Rethink College: 3 Takeaways from the TIME Summit on Higher Education

Ann McClure's picture

For a room full of academics talking about the future of higher education, the conversation was surprisingly blunt. Yesterday TIME gathered more than 100 college presidents and other experts from across the U.S. to talk about the biggest problems facing higher education, which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan summed up for the room as “high prices, low completion rates, and too little accountability.” The day-long summit in New York City, co-sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, brought together the leaders of some of the country’s biggest colleges and universities (the presidents of Miami-Dade College and Arizona State University) and some of the most expensive (the president of New York University and the former presidents of Harvard and Princeton). There were current and former government officials in attendance as well as philanthropists and CEOs, and all were concerned about the rising cost of college and what can be done to curb it without sacrificing quality. There was also a lot of frank discussion about access and how to ensure that more Americans not only have the opportunity to go to college, but have the tools to succeed so they can make it to graduation day. “College completion is a good goal,” said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York. But, she added, “no one has a collective strategy to get there.” Duncan said the the government needs to increase accountability in higher education, but noted that policymakers have to be careful not to create incentives that make schools run away from high-risk students. “There are no silver bullets,” he said. That was perhaps the one thing everyone at the summit could agree on.

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