Sanctuary … and Other Notes from the NEJHE Beat …

By John O. Harney

Sanctuary? How will higher education fare under a President Donald Trump? The campaign’s misogyny shouldn’t sit well with a student body that is now majority-female. Its disavowal of climate changes won’t impress research universities. And the xenophobia won’t help economies and cultures bolstered by foreign enrollment. The number of foreign students in the U.S topped 1 million in 2015-16. But experts worry that Trump’s election could dampen foreign enrollment as 9/11 had done 15 years ago. Here at home, “college Canada” and “university Canada” were searched more than twice as much in the U.S. on the day after the election than on any other day in the past five years, according to Google.

Many college student greeted Trump’s election with walkouts. California State University, America’s largest public university, reaffirmed Nov. 16 that it would not help with deportations. Several in New England have explored seeking “sanctuary” status for immigrants, a designation the Trump campaign pledged to end.

To note a few specific reactions, the University of Maine System assured students that acts of hate based on political, ethnic or religious differences would not be tolerated. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark E. Ojakian wrote to the community “to personally reaffirm our commitment to social justice, diversity, inclusion and respect for one another.” Manchester Community College President Gena Glickman posted a letter reminding students that the college “is committed to maintaining a social and physical environment conducive to carrying out its educational mission.” The president of Montserrat College of Art called on his college community to “together recommit ourselves to those things that have made this the special place that it is. Among them is how we treat one another with support, inclusion, and respect, how we value ideas, hard work, creativity, and individual expression, and most importantly our commitment to education and human empowerment.”

Whiteboard Advisors issued this special edition of its Education Insider focused on post-election analysis.

Boston Globe innovation columnist Scott Kirsner suggested Trump’s victory revealed how many voters felt left behind by the “Knowledge Economy” that is so tightly identified with higher education.

TechCon. Speaking of innovation, the day after Trump won the presidency, I attended TechCon, the flagship event of the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), part of USAID’s Global Development Lab. At TechCon, students showcased some of the innovations they’ve created to combat issues like poverty and disease. It reminded me a bit of the Business Innovation Factory summits. An Olin College professor welcomed the six teams who had received the most development dollars at an earlier “marketplace.” The young innovators were a very diverse crowd. I wondered what would Trump think.

In the “Research” category, Aili Espigh and Caleb Ebert of the College of William and Mary pitched their system for “open-source” tracking of aid programs, in their case, using publicly available newspaper stories. Chaitanya Karamchedu, a high school student from Portland, Ore., gave his pitch on a hydrogel desalination technique to separate freshwater and seawater while creating fertilizer as a byproduct. A woman PhD student from the University of California Berkeley, Katya Cherukumilli focused on removing fluoride from groundwater, which is stunting children’s growth in some places in India and the Rift Valley.

In the “Products and Services” category, Grace Nakibaala pitched her PedalTap as an inexpensive replacement for hand-taps in Uganda. The foot-controlled taps curtail the spread of infection and the wasting of water. (I had just become used to pedal taps during a trip to Italy. But Europe and Uganda can seem like different worlds.) Team Sensen’s chief technology officer explained his team’s use of sensors to provide data analytics on aid work, citing a recent collaboration with a United Cerebral Palsy initiative in Indonesia to provide fitted wheelchairs and advocacy for disabled people. Elijah Djan, the inventor of Nubrix, described his time as a student in South Africa, making bricks out of recycled paper—and in the process, attacking the problem of tons of wastepaper in South Africa while addressing major shortages of housing in Nigeria and Kenya.

Talent. In October, NEBHE held Talent 4.0 How Employable Are New England’s College Graduates and What Can Higher Education Do About It? at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Our full video coverage will be available soon at And NEBHE will have much more to say about the theme of higher education and work.

