Rhoades: Focusing on flagships, forgetting fleets
University of Wisconsin-Parkside student Justin Helm didn't know when he reported for work Wednesday that he would figure prominently in Dr. Gary Rhoades presentation. Rhoades, a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Arizona Tucson, came to campus to talk about keeping higher education affordable and accessible.
He said Helm, a freshman Communication major who provided tech support for Rhoades' program, is an example of why institutions like UW-Parkside are important.
"He is what your university is about and he is what our country is about," Rhoades said. "First generation student, African American?he had kind of a rough first semester he said, just coming to classes and going home. But once he got engaged on the campus, with a job that was in a field he was thinking about, he loves it!"
Rhoades said for more than three decades a nationwide trend of decreasing state funding and changing policy toward public university systems has endangered access to higher education for students like Helm.
"I will be suggesting that if we are to keep college accessible, or more accurately, to return to it being accessible, then we must change course and chart a different direction for our future. Part of changing course is getting beyond?focusing on the flagships and forgetting the fleets," Rhoades said.
"So much of institutional policy today, and state higher education policy as well,
is about, in some sense, deregulating the elite public universities, setting them apart from the rest and privileging them in relation to the rest, and in the process, forgetting the rest of the higher education system they are a part of.
"Failing to realize that our future in keeping college accessible, particularly for the growing demographic of first generation, lower income, and students of color,
is contingent on the extent to which we invest in and set the rest of the system free
from the pull of the flagships in charting their courses," he stated.
Rhoades called for a change of focus in higher education.
"First, let's take off the blinders: flagships are part of a larger system. They do not and cannot stand alone particularly not in keeping college accessible for most students," he said. "Second, let's redirect our focus to the access institutions
that disproportionately educate the growth demographic."
Rhoades said the country's success depends on the creativity and success
of what he called "access institutions" like UW-Parkside in developing education models that resolve the remediation and dropout problems plaguing U.S. higher education.
"Our future depends on investing in these institutions' success, on their remaining true to their mission, and on flagships recalling and recapturing theirs," Rhoades emphasized. "Our future depends on the ability of the rest of fleet to accomplish all this, and resisting the incentives and pressure to try to be like the flagship."
Rhoades said keeping higher education affordable and keeping institutions like UW-Parkside accessible is vital for the country and the future of students like Justin Helm.He spoke Wednesday evening, Feb. 22, in the Student Center Cinema.