Imagining the Future of U.S. Higher Education
…U.S. institutions will have to change, an international panel of experts said last week, if they want to retain their edge and help the country in an economy ever more dependent on knowledge and innovation.”
The July 2, 2010, issue of “The Chronicle of Higher Education” includes a brief report on a recent panel discussion about the future of American higher education at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Read the article by Karin Fisher and Ian Wilhelm here, and consider subscribing to the Chronicle if you appreciate the writing.
In the same issue another article looks at the changing shape of higher education in Germany as that nation pours government money into top-tier universities with a research focus. A side detail in the article caught my eye and made me think about higher ed’s presence in Lowell now and going forward:
[The University of Konstanz consists] of a single contained campus on the outskirts of the city in which it is based—a setup that may be common in the United States but is very different from the typical urban German campus of disconnected buildings scattered through a metropolis.”
Photo: Univ. of Konstanz/The Chronicle of Higher Education
3 Responses to Imagining the Future of U.S. Higher Education
We always hear of the standards for K-12 education and debate whether they should be strengthened or weakened. But we don’t discuss the standards for higher education degrees.
Is there a risk that the profit (or budget balancing) incentives drive mediocrity into our universities?
I don’t think, with a few exceptions, the profit motive is causing problems. The places where it is are the ones that don’t give merit scholarships, but are fairly liberal in giving out sports scholarships. But on the other hand, they may need the revenue from their sports teams to stay afloat.
There is a problem in preparation; many graduating high school seniors are really not prepared for college, meaning that universities must spend at least a year getting incoming students up to speed, leaving less time for a university-level education.
Many schools also simply do not have the resources to give their students a great education. For example, many humanities departments at UML do not have TAs. This means that professors have to correct papers and exams, which leads to professors assigning less papers and relying more on multiple choice exams. It’s not their fault; the university simply doesn’t have the money it needs.
A third problem is the specialization that has become so common in undergraduate education. It used to be that you would specialize in graduate school, but now many undergrads are forgoing studying outside of a very narrow subject. While this prepares them for a career in that discipline, most people don’t actually get jobs related to their undergraduate degree.
Related to that, it is far too easy to go through college without learning the subject matter that is necessary to be an effective citizen. Polls constantly show us that American college graduates have an abysmal knowledge of civics and American history, never mind global history and international relations. Many people have no financial literacy. And an overwhelming number of Americans are oblivious to the state of scientific knowledge (especially in biology, climate science, and cosmology/physics). For the United States to remain vibrant and economically competitive, and to have a functioning government, as many citizens as possible need to be familiar with these areas of knowledge.
For UMass Lowell to have a legitimate use for TAs and find places for them in the classroom they need to develop additional graduate programs in many of the social sciences and humanities. TAs are usually grad students doing advanced work in a subject area who are then qualified to grade papers, lead discussion sections, etc.
So, the problem for UMass Lowell is the problem of the budget for to build up the social sciences and humanities and develop MA and doctoral programs is a very expensive proposition in terms of new hires and funds to support the TAs.
This would require as aggressive fundraising and the development of endowed chairs in the social sciences and humanities. Right now much effort has been spent obligating money to buildings like the former Doubletree Hotel and the Arena; but neither of these things by themselves will sufficiently upgrade academics in a way that leads to graduate programs and the need for TAs. UMass Lowell is less and less funded by the state budget.
The dept. of regional economic and social development, before it was disbanded by the university as of July 1, supported at least a dozen RAs a year to do research, and occassionally to help out in the classroom. RESD’s demise, the dept I taught in for fourteen years, I think weakens the university’s capacity to do serious social sciences research going forward and it also weakens the university’s capacity to play a strong role in issues related to regional social and economic development. Of ocurse, the university’s officials would say otherwise.
I now reside in the history dept. and life goes on.