Higher Education at Risk

Strategies to Improve Outcomes, Reduce Tuition, and Stay Competitive in a Disruptive Environment

July 2014
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  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    23rd July 2014
  • ISBN 9781620360675
  • Language English
  • Pages 256 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
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March 2015
More details
  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    16th March 2015
  • ISBN 9781620360699
  • Language English
  • Pages 256 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
E-Book (ePub)
March 2015
More details
  • Publisher
    Stylus Publishing
  • Published
    16th March 2015
  • ISBN 9781620360705
  • Language English
  • Pages 256 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"

Sandra Featherman believes that colleges are in denial about the severity of the threats to the current model of higher education.

Based on her own experience as a president, as a trustee, and as a board member who has worked in private and public universities – and on interviews with the presidents of major institutions – she offers both a trenchant analysis of those threats and clear prescriptions about the painful but necessary decisions that colleges need to make to ensure they remain viable, accessible and affordable, and deliver a high-quality education.

Sandra Featherman considers higher education to be at a game-changing moment. When markets don’t function well – as is the case with today’s college marketplace with offerings that cost too much and return too little – it opens the door to new types of suppliers, who offer new ways of providing what students are looking for, particularly the increasing cohort of mature, working students.

In the face of new competitors – for-profit education companies, technology start-ups, and foreign universities vying for international students – trustees and senior level administrators are generally stuck in a traditional ethos and with decision-making processes unsuited to these times. They know what used to work, and find it easier to follow old ways than to make the difficult transition to new ways of delivering education.

She lays out a strategy: that emphasizes the centrality of students and how to provide them with the most effective learning environment; that is clear-eyed about focusing on the core missions, and abandoning practices that constrain or impede them; and that requires constant self-monitoring to learn from and act upon what works. She offers a blueprint for redesigning institutions, for paring away what is unnecessary and cost ineffective, and for adopting the best technologies, all in the service of developing meaningful degree programs at an affordable price, and widening access for under-represented groups.

She ranges over the implications of budget decisions, accreditation, and MOOCs; addresses government regulation and tuition costs; presents promising new models; and concludes with 11 key recommendations that should be heeded by all higher education administrators and trustees.

“This is a really crucial book! It coincides with calls to confront rising tuition costs and the crisis in student loans. Many commentators’ suggestions/demands invoke tinkering within the traditional paradigms of university operations. Dr. Featherman makes the case that colleges and universities must undertake fundamental changes or they will lose the opportunity to design their own reform. The importance of this book is heightened by her extensive experience and research. Dr. Featherman has blown a loud whistle on the causes of this crisis – causes embedded in dysfunctional traditions that must change to avoid the risks of a diminished system of higher education.

“Reading this book was like sitting across from an experienced, dedicated, articulate person and having a substantive and understandable conversation about a critically important issue! “As a one-time dean, provost, and president, I found myself constantly shaking my head and whispering ‘Right on!’. ”

Dr. Lois Cronholm, Senior Vice President/Chief Operating Officer - , City College of New York, (ret.)

"With her usual boldness and insight, Sandra Featherman has chosen to examine the whole of the diverse enterprise that is American higher education. Her revelations of its precarious state and her solutions to reverse its further decline are bold and will no doubt discomfort both governmental and academic establishments who have not distinguished themselves in attacking the difficulties facing one of the country's most cherished institutions."

Lawrence A. Ianni - , Chancellor Emeritus, University of Minnesota, Duluth

"From experience gained in two comprehensive public universities, a small, selective liberal arts college, and a religiously sponsored, non-selective, small college, I believe that the issues addressed in this book clearly document the imperative for changes within higher education. Our colleges and universities are faced with rising costs, lower levels of public support, tuition rates that are unaffordable for many students, competition for which they are ill-prepared, and threats of closure that frequently prevents them from taking the necessary steps to change. The text not only lays out the issues, but offers prescriptions for change. The book is essential reading for academics, policy makers, and the public at large."

Glenda D. Price, President Emeritus - , Marygrove College

“The hot new television series is called "Scandal," but Dr. Sandra Featherman has exposed other every-day scandals in her tell-all new book, Higher Education at Risk. There will be many college presidents, university trustees, athletic directors and coaches, department chairs, and state officials who will probably need oxygen after reading Featherman's realistic analysis of why the costs are so high, who actually benefits, why the true amounts spent on athletics and sports at colleges are never really revealed, and why traditional nonprofit institutions of higher education are losing the battle.

“She does not shrink from providing recommendations to beef up the nonprofit colleges. She names names and offers examples of how funds are misused, and why college tuition costs in many instances are outrageous.

“Higher Education at Risk also offers recipes for success, for those who are courageous enough to heed her advice. This is a must-read book for anyone involved in higher education, and certainly for those who donate to their alma maters or who fund the budgets for these institutions.”

Bonnie Squires - , award-winning freelance journalist, regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, and a fundraising and communications consultant to colleges and universities

“Dr. Sandra Featherman brings her enormous depth and breadth of experience to an important and comprehensive look at the state of higher education in America today. In simultaneously intelligent and straightforward terms, she provides pointed insights into the pros and cons of various approaches to higher education, and concrete measures that can be undertaken to ensure both the viability of our institutions and most critically the best interests of students. This is an essential book for anyone seeking fresh, creative and timely thinking at this moment when education is at a crossroads in our nation.”

Former U.S. Senator, Olympia J. Snowe - , and Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center

"Sandra Featherman has forced herself to think about the unthinkable, producing a book that candidly addresses the challenges to American higher education in the first quarter of the 21st century. And through the use of experience, diligent scholarship, case studies and observations she provides prescriptions that may help to preserve the best of higher education as we know it and as we adapt it in the decades to come.

"Those who read Sandra Featherman’s book will be armed for the exciting and challenging agenda facing all of us who earn our livelihoods in the world of higher education. And because of this important and prescient book higher education will be less at risk and more likely not only to survive but prevail."

Stephen Trachtenberg, President Emeritus and University Professor of Public Service - , George Washington University

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg



Strengths and Weaknesses








Sandra Featherman

Sandra Featherman is President Emeritus of the University of New England. She was the president from 1995 through July 2006. Dr. Featherman has vast experience in higher education standards and accreditation. She has worked at both public and private institutions, and has served with Research 1, master’s Plus, and Community Colleges, as a faculty member, administrator or trustee. She was chair of the Board of 2 community colleges (in Pennsylvania and Minnesota), and is a board member of a new University of Florida system institution, Florida Polytechnic University. She has been the elected Faculty Senate President and the Assistant to the President of Temple University, and was the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Minnesota/Duluth. Her many awards include Champion of Economic Development, Maine Development Foundation; Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, Governor of Pennsylvania; Woman of Distinction, International Women's Forum; Woman of Distinction, Girl Scouts of Maine; City of Philadelphia Community Service Award; Brooks Graves Award, Pennsylvania Political Science Association; and Administrator of the Year, Minnesota Women in Higher Education. She has served on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education, and is the vice-chair of the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. She chaired the Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Community College Trustees, and was a commissioner on the American Council on Education Commission on Women in Higher Education and the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity in Higher Education. Her leadership activities include those of president of the Maine Independent Colleges Association, and the Greater Portland Alliance of Colleges and Universities. She also has served on the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Committee on Public Policy.