Community colleges and for-profit schools are the next frontier in higher ed.
Each year bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college freshmen arrive on campus and begin their four- to six-year trajectory through higher education. Rewarding though the experience may be for most, the attendant sticker price of a college degree has put it out of reach for many and made it a sizeable burden for those intrepid enough to follow through. The increasingly untenable demands that higher education makes on students and their families has raised profound questions about the current system’s sustainability, even prompting a radical federal initiative to offer free alternatives.
Higher education in the U.S. was not always this troubled; beginning in 1945 the U.S. built the largest and most productive education system in world history in stunningly short order. Waning state support and ever-skyrocketing costs have since pulled this golden era in postsecondary education into steep decline. Such is the opinion of Professors Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens, editors of the new volume, Remaking College.
Though the seismic changes rippling through college and university ecosystems may prompt feelings of nostalgia for a bygone era of higher education, the new landscape also presents the possibility of new paradigms—perhaps better ones. Kirst and Stevens note that the typical college student—“a student who enrolls in college full time, ideally resides on a physical campus, remains unmarried and childless while in school, engages in minimal paid work, and completes a degree within four to six years”—is essentially an endangered species.
“One of the things that the book is trying to do is to encourage Americans to think about ways in which we can have college fit more comfortably into lives rather than having lives fit into college.”
—Mitchell Stevens, Associate Professor of Education
Today, the overall college-going population is diffused across both traditional and non-traditional institutions. Though for most, “higher education” conjures images of research universities and liberal arts colleges, most of the country’s college students are served by community colleges—“the workhorses of U.S. higher education,” according to the editors. Meanwhile, for-profit schools are the fastest-growing component of the national postsecondary sector, sustained by generous federal funding.
While traditional institutions eat up the lion’s share of the media and policy attention, much of the work of higher education is happening in these ostensibly peripheral education spaces. Stevens and Kirst contend that it is high time to turn our attention to these spaces, to radically expand the research landscape of higher education, and to fundamentally reassess what college is for, and how it can be packaged to meet the needs of diverse students in varying life stages.
Watch a brief interview with co-editor Mitchell Stevens:
Join the conversation: Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens will discuss their new book and its themes at the University of California, Berkeley on Wednesday, March 18th 4pm-5pm. See full event details here.