Colleges need to be overhauled for new economy, report says

THE federal government should develop a new ``national policy'' on the role of higher education -- one that includes more funding for colleges and universities -- says a special report issued today by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The report, entitled ``Higher Education and the American Resurgence,'' says there is an important link between the vitality of higher education and the nation's future economic, political, and social well-being.

Frank Newman, author of the report and president of the Education Commission of the States, says the most recent national policies on higher education came in response to the cold war, Sputnik, and ``the civil rights revolution.'' Today, Dr. Newman says, increased competition in the world marketplace, along with changing American demographics and a slide toward self-interest, has created a new set of problems. The ability of colleges and universities to meet these needs has a direct bearing on whether A merica becomes an ``enlightened world leader'' or lags behind, he says.

Higher education's success in this endeavor, Newman says, depends on more funding -- for student aid and for research in science and technology -- as well as a more effective and sophisticated approach to that funding.

One of the most important proposals Newman's report makes, says Carnegie Foundation president Ernest Boyer, is to provide college scholarships to students who make a commitment to teach in the public schools.

The report is in part a response to what Newman (and the Carnegie Foundation) feel is the prevailing attitude of the Reagan administration toward higher education. Rather than offer a thoughtful vision for the future, the report charges, the administration has focused on a ``budget-driven attack'' on student aid and research funding in all areas except defense. This has caused the first ``breakdown in consensus'' in Congress on the issue of higher education in 40 years, the report says.

``Higher Education and the American Resurgence'' attempts to capture the high ground by pointing out not only education's role in keeping America a world economic front-runner, but its equally important role in educating students to the civic responsibilities inherent in democracy.

Today, the report says, such a responsibility includes a willingness to tackle such major problems as nuclear proliferation, crime, drug abuse, integration of minorities, toxic waste, and so forth.

Meeting with Monitor editors in Boston recently, Newman said the ``American resurgence'' such educational reforms would usher in has a connotation larger than ``just being able to provide more jobs.'' The resurgence has to do with ``the kind of people we are.'' Americans should be known as much for their community and civic achievements as for their accomplishments in high technology, Newman says. The schools should teach students ``how to reach beyond themselves.''

Among the report's other recommendations:

Increase funds for college laboratories. Those federal labs that have been proved ineffective in producing ``high-quality research'' should have their funding cut. Research for economic development should increase; defense research should be trimmed.

Create a ``National Opportunity Fund'' to support grants to programs for disadvantaged students.

Restore the GI Bill -- college tuition in exchange for military service.

Set up regional information centers for quick dissemination of new scholarship and research.

Structure higher education so that risk-taking, creativity, and entrepreneurship -- qualities that students will need as they enter today's business world -- are given higher priority.

This is a ``special report'' -- meaning it relies more on Newman's own expertise and analysis than would a full-scale policy study using a task force and computer-generated data.

Newman himself, before heading up ECS (a Denver-based education research center), was president of the University of Rhode Island for 10 years. In 1971, under Elliot Richardson at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Newman headed a study controversial for its critique of the ``homogenous'' and ``bureaucratic'' approach to learning taken by many universities, and sex discrimination in higher education.

In the present study, Newman told Monitor editors he outlined his proposals by looking first at what is ``happening to society'' rather than at higher education itself.

Preliminary reactions to the report have been mixed. John Phillips of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities agreed with the burden of the report, but felt it included too much ``liberal Republican cheerleading'' and not enough specific legislative proposals. Most college-aid programs are up for reauthorization in Congress this year, says Mr. Phillips, and the report should have included ways to modify programs such as college work-study and cooperative education.

Bob Atwell of the American Council of Education feels the report significantly shifts the ``ground of the argument from budget-cutting to higher education as the answer to many national problems.'' Mr. Atwell expects the report to have its main impact in state legislatures, because of Newman's role at ECS. ``The states are currently where the action is in higher ed,'' he says.

Newman's report will be available to the public in November through the Princeton University Press.

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