The Problematic Future of Higher Education: A Discussion At the Center for Public Scholarship

Higher education is in the midst of a major transition both inside and outside the classroom.  Demand for college degrees in the modern workplace is growing, while costs to attend college are rising. This has led students—undergraduate and graduate alike—to take out loans totaling more than $1 trillion nationwide.  The result of this socioeconomic burden is the steady widening of the income gap, undercutting the benefits these degrees are meant to provide.

And it’s not just the costs that are changing, but the classrooms, professors and administration as well.  MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, were thought to be “disruptors,” to the traditional university model, providing free education to the masses, but studies like this one from MIT reveal that virtual classrooms aren’t without problems including high attrition rates and cheating. Many universities have also increasingly relied on adjuncts to teach their classes as a cost-saving measure, but at a price to the adjuncts themselves often leaving them underpaid, overworked and without job stability.  Perhaps as serious are: the increasing size of administrations compared to faculties, a clear sign of the corporatization of the university; the greatly increased reliance on quantified measures of evaluation, and the now prevalent view that the number of jobs gotten by graduates is the best indicator of the merit of the institution. These issues, and others, are the subject of a free, upcoming event hosted by the Center for Public Scholarship at The New School for Social Research, on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

The event, inspired in part by recent articles by several of the speakers, is part of a series of past events on the state of higher education hosted by the Center for Public Scholarship.  Panelist David Bromwich’s, (Yale), recent piece in the New York Review of Books, “Trapped in the Virtual Classroom,” criticizes the enthusiasm for  MOOCs, and its effects on the quality of education, while Andrew Delbanco, (Columbia), addressed the rising cost of higher education and the inequalities arising from it—visible in the student body of universities, in the same issue.  Marina Warner, (Birkbeck, University of London) examined, in the London Review of Books, the struggles universities face when moving towards a for-profit model. The fourth panelist, Richard Kahlenberg, is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and specializes in the issue of inequality and educational access.

Moderated by Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University, Kenneth Prewitt, the Oct. 13 event is the seventh in the Center for Public Scholarship’s Public Voice Series.

The aim of the event, according to CPS director, Arien Mack, is to begin a wider conversation about higher education with the larger community who will be invited to raise questions during a Q&A at the end of the panel discussion.

Keeping with CPS’s mission to bring scholarship to the public, the event is free and open to the public. The event is on Tuesday, October 13, at 6:15 p.m. in the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center.