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Friday, July 10, 2015

Inside the academy, time to ask some difficult questions

Photo: Glenn Altschuler
Glenn Altschuler, Cornell University reports, "An academic asks: whom should we teach? What should we teach? How should we teach?"
What should be the aim of higher education?
Photo: UBC Library Communications

These days, public discussion of colleges and universities in the United States – and there is a lot of it – is almost exclusively concerned with rising costs, the job prospects of graduates, the contributions of colleges and universities to economic growth, and funding by the states and the federal government.

Although this attention devoted to the economics of higher education is understandable, it has crowded out a discussion of equally fundamental, and perhaps even more fundamental, issues.

At or near the top of this list, I would argue, are: whom should we teach? What should we teach? How should we teach?

The observations (and assertions) that follow are meant to stimulate a conversation about these questions among professors, administrators and students inside the academy – and citizens who are (or should be) interested in the role of colleges and universities as engines of equal opportunity, empowerment and social progress.

Who gets access? 
Let’s consider the first question: whom should we teach? 

Colleges and universities, especially elite institutions, can and should do a lot more to enroll academically talented students from lower- and middle-class families. A study completed in 2003 by the Consortium on Financing Higher Education found that 36% of all highly-qualified high school seniors (with excellent grade point averages and combined SAT scores over 1200) come from the top 20% of families as measured by income. Fifty-seven percent of undergraduates at selective colleges and universities, however, come from this group.

Wealthy American families, then, are overrepresented on these campuses by 21%.

Financial aid, provided on the basis of need, is of course essential to addressing this imbalance. But so is outreach to underrepresented students and their families, many of whom do not know much about financial aid, in the form of loans and grants, for which they might be eligible.

As is evident in the above details, greater access to higher education will benefit not only the individuals who matriculate but American society as a whole.

Source: The Conversation US