A distinguished Columbia University sociology professor and former provost examines how American universities must evolve to maintain their global pre-eminence.
By most accounts, the United States has the best system of higher education in the world, with “roughly 80 percent of the top twenty universities.” However, as Cole (The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected, 2010, etc.) argues, that system faces many difficult challenges. Funding from federal, state, and private sources, for example, is decreasing every year. K-12 schools are teaching students to pass standardized competency tests rather than helping them to expand their “creativity and curiosity.” Furthermore, college educations at selective schools are becoming too expensive—and of questionable relevance—for students who come from middle- or working-class backgrounds. Drawing on his many years as both a high-ranking university administrator and research professor, Cole methodically examines the ways that universities can remake themselves in coming decades. He argues that those involved with traditional liberal arts programs must rethink how to best use what those disciplines teach to young people to succeed in a world dominated by science, technology, and commerce. Professional schools should look more closely at how their programs and curricula prepare students and open themselves up to “cross-fertilization” with arts and sciences divisions at both their home and similar outside institutions. The government must work in tandem with universities to rebuild what the author sees as a “compact” that has been damaged by mutual distrust. All schools, especially those without large endowments, should actively work to curb administrative costs, reduce reliance on adjunct faculty, and collaborate with like universities. Eminently well-informed and pragmatic, Cole’s work not only offers a cleareyed analysis of the current state of higher education in the U.S. It also provides a detailed starting point for dialogues about the function and shape of the great American universities of the future.
An ambitious and visionary examination of American universities and “how to develop them still further so that they may maximize their full potential.”