If you are concerned about the future of higher education, you should read Peter Katopas’s “The Business Model is the Wrong Model,” in today Inside Higher Ed. Even Katopas, an administrator at a community college, sees the serious problem in treating our colleges and universities like businesses. Here are few excerpts:
…when colleges follow the business model in order to bolster enrollments or to compete for the “top” students, the results over time can also have serious consequences for the society as a whole. When rigor and purpose are replaced by luxury dormitories, state of the art health spas, haute cuisine cafeterias, and inflated grades, what is created is a culture of entitlement and a demand for instant gratification.
My college, for example, is in desperate need of a new library. Unfortunately, this is not as high a priority as some other building projects that would more effectively attract new students.
Historically, one reason for going away to college was to dislocate the young man or woman from their otherwise familiar environs to such an extent that they would be ready to “re-invent” themselves as, ideally, independent and responsible members of society. When colleges attempt to replicate — and in many cases even exceed — the conditions of the student’s pre-adult existence, one might well ask what it is they are teaching the students. Ideally, children are the center of their parents’ world and are indulged accordingly. What, however, does it mean to be an “adult”? Surely it can not be age alone which determines adulthood in contemporary society.
I have long been torn on the “liberalizing” influence of a college education. Yes, college should “dislocate” us and present an opportunity to learn, change, and be transformed by ideas. At the same time, these very tendencies of a liberal arts education lead us away from real places, real communities, and the kinds of networks of kin, faith, and neighborhood that make for a truly flourishing life. These are the very reasons why I sometimes wonder what I am doing in higher education.
Higher education ought to involve dislocation. That is, we owe it to our students to help them to understand that they are not the center of any universe except perhaps their own; that their unsupported opinions and subjective feelings will carry little weight in the “real world”; and that gratification does not always occur on demand.
College ought not to be merely a place where someone learns “skills” and racks up credentials, but rather an environment and an experience in which students learn, in addition to history and literature and mathematics, also how to begin to navigate the adult civilized world in an adult, civilized, and responsible manner. Their naïve assumptions about life and nature should be tempered by the rigors of discourse, debate, and discussion. Higher education should be training for life as it is — not as it is imagined by the child’s mind.
While I agree with this, I tend to think that history and literature and mathematics–in other words, a liberal arts education–is precisely the way in which we can teach our students to “navigate the adult civilized world in an adult civilized, and responsible manner.”