Featured Articles

The following is a list of articles that discuss many of the issues we will consider throughout the year.

The Schools We Need
In this article, a teacher of Freshmen Composition discusses the role of public education in American democracy. He argues that public education desperately needs to be revitalized “by implementing a curriculum that incubates… ‘the citizen-self.’”

The College as a Philanthropy 
The President of Southwestern College argues that a college is a philanthropy, not a business. 

A Discussion about the History and Purpose of the American College
“To succeed in sustaining college as a place where liberal learning still takes place will be very costly. But in the long run, it will be much more costly if we fail.”

What Is "Liberal Education"?
This web page, from the American Association of College and Universities website, summarizes the goals of a 21st century liberal education.

Liberal Education and the Liberal Arts
This article distinguishes liberal education from the liberal arts. The author suggests that a liberal education in the liberal arts “is the best preparation for work, for citizenship, for a satisfied life.”

Education Gap Grows Between Rich And Poor
“Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.”

Economy Puts Value of Liberal Arts Under Scrutiny
“Even the most wealthy and well-established liberal arts schools are concerned about how they can afford to keep offering the same small, intimate classroom experience and low faculty-student ratios that they are known for.”

Causes of the Rising Cost of Higher Education
"Since nonprofit institutions of higher education follow a balanced-budget model, expenditures are capped by revenues. Therefore the real cost per student cannot increase without a corresponding increase in real revenues. So the problem has not been too little revenue. Nevertheless, college affordability has declined. So the crucial question is: Where was all that new money spent?"

 The Value of the Humanities
This article discusses the prevailing tendency to use economic indicators to measure the effectiveness of higher education. This economic model vastly undervalues the humanities, which contribute “a ‘deep’ civic function” not easily measured by market indicators.

The Challenges Elite Liberal Arts Colleges Are Facing
“Those challenges include a changing college-going demographic that will result in fewer upper-class students, the traditional pool for a residential liberal arts colleges; increasing skepticism among the public about the value of a liberal arts degree with no direct ties to a profession; the rising costs of educating a student, which will likely result in even higher tuition; and a changing understanding of technology that might require greater inclusion of technology in the curriculum, both as a tool for learning and a subject.”

The Effects of a Liberal Arts Education
This academic paper provides some of the strongest statistical evidence of the positive effect of a liberal arts education on desirable learning outcomes, including leadership, inclination toward lifelong learning, psychological well-being, and intercultural effectiveness.

Universities Experiment in Online Education
“A dozen major universities announced that they would begin providing content to Coursera, an innovative platform that makes interactive college classes available to the public free on the web. Next fall, it will offer at least 100 massive open online courses -- otherwise known as MOOCs-- designed by professors from schools such as Princeton, CalTech, and Duke that will be capable of delivering lessons to more than 100,000 students at a time.”

Online Education and “the Obsolescence Question”
How does the rhetoric about online education in the future affect the state of higher education today? This article examines the ways in which technology companies talk about an “inevitable” move toward online initiatives that are costly and unproven, and how such claims affect students, faculty, and society.

“Don't Confuse Technology With College Teaching”
“Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.”

An Indictment of Higher Education
A summary of Richard Arum and Joseph Roksa’s Academically Adrift, a much discussed study of the failings of American higher education.

The Winner: A Liberal Education
This short piece by the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College reflects on the findings of Academically Adrift with respect to liberal education.

The Vocabulary of Moral Evaluation
“Many people today find it easy to use the vocabulary of entrepreneurialism, whether they are in business or social entrepreneurs. This is a utilitarian vocabulary. How can I serve the greatest number? How can I most productively apply my talents to the problems of the world? It’s about resource allocation. People are less good at using the vocabulary of moral evaluation, which is less about what sort of career path you choose than what sort of person you are.”

Teach the Books, Touch The Heart
“We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.”

Stop Telling Students To Study For Exams
“The education system is desperate for a new model, and higher education is the best place to start because postsecondary faculty have more flexibility to experiment with alternative forms of pedagogical techniques than primary and secondary teachers do. We can use these opportunities to make a difference in the way students study, learn, and understand.”

Making Education “Practical”
While college students feel mounting pressure to narrowly focus on areas of learning thought to be “practical,” there is strong evidence that employers prefer to hire graduates who learn the skills most associated with a broad-based liberal arts education: critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and effective oral and written communication.

Leaders Are Readers
This article from the Harvard Business Journal discusses the reading habits of some of the world's most renowned business leaders. It contrasts these with the general trend toward declining reading habits of people going into business today, a trend the author argues is "terrible for leadership."

