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More on the Worthiness of College

by Tod Massa 3. October 2014 21:48

Christopher Newfield, a professor in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has written a fairly stunning review of both Academically Adrift and Aspiring Adults Adrift. Rather than challenge the data or findings, he challenges their facile interpretation. 

The book’s second story was the reverse. Colleges aren’t too far from business but too close. They have been making their students business-ready for years by bolting vocational majors to the liberal arts and sciences core. It turns out that these vocational majors offer limited learning, which are the main college source of post-1980s declines. The college crisis was not that college was offering bad academic subjects, but that college had added a lot of non-academic subjects in an effort to address workforce needs. Therefore, the best way to fix academia would be to let it be academic again, renewing its focus on the liberal arts and sciences. This would mean getting business out of the way.

It was of course “our failing colleges” that got the A-side listing. The B-side, “our failing pragmatism: how a market focus hurt college learning” — never got played.


It would be easy if we could manage our way to greatness — if auditing could replace rebuilding, if better skills could fix the post-middle class economy, if businessed universities led to learning for all. But it can’t, it can’t, and they don’t. A-side assessment, with flat or declining investment in students, when community colleges spend a fraction per student of their elite private counterparts, all under a mushroom cloud of suspicion, will never get massive B-side learning upgrades.

If we want either effective or democratic higher education, we have to learn to say to ourselves, “it’s the liberal arts and sciences, stupid.” And then we need to open our wallets to build equal access to that.


There is a lot of value and truth in the entire review, it is worth your time to read.

If you did not see John Warner's piece on student engagement at InsideHigherEd, you should also give it a read. Along the same lines of thinking, if you are not familiar with research on sleep patterns by age and its relationship to K12 education, you might that of interest.

Governor McAuliffe has proclaimed October 2014 as EleVAte Virginia Workforce Month. This is a follow-up to Executive Order 23: Establishing the New Virginia Economy Workforce Initiative.

"Beyond Pell: A Next-Generation Design for Federal Financial Aid," a report that was published Thursday by the Education Trust, New America Foundation, and Young Invincibles, was covered by InsideHigherEd:

"A first approach would be to create a federal-state funding match to convince states to boost their investment in higher education -- and then require public colleges to help pick up the tab of students’ loan payments if they charge Pell Grant recipients a net price exceeding the 10 percent-of-discretionary-income threshold.

Second, the authors propose restricting Pell Grant eligibility only to those colleges that include the 10-percent affordability guarantee for low-income families and enroll a certain share (not specified in the report) of Pell Grant recipients. They would also require states to commit to providing sufficient aid to help colleges meet that requirement."

This gets to students in the family income range of $0-30K (and higher), a group most at-risk for college attendance and success. Net price is before student loans, and since the average net price for these students is about $12,500/per year and thus a four-year degree completed in four years has a net price of at least $50,000 - generally in debt for these students. The 10% discretionary income threshold references the income-based repayment plans under Pay As You Earn. You can use this calculator to play with various scenarios.  The bottom line is that public institutions would pick up responsibility for a sizable chunk of money. I suppose this might be a way to encourage states to reverse the disinvestment trend, but I am not confident of that.

















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