More decline

A few more essays under my belt. Here are a few insights from the next three.

On admissions, several insights. 1) For all the fuss about admissions, the recognition that most students (80-90%) are not really affected by all this – they enroll in non-selective schools; 2) the marketization of admissions, which often leads to a manipulation of the system by either consultants helping students to find a school OR by schools manipulating the system for their benefit [DePaul, which expanded its enrollment to fulfill its mission rather than pursuing a more selective admissions policy and boosting its US News ranking, is an interesting counter-example], and 3) the lack of effective means to measure the effectiveness of education during the “lost years” between admission and the job search.

On unexamined assumptions (or as the essay title says: caveat lector): the basic issue is the loss of any genuine conception of a liberal education. The essay notes that courses which fulfill that core often do not meet the liberal education ideal [my favorite example, out of many, is Duke’s course: Campus Culture and Drinking as a humanities requirement], and that no one is actually measuring the effectiveness of those core courses that do exist. The last point is especially ironic in the way that schools increasingly reject AP scores as “not meeting college level requirements”! The core is, as the saying says, “hollow.”

Finally, on liberal education, concern is expressed about the collapse of the ideal of a liberal education.  In one sense, the essay argues that much like the earlier high school curricular battles, the argument is between those who wish to pursue liberal education for all and those who wish to limit it to a few exclusive programs and make more education job and career related. Why is this happening? A few suggestions from the essay: 1) market challenges [education is just another big business, increasingly offering only marketable/practical programs ], 2) self-inflicted curricular issues. What was once a broad curricular goal is not limited to just a general education core;  the principles of breadth and depth no longer seem relevant to the actual educational design. Moreover, students increasingly substitute AP courses or general ed courses taken at other institutions, further undermining the liberal ideal; 3) hidden differences between programs at four-year vs. two-year colleges. This is exacerbated by pressure from government to accept transfers even of non-equivalent courses (what matters is purely the number of credits, not whether they match any educational ideal!) ; and 4) lack of understanding of what a liberal education is and why one would want that rather than career preparation or campus amenities.

For those of us committed to the ideal of a liberal education, these essays make clear some of the challenges we face.


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