mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Higher Education Tip-Toes Toward Real Reform?

Could the growing crisis in American academia be eliciting some smart thinking from the inside?  Maybe so.  From the Washington Post’s “On Leadership” roundtable, president of Arizona State Michael Crow:

What is missing at present are…pathways for more students to achieve higher levels of educational attainment while graduating at the lowest possible cost…

[We] often lack adequate leadership in higher education because leaders are not sufficiently directed toward the production of outcomes that address regional, state and national goals. This is especially the case for community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching rather than research. These institutions are seen as subordinate in the status hierarchy and their efforts at innovation little incentivized or recognized.

It is this lack of innovation by academic leaders that has left room for a proliferation of pushback in the form of incomplete ideas and poorly conceptualized policies. Among such ill-conceived schemes are proposals to effectively turn universities into businesses. Some are proposed by frustrated state leaders desperate to educate more students without bankrupting newly fragile state governments.

President Crow’s full article is available here. His emphasis on innovation makes a lot of sense: America’s universities, which combine the high costs and low productivity of guild structures among the faculty and the hypertrophic bloat of government fed bureaucracy on the administrative side, cling to time-consuming and expensive practices which often come at the expense of efficiency, flexibility and effectiveness. The bill is passed on to parents and students, to the tune of a $1 trillion in student loans.

Via Meadia prescribes even stronger academic reform. Higher education is heavily weighted in favor of producers over consumers.  Value for money is uneven: tuition costs outstrip teaching quality; degrees (both BA and MA) over emphasize “time served” as opposed to “stuff learned”; and droves of debt-laden students never finish what they start.

President Crow’s ideas are a good start, but only a start.  The American university needs deep and sweeping reform and the time is much shorter than many in the ivory towers understand.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Neville

    “…the time is much shorter than many in the ivory towers understand.”

    You can develop a surprisingly robust model of a wide range of European institutions by understanding that their real time horizon is limited to the period between today and the incumbent managers’ usually quite imminent retirement dates (i.e. when their pensions kick in).

    The same goes for US colleges. The time may be short and “many in the ivory towers” may in fact see that coming towards them, but let’s be realistic: their lack of activity (other than continuing to increase fees faster than inflation) suggests it doesn’t scare them much at all.

  • dearieme

    Dissolution of the Monasteries.

  • Kenny

    You should look into what Gov. Rick Perry is trying to do in Texas and see all the resistance he’s getting from the tenured eggheads in their Ivroy Towers.

  • Luke Lea

    Maybe the 19th century German notion of a “research university” is, outside the hard sciences, an idea whose time has passed? In the liberal arts particularly — anthropology, history, political economy — the emphasis maybe should shift towards the transmission of already-existing knowledge and away from the discovery of new knowledge. The latter will take care of itself in any event, Ph.D’s or no Ph. D’s. Genius will out.

  • David Billington

    Generally, college graduates who make successful choices of career will earn more than enough to offset the rising costs of higher education. The main problem right now is the large number who do not get marketable degrees or who attend at great expense and do not graduate.

    That said, the costs of higher education to parents and graduates have increased in a way that isn’t strictly necessary. Students can obtain undergraduate degrees very inexpensively if they are willing and able to engage in independent study rather than attend instructed classes. This alternative is called credit by examination.

    My own undergraduate degree, for example, cost about $400 and consisted of studying on my own and taking examinations administered by ETS on behalf of the New York State Board of Regents. The money saved enabled me afterwards to earn my first graduate degree in Washington DC. The Regents College program has changed somewhat and is now called Excelsior College.

    Credit by examination does truncate the undergraduate experience, depending on how much credit a student earns in this way. But the first two years of college could be satisfied to a greater extent through credit by examination, saving time and money, if students can study over summers and begin with fairly strong study skills and perhaps some vvolunteer mentoring. Many students, particularly those over 22, don’t attend for the residential life on campus and could especially benefit.

    Most people think of Advanced Placement when they think of placing out of college courses, but AP is instructed and requires highly qualified teachers. Self-study CLEP tests are also run by the College Board and are recognized by nearly all colleges for lower-level college credit. For students who can pass these test, they are a way to save one or two semesters.

    Most students cannot do this kind of self-study. This would leave the larger problem of how to reform higher education, to which I would add secondary as well.

    The answer I would like to debate is to convert the high schools into junior colleges and hire faculty according to junior college standards (on long-term contracts so that a division between a small tenured group and an army of adjuncts doesn’t occur). The curriculum could be the same as in the better European high schools and would thereby cover much or most of what US universities and colleges teach in the first two years, relieving higher education in this country of that cost and increasing the number of students who can attend and succeed in college.

    Debate about education reform in the United States is fixated on trying to reform the present system of levels. We need to think more deeply about the levels themselves and what they do. Until we do that, we ought to inform more parents and students about the availability of credit by examination for those who might want to study for it and are simply unaware of the option right now.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service