As noted a few posts (and a few months) ago, one of the reasons I have not been very active here is a belief that I am not alone in having little clear idea where we are going in higher ed. Which is not in any way to say that I don’t know where we should be going, at least in the abstract. This blog is built on a foundational belief in the value of a liberal arts education, something that the American system of higher education has historically delivered very well, at least to a select population. But how does this system adapt to changes in the environment and new demands–some legitimate (fuller access) and others questionable (one-size-fits-all reporting and regulation)?
Two recent articles help summarize where we are. The first, from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, helps explain why, as I stated in the last post, that I don’t think the system will change too drastically in the near future: it’s not as broken as sometimes portrayed. A huge risk is making decisions or policy as if it is. This article focuses on colleges:
The problem with the Chicken Little view of higher education is that it can create self-fulfilling prophecies. If decision makers in higher education believe the sky is falling, they may find themselves taking actions that are value-destroying rather than value-enhancing. For example, institutions may start to teach courses online not because that is the optimal way to teach them (and there may be some courses that optimally are taught online) but merely to cut costs; or valuable student activities may be discontinued in order to anticipate the falling of the sky.
A more serious problem, in my opinion, is the danger posed by regulators–governmental and accreditory (is that a word?)–who do not recognize the distinction and differences between secondary and higher education and/or (and perhaps more dangerously) between sectors of higher ed (for profit vs. not for profit, elite vs. non-elite, public vs. private, 2 yr. vs. 4 yr., etc.)
This article, which touches on some of this, was brought to my attention by a FB posting from a friend and colleague a couple of weeks ago, has become widely read after having been the subject of a blog post at the WaPo; it has been in the top 2 “most popular” on their website since Sunday. I really encourage you to read the whole thing,
During my years in the classroom I tried to educate other adults about the realities of schools and students and teaching. I tried to help them understand the deleterious impact of policies that were being imposed on our public schools. I blogged, I wrote letters and op-eds for newspapers, and I spent a great deal of time speaking with and lobbying those in a position to influence policy, up to and including sitting members of the US House of Representatives and Senate and relevant members of their staffs. Ultimately, it was to little avail, because the drivers of the policies that are changing our schools—and thus increasingly presenting you with students ever less prepared for postsecondary academic work—are the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage.
I wish I could remember who said to me recently (or where I read) this: “Why would we take the American system of higher ed which is [ed. note: warts and all] the envy of the world and try to govern it [through regulation, standardization, etc.] like the secondary system, which is the envy of no one?” A bit overstated perhaps, but a reasonable question, I think. [Please note this should in no way be taken to impugn the hard and great work being done by administrators and teachers laboring in the trenches of the K-12 system, some of whom I have the privilege of working with (and others whom I have as children!) They fight this battle every day, as the article notes,]