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We do not demand enough (doing that would conflict with consumer friendliness, perhaps); our standards are not high enough (setting them higher creates retention worries); we accept half-hearted work from students who do not insist on enough from themselves and do not know how to ask for more from their teachers (doing otherwise would make college more serious; how could it still be “fun”? Degrees have become deliverables because we are no longer willing to make students work hard against high standards to earn them.
We mean the kind of thinking that elevates “branding” and “marketing” in importance and priority above educational programs and academic quality as ways to attract students and secure robust enrollments.
We mean the deplorable practice of building attractive new buildings while offering lackluster first- and second-year courses taught primarily by poorly paid and dispirited contingent faculty.
Resolving the learning crisis will therefore require fundamental, thoroughgoing changes in our colleges and universities.
There must be real change -- change beyond simplistic answers such as reducing costs and improving efficiency -- to improve value.
The core explanation is this: the academy lacks a serious culture of teaching and learning.
When students do not learn enough, we must question whether institutions of higher education deliver enough value to justify their costs.The primary problem is that the current culture of colleges and universities no longer puts learning first -- and in most institutions, that culture perpetuates a fear of doing so.Isolated examples to the contrary exist, but are only the exceptions that prove the rule.In the peer culture, time spent on class work, reading, and reflection must be limited; too much of it becomes a stain on a student’s social value.It has become possible -- even likely -- to survive academically, be retained in school, get passing grades and graduate with a baccalaureate despite long-term patterns of alcohol and other substance abuse that are known to damage the formation of new memories and reduce both the capacity and the readiness to learn.We allow passivity to dominate students’ already slight engagement with courses and faculty.Collectively Putting Learning First The common lament that higher education has become a business, or that it has emerged from its recent struggles having too much “corporate” character, is not the primary issue.The leaders of many, if not most, colleges and universities might agree with this assessment of the problem, but would likely argue, with some justice, that no single institution can risk being the only one to change; that restoring attention to the fundamentals, rather than the frills, would put that one institution at serious risk.Indeed, it is true that this is a collective problem, and that action by many schools, supported by a strong national impetus for change, is a necessary condition for success.We have reduced K-12 schooling to basic skill acquisition that effectively leaves most students underprepared for college-level learning.We have bastardized the bachelor’s degree by allowing it to morph into a ticket to a job (though, today, that ticket often doesn’t get you very far).