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'Crisis on Campus' Plots Academe's Future

I recently had the chance to read Mark C. Taylor's excellent 'Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities'. It's a provocative read about the myriad issues facing higher education in the 21st century.

Taylor is a professor (and departmental chair) of religion at Columbia who's deeply concerned about both the current cost structure of our colleges and the way in which knowledge needs to be formed, taught, and learned to address the challenges facing our society. It's compelling to read such a vociferous critique coming from atop of the ivory tower, so to speak. He previously wrote a widely publicized editorial for the New York Times, advocating to end the university as we know it.

The book combines a short history of higher education's role in knowledge creation and dissemination, an assessment of the current structural issues that college and universities face (including questions of both financing and labor), and a discussion of new learning styles and job training in a 'networked' world. He's the type of writer who can make you feel smarter just for reading him.

One chapter in particular, 'Education Bubble', stood out because it seemed to channel my previous writings on what I called the college tuition and student loan bubble. Writes Taylor:

Honesty compels us to admit that the financial resources necessary to meet the needs of higher education are likely not forthcoming in the future... It is possible that this moment of crisis will provide us an opportunity rethink not only how to finance higher education, but also what goes on in college and university libraries, laboratories, and classrooms. (111)

Taylor recommends more flexible departments and interdisciplinary work, the end of tenure, and the increased use of technology-based learning as a panacea to higher education's ills. I'm more convinced of the former two suggestions than the later. Interpersonal connections are exactly the reason why students (and their families) are willing to pay such a premium to attend the top schools in the first place. Perhaps technology can help to bend the cost curve at community colleges, but it will be incredibly difficult to do so among the elite colleges that attempt to compete by offering the 'best' in everything.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on October 01, 2010 (#)

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