 The New MCAT: Pre-Med’s New Priorities
“In addition to the hard-science and math questions that have for decades defined this rite of passage into the medical profession, nearly half of the new MCAT will focus on squishier topics in two new sections: one covering social and behavioral sciences and another on critical analysis and reading that will require students to analyze passages covering areas like ethics and cross-cultural studies.”

 The Liberal Arts and the Business Major
“While business remains the most popular college major, higher-education leaders and deans of business schools … want to boost the rigor of most business courses offered today. They also want to improve the ability of graduates of these programs to think in more nuanced ways and from multiple perspectives.”

 “The Value of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship”
The author interviews a number of entrepreneurs from around the world and finds that for many of them “the ways of thinking, making connections, and approaching problems developed through the rigorous study of philosophy maintained their relevance and value long after graduation. While having a background in philosophy may not be enough to start and manage a successful business, philosophy grads do bring a unique set of skills to new businesses.”

The Liberal Arts, Innovative Thinking, and Business Success
Intuitive thinking can be learned, and a liberal arts curriculum produces the kind of highly innovative thinking that will define 21st century business success. The author looks at several exemplars of innovation and job creation and examines how they draw from surprising sources of inspiration.

Religious Diversity on the College Campus
How and why are colleges engaging in conversations about faith identity? Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, argues that “colleges are miniature civil societies that can nurture that vision of interfaith respect and cooperation, and train a critical mass of leaders to help achieve it.”

Higher Education: Mass vs. Elite
The author examines the increasing global demands for access to higher education and the potential dangers of standardization. An effectively diverse higher education system requires that students have “good information, good guidance, and financing.”

Creative, Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Thinkers
Scale, efficiency, profitability, and growth are yesterday’s problems. Today’s opportunities: singularity, sociality, spontaneity, and synchronicity. The author talks about what those mean and how creative, collaborative, interdisciplinary thinkers can engage with tomorrow’s possibilities.

“Wall Street and the Liberal Arts: What's Not Wrong with Higher Education”
The author examines the argument that the liberal arts provide a useless degree without marketable skills. He argues that “a liberal arts education is as much about values as it is about value. The values liberal arts students learn are worth more than the value of the degree they will earn.”

“In Defense of the Liberal Arts”
In this 2010 column, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham revisits his alma mater, The University of The South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and ponders the habits of mind that are instilled by the liberal arts. Preparing students to live a good life, not just “the good life, should be a goal of all institutions of higher education. Cutting the liberal arts is a “false economy.”

Fair Access to College?
The author shows that, perhaps not surprisingly, students from families in the bottom income quartile are significantly underrepresented in many colleges and universities. This is the case despite the fact that selective colleges admit highly qualified students from low-income families at roughly the same rates as for affluent families. The gap stems from systemic, long-term disadvantages that begin to affect students years before college applications begin. The author concludes that “to create a more equitable society, and to ensure the kind of social mobility that Americans espouse, we need to address the disadvantages that poor families face at earlier stages of their life cycles.”

The Rest of Your Life
George David Clark, ruminating on the impending birth of his daughter, thinks about what she might be when she grows up. Will she follow in his academic footsteps? Clark’s recent reading of Andrew Delbanco’s book, College: What It Was, Is, And Should Be (an R:TE Book Club selection), leads him to focus on Delbanco’s challenge to students and other readers: “How do you make ‘the inside of your head an interesting place to spend the rest of your life’?” “Whatever my daughter chooses to do with her life,” he writes, “few things will make me happier than knowing that the inside of her head is an interesting place.”

How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America
Scott Gerber recommends that colleges incorporate programs in entrepreneurship into their undergraduate curricula, and examines the ways in which Babson College has done this. “Simply put, entrepreneurship education gives young people a toolkit to apply their field of study to the real world,” he argues, in ways that should be complementary to a liberal arts education: “‘Well-rounded’ and ‘self-sufficient’ shouldn't be mutually exclusive concepts.”

Elba Without a Waterloo
Bernie Dunlap reflects on his years as Wofford’s president and identifies three areas of introspection for higher education in general and the small liberal arts college: the role of athletics in the mission of the college; the four-year model of baccalaureate education; and the traditional relationship between research and teaching. “We must be prepared, in short, to scrutinize all the cows in the herd, no matter how sacred some of them might be,” Dunlap argues, especially as we work to preserve the role of the liberal arts college as a central influence in a democratic society.

