Unsponsored and Unfiltered Mutterings on Education, Politics, and Business from Someone Who Still Hasn't Learned to Keep His Big Mouth Shut
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Restructuring Higher Ed
In a commentary published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Bugeja recently made some interesting administrative suggestions on how to address the financial difficulties that we now see throughout much of American higher ed: Bugeja Commentary (part 2) - Chronicle of Higher Ed
Indeed, some large changes of program structure may be required to put our colleges and universities on a sustainable path... while also helping students under the current economic circumstances. For example:
(1a) The classic 4 year college degree make less and less sense, as more students enter college with substantial AP credit. A few years ago, I conducted a survey of students in a rather difficult (physics) degree program and was astounded to discover that ~half could actually finish in *3* years. If you stop and think about that, it's really fundamental to the higher ed cost problem. That means that an entire year of tuition could be lifted from the student... but also a year of revenue could be lost from the school. If anything, I expect this trend to continue- we could soon see a sizable fraction of students doing even less than 3 years at their graduating institution. Obviously, tuition inflation is motivating students to do anything and everything to reduce their cost, and that certainly includes loading up on AP credit and doing summer coursework at less expensive schools.
(1b) ...but on the flipside, due to unacceptable failings in K-12 rigor, we still have a number of students coming in who need to take introductory, remedial coursework. High school material should of course be taught in high school, not at much higher expense in college, in larger classes, by instructors who are far better suited to smaller courses. And as I have been ranting for some time (http://keithwms.blogspot.com/2...
), the experience of an underprepared student is *very* different from that of a student who comes in ready to take all that the college can give. This issue is a big part of the reason why online ed is in our headlines.
(2) Another major issue I perceive is that masters degrees are still incorrectly regarded as failed PhD attempts in many programs. This should change. The labor market needs junior but professional individuals who have knowledge, maturity, hands-on capabilities and good communication skills... things that a good masters program can provide. I find that students who have completed thorough coursework, done research or an internship, and have written a thesis have a level of maturity substantially better than most BA/BS grads. That extra year or two can make a *lot* of difference in the employability of the student (not to mention the benefits seen in GRE or other professional exams). Particularly in the sciences, I believe there should be far more emphasis on developing good masters programs. These would be very attractive to students in a slowly recovering labor market.
(Note: for accreditation purposes, there is a constant push for more and more PhD programs and higher number of PhD grads, something which I think is financially ruinous. The PhD must remain a rare distinction. There simply aren't enough jobs for PhD in many fields, and the hiring market for PhDs outside of academia is not coming back any time soon.)
Putting all of these items together, it is apparent to me that colleges should look very seriously at 3+2 or 4+1 programs as a way to restore rigor and challenge to their bachelors/masters programs and to benefit students in their transition from college to the workplace.