"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

SM Welcomes Elwood Robinson

Dr. Elwood L. Robinson is the Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Cambridge College. He was the founding Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at North Carolina Central University (NCCU).

From 1996-1999, he served as the chairperson of the Department of Psychology at North Carolina Central University. The former Chair of the Department has an exemplary record of service to NCCU, this state and nation. He has served NCCU in a variety of capacities during his more than 25-year tenure. 

He became a full Professor in 1996. Dr. Robinson is a productive scholar with over 400 scientific publications and presentations. His short story, "Wednesdays and Sundays", is part of Keeping the Faith, Stories of Love, Courage, Healing and Hope from Black America. This book won the 2003 NAACP Image Award, "Most outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction.” His latest work “The power of unconditional love” was published in Inspiring student writers: Strategies and examples for teachers. He has presented his research on the psychosocial and behavioral aspects of disease and illness in African Americans at seminars and workshops in China, Egypt, South Africa and throughout the United States.

Dr. Robinson's grantsmanship is noteworthy, as he secured over 15 million dollars in funding from the NIH during his tenure at NCCU. He has been Chair of over 35 Thesis committees, and over 80% of all his Minority Access to Research Careers students have been selected into Ph.D. programs.

He is a native of Ivanhoe, North Carolina.  He is the son of the late Isaiah and Hannah Robinson. He currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is married to Myra Denise. They have two children, Chanita and Devin.

Thoughts on the High Cost of Higher Education
by Elwood Robinson, PhD

I have spent over 30 years in higher education working to provide access to those who have been denied opportunity.  I believe that education should be affordable, accessible and high quality.  It is my belief that education creates opportunities. The United States higher education system is the best in the world with approximately 3,000 accredited colleges and universities. It is also the most expensive and there is a growing concern that this high price tag is putting this country on the precipice of another financial crisis.

There has been a plethora of recently written articles on the crises of higher education.  The cost associated with obtaining a college degree is well beyond what the average American can afford. I was faced with both a moral and ethical dilemma when a professor asked me how she should help one of her students. She was an unemployed mother of two who had taken out student loans, not only to finance her education, but to survive. The student has no provision for proper childcare and only access to campus was public transportation. Keep in mind, the student took evening classes and lived an hour away from school. She often missed classes and managing her financial affairs made making satisfactory academic progress almost impossible. This student has continued to take classes and secure students loans, thereby creating debt with a very remote chance of ever obtaining a degree or developing sufficient skills to successfully negotiate full employment or the workforce. What is our moral obligation to students in regards to financial/academic advising? This is an issue whereby academic and financial advising has become intertwined.  What is the solution to this dilemma?  There are colleges, and Cambridge College is one of them, who are seeking to do a better job by these marginal students: to help them get the value of college, rather than racing to improve our stats by denying admission to as many students as possible. 

We are all to blame for the excessive high cost of getting a college degree. No one is exempt. College Presidents, Senior Administrators, faculty and staff, all benefit from tuition. Evidence shows that everyone has benefited from the proceeds of higher education, but the students who have continued to incur massive debt. Some studies indicate that US students pay the highest tuition in the world. 

We simply have not seen the exponential increase anywhere else other than a college education. The price of a McDonald’s hamburger has risen from 85 cents in 1995 to about one dollar today. Studies indicate that the average price of all goods and services has risen about 50 percent. But the price of a college degree has doubled. What has the college student received in return for this price increase? Is the education twice as good? Have students somehow become more expensive to educate. In some ways, the answer is yes but not to extent we have seen in the past 10 to 15 years. But that discussion I will leave for another day.

I recently read an article in The Daily Beast by Professor Andrew Ross in which he makes a case that it is possible make college affordable to everyone by making higher education a national priority.  He states that it would take about 70 billion dollars to fund tuition at every two or four-year University in this country. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is true or at least it’s a fair ballpark estimate. According the Congressional Budget Office, last year, the government spent a total of $3.6 trillion. To put this in perspective, the amount needed to make college virtually free for everyone would be 3% of this US Budget.  We have to really ask ourselves if we are serious about reducing the high cost of a college degree. The concept of government funding education seems to be unfamiliar only in the US. Other countries have made it a priority and upon graduation these students do not have to begin careers with debt. Many students in this country are finding increasingly more difficult to achieve the American dream because of this debt. Their job placement options and choices are often determined by economics as opposed to their core values. Increased Government support is one solution to the tuition problem.

We can also bring down the cost by taking advantage of technology and innovative teaching platforms. No matter how you look at the evolution of the workforce in this country, it still takes one professor to teach a class. We have been slow to embrace new technologies because we don’t want to or in some cases we are afraid to. We like getting in front of 20 or 30 students, it invigorating and intoxicating. It’s more fun and some would say more effective. But there is one thing for sure, it is more expensive. Consider a recent article in the New York Times stated: “Because of technological advances, among them, the greatly improved quality of online delivery platforms, the ability to personalize materials…MOOCs (massive open online courses) are likely to be a game changer.”  I don’t believe it will be a game changer because I am not sure if we have the courage to develop a system that takes affordability into consideration. Many online courses are more expensive that face-to-face offerings.

Opening up opportunities for more people is a great way to create a vibrant and thriving economy.  Education is still the most effective way for those looking for a solution to escape generations of poverty. We have a moral obligation to create a system of higher education whereby everyone can seek a degree if they so desire and the result should not be a burden of insurmountable debt.

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