Wednesday, October 21, 2009

no college student left behind?

Harper's Magazine offers this take on the (in)solvency of Brandeis University: http://harpers.org/media/pages/2009/11/pdf/HarpersMagazine-2009-11-0082722.pdf
I'm sorry you won't be able to read the article (read "diagram") without a subscription to the magazine.

My best hunch is that there are many other schools with similar economic problems, and yet the audacity of expansion straight through a serious downturn is its own way impressive. I imagine college administrators near and far have a tremendous fear of what would happen to the enrollment numbers if their campuses were unable to offer the "cutting edge" or "newest facilities" or "high-tech dorms" or "state-of-the-art gym equipment."

In another article, I read that many Japanese private universities are in danger of going out of business. At an on-campus workshop, I mentioned that even Harvard University had cut jobs (around 500 if I'm not mistaken) this past year, and the glib facilitator of the event replied, "Do you think up at Harvard they ever note that even [add any school South of the Mason-Dixon line] cut jobs?" It sounded funny at the time, but the larger point to me is that recession and downturn are true global phenomena and that if understood in a more honest way, they could encourage more national and global cooperation.

National politicians of course have to be wary of how they embrace any "global" unity or togetherness whether the topic is global warming or higher education, and true to the conditions that get people elected, President Obama has stated he wants the United States to have the largest percentage of college graduates of any developed-world country. I believe this is a nice goal, even an essential one if we hope to maintain our status as a world leader in information, technology, or even information technology.

But perhaps a better goal would be to offer the best ratio of teachers to students at the institutions who will be doing the educating? By teachers, we could focus on access and class size; in other words, we could offer our young-adult citizens the greatest number of professors who actually teach our undergrads. In an age when lofty rhetoric and representation so often trump reality, we will most likely continue the trend of increasing the number of students while we decrease the number of undergraduate teachers, and I suspect as a nation, we will pretend we are doing the opposite. And this will most likely be both a national and global trend. As long as President Obama doesn't call his stated goal "No College Student Left Behind," I think the votership will give him the benefit of the doubt. I suppose we could try to get the k-12 teacher-student ratios down first.

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