Part 1 of this series, “Attack of the Politicians,” discussed the widespread notion that higher education’s purpose is, first and foremost, to prepare students for the workforce. Part 2, “Higher Education Strikes Back (Weakly),” focused on the idea that higher education actually serves a multitude of purposes, preparation for a career being perhaps the most important, but far from the only, purpose. Part 3, “A New Hope,” considered the findings of a Gallup-Purdue study that correlated particular experiences and opportunities students had as undergraduates with a subsequent rich and fulfilling life – and surely “a great job and a great life” is something that all prospective students (and their parents) desire.
For the past 18 months, I have made numerous posts wherein I have described my reactions to seeing the gradual disintegration of both the public and private models of higher education, in a manner akin to watching a slow-motion train wreck.
Well, the rate of disintegration is increasing. The slow-motion train wreck is speeding up. Consider five categories of evidence from the news media in recent weeks:
(1) The gap between the wealthy privates and everyone else is becoming a chasm.
My claim in my blog post of Oct. 15, 2013, that, in some respects, the wealthy colleges and universities seem more like investment companies that do a little teaching on the side now seems more prophetic than ever. Two recent articles make the case.
For the past three weeks, we have been considering one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. today: the astronomical increase in the price of public higher education that has seriously impacted access for an increasing number of students now in the K-12 pipeline, coupled with growing concerns by parents and prospective students that the quality of the undergraduate experience at these public institutions has fallen, despite the rise in price.
Now, in Part 4, we will consider some possible solutions – but a warning: these solutions are much easier to identify than they will be to implement. The question will be whether the public’s interest in a college education that is both affordable and high quality will prevail over a higher education establishment that wants the status quo (even as it continues to lobby for larger state appropriations).
This is the third part of a conversation about what has gone wrong with public higher education. In Part 1, we considered some metrics that demonstrate the extent of the problem:
- Low graduation rates at most public universities and colleges;
- Insufficient funds to offer a quality educational experience;
- Rising levels of deferred maintenance of campus buildings and infrastructure;
- A focus on graduate education and research at the expense of serving the undergraduate population;
- Diversion of scarce instructional funds to support Division I athletics;
- A steep decline in affordability because of rapidly rising tuitions (public university tuition and fees have risen by more than 70 percent in just the past five years in Arizona, Georgia and Washington state – Morning Edition, National Public Radio, March 18, 2014).