing, or in the bedrooms of their parents' homes. Private bathrooms, kitchens, air-conditioning and Internet access are common in newly built campus housing.

Other colleges offer student residents weightrooms or other athletic facilities, more lounges and gathering places, and more convenient parking.

Students demand the latest in technology - voice mail, convenient access to computers, e-mail and high-speed Internet connections. Some schools even provide students with their own laptop computers.

Once students leave their residences, they want to find the same high-tech features in classrooms and laboratories. Schools whose facilities are flexible enough to keep up with the changing demands of technology will be more likely to remain attractive to students in the future.

Security and Safety

Students and parents would like to envision college campuses as idyllic havens for academic pursuits. But the reality is that colleges and universities cannot escape the crime and violence that affects the rest of society.

Schools must work to assure parents and students that their campuses and facilities are secure, with systems and personnel in place to prevent trouble and respond quickly when it does occur.

Federal law now requires colleges and universities to disclose crime statistics for their campuses. By October 1 of each year, a school that is Title IV eligible is required to release an annual campus security report. In addition, schools must provide timely warning of crimes reported to campus security and local police.

The U.S. Department of Education has set up a website (ope.ed.gov/security) that allows prospective students to search for crime statistics for thousands of colleges and universities nationwide.

Schools also have turned to technology to boost the security in buildings and on campus. Many campuses use electronic locks, computerized identification cards, closed-circuit cameras and satellite technology to monitor activity on campus and respond to reports of trouble.

Staff Training and Retention

Colleges and universities that offer attractive salaries, manageable workloads and adequate resources are more likely to have satisfied employees.

A survey released last year of college faculty members found that most were satisfied with their career choice. The American Faculty Poll, a nationwide survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, found that 87 percent of faculty members say if they had a choice, they would still pursue an academic career.

"The love of learning, professional autonomy and intellectual freedoms are the most important factors in their decision to pursue an academic career," says the survey. "A flexible work schedule as well as job security are also important."

Yet those polled said they believed colleges and universities needed more resources.

"Faculty members express concerns about lack of public support and interest, inadequate resources for research and low salaries," says the survey.

Federal statistics show that faculty salaries have only recently climbed to a level comparable to 25 years ago. The average salary in 1997-98 for faculty members at two- and four-year institutions was $52,335, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That represents less earning power than a comparable faculty member in 1972-73 ($52,341 in 1997-98 dollars), but a significant rise from 1980-81 ($43,499 in 1997-98 dollars).

The department's "Condition of Education 2000" notes that many instructors at colleges and universities are working part-time and are less likely to have tenure and other job benefits provided to full-time faculty.

Technology

As it has transformed the business world and the rest of society, technology has revolutionized education. Colleges and universities that use technology to their best advantage will be the institutions that establish the most effective programs and attract the best students.

A major technological advance that drastically expands the learning opportunities available to students is distance learning. With the Internet, satellite transmissions and multimedia equipment, students can gain access to the expertise and knowledge of faculty members whether they're across town or on the other side of the world.

Federal statistics show that in 1997-98, there were 1,661,100 enrollments in distance-learning courses at 1,680 colleges and universities. Another 990 schools said they planned to begin offering distance-learning opportunities within the next three years.

Colleges and universities have to decide how much of a player they want to be in the distance-learning game. To what extent do they want to put their courses and professors on the satellite for others to benefit? How many courses and programs from other locations should they import to their campuses? Should they form partnerships with other schools or private businesses to enhance distance-learning opportunities?

Distance learning can be convenient for students and cost-effective for schools who can't offer certain courses on their own campuses, but it also can be less than ideal for students who need more interaction with their instructors.

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