Grinnell is a microcosm of academic excellence. But it lives within the larger world of higher education. And the higher education social contract between the U.S. government and its citizens is being entirely renegotiated, with long-term, unknown, and potentially devastating impacts on the ability of many to complete their college degrees - and for those who do graduate, on their ability to obtain a job, rent an apartment, purchase a house, or engage in any activity that might be affected by having a large college loan debt burden.
More strikingly, our nation's ability to address the most complex, challenging problems of tomorrow is severely compromised by the threat of at least several years of flat or reduced budgets for research and training.
The consequences of this recession are not the only factors whipping the world of higher education. There are:
-- Demands to demonstrate clearer learning outcomes.
-- Greater calls to provide our graduates with "business-ready" skills.
-- Challenges from continued blurring of boundaries between academic disciplines - particularly for institutions that cling to outdated ideas about clearly defined, narrow bodies of knowledge.
-- Changing demographics of younger populations, with growing percentages of minorities, especially of Hispanic ethnicity, who will come mostly from K-12 public systems that continue to fail in their efforts to provide a solid education to these students.
-- Pervasive access to enormous amounts of information - in ways unthinkable to our parents - that may transform how we teach and learn.
-- Technological innovations that have the potential to improve many dimensions of quality for higher education - but show no signs of reducing costs.
-- The march of globalization, with larger countries like China and India building their own systems of higher education, largely imitating ours.
In sum, continuous, often-volatile change is occurring at every level of education. And that, I believe, is a classic definition of chaos.