David Bromwich AUGUST 14, 2014 ISSUE
Andrew Rossi’s documentary Ivory Tower prods us to think about the crisis of higher education. But is there a crisis? Expensive gambles, unforeseen losses, and investments whose soundness has yet to be decided have raised the price of a college education so high that today on average it costs eleven times as much as it did in 1978. Underlying the anxiety about the worth of a college degree is a suspicion that old methods and the old knowledge will soon be eclipsed by technology.
Indeed, as the film accurately records, our education leaders seem to believe technology is a force that—independent of human intervention—will help or hurt the standing of universities in the next generation. Perhaps, they think, it will perform the work of natural selection by weeding out the ill-adapted species of teaching and learning. A potent fear is that all but a few colleges and universities will soon be driven out of business.
It used to be supposed that a degree from a respected state or private university brought with it a job after graduation, a job with enough earning power to start a life away from one’s parents. But parents now are paying more than ever for college; and the jobs are not reliably waiting at the other end. “Even with a master’s,” says an articulate young woman in the film, a graduate of Hunter College, “I couldn’t get a job cleaning toilets at a local hotel.” The colleges are blamed for the absence of jobs, though for reasons that are sometimes obscure. They teach too many things, it is said, or they impart knowledge that is insufficiently useful; they ask too much of students or they ask too little. Above all, they are not wired in to the parts of the economy in which desirable jobs are to be found.
A fair number of the current complaints derive from a fallacy about the proper character of a university education. Michael Oakeshott, who wrote with great acuteness about university study as a “pause” from utilitarian pursuits, described the fallacy in question as the reflection theory of learning. Broadly, this theory assumes that the content of college courses ought to reflect the composition and the attitudes of our society. Thus, to take an extreme case that no one has put into practice, since Catholics make up 25 percent of the population of the United States, a quarter of the curriculum ought to be dedicated to Catholic experiences and beliefs. The reflection theory has had a long history in America, and from causes that are not hard to discover. It carries an irresistible charm for people who want to see democracy extended to areas of life that lie far outside politics.
An explicitly left-wing version of the theory holds that a set portion of course work should be devoted to ethnic materials, reflecting the lives and the self-image of ethnic minorities. But there has always been a conservative version too. It says that a business civilization like ours should equip students with the skills necessary for success in business; and this demand is likely to receive an answering echo today from education technocrats. The hope is that by conveying the relevant new skills to young people, institutions of higher learning will cause the suitable jobs to materialize. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, believes this, and accordingly has pressed for an alternative to college that will bring the US closer to the European pattern of “tracking” students into vocational training programs. Yet the difficulty of getting a decent job after college is probably the smaller of two distinct sources of anxiety. The other source is the present scale of student debt… MORE
The rise in U.S. college tuition is unsustainable. That’s the argument of a new television documentary, «Ivory Tower,» which tackles growing worries and critique over college costs and student debt. Jeffrey Brown talks to filmmaker Andrew Rossi about the origins of rising costs and financial competition among institutions, plus ideas about how to turn around the trend. (PBSHour Publicado el 23/6/2014
The rise in U.S. college tuition is unsustainable. That’s the argument of a new television documentary, «Ivory Tower,» which tackles growing worries and critique over college costs and student debt. Jeffrey Brown talks to filmmaker Andrew Rossi about the origins of rising costs and financial competition among institutions, plus ideas about how to turn around the trend. (PBS NewsHour. Published on June 23, 2014)