22.8.12

THE GENERAL PROBLEM?

With students returning to universities, and an election campaign in which human capital development ought to be a more important issue than the latest infelicitous remarks by a religious zealot masquerading as a senatorial candidate, a cautionary remark by Peter Wood on developing that human capital by expanding enrollment in college merits posting.
No one really wants to give up residential liberal-arts curricula taught by scholars/teachers as the primary model of college instruction. But a half century of trying to scale up that model and to make it the basis for mass higher education hasn’t worked very well. It created colleges and universities addicted to grandiose building programs, out-of-control spending, administrative bloat, grade inflation, falling academic standards, incoherent programs of study, and a larger percent of students who gain next to nothing intellectually from their time in college. That’s not a UVa problem in particular. It is the general condition of things in American higher education, and no one really has an answer to it.
The nonexistent economic recovery or not, the hundred or so claimants to be the twenty best colleges and universities in the country do not produce enough graduates to fill all the high-human-capital jobs that remain.  Thus, the actions of Virginia's governing board, in firing and un-firing a president, might not be the best case study of administrative follies or institutional mission creep.  Virginia can legitimately be a claimant or an aspirant to being well-regarded.  Institutions not so well-regarded with aspirations might be productively allocating resources.  But institutions that spend on buildings and administrators while not raising their academic profiles are asking for trouble.

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