Student enrollment soared, state appropriations plummeted. Free-
speech issues flared, affirmative action in admissions began to
dominate headlines. Foreign students got better security screening,
but more found themselves stuck in visa limbo.
If you look back at 2002, the record of American higher education
is as jagged as a stock market chart, with leaps into positive
territory countered by dramatic plunges and plenty of red ink.
The year will be remembered as the big reversal: After a long
stretch of public largess, states slashed higher-education budgets,
sending tuitions soaring at public institutions.
With at least 29 of 43 states facing budget crises this year, the
2002 recession has created huge deficits and put big multi-year cuts
into the higher-education pipeline, says Travis Reindle of the
American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
"It's a perfect storm," Mr. Reindle says. "If low-income students
can't afford to attend, I don't know what consequences this holds
for social cohesion in this country."
The University of Virginia, where students saw a 20-percent drop
in tuition in 1999, is planning a midyear "surcharge." At Ohio
State, tuition jumped 18 percent for new students, 9 percent for
At private institutions, meanwhile, analysts expect more budget
cuts after another tough year for the stock market. Last year's 3.6
percent drop in college endowment value may be easily surpassed this
year - the first time since the 1970s that endowments have dropped
two years in a row.
Academic ideals dented
An important theme cropped up in education stories this year: the
sense that even long-cherished academic ideals - campus diversity,
academic freedom, and freedom of expression - were open to
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers made headlines
when, at a prayer meeting with students and faculty on Sept. 17, he
warned of an "upturn in anti-Semitism" around the world.
But what really grabbed people's attention was his strong
criticism of people on a number of campuses who support a divest-
from-Israel petition aimed at changing Israeli policy toward the
"Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions
that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent," said
Dr. Summers, Harvard's first Jewish president.
With Harvard often leading on emerging academic issues, the idea
that thoughtful signers could be unintentional supporters of anti-
Semitism rattled many in higher education.
Some say Summers's comments seemed aimed at damping down free
speech. "There is nothing anti-Semitic about the petition, neither
in effect nor in intent," says Daniel Fox, a linguistics and
philosophy professor at MIT who is also Jewish and who helped
organize the petition drive.
Israel and freedom of expression were not the only issues coming
up for review. Laws to tighten national security have increased
scrutiny of foreign visas, backing up lines of would-be graduate
students from Beijing to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The USA Patriot Act and the Bioterrorism Act also prompted
concerns about limits they might impose on academic freedom.
This is also the year that campus racial diversity - supported by
decades-old affirmative-action admissions practices at most
selective colleges - has gone toe-to-toe with legal claims of
reverse discrimination. …