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“But Mr. Deresiewicz does propose things like smaller classes, teachers who are more committed to their students than to their research and basing affirmative action on class rather than on race.”

I am at Penn State, attending as faculty the Online Consortium (formerly Sloan Foundation) Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL). Three and a half intense days of working on on-line, distance learning from every angle: first and foremost, the global perspective; the how to’s least in terms of technology, most from the institutional organization and cultural perspective. Take away: The Netherlands and New Zealand lead the world in distance education. The United States is way down on the list.

Spain has an established open university but Ireland is poised to lead Europe. Croatia and Estonia lead Eastern Europe. China’s Open University has 3.5 million students.  South Africa has 11 official languages; notwithstanding the African and the South African Open University, there are no accredited institutions … yet.  Mobility will make a difference; Nigeria has, for example, 90% penetration, South Africa has 75%.  Saudi Arabia leads the Middle East and increasingly connections are being made with Europe to rival relations with the United States.

So why have I opened this post with a quote from a book review of the latest expose of higher education in the United States?

Because notwithstanding an edgy tone prompted by personal scores to settle, the observations that the author makes are right on the mark. Smaller classes, teachers committed to students and learning have been on-going issues since I was an undergraduate.  Affirmative action based on class not race is a policy perspective that many progressives, including myself, have called for a generation at least.  So why haven’t things changed if these ideas are not new or unique?  The lack of competition made United States higher education complacent.  Parochialism will insulate a much-needed perspective on this challenge.  It is time for U.S. education, however great it is, and I am the first to say it, to get over itself.  Pretty soon, it may not be a choice.

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