Impact of Higher-Ed. Report Called Limited So Far

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Despite hopes of some sponsors that it would become a postsecondary version of A Nation at Risk, a 1993 report by the Wingspread Group on Higher Education has yet to produce a public outcry for radical change in the nation's colleges and universities.

Nevertheless, a meeting last week in Washington on the report and interviews with educators around the country suggest that the report's call for an overhaul of America's higher-education system is finding increasing resonance in the field.

The report by a panel of educators, business leaders, and policymakers, titled "An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education,'' was intended as a wake-up call that would alert colleges and universities to a crisis in student achievement. It urged them to place greater emphasis on teaching and learning at the undergraduate level, to stress the importance of a core set of civic virtues, and to participate in a "simultaneous renewal'' of K-12 and higher education. (See Education Week, Dec. 8, 1993.)

Interest in the Wingspread report was evident at last week's panel session, which was held during a conference of the Association of Governing Boards. Even though the seminar was held early in the morning on the last day of the A.G.B. meeting, it drew some 200 college and university trustees.

Participants at the session heard the Wingspread panel's chairman, former U.S. Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, warn that higher-education institutions must begin rethinking what a college degree means and scrutinizing whether they are adequately preparing their graduates.

'Part of the Mix'

Some 400 articles have been published about the report in the five months since its release, according to the Johnson Foundation, one of four philanthropies that financed the report. But the response has scarcely matched the electric public reaction generated by A Nation At Risk, the landmark critique of precollegiate education issued in 1983.

"I think the reaction to the report is about what I would have expected,'' said David Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education.

"I don't think that 10 years from now anybody will point to one report--including this one--and say this is the report that precipitated massive change in higher education,'' he continued. "That change was under way, and other documents and reports have played a role in it.''

The Wingspread report, Mr. Merkowitz suggested, will be "part of the mix.''

The document "is one of those reports that did not have an immediate impact,'' said Robert Schwartz, the director of education programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also helped fund the report. "But I'm beginning to see it quoted more in various speeches and articles.''

"The real test will be the degree to which there's evidence that some of the national associations begin to pick up on some of the recommendations,'' he suggested.

The Johnson Foundation, which is coordinating the distribution of the report, has sold some 10,000 copies of the report and distributed 11,000 free copies to college and university presidents, state legislators, and others.

Citizenship and Character

"It's much too early to have a definitive sense of the impact of the report,'' said Charles Bray, the president of the Johnson Foundation.

But as more groups like the A.G.B. begin to discuss the report, Mr. Bray suggested, it will provide "moral and conceptual support for those people on campuses ... who want to make constructive change.''

"I think it was refreshing to have a report about higher education that wasn't concerned simply with productivity and competitiveness and a variety of other issues, but that reminded people that colleges and universities are to be as concerned about citizenship and character as they are about careers and commerce,'' said Robert A. Scott, the president of Ramapo College of New Jersey. "Sometimes I think colleges forget that.''

"What I think it did was to ... put into a single document a number of the concerns that we have been dealing with, to some degree in bits and pieces,'' said Kirvin L. Knox, the associate provost for academic affairs at Colorado State University.

All of the deans and the department chairmen at Colorado State have been given a copy, Mr. Knox said, in the hope that it will aid the university in strategic planning.

Vol. 13, Issue 31, Page 6

Published in Print: April 27, 1994, as Impact of Higher-Ed. Report Called Limited So Far
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