Robert L. Caret, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, visits The Chronicle to discuss the importance to universities of revamping their teaching approaches, both to improve poor retention rates and to strengthen institutional finances.
PAUL BASKEN: Robert Caret has been chancellor of the University of Maryland system since July. He's also formerly president of Towson University. He joins us today to talk about what the university has been doing as far as leading innovation in undergraduate education. Now the University of Maryland has been very concerned, it seems, with improving undergraduate education nationwide, taking a leadership role. Can you explain why it is that you're concerned about that and what exactly you've been doing?
ROBERT CARET: I think there are two real reasons to be concerned. One is the fundamental educational reason. We're losing just too many students in the pipeline.
The graduation rates, retention rates are not where they need to be nationally. That means that there's a lot of human beings that are not getting the tools they need to go on with their lives. So the more we can make the students successful, the more we can get them through that pipeline. The more we get them through that pipeline more quickly, the better the educational experience, the better off we all are as educational institutions.
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And what we find is if you can graduate a student one semester earlier, you save, at a traditional public university, $10,000 or $12,000 — half of that generally coming from the student and half of that from the state. So in the case of the university system of Maryland, we have 36,000 graduates graduating at an average of about four and a half years. If we get that back down to four, it's about $360 million in savings. Now, that's not easy to do. But it is one of the reasons we're doing this — is success of our students themselves and financially allowing us to educate more students more effectively.
PAUL BASKEN: What I've been seeing from what you've been pointing out is that there's a lot of universities around the country that recognize this problem and, in fact, are hiring administrators to address it. But that maybe they don't quite have a thorough strategy put together in terms of what to do with these people and especially merging it with new technologies is all the talk about MOOCs and online and how to integrate this. What are you finding out in terms of integration? What do universities need to do that they're not doing?
ROBERT CARET: I think you've hit a lot of the high points. I mean, we have to look at new approaches. Using technology is part of that, using approaches that have been around but have not been utilized very well.
So we have things like competency-based education, which is coming into its own right now, where you get credit for prior learning. Self-paced instruction as part of that, using technology as part of that. That is something we're moving very quickly on.
Where we've played a leadership role as a system is in what we call the flipped classroom. We have the students who are really learning from each other and from senior students and utilizing faculty as needed in that process. And it allows the faculty member to have a much more quality of experience himself or herself. And the students learn a lot better.
We find that in a flipped classroom, a higher percentage of the students are graduating with better grades. And it's always at lower cost. And yet the faculty member is producing more credit hours than he or she would in the traditional classroom.
So we have a number of things going on in that realm. The one that we are not the leads in, but we are jumping into very quickly, are using data analytics and intentional advising or interventional advising where we are reaching out and grabbing students at different points when we see that they're getting into trouble, even if they know they're not getting into trouble, and help guide them more effectively. So I think these are just some of the examples, you have adaptive learning and others, that are coming into play that are allowing — as I say to faculty, we don't like to talk about what we do as a business. But there is a financial side. We're not inexpensive.
We may be cost effective. But we're not inexpensive when you consider the number of students we are educating. And we have to look at ways to keep the cost of that education down without decreasing the quality. And that's going to require new approaches.
PAUL BASKEN: What does higher education's partners outside the universities have to do? I'm talking about governments and maybe private donors — is there anything they could be doing to be more helpful to you in doing this?
ROBERT CARET: Well, the one thing I would really appreciate, I guess from the federal perspective and they've done a reasonable job at this given the challenges they face, is to really continue to provide the kind of aid that the students need. It may look like to many that our net price is quite reasonable. But many, many students still can't afford it. And then the problem becomes that they need to take a loan to be able to come. And the federal government gives loans today as opposed to grants.
You know, when I was in school, it was 98 percent grants. And today, it's 70 percent loans. So the whole process sort of feeds on itself.
Where states cut back, federal government gives loans. The students can't afford it. They take loans. They have debt. And nobody's happy.
And so I do think it's important that we get the states to continue to focus on what it actually costs to educate a student, to make sure that that's reasonable, and that they provide a reasonable percentage of that cost. What I've been pushing both in Massachusetts and Maryland is a 50/50 split with the student. And I was able to get Massachusetts there after my second year. And I'm hoping to get Maryland there over the next few years. And then from the federal level, trying to not only maintain the level of support that's needed, which they've done reasonably well at, but to go more to a higher percentage of grants as opposed to loans.
PAUL BASKEN: OK. And as far as private philanthropists? I know the Gates Foundation, for one, has been helping out. Is there anything you'd like to see them or any other private parties do?
ROBERT CARET: I think Gates and Lumina in particular have been very aggressive on where they can leverage success strategies. And they're putting significant resources in there. And I do think that that is the right way to go.
We should be looking at things that have been proven to be successful, maybe experiment with some new ones and see if they can be successful. But once proven, utilize them. And so I would just encourage them to keep doing what they're doing. But also look at how they can leverage it better.
I'm part of the National Association of System Heads since I'm a system head. And we do believe that the systems in this country can play a significant role in this because we can leverage all of our campuses, in my case, 12 campuses, 163,000 students. By working with the system, you are working with a much broader range of students and a much broader range of needs and can direct that impact more effectively.
PAUL BASKEN: OK. Thank you. Just one final thing. What do you imagine a residential campus experience will look like in 10 or 20 years in the United States? Vastly different or slightly different in what?
ROBERT CARET: You know, I'm not sure. I don't think any of us are sure. But I do believe that the traditional residential campus experience is going to continue. I do believe that there will continue to be multiple pathways to a college degree, some because of a particular fit with certain students, some because of a particular cost need of certain students or geographical need of certain students, and others that provide the full range of on-campus life experiences that students and parents have wanted for decades.
When I give my Chamber of Commerce speech, I say one of the ways to decrease the cost of the education of your child today is to just keep them at home and feed them because at a public university, that's about half the cost of education. When you see a sticker price of $26,000, $13,000 of that is room and board. Now most of us don't want to keep our kids home and feed them. We want them to go to that college and have that experience.
So I think for those that can afford it, it will still be there. For those that want it, it will still be there. But there are, again, many that either can't afford it or prefer not to do it or because of lifestyle, have other needs. They'll use other pathways. And I think that's fine as long as all those pathways are high quality.
PAUL BASKEN: OK. Thank you Dr. Caret. We have Dr. Caret, the chancellor of the University of Maryland system with us. Thank you.
ROBERT CARET: Thanks so much.