Renewing The Commitment

Is higher education improving or going down hill?

By Sara Goldrick-Rab  (U Wisconsin)

In 1947 the historic Truman Commission called for national investments in higher education to promote democracy by enabling all people to earn college degrees. Subsequent expansion of community colleges, adult education, and federal aid occurred not in the name of economic stimulation but to reduce inequality and further active citizenship.

Those ambitions have been steadily corrupted. Today the Tea Party casts the college-educated as snobbish and fundamentally disconnected. Many four-year colleges and universities Continue reading “Renewing The Commitment”

When Is Competition a Positive Force?

Is competition good?

By Claire Potter (The New School)

Yesterday morning I was gliding down the river in my single scull. I was ten to fifteen minutes from the dock, workout complete, leg muscles burning slightly, warming down and starting to think about the rest of the day. After I navigated the last turn, a long bend that can make you or break you in the annual 3.5 mile race our rowing club hosts in October, it would be a straight shot back to the boat house.

Then I noticed another sculler on my port side: I was about a half length ahead. Continue reading “When Is Competition a Positive Force?”

Are Elite Colleges Worth It?

Who gets to be on top?

By Pamela Haag

Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark, wrote in his memoir The Eden Express that the best thing about graduating from college is that you can say what a pile of crap college is and “no one can accuse you of sour grapes.”

Mark attended Swarthmore College. I did too, graduating in 1988. I got a Ph.D. from Yale seven years later. My education might brand me as an “elite” today—the word has become an insult. But since I didn’t come from privilege, money, power, or connections, my story is a variation of what we used to celebrate, not ridicule, as upward mobility.

In my high school, I was one of a few Continue reading “Are Elite Colleges Worth It?”

Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues

What should colleges teach?

By Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe (Swarthmore)

Look at what colleges state as their aims, and you’ll find a predictable list: Teach students how to think critically and analytically; teach them how to write and calculate; teach them the skills of their discipline. As important as such goals are, another fundamental goal is largely being neglected—developing the intellectual virtues they need to be good students, and good citizens.

Some academics may cringe at being charged with the task of developing virtue, believing that it’s a job for others—especially when there is so little agreement about what “virtue” even means in a pluralistic society like ours. They are mistaken. In fact, we often encourage such development—if a bit unreflectively. We would do much better to take the time to think through what the central intellectual virtues are, why they are so important, and how they should be integrated into our curricula: Continue reading “Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues”

There’s More Than One Way to Defend Your Country

How should higher education be funded?

By Joseph R. Urgo  (St. Mary’s – Maryland)

I remember receiving my college financial-aid package in 1974, and among the grant and work-study information was a letter about my eligibility for a National Defense Student Loan. I don’t remember what the letter said, but I do remember stopping cold. What did my acceptance to a residential liberal-arts college have to do with national defense? Continue reading “There’s More Than One Way to Defend Your Country”

Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams

Are students learning the best way?

By David Jaffee (North Florida)

Among the problems on college campuses today are that students study for exams and faculty encourage them to do so.

I expect that many faculty members will be appalled by this assertion and regard it as a form of academic heresy. If anything, they would argue, students don’t study enough for exams; if they did, the educational system would produce better results. But this simple and familiar phrase—”study for exams”—which is widely regarded as a sign of responsible academic practice, actually encourages student behaviors and dispositions that work against the larger purpose of human intellectual development and learning. Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding. Continue reading “Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams”

Anyone for Summer Camp?

Are students learning the best way?

By Ilan Stavans (Amherst)

Middle age is a strange place. The past is set. It has a taste. But the future is shorter than before. How to navigate it without repeating what we’ve done? How to keep passion alive?

I didn’t set out to be a teacher. My dreams were elsewhere. Yet teaching is what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Other than the time I’ve spent in my home, I haven’t been anywhere as frequently as in the classroom, with people increasingly younger than me. I often ask myself: Is it possible to discuss a book I know by heart, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, without sounding trite? Continue reading “Anyone for Summer Camp?”

First, Figure Out Why We Are Failing

Is higher education improving or going down hill?

By Judith Ramaley (Winona)

In his inaugural speech, President Obama declared that “our schools fail too many.” Few would disagree with the fundamental premise that we must promote greater educational attainment for everyone if we are to meet the challenges of today’s world. The United States once led the world in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, but in recent years, 15 other nations have surpassed us in that measure. Some nations are already pulling ahead of us in the proportion of their total adult population that holds college degrees. Continue reading “First, Figure Out Why We Are Failing”

Growing Elitism

Who gets to be on top?

By Thomas J. Espenshade (Princeton)

On balance, elite higher education helps maintain social inequality in America, and the economic recession is magnifying that problem, especially at public institutions.

During the past two decades, research that Alexandria Walton Radford and I conducted found that a rising proportion of students who are enrolled at selective colleges and universities has come from the top two social-class categories: upper-middle- and upper-class families. And at the private institutions we studied, there is a pronounced upward slope to the relationship between the probability of being admitted and the socioeconomic status of one’s family. Continue reading “Growing Elitism”

We Have Yet to Use Them Where They Are Needed Most

Are we evaluating colleges the right way?

By Sylvia Hurtado (UCLA)

College-completion rates only partially reflect institutional quality, and we have yet to adequately make use of completion information for institutional improvement where it is needed most—with students who are first generation, low income, or are from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Recent analyses of national data that track full cohorts of freshmen to graduation suggest that completion rates reflect entering-student characteristics and intentions, how students are able to finance college, peer norms associated with enrollment-mobility patterns, and institutional resources. Continue reading “We Have Yet to Use Them Where They Are Needed Most”