Reinventing College

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In recent months, both the efficacy and the value of a college degree have been questioned in the media and by the general public. In featured articles and in depth reports, questions have been raised about the quality of higher education, especially in terms of “guaranteeing” a good job after graduation; the increasing costs and the impact on debt; and the transparency of information regarding access, retention and graduation rates. While most people continue to recognize the inherent value of a college education and a degree, the questions and concerns more directly relate to the current model and delivery systems that have not significantly changed in decades.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is a highly respected and well-read weekly journal that covers higher education issues. It is equivalent to the many weekly business journals, and provides similar value to those in the higher education industry. In the past few weeks, The Chronicle has launched an interesting series of articles and an international contest.

In response to these criticisms and concerns about higher education, The Chronicle announced a contest called, “Invent Your Own College!” They are inviting any reader to propose his/her ideas in response to the question, “If you could start your own institution of higher education from scratch, what would you build?” Ideas can be submitted “in prose or poetry, a picture, a video, or even a song.” The five best ideas will be published and readers will be asked to vote for the best idea.

To help with the thinking process, The Chronicle has published fifteen essays written by its own reporters and contributing writers providing some of their ideas about how to change/improve higher education. The titles of these essays are:

  1. “An Old School Notion: Writing Required”
  2. “2 Captains at the Helm of Each College”
  3. “Grades Out, Badges In”
  4. “Degrees With a Price Tag”
  5. “A Student Centered NCAA”
  6. “High Tech College Counseling”
  7. “School at Age 3: No More 12th Grade”
  8. “Truly Global Campuses”
  9. “Ditch the Monograph”
  10. “Meet the New-For-Profit: the Low-Profit”
  11. “The End of Free Space”
  12. “A Kickstarter for Science”
  13. “2 Tracks for Faculty”
  14. “A Tax for Higher Education“
  15. “Community Colleges for the Students They Actually Have”

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share some of these ideas in more detail and include my own reactions and comments. I will also share my own idea for improving higher education which centers on more pervasive collaboration and consolidation between and among colleges. I will need to create a catchy title!

But I would be interested in your ideas and suggestions. I receive many comments about my blog every week. Typically, your e-mails either affirm what I have shared or take issue with a particular aspect of my comments.

Do you think that higher education is “broken?” If so, what aspects of higher education concern you the most? What do you think should be done to fix it?

Hopefully, your ideas will contribute to the necessary dialogue about improving higher education. You may help to change the way colleges and universities deliver quality education in ways that are both accessible and affordable. At the very least, I know that your contributions will be beneficial to a small Catholic college near Worcester!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)


  • Guest
    Suzanne Kelly ‘59 Friday, 02 November 2012

    Your participation in this research is commendable, but I suspect you’ll receive many crackpot ideas, the following among them.
    Research has shown us HOW children learn in so many ways. The next step is WHAT they learn in the classroom, particularly in higher education. I might suggest that one begins at the beginning, i.e. research a time line study of the history of higher education from the beginning of the 19th c. (when education was becoming available to a large population) both in North America and Western Europe. Select from that study methods/ideas/subject matter/organization of what continues to work and to be valid in today’s world. From that mix, extrapolate a plan (or several plans) that would appeal to a large number of students enrolled in the liberal arts programs.
    This plan, although complicated, has several advantages:
    a. It forces one to truly review the history of higher education in depth.
    b. It prepares one so that resulting programs come from informed knowledge/sources.
    c. It opens up exposure to “old” ideas that once worked but were put aside simply for the sake of change.
    d. It affords the opportunity to compress several sections of one discipline into one course. I argue this knowing full well that survey courses are anathema. However, anyone over age 50 would agree that their life long quest for learning sprung from introductions they learned in survey courses.
    e. It allows one to explore why the English “schools”/tutor system continues to produce international scholars after three centuries.
    f. It encourages more discipline/research on the part of the faculty while at the same time affirms collegiality.
    g. It promotes change, not for the sake of change, but rather for finding the path to more efficient/effective/economic ways of educating students.
    h. It explores concepts of higher education in European nations where students’ expenses, although subsidized by their governments, are not nearly as expensive per capita as they are in the US. Note that there are no clubs, organized sports, student centers, etc. in most European universities. If the students wish to row, they form their own groups/clubs. I find great validity in self-reliance.
    The Chronicle, I would suspect, should be encouraged to continue its goal.

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