Higher calling

By RICCO VILLANUEVA SIASOCO  |  January 25, 2006

ENCOURAGE LOCAL HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS TO STUDY AT HOME
“People in New England have a leg up — unless you’re a graduate of Yale or some hoity-toity place,” Altbach says. He encourages students to consider local schools in addition to those across the country and abroad. “Schools like BC and Suffolk are extremely well-known to employers in New England.”

RESTORE GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
Altbach is practical in his thinking on the subject of government intervention. “People don’t want to pay taxes. This year, the feds have cut educational funding like Pell grants.” Though he posits many reasons for this change — including the costly war in Iraq — it’s a fact that scholarships for low-income students are harder to get, while those who need less assistance can essentially write their own admission ticket. In many ways, the rich schools are getting richer and the poor ones are getting poorer. Altbach cites the financial difficulties of state-run institutions like the University of Massachusetts as an example. Restoring funding like Pell grants will encourage enrollment growth at home.

DEVOTE RESOURCES TO STUDENT SERVICES
Altbach notes that major funds are being allotted to fitness centers, for example. “It’s a nuclear war to provide kids with the amenities,” he says, laughing. Case in point: at schools like BU and Northeastern, formerly decrepit weight rooms have been transformed into gym paradises. Both universities have erected student recreation centers in the last 10 years that resemble mega-malls. Northeastern’s 81,000-square-feet building features open fitness and weight-machine areas, a suspended, rubberized track, and — if you’re aching for an asiago bagel — an Au Bon Pain in the lobby. Even more impressive (or daunting, depending on your view) is BU’s new fitness and recreation center, dedicated last year and boasting approximately 270,000 square feet, including a 35-foot climbing wall.

In the end, Altbach notes a sea change in higher education. “In colleges today, there are more vocational interests,” he muses. “We’ve lost the idea of knowledge for its own sake.”

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