"Technology and the Liberal Arts"
This article argues that the rift between the sciences and the humanities may be healed in an unlikely place: Silicon Valley. Today’s innovators are looking for new niches and must be able to tell stories to investors: stories that explain new products, new techniques, and new investment opportunities. English majors and other humanities majors can do this more effectively than other students. “The battleground in business has shifted from engineering to storytelling, for which fewer people have real talent.” Imagination, metaphor, and storytelling will be crucial in the 21st century technology world. Humanities programs must rise to the demand.

An Old-School Notion: Writing Required
“Seeking to improve learning by making better use of writing is decidedly old school. It runs against the grain of sexy new ideas about how to change higher education, like massive open online courses. Assigning and evaluating writing are also labor-intensive tasks that are not easily done in large classes. And they are uneasy fits for an economic model increasingly reliant on contingent faculty members, who often have little time or are not paid for grading. But if academe and its critics want students to leave college with sharper thinking skills, writing ought to gain a higher priority.”

Somebody Made This: Who?
Blogger Amy Weldon, a writer and a writing teacher, reflects on her first pottery class and the ways in which being a student can enrich the experiences of being a teacher. She writes about the ways in which the tactile and emotional experiences of making enrich our lives: “When you try to make things, with your own hands, focusing only on that task and letting everything else fall away, you join up with that great, silent stream of human dignity and craft throughout time — of who we are, at our best — running constantly just below the surface of the visible world, palpable if you know how to feel it.”

Architecture, Engineering, the Applied Sciences, and the Liberal Arts
“Today’s engineers need a more well-rounded education — one that stresses not only the analytical skills necessary to be a good engineer but also the liberal arts that are necessary to teach these good engineers the wisdom of history, to provide the foundation for young students to grow and mature as citizens with responsibilities beyond the immediate technical concerns of their work. And the liberal arts can train a young mind to think critically and discriminately about moral questions — aiding in the ability to determine what is right and what is wrong.”

When Trying Harder Doesn’t Work
Author Dan Lundquist suggests that the current crisis in higher education is the opportunity for new ways of thinking about the college landscape, and urges candid, outside-the-box conversations about the future of the liberal arts college. Champions of the liberal arts can and should employ “active, experience-guided, and market-sensitive tactics” to address “issues of access, affordability, curriculum, and pedagogy—and that will require collaboration, risk taking, and care.”

Three Yards and a Cloud of Knowing
Wofford professor John Lane writes about student Eric Breitenstein, named last week as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award for the best offensive player in the nation in Division I-AA/FCS. Eric, an Environmental Studies major, is a “scholar-athlete” in the finest sense of the liberal arts tradition. Lane’s piece appears on Parke Muth’s blog, “Voices: Liberal arts colleges, athletics, and Captain America.”

Providers of Free MOOC's Now Charge Employers for Access to Student Data
Jeffrey Young reports on the latest development in the MOOC world: how employers are trying to use numbers and data to recruit employees from within these new student populations.

Khan Academy Founder Proposes a New Type of College
Alisha Azevedo discusses Salman Khan’s new book, The One World School House: Education Reimagined. Khan “conjures an image of a new campus in Silicon Valley where students would spend their days working on internships and projects with mentors, and would continue their education with self-paced learning similar to that of Khan Academy. The students would attend ungraded seminars at night on art and literature, and the faculty would consist of professionals the students would work with as well as traditional professors.”

Writers and Artists at Harvard: How to welcome and nurture the poets and painters of the future
Many colleges and universities successfully and rather easily attract the next generation of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. Helen Vendler urges us to consider how to attract the artists and writers, the poets and painters, into our college classrooms. Literature and art, she argues, produces the graduates whose work will inspire and live long into the future. Yet we must realize that these students often do not fit the mold of “young leader” or “high academic achiever.” In order to attract these students, we must “preach the doctrine of excellence in an art; the doctrine of intellectual absorption in a single field of study; even the doctrine of unsociability; even the doctrine of indifference to money.” Neglecting or ignoring these students will threaten what Vendler calls “the matrix of culture.”

A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Valuable Than Learning Any Trade
The author argues that future growth and success will come from those who can think creatively and generate good ideas. A rigorous liberal arts education teaches us how to do this. He points to his own career path as an example of “the beginning of the right-brain revolution.”

What will you do with an English degree?
Michael Bérubé, current president of the Modern Language Association, weighs in on the debates over the value of a liberal arts education. He notes that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that graduates with degrees in the humanities have proven time and again that their college experience allows them to “deal with complex material that requires intense concentration - and to write a persuasive account of what it all means.” He also cites studies such as those in the 2011 work Academically Adrift that indicate students who complete courses with heavy reading and writing loads demonstrate significantly higher levels of achievement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing, all of which are valued by employers. In today’s economy, he argues, “humanities majors find that their degrees [are] good investments after all - and that they are employable anywhere in the economy where there is thinking to be done.”

