Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Collapse of Higher Education?


As you may have noticed, I am a sporadic blogger. I will post incessantly for a week, and then nothing at all. It is all related to my level of down time, in which I am able to just be lazy and ponder possibilities. As we speak, despite my insane amounts of work to do, I am doing a bit of self-imposed laziness. It's good for the soul. Tomorrow, though, I hit the books hard.

In the meantime, you may have noticed (if you follow my Google Reader share feed) that I've been posting articles about the collapse of higher education...or at least one. This particular article notes a series of disturbing trends that anyone who has ever been involved in higher education over the past few years will have noticed:
With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care.
I'm all about working hard to pay for your education. I'm all about waiting tables, being a teaching assistant, working construction during the summer. But those are pretty bad figures...tuition and fees at four times the rate of inflation and twice the rate of medical care?? That's just insane, my friends. Nothing can sustain those sorts of increases.

I suppose I could just say, let the markets decide, but we all know it is the trend of the government to prop up failing institutions, especially those deemed "too big to fail." So what is the college's options? Fail...OR expand at such an exponential rate, push through students during the sugar rush of false growth, that by the time the numbers don't add up, you've become too big to fail, hired too many people to fire without serious consequence, given out too many degrees that may become worthless. Conspiracy theories beside, I don't think I have to argue you into the belief that the consistency of these degrees would have been worthless long before the institution backing them failed. But degrees have become such a commodity, to not have one would render you useless to society, apparently.

This is not to say that I did not benefit from higher education. Indeed, I did. I received public funding as well (it really wouldn't have been possible otherwise these days). But there is no doubt in my mind that our current education system, given the title "bedrock of democracy," have come to mirror our own federal government: bloated, disconnected, and vacuous. Yet I am told, there is no other way! And education must continue! What would we become without education?? So, I read this with interest:
You probably haven't heard of the Ukrainian Catholic University - but I suspect that is going to change. For this wonderful institution offers a philosophy of teaching in radical contrast to the moribund model of Catholic further education found in this country and much of the West.

"You must look into this place," my (Anglican) friend Edward Lucas, author and Eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist, told me. "It's quite amazing." And it is. This university, run on a shoestring, teaches not only the liberal arts and trains Eastern-rite Catholic priests, but also places a community of mentally and physically handicapped people at the centre of its spiritual and social life.

Issues of affiliation aside, I suspect there is a passion at the center of this university that makes it a wholly different sort of place than our modern academy, which has, as Paglia has pointed out over and over again, become a four year booze-fueled, sex-infused resort town funded by mom and dad.

What has changed our current education system. I don't think I've ever been in a class (grade school to my masters) where I did not have a teacher or professor NOT complain about funding. Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that most of the money that should go to the teachers and programs, gets sidelined into other 'ventures.' But just from this short description, I sense a passion for learning (and the scopes to which learning should reach, that is, compassion) that I desperately wish had been present in my undergrad. Again, this is not to say I did not have a good experience in undergrad or grad school. I felt like I had a better lot than most. But I know my experience is a rarity.

OK, so what this boils down to is my feelings on what should drive higher education, and I'll just state it outright. We have made higher education too education focused! This might seem to contradict what I've said. But the ancients used to consider education a sort of soul-formation. Until we come to understand the place of education in the scope of the rest of society, it will become bloated by self-righteousness and then later collapse in a heap of irrelevant drivel.

Socrates would have said it better, I know.

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