New York Times Correspondents, CIC Presidents Discuss Higher Ed Issues

Entrance to New York Times headquarters  

Presidents of 28 CIC member colleges and universities participated in the 12th annual CIC/New York Times Partnership Presidents Council meeting—the only annual meeting of college and university presidents hosted by the Times. During the October 12 lunch meeting at the Times offices in New York City, participants engaged in a wide-ranging and candid discussion with Jane Karr, editor of the Times’ Education Life section, and reporter Motoko Rich.

With a new emphasis on digital platforms, particularly mobile, how the Times covers its topics has “radically changed,” said Karr. “The newsroom has been shaken up. We no longer have ‘Page One’ meetings—it’s web first. So big changes are occurring, and more energy is going into the website and interactive ways of presenting material.” She explained, “With so many readers now accessing the Times on digital devices, and fewer turning to the homepage, efforts have focused on the mobile experience.”

In terms of coverage, Karr said, “I believe the Times overall is being far less incremental in its coverage and is focusing more on the bigger picture and trend stories. We’re not covering education news the way we used to. Our focus now is more on enterprise pieces and less on breaking news, unless it’s of national significance.”

Karr said there had been no dedicated higher education reporter for many months. “The resources to cover education are one quarter of what we had a decade ago.” Education coverage is spread throughout the newsroom now, Karr stated. For example, she said, financial aid issues can be covered by business journalists, sexual assault stories are covered by national correspondents or in the Style section, and many education stories appear in The Upshot, a data-focused blog. But she noted that a new team of education reporters was coming on board soon [and are now in place].

The good news, Karr said, is that the quarterly “Education Life”—one of the last remaining education supplements published by newspapers—is still there. “Our stories are analytical and more ‘magaziney,’" she said. “We’re looking for examples of cutting-edge creativity on campus, how serendipity impacts invention, unusual pedagogy, and any college that is doing something to break the mold.” Karr also said she would love to publish “a story on a small college that looks at how tuition is set, where the money goes, and how costs and fees are determined.”

Motoko Rich writes mostly about K–12 issues, but she also focuses on efforts to fix the K–12 pipeline to college and wanted to hear from CIC presidents about programs related to K–12 and college connections. She said the conventional perception is that too few high school students are prepared for college-level work and asked the presidents whether remedial rates really are high on their campuses. Steven Bahls, president of Augustana College (IL), turned the question around and asked, “Are high school students unprepared, or are we (the colleges)?” He argued that colleges in many ways are not prepared for the different types of students coming to campus today. “We (collectively) have more international, first-generation, and underrepresented students today, yet we often don’t have effective support systems in place for them. Our obligation is to meet students where they are.” Greg Woodward, president of Carthage College (WI), added, “We spend so much time analyzing applications to ensure students will be successful. Our responsibility is to ensure they graduate.” Also addressing the question about whether high school students are prepared for college-level work, Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham University (PA), said that the lack of student preparedness can, in part, be traced to “changes in federal policy that used to focus on helping students.” Barazzone added that the end of some federal loan programs and a decline in other federal efforts to assist students exacerbate the readiness issue.

The wide-ranging conversation with Rich also touched on job preparation. MaryAnn Baenninger, president of Drew University (NJ), pointed out that “liberal arts colleges prepare students for jobs differently now than they did 20 years ago. At Drew, all students have a full semester abroad and internships, and we offer summer bridge programs for disadvantaged students” to help them into and through college and be ready for work. At the University of Evansville (IN), said president Thomas Kazee, the GAP program “helps students bridge the academic world and the real world” as teams of students paired with coaches or mentors work with businesses on real issues the businesses are experiencing.

Meeting participants also discussed college completion rates at length. “The real crisis in higher education is low completion rates,” argued Nayef Samhat, president of Wofford College (SC), who then emphasized that smaller independent colleges have much higher completion rates. “Do you have statistics to back that up?” asked Rich. CIC President Richard Ekman recited key statistics and assured her that CIC has plenty of comparative data on graduation rates at independent versus public colleges and universities. (Following the meeting, CIC sent her a packet of data on graduation rates and more.) Several presidents made the case that a much larger percentage of students graduate from their institutions in four years compared with students at public universities. In response to Rich’s question about why this is the case, Bryon Grigsby, president of Moravian College (PA), said “We have a stronger business model. In public universities, students can’t get the classes or support they need, so it takes them five or six years to graduate. Our goal is to get them out in four years.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kathleen O’Connell, national education director at the Times, encouraged all CIC member institutions to join the CIC/NYTimes Partnership. The Partnership provides CIC member institutions with several benefits, including discounted print and digital newspapers and advertising rates, site licenses, and opportunities to meet with Times staff and to bring reporters and editors to campus for speaking engagements. The intent is to use the New York Times as a resource to foster students’ intellectual growth and curiosity, civic participation, and personal success. The only obligation for a college to be considered a partner is a minimum of 100 print or digital subscriptions to the newspaper (at discounted rates of $1.88 per digital subscription, Monday–Sunday or $3.00 per print subscription, Monday–Friday). To join the Partnership, contact O’Connell at or (203) 779-5239.

Also at the Presidents Council meeting, Gregory Woodward, president of Carthage College (WI), was elected 2016 chair of the Partnership, succeeding Marcia Hawkins, president of Union College (KY).