Declining by Degrees

Over Christmas with family visits, travel, etc. the reading has been light. But I dug into my holiday pile today!

I’ve begun reading a series of essays on education in Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk edited by Richard Hersh and John Merrow. The essays were created in connection with a PBS series of the same name. It’s an interesting set of essays. As Tom Wolfe notes in the foreword, parents and students have been so focused on getting in that they have stopped there:

What parent had any energy or perseverance left to be concerned about the aftermath, namely, the ensuing four years of “education”?

This book examines the actual education taking place from various perspectives. While the editors recognize many successes, they are also concerned with “the decline in the quality of American undergraduate education.”

In the first chapter, the failure of the media to cover higher education is discussed (a fairly depressing picture). The second talks about public  polling data on higher education. What is most interesting to me is that the public is most concerned about access and affordability (two things we have heard a lot about at my institution), but has expressed little interest/concern in issues of quality of education. It is an interesting contrast to what my academic colleagues (and many education experts!) seem to be most concerned about – there is much concern about the quality of education (and its decline). In fact, a number of the later chapters deal with this latter issue; but it cannot be dealt with apart from an awareness of broader public perceptions. I’m not quite sure how to deal with this divergence – it may express some of the tensions that are being experienced in a variety of institutions.

I’ll keep working on this book!


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