This week, Ken Steele completes his countdown of the ten biggest trends impacting North American higher education in 2015, with the top 4: from political correctness and personal safety to major demographic shifts.
Even before the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, institutions began announcing new mandatory indigenous content in their curricula. Students at the University of Winnipeg proposed mandatory courses in indigenous history or culture. Lakehead University announced that it would introduce indigenous perspectives into courses across all faculties. UBC’s Sauder School of Business and the UBC Okanagan School of Nursing both announced that they would be integrating Aboriginal content. The new president at the University of Saskatchewan declared that he would make indigenization his top priority. And the Law Faculties at UBC and Lakehead had both established mandatory courses in Aboriginal Law and intercultural training.
Last year we saw significant mainstream attention being paid to microaggressions on campus, and ongoing debate about trigger warnings for the curriculum. Faculty, most of whom are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, are alarmed by the rising tide of political correctness and its potential to undermine academic freedom and free speech on campus. Generation Y students, on the other hand, take free speech for granted, but in a social media era have learned to retaliate against even the subtlest prejudice with a firestorm of outrage. Last year, several top comedians declared that they would no longer perform on campuses because students just couldn’t take a joke. A controversial prof at Laurentian asked his students to sign a waiver acknowledging coarse language in his lectures. Universities introduced microaggression training in their faculty orientations, collective agreements, and more. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms ranked Canadian universities and gave 15 universities and 26 student unions grades of “F”.
Although long-term trends in the incidences of sex assault on campus are debated, we saw an immense public spotlight focused on the issue last year. First there was the fallout of a discredited campus rape story published (and then retracted) by Rolling Stone magazine. The release of The Hunting Ground, a full-length documentary about Ivy League schools covering up rape to protect their brands. A Columbia student carrying a mattress with her everywhere on campus, including to her graduation. Task force recommendations at the University of Ottawa, in the wake of a sex assault that resulted in the suspension of its men’s hockey team. Rape allegations at Royal Military College. And then there was the CBC’s ranking of colleges and universities based on sex assaults reported in the previous 5 years. Across the country, presidents announced task forces and new policies and protocols, student unions and mental health services launched awareness campaigns and bystander intervention programs. There are even smartphone apps designed to secure affirmative sexual consent in the heat of the moment.
Most significant of all, last year there was just no denying that enrolment was plateauing or declining at many campuses across North America. In the US, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that college enrolment declined in 2015 for the third straight year, particularly at 2-year community colleges and for-profit institutions. The University of Phoenix had lost half of its students between 2010 and 2015, a whopping 250,000! The Council of Ontario Universities reported declines of about 5% in applicants province-wide over 2 years – and more remote institutions like the University of Windsor or Lakehead saw drops of up to 19%. The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission reported a 1% decline in enrolment after 4 consecutive years of growth, and smaller campuses in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were particularly hard hit.
Check out Ken’s white paper, Peak Campus, for more detail
Next time we’ll round up the top higher ed headaches of 2015.
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