September was a rough month for one of America’s premier historically black universities. Howard University saw itself fall 22 spots in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings and had its credit rating downgraded by Moody’s. As Daniel Burnett has pointed out in the Washington Post, Howard has also been plagued by skyrocketing tuition, declining enrollment and falling graduation rates.
So perhaps it is no surprise that Sidney Ribeau, the university’s president, announced this past Tuesday that he will be stepping down after five years at the helm of the school.
But challenges Howard faces surely aren’t unique. St. Mary’s College in Maryland and Loyola University in Louisiana have faced similar problems with their finances and enrollments.
As Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen argued in a letter to college and university trustees nationwide, the nature of higher education in America is changing, and traditional colleges and universities face new challenges that require innovative thinking and tough decision-making. Data show that Howard has a bloated administration, expensive capital projects and that it has for too long relied on an ever-shrinking federal appropriation – issues that have been raised by some trustees and faculty already.
The trustees at Howard, St. Mary’s, and many other schools need to be prepared to tackle these problems. These challenges are an opportunity to reform American higher education. We ought not miss it.