Top higher ED stories of 2016: higher ed attempts to prove its worth.

Author:Botelho, Stefanie
Position::OUTLOOK 2017: 2016 A look back


American higher education in 2016 faced increased pressure on performance--from students with high expectations and an economy in need of qualified workers. Colleges and universities were also being pushed to eliminate administrative and academic silos to help students of all ages and backgrounds succeed. Here's a look back at what made headlines in higher ed this past year and how campuses responded.

Diversity and safe spaces

Equity and inclusion gained more national attention in 2016 as programs for low-income students won more federal support and college presidents were recognized for their efforts. Shortly before the conclusion of President Barack Obama's presidency, the Department of Education released millions in new federal higher ed aid. Recipients included minority-serving institutions and prison inmates, who can now apply for Pell Grants during their prison sentences.

The call for inclusion became one of international interest, as Time magazine named The University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio one of 2016's 100 most influential people in the world. Under Natalicio's nearly 30-year tenure, the border university has established itself as a research player, bolstering its previous $6 million research budget to more than $90 million annually. Over 80 percent of UTEP's 23,000 students are Mexican-American, with another 5 percent hailing from neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

On the diversity front, a number of campuses hired diversity officers, and student campaigns led several institutions to change the names of buildings named after controversial historical figures.

Affirmative action was deemed constitutional in the summer of 2016 by the Supreme Court, with The University of Texas at Austin showing that its holistic admissions process considers income, familial support and race, alongside the more customary GPA and extracurricular activities. More importantly, the university proved how important affirmative action is in terms of creating access for all students, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented on campus.

The battle over political correctness continued, with the issues of safe spaces and trigger warnings debated on campus and in the media. One of the few positions candidate Donald Trump did take on higher ed was to say that public universities should ensure their faculty and leaders weren't pushing a political agenda.

Education as commodity

The cost of college, how students pay for...

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