In Defense of Equal Tuition for All Majors
A Florida task force on higher education recently recommended that tuition for “strategic” areas such as STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) be lower than tuition for studies in the humanities and social sciences. John Villasenor argues that such a proposal would turn liberal arts graduates into “second class citizens” and is essentially un-American: “Erecting tuition-based barriers would undermine some of the breadth and flexibility that has traditionally defined the American undergraduate experience, and which arguably helps develop the agility of thought that is such a vital ingredient of American innovation.”

How to Choose a College
“College is a ticket to an adventure beyond the parameters of what you’ve experienced so far,” Bruni writes to students and parents. Many will choose a college based upon a feeling of familiarity or a quasi-guarantee of future employment. But Bruni recommends that, where possible, this choice be made based on characteristics that will “yank” students out of their comfort zones. Choose diversity, as measured in terms not only of race and economics but also culture and geography; choose opportunities for semesters spent abroad; choose an environment that will encourage “fearlessness, nimbleness and the ability to roll with change, adapt to newness and improvise.”

MOOCs and Books
Mark Byrnes, a history professor at Wofford College, examines the enthusiasm for MOOCs in light of enthusiasm for past new learning technologies, from the printing press to the television. All of these technologies are information delivery vehicles, not substitutes for the hard work of good teaching and good learning. It is the interaction between teacher and student that constitutes education: “no thinking person should be fooled that MOOCs constitute "education" any more than simply having a library makes for a college.”

MOOCs and Books, Ctd.
Responding to the flurry of recent pieces lauding the development of MOOC technology (including this March 5 column by Thomas Friedman), Wofford professor, Mark Byrnes, argues: “It is time to face the fact that in American higher education, we want the quick pay-off and we want it cheaply. This is the short-term corporate mindset come to education. We could simply make a choice to invest in more colleges, to increase the government funding given to state universities. Instead, as a nation, we have been disinvesting in higher education. We lack the will to put the money into it. MOOCs foster the illusion that we can have our cake and eat it too.”

The End Is Not Nigh For Colleges
Robert Sternberg argues that the current doom-and-gloom about higher education is generally based upon two false assumptions: first, “that participants in higher education have homogeneous goals,” and second, “that students are consumers and not producers, or constructors, of their own personalized product of higher education.” Instead, students make choices and shape their college experiences based not only upon financial considerations but also upon their own specific desires : career goals, interest in co-curricular programs, and social networks. The danger, he says, is that “[i]f decision makers in higher education believe the sky is falling, they may find themselves taking actions that are value-destroying rather than value-enhancing. For example, institutions may start to teach courses online not because that is the optimal way to teach them (and there may be some courses that optimally are taught online) but merely to cut costs; or valuable student activities may be discontinued in order to anticipate the falling of the sky.”

Colleges Should Require Business 101 for Every Student
Matt Ragas, a professor of public relations at DePaul University, lauds the commitment to the liberal arts and the skills that liberal arts students bring to the workplace. Because many—if not most—of these students will go to work in some kind of business, he argues that colleges and universities should adopt some kind of "Business Basics for the Social Sciences" course that will add to the value of a liberal arts education. “Whether today's students aspire to work for a small start-up, a multinational corporation, a nongovernmental organization, or even a university, employers want graduates who have had at least some exposure to why budgets matter,” he argues, and the liberal arts college has a responsibility to help prepare its students to do well in the global future.

The Shrinking Humanities
Robert Connor examines the history of the humanities since the Renaissance against the current tendency to “presentism,” which he describes as “an exclusionary focus on the most highly modernized societies of the contemporary world, and the uncritical judging of the past by today’s interests and standards.” He warns that without an appreciation of the roots of this tradition, students will find that “what they have learned soon wilts and leaves them without the perspective and depth of understanding that a rigorous and wide-ranging education in the humanities should provide.”

Conservatives Declare War on College”
Andrew Leonard examines the political context in which MOOCS are gaining ground and argues that “[h]igher education is in crisis because costs are rising at the same time that public funding support is falling. That decline in public support is no accident. Conservatives don’t like big government and they don’t like taxes, and increasingly, they don’t even like the entire way that the humanities are taught in the United States.”

