The cover photo Temple University uses for its Facebook page includes the Philadelphia skyline — visual messaging President Neil Theobald says is important.

The cover photo Temple University uses for its Facebook page includes the Philadelphia skyline — visual messaging President Neil Theobald says is important.

Betsy Manning / Temple University

Temple president: How Philly can stay an ‘Eds & Meds’ destination

In a guest column, Neil Theobald shares three initiatives he believes are essential to maintaining Philly’s reputation for this critical section of our economy.

Your article on the strengths and potential weaknesses of “Eds and Meds” in Philadelphia contained some very valuable information. As you point out, institutions of higher education have made major contributions to the communities where we work and to the city overall.

And while it’s true that no single set of schools can blithely look ahead and predict continued growth, there are actions those of us in higher education can take to ensure the city remains a destination for those who want a great education. Speaking as president of Temple University, here are three initiatives I believe are essential:

Open the doors wider

A college degree is increasingly seen as an essential credential to entering the job market and building a lifelong career. We have to help people at all points of the economic spectrum appreciate the value of a degree and see it as a goal that’s within their grasp.

We need to broaden access to a higher education and take down the barriers that for too long have intimidated talented potential students. Last year, Temple University accepted its first class of students who had the option of submitting essays and their GPA in lieu of SAT scores. Prospective students saw this as a tremendous opportunity at leveling the playing field if they didn’t perform well on standardized tests.

As one entering Temple student told us, “Why should four hours of that test count more than four years of what I did in high school?”

Cut the student debt load

The stories of students struggling for decades with overwhelming debt would intimidate the most well informed college applicant. High debt can be especially worrisome for first-generation students or those with little higher education experience in their families.  

We need to ensure that students leave college with a degree and as little debt as possible. One key factor is getting students to graduate as quickly as possible. Temple has instituted the “Fly in 4” initiative, which offers intensive advising, better scheduling and other incentives to encourage students to get their degree in four years and take on as little debt as possible.

After all, the whole purpose of getting a degree is to live like a student when you’re in school, so you won’t have to live like a student after you graduate.

Tell the ‘Philly Ed’ story more widely

We’ve been doing surveys of our prospective students for years, and when we ask them why they chose Temple, the value of our urban location is always at the top of the list. In short, the City of Philadelphia is a major draw for young people. They love our arts and sports, our clubs and restaurants, and our thriving youth culture. They also tell us they want to stay here after they graduate if they can find a good job.

That’s why we promote Temple as “Philadelphia’s public university,” and make sure that images of the city are a part of every major marketing effort.

The institutions of higher education in this region should wear their Philly roots with pride. After all, while we contribute a lot to Philadelphia, we all benefit from being a part of one this nation’s great cities.

The people of this city have embraced its universities and colleges, and we should return the love.

Neil Theobald is the president of Temple University. He began his tenure as Temple’s 10th president in January 2013.

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