More Converging Forces: Higher Education Edition

Jul 15 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

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Higher education has been my theme this week. It began with my son's orientation at the University of Minnesota. While there I downloaded the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education which includes several articles of interest:

And an interesting discussion has arisen at A College Education, Gratis and Online, a commentary regarding the tuition-free online UoPeople.

Then last night my dad tossed me his copy of the July 9 issue of The Economist which features a Business article, How to make college cheaper.

These articles have common threads woven throughout, including what college faculty do and how much it costs. One common theme is separating the research and teaching missions of institutions so public "teaching money" does not end up subsidizing the research mission. Many of our assumptions about providing education get challenged in a good way.

This statement in the article about the Texas education agenda sent major chills up my spine:

Taxpayers deserve to know why many professors teach less than a full load and "where their research is being published, how many people are reading it, how much is it being cited, or is it, for lack of a better term, a publication for the sake of a publication - or worse, a vanity project?"

So now think-tank dudes want to look at the impact factor and citation rate of everyone's work on campus? The academic community has enough trouble deciding how to measure impact. As a pediatric nephrologist, I am working in a field with ~500 practitioners in the US at any given time. In such a specialized field, the impact any paper can have is limited by this small audience. Does that mean my work provides less value to the world than a neurobiologist who studies basic cellular functions in the brain and discovers stuff that can make the cover of Science? Not if your child has kidney disease, I bet.

Higher education has outpaced inflation for several years, and we need to reign in its costs (as we do for healthcare, as well). However, US universities are the cream of the crop; that's why so many students come from other countries to take courses here. We must not lose all the good stuff we have as we make changes.

Click on over and enjoy the other pieces, particularly the UoPeople discussion.


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