Michael Crow champions his campus as a new ideal. But does much of it simply boil down to cost control?
Higher education faces a cascade of challenges. Twenty-one states cut their postsecondary budgets during the pandemic year. Recent data show undergraduate enrollments slipping and enrollments at two-year colleges down by more than 10 percent. Low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented-minority students struggle to stay in college, as family finances falter and support services suffer. Meanwhile, international enrollments have plummeted by 43 percent. Jobs for graduates are scarce, intensifying concerns about the value of college degrees. And Republicans continue to rail against what they describe as the politicization of the arts, humanities, and social sciences, contributing to a surge in legislative efforts to restrict academic freedom.
In his recent book with the research fellow William Dabars, The Fifth Wave: The Evolution of American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press), Arizona State University’s president, Michael M. Crow, claims to have the diagnosis and cure for those ills. The American research university has failed to deliver on its full potential because of self-imposed restrictions on the size and scope of its operations. Instead of admitting the top 10 to 15 percent of high-school students, research universities, Crow argues, should admit the top 25 to 30 percent. Large universities like Arizona State (nearly 120,000 students at last count) are necessary to meet the country’s needs. With growth in size come other benefits: Crow contends that going big facilitates efficiency gains in both research and teaching. Another benefit: A commitment to undergraduate enrollment growth will reduce societal inequality.