To say society is not in love with higher education is an understatement. A recent NBC News / Wall Street Journal survey found that Americans are split on the value of a college degree and even fewer, 39% of 18-34 year olds felt that a college degree was worth the expense. Indeed these are challenging times for higher education. The current view is that college is expensive, takes time away from productive work, is not a promise kept in terms of career success, and, in some cases, could be manipulative. Virtually every segment of higher education is seen in a negative light.
So things are pretty bad and this is unprecedented right? Not so fast. Honestly, higher education has drawn the fire form haters of higher ed for years. Case in point, I was preparing the curriculum for my Organization and Administration of Higher Education course I teach here at UCF and I came across an article penned by educator and author Walter Crosby Eells in 1934 and submitted to the Journal of Higher Education. In the article he summarizes the current criticisms of higher education and you think the haters hate hard now? Just wait until you read this. Below are several excerpts from the short article on various groups who interact with the university community. I will then link it to a current article positing the same idea;
The University itself:
“They say that our universities are aimless institutions that have prostituted themselves to every public whim, serving as everything form a reformatory to an amusement park . . They are presided over by quacks; they are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.”
Today: The University Run Amok! – Chronicle of Higher Education, 2018
“The facts is that in the opinion of these critics not more than a quarter of the undergraduates have first rate minds. Not more than half of them are capable of receiving any real intellectual benefit from a college education. The other half are simply not educable; they neither see, nor hear, nor think; they have no disposition to work, nor capacity for sustained effort.”
Today: The End of the College Essay – Slate, 2014
Teaching and Learning:
“The curriculum is a mass of inherited rubbish, the accumulated debris of three or four hundred years of hit-or-miss instruction. The teaching methods are hopelessly antiquated. The elective system competes strongly with the lecture method as a debilitating influence, and is an unholy bore. The classroom is not the birthplace of curiosity but it’s tomb.”
Today: Tenured Professors make worse Teachers – The Atlantic, 2013
I can go on and on. Google the article and see it for yourself. Its a vicious take down of higher education and was written in 1934! Old wine, new bottles indeed! The reason I bring this up is we have got to stop listening to the critiques and start listen to the students. I am sure we can all agree there are many areas we can improve and deficiencies to fill but we don’t need the haters to tell us. We know where these gaps are and most colleges work hard through student success committees and other task forces to address these issues and find solutions. There seems to be a reactionary reflex to address the voices located off campus and to value them ahead of the needs of our students.
Look, I believe every student we admit to college should walk across the stage at graduation, prepared for a career of purpose and interest. And I also believe to do this we will need to turn a wave into a drip and focus our resources on engaging individuals, not groups. So far higher education has begun to close many gaps in terms of college performance. These changes have resulted in chunks of students graduating and going on to a good career. But there are thousands who are left behind and left out and we need to find out why.
But when this knowledge is coupled with misguided criticism and little support then it might be time to just ignore the haters. That is easier said than done when the haters are your legislators, tuition paying parents, or the media looking for a story. But we need to try. Colleges are a unique factory of sorts. Our product is people and their success. There are not always straight line opportunities for student success. We need to better understand where those pain points are address them. Look, college has done more to create a vibrant and educated middle class than any other industry. It’s big, it’s messy, and everyone has an opinion on how it should be. But we need to learn where to actively listen to criticism and where to reject it because we know we are on the right path. We need to shake the haters off by focusing on the student first.