Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Untenable Pressures on Higher Education

This excerpt is from the first post in my new regular column, Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post here.

Higher education is constantly under attack these days:

These are all common critiques. Underlying such attacks are raging debates pitting competing ideas of the function of higher education against each other amid a shifting political-economic-technological landscape. Higher education has become, in some ways, the locus of a proxy battle over our society’s future. Rather than covertly engaging on the issues, we would be well served to openly consider our choices and develop a holistic policy addressing our competing needs.

The pressures on higher education are clear:
  • we face a dramatically increased demand for higher education so that a larger part of our community can have access to the economic and political spoils of success;
  • businesses are looking for pre-trained graduates, who have both the specific skills necessary to do the requisite jobs and the critical thinking skills to work independently and productively; and
  • the training we offer must be economically viable and provide value for both the student and the community.

These pressures have always been here, but the balance between these issues and our expectations around them have shifted. Unlike other countries where the state determines which track a student enters, we previously structured our educational system with varying opportunities for students to get the set of skills they wanted and that we needed as a society. Today, however, we are unwilling to accept the inherent stratification such a system yields; we expect every student to have equal access to all the tools necessary for success.

The challenge we face -- to develop both critical thinking for success and skills training for a modern labor force in those we educate -- can only be achieved by a top-to-bottom reconsideration of our curriculum and how we design the limited time that students can spend in their studies.

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