Saturday, October 27, 2018

#300 / Faith In Higher Ed?

The Cecil H. Green Library on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, California.
On October 12, 2018, the online magazine Pacific Standard published an article on higher education, titled, "Of Course Public Confidence in Higher Education is Down." Pacific Standard asks, "Why?" It then pretty much says, "oh, just let me count the reasons":

As Americans' faith in higher education reacts to rising costs, mounting debts, and the growing sense that preparation for the workforce need not take a four-year degree, the post-World War II ambitions of higher education—to affordably be everything to everyone —may prove to be a noble failure [sic. There's a split infinitive in that sentence].

I would have to admit that the serene picture above, of a library facility on the Stanford University campus, doesn't look much like a place where a high-powered focus on "preparation for the workforce" is going on. I would like to think that such library facilities would also be found at virtually all colleges and universities, though hopefully with some students making use of them! At any rate, the picture that Pacific Standard placed with its article does seem consistent with its idea that we are wasting a lot of money, needlessly. That library pictured clearly cost big bucks (of course, Stanford can afford it), and there is not much "workforce preparation" going on inside that library. If "workforce preparation" is what "higher education" is all about, then we've got a problem.

Let me just say something, though. The purpose of "higher education" is not to provide "workforce preparation." The idea that workforce preparation is the purpose of higher education suggests that bolstering ongoing commercial enterprise is the most important thing that education should do. Let me dissent. I think that education is to bolster "individual persons," not commercial enterprise. Criticisms about costs and student debt are right on target, but let's try to remind ourselves that we want education to build better informed, and even inspired, citizens. 

As for "workforce preparation," we don't need to be spending the big bucks to tell people how best to compete with robots!

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