The Internet Will Not Ruin College
Andrew Leonard looks at the ongoing controversies over online learning and provides links to many of the most recent arguments both in favor of and opposed to the expansion of the MOOC. He argues that online learning in some form is here to stay: “ Education, I’d argue, has always been the most likely sector of society to get transformed by the Internet, because the thing the Internet does better than anything else is distribute information.” Information distribution is only part of the picture in higher education, as Leonard shows, but the transformation of this process will likely help pressure “bottom feeding” for-profit institutions into needed reforms.

Want To Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer
Dave Kerpen offers five steps that will help strengthen writing. “If you want to be thought of as a smart thinker, you must become a better writer,” he argues. “If you want to be taken seriously by your manager, colleagues, potential employers, clients and prospects, you must become a better writer.”

Are Career-Oriented Majors a Waste of a 4-Year Higher Education?
Nearly 40% of current college majors didn’t exist in 1990, says Jeff Selingo, and he examines the trend of creating new majors that appear to have left behind the arts and sciences in favor of more “practical” arts. Selingo argues that while students choose these majors to get jobs, research into recent hiring practices indicate that these practical majors don’t necessarily lead to employment, and that many business executives continue to value the skills gained through a liberal arts education.

A New Measure of Value
In response to current pressing questions about the value of the liberal arts education, Ellen McCulloch-Lovell proposes a “Civic Scale” that would assess curricular and co-curricular programs but would also regularly survey alumni “to determine if they are demonstrating key civic attributes.” Such assessments would help “reanimate democracy” by demonstrating the value of a liberal arts education not simply in equipping graduates for careers but also in preparing citizens for a full and rewarding life.

Why Don’t They Apply What They’ve Learned?
James M. Lang talks about the difficulties of transferring knowledge from one context to another. In Part 1 of this series, he examines the problems students often have in developing the habits of mind and the skills that they need to take knowledge from one class and apply it to another. In Part 2 of this series, he discusses how to encourage students to ask “big questions” that will prompt “a continuous effort of connecting and transferring across contexts.” 

A College Degree Sorts Job Applicants, but Employers Wish It Meant More
Karen Fischer discusses the results of a survey of 704 employers conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media's Marketplace. “While fresh hires had the right technical know-how for the job, said most employers in the survey, they grumbled that colleges weren't adequately preparing students in written and oral communication, decision-making, and analytical and research skills.”

General Education: Connecting to Issues of Vital Importance—for Students, for Society
In this keynote address to the 2013 meeting of the American Association of Colleges and Universities Network for Academic Renewal, Dr. Bobby Fong passionately articulates many of the themes explored throughout the Re:Thinking Education year. While acknowledging and embracing the potential for expanded access to higher education through MOOCs and other new technologies, he argues that liberal education also incorporates other equally important ideals: first, that students learn to distinguish different ways of knowing through both formal and informal interactions with many disciplines; second, that general education curricula provide coherence across courses in ways that will prepare students to develop a comprehensive view of the world; third, that intellectual and practical skills be developed “as capacities in themselves, not simply as instruments for learning”; and finally, that students be fitted for participation in a democratic and global environment as social and civic beings. Broad access via technology is, he argues, no guarantee of quality learning. We must also value the “real-world serendipity” that happens in the classroom and in the community. Without a commitment to both access and community, Fong argues, America may be heading rapidly to a “two-tier philosophy of education: one for those who can afford the robust model of liberal education or who are underwritten by grants; and a second system for the others, the adult learners, the students of modest or no means, and the educationally uninformed, who look to higher education simply as a means to certification for employment.” This philosophy “will reinforce the deepening fault line between the nation’s rich and poor.”

The Curse of Non-Cursive Writing
Rob Weir laments the decline of cursive not as an art form but because there are so many instances in which rapid handwriting is a necessity: during blue-book exams, when technology fails, on the fly while taking notes and orders, in the flipped classroom during energetic discussions, and in the archives while doing research. His essay deftly examines many of the modes of learning that cannot be folded into the MOOC debates.

Articles about MOOCs
The Chronicle of Higher Education has established a web page with links to articles from many sources about MOOC technology and the conversations over uses of new technologies of learning, updated regularly.

Peer Grading Can’t Work
Jonathan Rees, an American historian teaching at Colorado State University-Pueblo, enrolled in a MOOC on World History and discusses the peer grading process that is at the heart of some MOOCs. Peers assigned grades without giving feedback, so that the process lacked any meaning: “Because of the size of the course I think I can safely assume that many of my fellow MOOC students inevitably had no history background at all, yet the peer grading structure forced them to evaluate whether other students were actually doing history right.”