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Margaret Mia


The Upside of Having Incredibly Smart Readers | Inside Higher Ed

The upside of having incredibly smart readers is that I learn from them even when I’m not expecting to.

Last week, in asking folks what they would do if they were anointed Grand Poohbah of Higher Education for a day, I explained my preference for the term “Grand Poohbah” over the term “Big Kahuna” on the grounds that the latter smacks of cultural appropriation, whereas the former is just silly. As far as I knew, the term originated with Howard Cunningham’s fraternal lodge on Happy Days.

Alas, no. Several alert readers pointed out that the term Grand Poohbah comes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, in which it was a mocking reference to Asian stereotypes.


I did not know that, but now I do, so that term has to go. Wise and worldly readers, is there a better fictional and silly (and nonracist!) term for an authority figure? “Big Cheese” works, I guess, but it feels trite. “Head Honcho” feels cynical. The goal is to find something silly that doesn’t actually demean anybody but that conveys the idea of a clearly fictional high authority.

Thank you to the readers who took the time to teach me that, and my apologies to any readers who already knew it and wondered if I was trying to send some sort of message. I wasn’t. But now that I know, I’ll retire that expression from my repertoire.

For now, I’ll use “Big Cheese” as a placeholder. Several other ideas for the Big Cheese of Higher Ed came in over the last few days. Highlights included:

“I’d like to make our state governments think about a state level budget line item for state type PELL grants so that our need based aid matched [to] what students need to attend college.”

(Some states do some of that; New Jersey has Tuition Aid Grants (TAG), for example. It’s a good idea, even if the devil is in the details.)

“Tuition guarantee – 3 yrs for community college, 6 yrs for undergraduate – rule of thumb is to add 50% of the expected time to complete, so it could be applied to trade certificates and other non-degree programs. Includes tuition and fees.”

(There’s merit in this. A surprising number of community college students already have bachelor’s degrees and are returning to retool for another career. Something like this could help.)

“I would see a program set up where the 1st 2 years of college were funded at the rate of the local/state community college rate. The student could take that funding with them to wherever so they could get a full ride at the community college or part of the cost at the State U, a liberal arts college, or big expensive private school, etc. But that much of their higher education would be paid for, just like k – 12. Don’t know how it would work to cross state lines, but as long as we are dreaming …”

(Some employers offer a benefit that works this way: they’ll cover tuition up to the level of the local public university, but it’s portable. If Flagship State charges $20,000 and you send your kid to Snooty U that charges $70,000, you can apply the $20,000 to Snooty U and only have to cover the remaining $50,000. Moving to a system like that for everyone would be admirably egalitarian, though I could imagine pressure for it to come with restrictions so it doesn’t just result in Snooty U raising tuition to $90,000.)

“Require data to be collected on the number of transfer students who graduate, the percentage of same, whether they are/were [state] residents at the time of college entry, and the mandate to use these data in budget allocations.”

(Some variation on this would be game-changing. Right now it’s weirdly difficult to get good data on how transfer students fare, and to the extent that it exists, it usually isn’t public. I’d love to see data on transfer-friendliness of four-year colleges made public. It would help students avoid credit loss, and it might nudge the worst actors to raise their game. A big YES to this.)

This week in particular, I give thanks for my wise and worldly readers. Well done, everyone!

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