the “future” of higher education
Average folks and higher education researchers have conflicting views of academia. Average folks believe that most college teachers are tenured professors and that most students are residential students who play ultimate Frisbee on the quad. Higher education researchers have a different view. We know that most teachers are actually part time adjuncts and graduate students. Residential college is for the top of the pool. Most students are part time commuters or community college students. The mistake that people make is that the most visible forms of higher education (e.g., elite research unviersities and liberal arts schools) are the most common.
This split between folk wisdom and what the experts know is evident in David Purcell’s comment:
Higher ed and how students are credentialed (see the recent discussions on badges) are clearly going to evolve. In short, I see higher ed bifurcating into “good schools” and “everything else,” not unlike the labor market.
The common folk wisdom is that the Internet will make this happen. The experts know that this has already happened and it has nothing to do with online courses or other Internet based learning.
Basically, students want two things from higher education. Some want genuine engagement and learning – and that immersion is hard to replicate on the Internet. But most want job credentials. So what do you get? The research universities and elite liberal arts colleges specialize being places of advanced learning. That’s where you go if you really want to learn science or philosophy, or other serious topics. It also acts as a credential.
So where does the split into “the best and the rest” come from? The average student doesn’t want or need advanced training in anything. They need a credential and some basic vocational instruction. And you don’t need a fancy research university to do that. Once people realized that, then the natural tendency was to “deskill” colleges. Once the tenured folks retire, replace them with adjuncts and graduate students. Bloat the large lecture classes, and so forth. Administrators soak up the savings.
Why do we need residential colleges? As long as college degrees signal a degree of conformity, they can’t be done online. Remote and online learning is often – justifiably – interpreted as the tool used by people who simply can’t deal with a regular college. As long as that is true, the residential college is here to stay.