Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Great Unbundling of Higher Education

Pub Date: March 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1137279699
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

A manifesto that analyzes higher education as another industry ripe for disruption.

Craig’s experience with public-private and online educational initiatives has given him a perspective that treats higher education as a market and students as customers. He’s also plainly versed in pop culture (and a big Van Halen fan in particular; he seems to think David Lee Roth would be a great inspiration for university presidents), and he applies plenty of analogies and comparisons from that world to the subject at hand. Just as technology allowed music consumers to download the songs they wanted rather than the whole album, the subtitle here suggests that higher education is ready for a similar “unbundling”—that much of what goes into a degree, driving up costs and student loans, is of little interest to students or use to their future employers. “If higher education is to be unbundled, consumers need to be able to distinguish the education equivalent of the hit single from all the songs they don’t want,” writes the author, contending that “higher education will become more of a ‘hits’ business.” It’s hard to argue with the crisis that he documents: Costs continue to rise, student debt is out of control, and too many diplomas lead to jobs that don’t require them. Yet some will find reductive the notion that outcome assessment of education can mainly be measured in jobs and that instilling competencies that employers most want should be the main purpose of a college education. Discussions of “competency management platforms that…will lead to the first human capital marketplaces” have little to do with the sort of enrichment that a liberal arts education once afforded. The author best serves as a gadfly, and his dismissal of the recently trendy massive open online courses as “the Spice Girls of higher education” is priceless.

Even those who agree on the problems might take issue with the author’s solutions.