I was deeply moved by a talk I heard recently by F&M graduate Kwesi Koomson ’97. While pursuing his education, he reflected on the challenges students in rural areas of his native Ghana face in developing their potential. In some villages, no public school student had ever passed the government examination to attend high school. Kwesi decided that he would change that. Visiting Ghana after he graduated, however, he realized just how tough it would be to start a successful school from scratch. “This is a bad idea,” Kwesi said to his wife, “but we’re still going to do it.”
When Kwesi decided that failure was not an option, his strength of belief rallied others to the project and an endless array of challenges were met—from faulty construction to entrenched corruption, skeptical parents, and the need for a climate of achievement and accountability. Today, Heritage Academy serves more than one thousand students and 100 percent have passed their government exam since 2008. One determined person motivated a collective effort that, in four years, moved the needle from zero to 100 percent.
We can all learn from Kwesi’s clear-sighted ability to stay focused on the inequities he was trying to correct, rather than the obstacles in his way. American higher education faces an array of seemingly intractable problems. The annual cost of a college education is growing rapidly and will soon exceed what the average family earns. Students are graduating in greater debt than they have before, and federal financial aid programs and state funding for higher education are perpetually on the chopping block. Despite the American ideal of opportunity, a very low proportion of low-income students enroll in college, and far too few of them complete a degree—less than ten percent, compared to more than half of students from wealthier families. The quality and variety of American higher education is unparalleled, but the model for sustaining it is approaching the breaking point.
Colleges and universities are grappling with these complex issues every day, as are policymakers and pundits across the political spectrum. The higher education sector is making some progress, but not enough. At F&M, we’re doing four things right now:
1. Enhancing the value and benefit of an F&M education through curricular innovation and continuing support services beyond graduation;
2. Significantly increasing student aid—we invested 65% more in aid for this fall’s entering class than we did four years ago;
3. Controlling our costs and tuition growth to the extent we can, with total price increases of less than four percent in each of the last three years; and
4. Aggressively reaching out to talented students in areas outside the northeast and in underserved communities across the country.
F&M won’t stop there, but in the long-term I believe that the only breakthrough solutions will come from innovative partnerships among families, the higher education sector, industry and government. We need to work together create a sustainable model for American higher education that serves all our citizens well. It won’t be easy or without controversy, but, as Kwesi would say, we still have to do it. The future of our democracy rests on our success—failure is not an option.
Leave a comment
Through this blog, I seek both to express the meaning that our community of students, faculty and professional staff make on campus together and also to add a more intimate educator's perspective to the national dialogue on issues affecting college students and alumni. I invite you to share your comments and engage with other readers as we explore issues related to the greatness of youth, life at Franklin & Marshall College, academic excellence, supporting faculty and student research, increasing civic outreach among students, and providing support for students' personal and professional development.
President, Franklin & Marshall College
Receive an e-mail when new posts are published.
- DanPorterfield: Sheena Crawley, superstar. Congratulations and thank you for how you represented @FandMCollege today and all 4 years. http://t.co/QMcETNNMOK May 25, 2013
- DanPorterfield: Inspired to see #fandm senior Nils Michaelis earning All-America for 2nd time. Remarkable perseverance over injuries. http://t.co/He9ud3XjBX May 25, 2013
- DanPorterfield: Congrats to #fandm seniors Sheena Crawley & Nils Michaelis for earning All-American in today's NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. May 25, 2013