In an panel on “The Future of Experiential and Work-Integrated Learning,” Peter Stokes, managing director of the Huron Group and author of Higher Education and Employability, noted that while higher ed should not be reduced to job prep, new discussion about credentials is not only about traditional college degrees. He reminded the audience that Bunker Hill Community College is working with MITx on a MOOC; Northeastern University is partnering with Burning Glass; and Bentley University’s highly ranked career office is intermingling liberal arts with business education.  Stokes noted that there are best practices on campuses; the trouble is identifying them.

Paul J. Stonely, CEO of WACE, agreed that he liked to think of the student holistically, not only as a future employee. He particularly likes the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) definition of career readiness to: broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.

From the audience, Bridgewater State University Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Paula Krebs worried that many faculty members have no sense of working with employers, especially humanities faculty.

Keynote speaker Jeff Selingo, Chronicle of Higher Education editor and author of There Is Life After College, observed significant learning occurs during a student’s first job, but today only 20% work while in college, compared with 40% a few decades ago. Selingo also lamented that many students he interviewed never went to see a professor. He added that offering students a co-op experience is not good enough if students have trouble transferring what they learned in a co-op or internship, beyond reciting straight resume language.

Playing off the title of Selingo’s bestselling book, interviewer Howard Horton spoke of adult students returning to his New England College of Business, noting there is college after life, not just life after college.

The No. 1 reason people go to college is to get a good job, said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Education and Workforce Development at the Gallup Education. But, he added, it doesn’t feel like unemployment is only 5%, because unemployment statistics don’t count people who have stopped looking for work. And many people who once had relatively high-skilled, high-paying jobs, found that after the recession, they had to take anything they could get. Busteed said we need to move away from simple work and look at meaningful work. And we have to stop using the term “soft” for soft skills—they are crucial skills in the workplace.

In a session on Career Services 4.0, Christine Yip Cruzvergara told of working to make her title at Wellesley College executive director and associate provost for career education at Wellesley, so she’d be a voting member on the academic council … after all, she reasoned, we’re the other bookend to the better-resourced role of admissions.

Andrea Dine, executive director of the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University, said her goal is to create an ecosystem with employers doing skill sessions with Bentley and becoming primary sources of info about careers for students. Students earlier relied on their parents or the latest hot careers depicted on TV for ideas about employment.

In a session on Employability Through Experiential and Work Integrated Learning, Richard Porter, professor and former vice president of cooperative education at Northeastern University, said experiential education will have to include liberal arts, not only business and engineering. We have to deliver for English majors too, he said. We have to offer quality. And we need to spotlight students and employers who are having outstanding experiences.

Maureen Dumas, vice president for experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University, called for more focus on making sure students are meeting their goals in an internship, using terms that employers recognize such as public speaking. Some students also were not doing internships because they couldn’t afford to work for free, so Johnson & Wales began to offer a stipend.

Lower education? Higher education is not the only level consumed by the recent U.S. election. Groups such as the nonprofit news site covering education for students under age 18 called The 74 quickly cited increased election-inspired bullying at schools across the country. Trump said little during the campaign about P-12 education strategies, but school choice and improving U.S. places in international rankings came up frequently. Which brings me to Guru Ramanathan.

A Winchester, Mass. high school senior, Ramanathan produced, filmed and directed a feature-length documentary called “Hyper-” about the stress and mental health issues that students experience as they deal with the pressures of the college-application process in his affluent Boston suburb. See the trailer here. His theme reminded me of “Race to Nowhere,” the heart-wrenching look at how an achievement-obsessed culture can damage schoolkids, produced by Californian Vicki Abeles. Now, a similar story comes from closer to home. Ramanathan started the project as an independent study in the second semester of his junior year at Winchester High School, where he interviewed a wide range of students, teachers and parents. Although the film is almost entirely centered on Winchester, issues such as losing sleep over Advanced Placement are more universal. Ramanathan reports “Hyper-” has been positively received at public and private screenings near Winchester.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.

(Cross-published on JOH NEJHE blog by John O. Harney.)









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