Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So, where do your kids go to school?

Last week, after reading what must have been more than two dozen pieces on the need for change in higher education, in such forums as the New York Times, Forbes, the Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher EducationI tweeted the following.

Later, I started pressing some of the tweeters using #highered and #edtech whether or not the revolutionary changes they advocate would provide a sufficient higher education for their own children and grandchildren.

@tvanderark dodged my question. So did @Learn4Work, especially when I asked her if her own traditional education (via Linkedin) is the “elite education” that now might be worthy of some scorn.

It seems that not a week goes by without some conservative, liberal, or libertarian thought leader (think David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, or Richard Vedder) decrying our supposedly broken higher education system, with its out-of-control costs, unproductive faculty, and inability to fully prepare students for successful careers. While it is true that we have to figure out how to take out costs, increase productivity, and become more competency focused – that is far too broad of a stroke to paint us all with. I'll stand any day for the education that is delivered by the University of Georgia or that my kids received from Texas A&M. My own hypothesis is that when you control for student ability, the selectivity of their college or university, and the quality of their secondary education, you find that higher education does a much better job than it gets credit for. But that doesn't make for sensational headlines.

That's not my point though. The real question for me is what type of higher education do we want for our kids and grandkids? Do we aspire for them a more traditional experience that broadly prepares them to be fully engaged citizens? Or, do we want something that is designed more for vertical scalability (think MOOCs), driven by cost-effectiveness, and aimed largely at career development? Count me as being naive, but I still believe that the better you do at the former, the better the chance the latter takes care of itself.

But that is not what I am worried about. My fear is that reliance on market-based reforms and decreased emphasis on regulation, particularly controls on federally sponsored financial aid, will have the same effect as they have had throughout our economy: a widening separation between the haves and the have-nots and further undermining of the American middle class. We have to reform higher education, but we cannot do it in a way that preserves a traditional higher education for those with economic means and something much different and potentially far less for everyone else. We should have higher aspirations for our kids and our grandkids.

Anyway, I’ll get more excited about what David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Richard Vedder have to say about #highered reform when they tell me where they want their kids and grandkids to go to school.

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