KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Brown President Christina Paxson says the school is committed to development of the Knowledge District, where the institution currently has its medical school and administration.
PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
CONNECTING IDEAS: Christina H. Paxson took over last year as president of Brown University, becoming the 19th person to hold the position. She said her goal is to better help connect what students are learning at Brown with “the world around them.”
Christina H. Paxson settled smoothly into the role of Brown University’s 19th president and after getting to know the school over the past year is now looking toward its future. Like other elite colleges, Brown is growing. But unlike some of its competitors, Brown has not rushed to build far-flung satellite campuses, take over new city neighborhoods or become an online education behemoth.
An economist and staunch defender of the traditional liberal arts education, Paxson said Brown will grow in Providence and online in the years ahead, but the undergraduate experience will remain deeply rooted in classrooms on College Hill.
PBN: Your inaugural speech defended the liberal arts education from the push to become more career-oriented. With that core principle in mind, is Brown changing at all to include more areas of skill-specific training?
PAXSON: What we are trying to do at Brown is do a much better job with career services and helping students connect what they are learning here at Brown with the world around them. The career lab has been growing at Brown. This is a great organization connecting students with all types of careers, from education to business to local global opportunities. Over the coming year I will be focusing on developing a new internship program that places our students, with a lot of help from alumni, in jobs during the summers, domestically, internationally.
PBN: Do you think that the level of debt students are leaving college with is inhibiting them from taking chances?
PAXSON: One fact that is very important for people to recognize is that the average level of debt is just that; it’s an average. When you look at students across the United States, there is a lot of variation in how much debt students take on. And it turns out that a very small fraction of students are leaving college with the crippling levels of debt that would prevent them from doing anything but trying to meet monthly payments. At Brown, the average level of debt for students who have financial aid when they leave is $20,000. That is less than a new car loan. When you put it in perspective, the monthly payments are not that high and that level of debt is not significant enough to change people’s career choices. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about debt – we should. But it’s more a question of deciding what an acceptable level of debt is than going to a system of no debt.