The Presidential Election and Higher Education

Living in our nation’s capital during the thick of the presidential election season has been a unique experience (although many have argued that this particular election has been like no other before it for the obvious reasons). I have been debating with myself about whether I would address politics in one of my blog posts, but given the circumstances of this race and the history that will be made in less than two weeks, I cannot avoid it. I am worried about the future of our country, yet I don’t want to make this blog about my own political views. 

So I’ve decided to take a birds-eye view of the biggest issues we face today and what the candidates have to say about them.

Warnings from prominent leaders about higher education’s dire future are not so new, yet now they are magnified by the presidential election. Take a look at this opinion piece in The Washington Post penned by AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella where she reminds us of higher education’s mission to educate for democracy. Her piece is a companion piece to this article by Mary Sue Coleman, President of the AAU.

It is true. We are at a crossroads. A tipping point. A time like no other in the history of higher education in the United States. The golden years are long gone. Our economic model no longer works. College is no longer affordable. Access to a college education for so many is still limited. Completion rates are poor. The value of a liberal education is questioned in light of the often soft job market for college grads.  And yet statistics still present a brighter financial future for college degree holders when compared to those without.

So what do our presidential candidates have to say? What are their plans?  Their priorities?  

NASFAA – the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators – presents a comparison of the candidates. Note that NAFSAA took Donald Trump’s position from interviews, as his website does not mention a higher education platform (and I doubled-checked: his education positions focus on K-12).  Just last week Scott Jaschik, Editor of Inside Higher Education described Trump’s views shared in a recent speech.

Hillary Clinton’s plan, The New College Compact, calls for a more affordable college education and calls on states to “halt disinvestment in higher education.” Clearly the Clinton campaign has given serious thought to these issues, and perhaps taken some advice from Bernie Sanders. 

However, I am still worried. Working for a state-assisted institution where every year we feel squeezed for resources, I worry about how the Clinton plan will be paid for and how states will suddenly reverse their disinvestment trends. Just last week, faculty from 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania state college system went on strike for the first time in system history. According to this article, the State of Pennsylvania funded its higher education system in 2016 at the level it was funded in 1999, 17 years ago: YIKES!  Thankfully for the 100,000 students attending these campuses, the two sides came together after 3 days with a tentative deal.

Is this strike an omen?  Will we see more faculty unrest at public colleges and universities?  Or perhaps we'll see more student protests?  How will the outcome of this election influence what happens?  How will our new leaders in the executive and legislative branches of government work with state, regional, corporate and institutional leaders to make reforms, to innovate, to change the model so that all of our citizens and future citizens will be able to access and complete higher education for the common god?  I’m certainly no Nostradamus but I am hoping, praying, and voting, for the best option I think we have.

Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum

All about Timing

Timing might not be everything, but good timing can certainly be a blessing. I was fortunate to begin work at the National Endowment for the Humanities in September, when the Endowment was celebrating both its fiftieth anniversary and the announcement of 2015 National Humanities Medalists. 

On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed legislation creating the NEH.  This September, the Endowment concluded a year-long commemoration of that anniversary, particularly through Human/Ties: Making Sense of Our World through the Humanities.  This four-day forum, hosted by the University of Virginia, included lectures, panel discussions, interviews, film screenings and art exhibits addressing five pressing topics for contemporary American culture: war, race, the environment, citizenship, and technology.  Speakers included poet Nikki Giovanni, novelist Junot Diaz, food activist Alice Waters, Russian journalist and activist Masha Gessen, and Hamilton actor Christopher Jackson.

My schedule permitted me to attend one day of Human/Ties. One panel addressed the place and frequent absence of racial diversity in publishing and other forms of cultural dissemination.  Hearing curator and art historian Sarah Lewis at this panel prompted me to investigate her book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery and then to recommend it as a first-year reading at my home institution Hofstra University.  Early in another panel with the inspired title “Meet Your New History Teacher, Beyoncé”, popular music historian Karl Hagstrom Miller unpacked the place in American culture of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” written by Russian, Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin about an indigenous American musical form and later performed as “roots music” by a white, North Carolina folk musician.  In a third panel “Life in the Data Deluge", virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier offered an insider’s critical report on the institutions that are digitizing so many of our daily experiences, as he noted, for example, that facial recognition technology that he worked on failed to recognize black faces, well, because no African Americans were included on the development team.

A week after Human/Ties, President Obama awarded the 2016 National Humanities Medal to twelve recipients including chef José Andrés, poet Louise Gluck, and musician Wynton Marsalis.  Although the President selected the medalists, the NEH managed the nomination process.  In recognition of that work, the Endowment staff was invited to a preview conversation and reception with some of the medalists the day before the White House award ceremony.  At that conversation, six medalists answered questions from NEH Chairman William Adams, members of the NEH staff, and some DC college students.  Hamilton author Ron Chernow, for example, explained how, without being trained as a historian, he came to write award-winning biographies of American financiers and founding fathers: after struggling as a fiction writer, he found that he could more readily enter into the minds of historical figures than fictional characters.  Terry Gross discussed her own circuitous path to excellence as an interviewer, observing with disarming self-deprecation that her own six-week career as a school teacher should cast doubt on the widely held assumption that it’s difficult to fire teachers.  Isabel Wilkerson spoke about how her own family participated in the changes she documented, drawing upon more than 1200 interviews, in The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.  On its YouTube channel, the Endowment has posted brief videos of 2015 medalists, including religious historian Elaine Pagels and physician Abraham Verghese, addressing the humanities’ place in our wider culture.

