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7 Ways College Has Improved Since 91
November 2, 2010 - 9:45pm

We spend so much time worrying about what is wrong with our U.S. higher ed system that it is easy to lose sight of how much the system has improved over the past 20 years. This is a mistake, as if we fail to honor our successes we will forget that change can and does happen, and that our colleagues are working incredibly hard each and every day to improve our institutions.

My point of reference is admittedly limited and biased -- as I graduated from one elite, private institution in 1991 (Washington University in St. Louis) and work at another (the) top private College today. (Along with stops at Brown for grad school, WVU for my first teaching gig, and Quinnipiac University for my first administrative gig). So if you once graduated and now work at a public institution, well - we'd love to hear your perspective.

7 Ways College Has Improved Since 1991:

1. The Courses: The technological revolution in education has been to open a space in which we can examine the course design and delivery process. Learning management systems, blended and online learning, student media projects, lecture capture platforms etc. etc. are valuable mostly because they provide opportunities to re-think and re-engineer teaching and learning. We now have the tools, and the staff (learning designers, librarians, media professionals etc.) to invest inputs into our courses beyond the instructor and the room. The lecture model may be stubbornly holding on, but the active learning revolution has caused many of us to work towards leveraging technology and good course design to bring the benefits of the seminar to the lecture class.

2. The Faculty: I'd like to see the numbers on this, but my strong sense is that our faculty is much more diverse than 20 years ago. Higher proportions of women and non-whites. Increased diversity means more viewpoints, richer life experiences, and varied perspectives - all of which I think translates into better teaching. We have a ways to go until our faculty mirrors our population, but I think we are much closer than in 1991.

3. The Staff: The job of educational technologist did not exist 20 years ago. Today, we have lots of educators on campus who work in diverse roles beyond classroom instruction (and many of us staff members also teach - but not as our primary jobs). Some people have decried the "degree inflation" of higher ed employment, worrying that PhD's are going into administrative, technical and library jobs. I tend to see this as a great development, offering non-traditional routes to academic careers and improving the quality of the educational services offered on campus.

4. The Students: Again, I'd like to see the numbers - but I think our student body is much more diverse (and representative of the larger population) as compared to 1991. A diverse student body is great for all the reasons that a diverse faculty (and staff) are great.

5. The Support Services: Increased student support (learning support, counseling, medical, advising etc.) has pushed up costs -- but also made college a happier place for many many people. I'd say student support is a great way to spend resources -- one of the best ROI's for the tuition dollar. As a parent, I'm happy that my kids will have a range of support services to help make their college experience as productive as possible. The marginal cost of providing these services is one I'm happy to pay.

6. The Facilities: Is there any doubt that the campus is a nicer place to be? Upgraded student athletic facilities (and not just for athletes, but for everyone), nicer dorms, upgraded classroom and libraries. Again, the upgrading of facilities has driven up costs - but these upgrades have been investments in the physical environments of our campuses. Would we rather that our buildings be neglected, that private spaces (like malls etc) become more inviting than our campus spaces?

7. The Food: Better food is a huge deal. I've seen the options for fresh and health food increase dramatically since my time on campus, where everything we seemed to eat was fried, canned and over-cooked. Today's student demands a fully stocked salad bar, and fresh (and often local and/or organic) veggies. Nowadays, we are all disciples of Michael Pollan.

Can you add to this list?

Can you round out our improvements to public institutions?

Where do I get it wrong?


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