By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
President of Misericordia University
American ingenuity and innovation have fueled our way of life for generations. Although the most obvious signs of innovation are new products, such as handheld computing devices or cars that can park themselves, other forms of innovation are also needed to create a robust economy. Higher education innovates in our academic programs that provide both employable skills and a base for responsible citizenship. During his recent multi-city tour, President Obama expressed a belief that future innovation, a thriving economy and an affordable college education are linked together.
His blueprint's foundation for a more prosperous tomorrow centers on higher education, proposing the tying of federal government support to colleges and universities that make higher education more effective and affordable. He envisions accelerated programs, a more rapid path to graduation, and incorporating additional online courses into academic programs.
A key challenge in the implementation of the president's ambitious plan is the use of metrics to measure both value and affordability, and then subsequently linking the results to institutional eligibility for federal financial aid. There are a variety of rankings already in place that can help frame the debate about value. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Misericordia in the top third of institutions of our type, while Washington Monthly magazine ranked us 13th in the nation on the basis of our commitment to serving others. In earning a "Best in the Northeast'' designation from The Princeton Review, MU also received a significantly higher academic rating than other peer institutions.
Clearly, each rating system gives more weight to different factors, such as U.S. News & World Report's reliance on peer ratings and financial indicators, Washington Monthly's service preference, or The Princeton Review's dependence on student surveys. It will be a challenge to find a realistic, pragmatic and politically viable method to measure the value of a college education.
Let me suggest that, at the core, the value of higher education lies in producing responsible citizens who contribute to society in a variety of ways – including finding a successful career. In that regard, the value of a Misericordia education is clear as our graduates possess degrees that are in high demand. For example, 90 percent of our 2012 graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation. About two-thirds of our students graduate within six years – meeting or exceeding national norms for institutions of our type.
Our students are finding careers that match the needs of our communities. Misericordia University has developed a number of innovative programs that clear a rapid path toward a career. For example, students in occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and the physician assistant programs are able to complete their bachelor's and graduate degrees in five years. We are one of only five institutions nationally that offers the five-year speech-language pathology program out of nearly 250 nationwide. Adult students seeking a master's in occupational therapy can continue their career while taking a three-year weekend program.
Misericordia also has long been and continues to be the most affordably priced private college/university in northeastern Pennsylvania. With about 35 percent of our students being the first in their family to seek a college degree, and with nearly 800 students eligible for federal aid under the Pell Grant program, Misericordia serves as an engine for social mobility in providing a quality education to very dedicated students. Our attention to affordability guarantees that we remain true to our historical mission of serving first-generation families and doing right by our students, our community and society.
Rebuilding the nation's middle class and our overall economy is a noble goal that requires higher education to pay attention to both value and affordability. President Obama's blueprint is similar to the approach Misericordia University has taken in choosing our academic and institutional paths. We look forward to more conversations about the role of higher education in shaping a better future for everyone.
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the first four-year college in Luzerne County.