ICYMI: University system has lost its way

gradesMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. It is the first of several columns that I have planned on Virginia’s lack of a university system for its four-year public universities.

The topic has interested me for a couple of years, after having been brought to my attention by one of the regular readers of my newspaper column. (I think it was this one.) But in order for me to tackle it, I had to spend a lot of time getting up to speed. And time has been in short supply for a while.

A class I took this semester finally afforded me the luxury of doing so. I had to write a research paper, on the topic of my choice. I chose this. (And now you know why blog posts have been so infrequent.)

Over the last few months, I’ve immersed myself in the details of the way things work here in Virginia as well as in two other states: North Carolina, which is one of the older university systems, and Maryland, which is one of the newer systems. I’ve spoken with a lot of folks involved in the process. My conclusion is simple: it’s time for Virginia to abandon its system of autonomous 4-year public institutions of higher education and embrace a university system.

We already have a model: Virginia’s community colleges are in a university system. They enjoy a statewide governing board, which provides oversight. They don’t compete against each other for resources. They have a universal minimum admissions policy.

One of the arguments I heard as I was conducting my research was that Virginia has such a wide variety among its 15 public 4-year institutions. We aren’t the only ones.

Those who favor continuing Virginia’s current system of autonomous four-year public institutions fear the homogenization of our institutions. I believe that fear is unfounded. North Carolina has successfully navigated such a system for years, allowing the universities to serve different populations on a cooperative basis.

There are so many different pieces to this, which I’ll be exploring in future columns. In the meantime, take a look at a couple of JLARC reports (441 and 443, available here)  on higher education costs that I mentioned in my op-ed. Nearly every newspaper report I read about these two just looked at the toplines presented in the briefings and not the reports themselves.  (And then look at this article today about student loan debt.)

How to run Virginia’s public 4-year institutions is a complicated one. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at improving the process.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.


5 thoughts on “ICYMI: University system has lost its way

  1. The community college system is a great model, in theory, but its a broken one. Though I think generally the VCCS has been a huge benefit to the state, standards and accountability wise, they are a complete joke.

    You can pass with a 3.0 or higher and get accepted to most any 4 year in VA by simply showing up to class and staying awake the whole time. The teachers are encouraged, just like secondary education, to simply pass along students to keep the numbers up and look like they are doing their jobs. This sends a steady stream of underqualified students heading to 4 year schools needing remedial classes and lowering the overall quality of education for everyone.

    I run into teachers at TCC in Downtown Norfolk all the time (I also went there part time for 3 years) and most will admit that they see their job not as educating the students as to the requisite materials, but ensuring that they walk away from the class having learned SOMETHING. In fact, many instructors will give you an A or B if you turn in a paper at the end of the class detailing what you learned.

  2. I am a parent with two children currently attending Virginia public colleges. I also attended two of Virginia’s public colleges (one for undergraduate and another for graduate work). I have also attended TCC and NVCC (aka NOVA).

    I have been very pleased with the quality of the Virginia public colleges, and with TCC and NOVA. I had a professor who literally had students coming from around the world to study under HIM. At NOVA, I have taken language classes from native speakers, and took a computer class from one of the designers of the language I was learning.

    Although I could not convince my kids to go to NOVA for their first two years (hey, it’s their money), I have known many people who have taken the NOVA-to-four-year-college route, and it has saved them thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses.

    I think we have a fantastic public college system here in Virginia.

    1. You can get a great education at TCC if you want to. Some of their teachers are top notch with PhDs from very prestigious universities and put a lot of time and effort into teaching the kids that want to learn. But if you just want to skate through TCC and do minimal work to get into a 4 year public college, you can do that too. Its all what you make of it and unfortunately there’s minimal work done to separate the good from the bad. Generally speaking, I don’t think we should be forcing kids who are at TCC because they can’t afford a 4 year school to sit in the same classes as people who can’t even read and write. And yes, there are hundreds of people currently enrolled in TCC who cannot read or write properly and somehow they pass and end up in our 4 year institutions.

      1. But that is not the fault of the Community College system, but of the public school system. The solution should be to not let such students graduate from high school in the first place.

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