To sum up, September 2016 was an extraordinary time to be working at the NEH.

Craig Rustici, Ph.D., Professor of English at Hofstra University, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About our partner, AAC&U

Founded in 1915 AAC&U, has just celebrated its centennial – 100 years of bringing college leaders together to work on common concerns for higher education, faculty rights, diversity and inclusion, quality, and student learning outcomes. You can read about AAC&U’s history here.

But I would like to spend some time on what AAC&U does today. Their tagline is, “A voice and a force for liberal education in the 21st Century.” Today in 2016 with more than 1300 institutional members, national meetings drawing 2000 attendees, topic-based conferences with 400-800, and millions of dollars in grant funded initiatives, AAC&U truly is an influential force!

Its most famous initiative, LEAP: Liberal Education & America’s Promise, was launched in 2005 as a call to action for colleges and universities to give critical thought to how they were preparing graduates for the complex civic, economic, environmental, and social challenges of the 21st Century.

Since then hundreds of individual institutions have re-examined their curricula and supporting student services, revamped their general education requirements, and reinvigorated their commitments to foundational principles of a liberal education. I’m especially gratified to see a heightened interest in experiential learning, where students have more opportunities to apply their classroom learning to real-world problems, gain industry knowledge, establish professional networks, and develop career readiness competencies.  In fact much research has shown that the skills employers want in college graduates align perfectly with the essential learning outcomes of a 21st Century college education. 

Emerging from the LEAP initiative was Kuh’s work on high impact practices, which I used as the basis for my doctoral dissertation.  So you could say that as a scholar I’m very familiar with this work, but with a practitioner’s lens, I have sought to incorporate elements of high-impact practices in the career and experiential programs we coordinate at Stony Brook University.

AAC&U research, reports, and meetings have great value, not just for institutional leadership and faculty involved in general education, but for all of us who have made college student success our life mission.  

Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum

My DC Commute

My Faculty Fellows placement is with the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal, grant-making agency.  Because the grant review process at the NEH is confidential, I can’t blog about much of what I do there.  I can, however, blog about getting there. 

I thoroughly enjoy my walk to and from the NEH each day.  In New York, my commute from Queens to the now debate-famous Hofstra University on Long Island involved a walk, a train ride, and a bus ride, and with all due respect to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and the Long Island Railroad, the sights don’t compare with what I encounter here in DC.

The Faculty Fellows program found an apartment for me on a leafy street of townhouses in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood near the Convention Center and about a mile and half from the NEH offices in the Constitution Center.  My walk to work takes me down Seventh Street past a predictable set of local shops and national chains (Starbucks, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Dunkin’ Donuts) but also past the Lansburgh Theatre, where the Shakespeare Theatre Company is performing Romeo and Juliet, the National Archives, Indiana Plaza, and the Hirshhorn Museum, one of the Smithsonian’s art galleries.  Along the way I pass an array of outdoor sculptures, a nearly two-dimensional figure towering outside the Smithsonian’s Reynolds Center, which houses both the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery; the spider-like sculpture outside the National Gallery of Art; and the Delta Solar outside the Air and Space Museum.  As I pass the entrance to Washington’s Chinatown, I encounter crosswalks decorated with dragons and animals from the Chinese zodiac (rat, ox, rabbit).  Once, at that intersection I also saw a compact red street sweeper bearing an uncanny resemblance to the machine the Cat in a Hat used to put Sally’s house back in order in that Seuss classic—it moved on before I could snap a picture.  In short, my commute is a gawker’s delight.  

Craig Rustici, Ph.D., Professor of English at Hofstra University, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the National Endowment for the Humanities

The Changing Face of Higher Education

Last week I had a fabulous opportunity to attend an event hosted by AtlanticLive, the premier event planning arm of The Atlantic magazine. “The Changing Face of Higher Education” was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates and the Lumina Foundations.  After a welcome from Margaret Low, President of AtlanticLIVE, and Danette Howard, Chief Strategy Officer and SVP of Lumina, we heard from Congressman John Kline, who told us, among other things in his “View from Washington,” about the bipartisan support to simplify the FAFSA -- how exciting for students and families!

A panel of experts included Sarita Brown, President of Excelencia in Education, Cheryl Oldham, VP Education Policy for the US Chamber of Commerce, Scott Ralls, President of Northern Virginia Community College and Michael Sorrell, the President of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, TX.  President Sorrell shared his story for how his college has become responsive to the real needs of their students.  He described the new urban college model as including servant leadership + entrepreneurship + experiential learning!  What an inspiring man!

