A grassroots online newspaper exclusively for, and by, those who understand higher education best, The EvoLLLution is the only place where you can find detailed opinions, news and research about the impact of non-traditional programs on the higher education industry and society-at-large. ·
Higher education has never been primarily about learning actual things or actual skills. It has always been (and I mean all the way to the first universities) about peer acceptance for the graduates and meeting the requirements of the institution for the students. That’s not to say that a lot of people don’t learn lots of useful things while attending university. But if that was enough lawyers wouldn’t need the bar, doctors wouldn’t need their residency and university teachers would not have to learn everything all over again when they start teaching a new subject.
Mills continued his conscilience by saying that he is skeptical about a lot of university instruction. But I think that is the wrong approach to take. University instruction has always been just abominable. The vast majority of classes most university students have attended throughout history were taught by drones more or less competent in their subject sometimes reading out of a textbook sometimes cracking a joke. If that really mattered how would have we ever gotten to where we are now? Massive innovation and erudition as far as the eye can see. Even those we disagree with (like the neocons and creationists for me) cannot really be accused of a lack of intelligence or erudition. We talk about the need for better historical education but some of the worst political decisions have been taken by people who studied history meticulously (and it’s no good saying “if they had only read that one paper I wrote on that issue”). We talk about the need for better science education but some of the best innovations have come out of school drop outs who flunked the foundational STEM subjects. Why on earth would we think tinkering around with instruction would make a dent in any of that?
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Despite so many fat years, universities have done little until recently to improve the courses they offer. University spending is driven by the need to compete in university league tables that tend to rank almost everything about a university except the (hard-to-measure) quality of the graduates it produces. Roger Geiger and Donald Heller of Pennsylvania State University say that since 1990, in both public and private colleges, expenditures on instruction have risen more slowly than in any other category of spending, even as student numbers have risen. Universities are, however, spending plenty more on administration and support services (see chart 2). ·