Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

This Rant on Higher Education

by , Columnist , Free Liberal

This is the first of a series of weekly observations on contemporary American higher education. Each week I will address specific issue—governance, mission statements, liberal arts in the curriculum, faculty responsibilities, access and other targets of opportunity. At times, I will address global issues influencing the American higher education community and in turn its influence on the rest of the world. At the risk of appearing an ungrateful heretic, I will often be critical of the industry that has employed me for over forty years.

With service as a full and part-time faculty member and in a variety of senior leadership positions, I have worked in most segments of higher education. They include research universities, regional public universities, branch campuses, community colleges, small private colleges and a correctional institution. My checkered career has also included experience in Guatemala, U.A.E and South Korea. Since earning an MBA in my postdoctorate years, I have come to view our higher education industry from a distinctly unpopular point of view. At its core, every institution should be operated as a socially responsible business.

These weekly rants will reflect a fiscally-conservative perspective counter to mainstream higher education that continues to project a sense of self-righteous entitlement to ever-increasing funding. With the U.S. economy in deep recession, American higher education institutions raised their 2009 tuition and fee an average of five percent. While counter intuitive, it is not surprising. American postsecondary institutions have been increasing their tuition and fees at a rate in excess of increases in the annual Consumer Price Index for decades with a sense of entitlement. To date with little or no consumer backlash assuaged by continuing state and federal subsidies, they have assumed they have increased tuition and fees with immunity. An October 25, 2009 headline in an American higher education trade paper reads “In Time of Uncertainty, Colleges Hold Fast to Status Quo”. This title and the accompanying article suggest little if any significant changes is planned. The industry will weather this storm with some superficial financial fixes and return to its place of entitlement.


William Patrick Leonard is Vice Dean of Academic and Student Services at the Solbridge International School of Business in Daejeon, Korea. He is Advisor on Higher Education Policy at the Rio Grande Foundation.