Next, an innovative model from the Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County, Maryland was shared. This entity provides an alternate location for coursework for students who are enrolled at nine different universities in Maryland!  These students can earn their degrees from their individual universities while “attending” classes close to home.  Shady Grove provides a full campus life and even internship opportunities for students from all 9 institutions.

Closing remarks were made by Dan Greenstein, Director of Post secondary success at the Gates Foundation. Overall takeaways from this event? Higher education must design models of education delivery that incorporate the realities of today’s college students, who increasingly tend to be adults, work, and have families. We also need to think differently about how we prepare our graduates for the workforce, and be more intentional about helping students make the connections between what they learn in class with the skills and attributes needed by employers (Things we in career development and experiential education have been saying for a long time). It was gratifying to see so many influential leaders coming together around the need for higher education to be more responsive and adapt to make today’s higher education more relevant to and valuable for today’s students.

Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum

About My Placement

The Business-Higher Education Forum is the nation’s oldest membership organization of Fortune 500 CEOs, college and university presidents, and other leaders dedicated to the creation of a highly skilled workforce.  BHEF facilitates strategic engagement between business and higher education institutions to improve alignment between higher education and workforce needs in emerging fields. 

Through its National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative (HEWI), BHEF has developed market intelligence and labor analyses, mapped skill competencies, and convened educational and corporate partners. The BHEF model of strategic business engagement with higher education moves relationship development from transactional to strategic partnerships. 

Three notable examples of the transformational projects BHEF has helped to shape include a new academic minor in data analytics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa in partnership with the Principal Financial Group, the ACES, Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students, Program at the University of Maryland with support from Northrop Grumman, and an academic minor in media engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology with support from NBC Universal.

In only my third week here, I’m still learning about all the good work and where my contributions will be. 

Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum

Week 1: First Week in Washington

With eyes wide and bags packed, this New Yorker embarked on what is sure to be a grand adventure for me: my first new job in almost 20 years in a city I know little to nothing about.  After a champagne send-off from my family in Queens, my husband and I headed south, Google maps with traffic enabled on my cell. 

In a few hours we arrived at my temporary home, an old brownstone in the Adams Morgan section (AdMo so the locals tell me) of Washington DC.  While converted to apartments, the building has not lost its charm; my flat sports lots of character with wood moldings galore, two fireplaces (sadly no longer working), big bay windows offering lots of natural light, and original hardwood floors, knots and all.  This corporate rental also comes with washer/dryer, small dishwasher, and two powerful A/C units – especially important since the weather forecast for my first week was accurate: 90s and sweltering. 

After quickly stashing my things in the apartment, we ventured out on foot.  First stop was a few blocks away: the Washington Hilton for tourist pamphlets and the Metro schedule. This hotel is infamously known as the “Hinckley Hilton,” the site of David Hinckley’s assassination attempt of President Reagan in 1981. According to Wikipedia, this hotel is owned by an investment group, one of whose partners is NBA legend Magic Johnson. Sadly for the 10 minutes or so we were inside, we did not run into Magic, Pat Riley, nor any other famed Lakers from that era.  

We zigged and zagged down tree-lined residential blocks admiring the diverse architecture and small but beautiful front gardens.  In less than half an hour we found ourselves at Dupont Circle, so named for Rear Admiral Samuel Frances Dupont of the US Navy during the Civil War Era. A consultation with Wikipedia suggests a bit of a scandal with RA Dupont, which I will not share in this blog as it must first be confirmed through more reliable sources.  As our tourist brochure suggested, we stopped at the popular Bar Dupont for a cocktail. 

And so the adventure has begun!  In my first seven days, I’ve walked several miles throughout the NW part of the city, ridden three different bus lines with my new Metrocard, visited with four friends who live in the area, enjoyed meals at five restaurants, and started my Fellowship!  My personal goal during this fall semester is to learn as much as I can about the city, and enjoy what Washington DC is and has to offer.


Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum

What is Faculty Fellows?

Faculty Fellows was started several years ago by the founder of the Washington Internship Institute. Her idea was to offer faculty the same kind of experience we offer students: the chance to gain professional experience in organizations in the nation's capital--an opportunity that really exists nowhere else.

This year, I resuscitated the program, as, even before coming on board as President two years ago, I had considered this program one of the most interesting and valuable opportunities available for faculty and administrators.

Once admitted to the program, Faculty Fellows intern at an organization I help them find four days out of the week. The other day of the week, we meet to discuss their work, and to meet with professionals working in the higher education field across the city, starting with our partners at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

With us this semester, we have three Fellows who come from different perspectives (though all from the state of New York, somehow) and are doing very different work during their time here.

I hope this blog will give you insights into their experience and allow them to share what they have learned and what they hope to bring back to their campuses.

For a more detailed description of the program, please visit our Faculty Fellows page.