Schubart: Higher Ed

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Writer and commentator Bill Schubart has been thinking about how we are
going to restore educational excellence in our college and university
systems and about the investment priorities of many institutions of
higher learning as they compete for students who can afford their

(Schubart) The heart of education is the relationship
between a wise and knowledgeable teacher, a willing learner, and the
intellectual culture in the student’s home. Next, comes the availability
of educational tools and, finally, educational amenities.

asked about my own education, a dozen or so women and men made a difference.
They altered the course of my life. They cared
about me and stretched my capacity for acquiring knowledge and skills.

The mission of
education is to teach students to gather data and information and learn
to process it in a way that imbues them with knowledge. Experience then
enriches knowledge, imparting wisdom.

Many institutions of higher learning have lost their
way or at least confounded their priorities. In the competition to
attract students, amenities have come to play a greater role, consuming
more of the investments that are needed to deliver on educational
mission. At a time when fewer and fewer students and parents can afford
the amenities colleges compete to offer, colleges keep building new ones
to attract more applications. A former college president of a major New
England liberal arts college told me several years back that in a
student satisfaction survey, the top complaint was lack of adequate
shopping experiences in the small New England town in which the college
is located.

Meanwhile, colleges loath to confront outdated
tenure and post-employment benefit policies, sidestep these contentious
issues by hiring adjuncts to subsidize tenured faculty, exacerbating the
polarity of compensation between the two. The primary investment in any
school should be to hire and retain effective teachers. The policies
affecting their employment should be both generous and accountable.
Teachers should be held harmless from science-denying or ideologically
obsessed legislators and alumni/ae-donors. In turn, they should be held
accountable for the quality of their teaching and their student

Colleges and universities driven by mission will
compete internationally for the finest teachers, who themselves will be
the lifelong learners they urge their students to be. They will, by
necessity, be more mobile, counting less on tenure and more on diverse
teaching experiences. TA and adjunct hiring should become a limited
expediency to fill short-term gaps rather than a cost-cutting ploy.

tools are changing, as well. As books are scanned and become more
accessible and easily searchable, Library shelf space will give way to
global digital libraries, scientific databases, and networks linking
colleges and universities around the globe. Dorms will no longer be
filled with nine-month students but instead by year-round, successive
waves of lower residency students of all ages at a lower cost.

hierarchy of investment in world class institutions will be teachers
first, then educational resources and, finally, comfortable amenities.

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