How Can Universities Improve?
America faces a crisis in higher learning. Too many college graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently and clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers. In a metaphorical sense, we are losing our minds. How can this be if American higher education is supposed to be the best in the world?
By now, the standard curriculum has become so firmly rooted that during the periodic reviews conducted in most universities, the faculty rarely pause to examine the tripartite division and its effect upon the established goals of undergraduate education. Instead, the practice of reserving up to half of the required number of credits for the major is simply taken for granted along with maintaining a distribution requirement and preserving an ample segment of the curriculum for electives. The obvious remedy is to include the non-tenure-track instructors who currently make up a majority of the teaching faculty in curricular reviews so that all those who play a substantial part in trying to achieve the goals of undergraduate education can participate in the process. It is anomalous to allow the tenure-track faculty to enjoy exclusive power over the curriculum when they provide such a limited share of the teaching. Such a reform might be difficult under current conditions in many colleges where most undergraduate instructors serve part-time, are often chosen haphazardly and frequently lack either the time or the interest to participate fully in a review of its undergraduate program. If adjunct instructors achieve the status previously described, however, their prominent role in teaching undergraduates should entitle them to a seat at the table to discuss the educational program, including its current structure. Such a move could at least increase the likelihood of a serious discussion of the existing curricular structure to determine whether it truly serves the multiple aims of undergraduate education. Colleges should also consider allowing some meaningful participation by members of the administrative staff who are prominently involved in college life, such as deans of student affairs and directors of admission. The current division between formal instruction and the extracurriculum is arbitrary, since many goals of undergraduate education, such as moral development and preparation for citizenship, are influenced significantly by the policies for admitting students, the administration of rules for student behavior, the advising of undergraduates, the nature of residential life and the extracurricular activities in which many students participate. Representatives from all groups responsible for the policies and practices that affect these goals should have something to contribute to reviews of undergraduate education.
The curriculum in those early days focused on political oratory and economy. The students of those days were young men and of mercantile backgrounds. The students’ racial background was mostly white. Most professions did not require a degree at part of the qualification but parents saw the idea as the only source of insurance for their children. This insurance was used as a tool that would instill leadership and service in the young generation of the time. The colleges at that important time in history did not have a regulatory system that would have guided and governed their activities. This meant that each colonial college had its own separate operations that mostly reflected their regional customs. Many changes in the nineteenth century opened new channels that accommodated and transformed communities creating new opportunities for previously neglected groups (Thelin, 2004). The number of colleges increased as time went by. In addition, the increase of colleges like the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan made it possible for poor families to access tertiary education that had been previously expensive to acquire. Majority of women preferred small liberal art colleges in the early days. The women had overcome the beliefs and the barriers that hindered them to have formal education earlier on. Protestant groups were behind the founding of colleges for the African Americans for practical application and for focusing on economic development. The increase of colleges created middle class of professionals of those days. The new fields were popular among the racial minorities and the women. In the late eighteen seventies, Yale University was the most emulated model of the undergraduate experience at that time in the American land. The university followed a four-year curriculum, which had class distinctions and athletic teams (Kyvik, 2009).
For the most part, when students start to have doubts about their course or institution, they can feel isolated or alone. They might not see the help available and feel disconnected from anyone who can turn things around. This is a major issue in falling student retention rates. To counter the problem, universities and colleges must look to connect on a more personalized level, through a range of initiatives from counseling and alumni mentorship programs, to fostering a strong sense of community on-campus and through social media. In the digital age, peer reviews can have a big impact on the success of any brand. The most powerful way to boost brand awareness is through the people who believe in it most - your students.
Kyvik, S. (2009). The dynamics of change in higher education: Expansion and contraction in an organizational field. New York: Springer
Smart, C. J. (2009). Higher education: Handbook of theory and research. New York, NY: Springer
Thelin, J. R. (2004). A history of American higher education. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press