A response to Pearlstein on college costs

In the latest uninformed higher education column in a major national newspaper, Steven Pearlstein writes about the four tough things universities should do to control costs. Pearlstein’s critiques are as tired as they are naive. He argues that all higher education needs to do is to 1) cap administrative costs; 2) Operate year-round, five days a week; 3) More teaching, less (mediocre) research; and 4) Cheaper, better general education.  Geez, why haven’t we thought of that before? Of course, the reality is that these issues are far more complicated than Pearlstein suggests.

Photo credit: Brad Warsh

The first fundamental mistake Pearlstein makes is confusing cost and price.  As I’ve written about before, the price of higher education has increased. He does mention some of the frequently touted causes by higher education faculty, administrators  including administrative bloat, unproductive faculty, and a decline of state funding. Yet, these ideas as simply dismissed as a pox on all their houses.

Why you should study higher education

Few people grow up saying that they want to work in higher education. Most people don’t even know a career in a college or university exists. Higher education is also one of those few fields that don’t have an undergraduate major with everyone entering the field at the graduate level. I often get asked about the advantages of a the academic study of higher education so in this post I want to discuss why you should study higher education.

Photo credit: Lisa Campeau

A graduate program in higher education will prepare you with a foundation necessary to understand how colleges and universities work.

Why I Declared War on Be Verbs

The only thing more difficult than learning scholarly writing may be trying to teach scholarly writing. Very few if any of us are well trained to teach writing skills or how to successfully navigate the writing process.  For many years, I did what I think most professors do. I had a long list of do’s and don’ts for students. However, I ultimately decided this way of teaching writing simply didn’t work. Even if students used the list, they didn’t learn how to improve their writing. Instead, I boiled the list down to a single item and declared war on be verbs.

Photo credit: kanegen

The last iteration of my writing do’s and don’ts list was 27 items long. It was out of hand.  

Student Involvement in Campus Governance

In light of student protests at the University of Missouri and other campuses across the country, I’ve been thinking about the historical role of students in the governance of colleges and universities. Students have played a key role in campus governance since the beginning of higher education in the United States. With the highly structured academic activities of students in early higher education, students sought outlets for socialization and fraternal bonding that was unavailable within the classrooms of the day. Literary and debate societies developed to become this outlet, forever changing student governance and student extracurricular involvement.

Photo credit: Sarah Bell/Missourian/AP

The role of the early colleges in creating the scholarly-gentleman created an emphasis on social prestige and exclusivity among the student body. The literary and debate societies were the tangible result of this push while student desire to enter the social elite fueled the popularity of the societies.