There is a study out, a fairly influential study, that reports that students who go to college are basically not learning how to think any better by the time they graduate. This study is the basis for the recent book, Academically Adrift. I finished the book over the weekend and now the ringing warning, “The ship is sinking!” keeps flashing in my head.
There are big problems with higher education. Here are a few, and I’ve gathered these from such books as Academically Adrift and my own observations. This is not exhaustive.
1. Well done research studies cannot be ignored. The awesome learning us faculty thought was happening on our campuses is not happening. In fact, there might not be any substantial learning going on at all. Some faculty will just poo-poo the studies of Academically Adrift and say that the have some problems with their methodology. This one faculty person said that to me a couple of days ago, but that’s avoidance. Wake up faculty! You cannot ignore good evidential findings.
2. Most faculty are hired to teach, though few, if any, of them have had any training on how to teach. K-12 teachers have had tons of training. College teachers – zero. Is that the dumbest thing ever?!?!?!?? Maybe it makes perfect sense that students aren’t learning how to think any better. Us faculty probably aren’t the right ones to teach students since we’re probably not teaching well.
3. Faculty are hired to educate students, but teaching is only a part of what we’re supposed to do. It depends on the school, but there is usually considerable research and service [read “committee work”] demands. So while a faculty member’s time should be spent overwhelmingly on teaching and improving one’s teaching, there are other hurdles to jump so that we aren’t fired. Unfortunately, the major criterion for getting tenure and promotion at UWW is research. One has to have the right number of publications or else get ready for a great big, “NO!” when it comes time for your tenure decision. The irony is so few people actually read what one publishes, but at UWW, we have over 120 students a semester of whom we have the chance to educate. Research does nothing for the education of students, whereas our teaching is paramount. Service can be hit or miss depending on what one is doing. But lots of “service” can be busywork.
4. Tenure is a problem. While it was instituted as a way to protect the academic freedom of faculty, it has become the bed of which lazy professors can lie. For many professors, once they get tenure, they take it as license to take it easy on improving their teaching and engaging in any research. They view tenure as protection from getting fired, even if their performance slips to sub-par. Tenure is a big problem.
5. University athletics are a problem. Do bigger and better sports teams and the millions of dollars spent on those programs help education at all? Absolutely not! Whatever profit is made goes right back into the sports machine.
6. Schools focus on better, glossier buildings, better workout facilities, and state-of-the-art residence halls all to appeal the consumerism of students. Tons of money is spent on the frivolous, when most of that needs to be reinvested in improving education. Did I mention that studies are showing that students aren’t learning how to think better?
7. Most people (students, faculty, administration, parents, politicians, and business people) view higher education exclusively as a substantial job-training program. They don’t view higher education as a place to be challenged, a place to find your commitments, an arena to grow wiser and develop cognitively, a way to find your passions, or the means to become a more interesting person. There is a difference between “training” and “education.” The latter is so much more appealing, but it is losing favor with everyone because of the market.
8. Tuition is increasing, thus student loan debt is increasing. P-R-O-B-L-E-M
There are more problems – you know there are more problems (e.g., grade inflation, student apathy, easier classes…).
I’m thoroughly overwhelmed now. The ship is sinking…the ship is sinking…