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America’s Higher Education Model Needs No Fix

“We thought that economists were bad at predicting. Next to educational pundits, they have the vision of Nostradamus,” wrote Barry Glassner, president of Lewis and Clark College, and Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, last week in the LA Times.

The two said critics—who predict that traditional colleges and universities will be replaced by more efficient, technologically-advanced online and for-profit models—leave them “suppressing the urge to yawn.”

They pointed out many age-old critiques of higher education, including the claim made around 1900 by Stanford University’s Founding President David Starr Jordan that the liberal arts college would be coming to an end. They also made some links to the past, touching on the major financial burdens shouldered by universities during the Great Depression “when public colleges suffered 40 percent reductions in funding and private institutions lost more than a quarter of their endowments and more than 70 percent of gifts from benefactors.”

Glassner and Schapiro counter the point that for-profit colleges are enrolling an increasing percentage of undergraduates with the fact that traditional private and public universities are experiencing dramatic declines in the percentage of students they admit, evidence of the high demand that still exists.

Further, they pooh-pooh the expansion of online education, saying the concept of an online degree replacing “the four-year undergraduate growth experience” is “as unfounded now as when first articulated 20 years ago.”

They close their piece by offering their shared fear; that the critical predictions they constantly face will eventually come to pass should educational leaders make changes based on the “scaremongers who are all too anxious to force us to adopt a new model.”