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Editor's Note

Being Hit From All Sides

University Business, May 2005


From Bill Gates to politicians, from media pundits to stressed-out parents, and now, from computer network hackers and crackers, it seems like education is taking shots from every which way.

I thought about all of this on a Friday while editing this month's cover story on hackers attacking campus networks, and the page 14 story addressing how some politicians are attacking IHEs because they want more conservative viewpoints in the classroom and have introduced legislation calling for "political parity" on campus.

And then on Sunday while perusing my usual tome of newspapers, I read a couple of articles slamming the college admissions process; another article addressing Mr. Gates' recent widely published opinion piece, "What's wrong with our high schools?" and another article criticizing the whole concept of high school students engaging in service just because it will look good on their college applications.

And all that was just from two newspapers.

Attack isn't the right word for all of the above instances, except for the malicious behavior of those who break into computer networks. People of every ilk are concerned about education. They want to have a voice. They want to be heard. They want a say in the direction of education at every level. They are concerned about cost, access, jobs, security, and global competition.

And, sure, there are those who have a political, religious, or social agenda that are making a lot of headlines right now. But that is nothing new to education. That goes with the territory.

People of every ilk are
concerned about education.
They want to have a voice.
They want to be heard.

Bill Gates' opinion piece has sparked the most recent round of debate regarding education. In his piece, the Microsoft chairman got right to the point in his first sentence. "Our high schools are obsolete," he wrote.

"By obsolete, I just don't mean that they are broken, flawed and underfunded--although I can't argue with any of those descriptions. What I mean is that they were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age."

"I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow," he continued, "The idea that behind the old high school system was that you could train an adequate work force by sending only a small fraction of students to college, and that the other kids either couldn't do college work or didn't need to."

He's right. The good paying manufacturing jobs that required only a high school education are long gone. For generations to come, children will need a college degree just to get into the game. And if our high schools are not up to the task, then how will our IHEs deal with students who are deficient in certain academic standards? I have heard from numerous college educators that many students come to them ill-equipped for the rigors of college scholarship--especially noting deficiencies in writing, math and communication skills.

Mr. Gates also expressed concern that China has six times as many college graduates in engineering than the U.S. And he notes that we have the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world, and only about one third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

So there are the problems, any solutions?

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