October 9, 2009

Are we the next Wall Street? Thoughts on University 2.0

Two weeks from now our program will go through its hexennial, uh, sextennial...every six years, ABET visit.  As my teaching has evolved further from lecture/homework/test it becomes harder and harder to fit in with others' expectations for providing course artifacts.  Since I manage ABET data collection and evaluation for our program the last six months have been hectic, stressful, and resulted in some deep personal reflection on the university, its role in society, and its near-term future.

And this reflection has resulted in some chilling realizations.  I've commented in previous posts on reports from the Delta Foundation showing that the cost of education is not benefiting students, faculty battles with university administration over support, and the dramatic increase in new building that are occurring on my campus.  The other night, in the middle of sending out yet another round of reminders to faculty to pull their nose out of their research for the five minutes it would take to turn in ABET data that higher education may be the next Wall Street.  There is no-one more hated right now than Wall Street; that reviled house of filthy, venal, slimy, pandering reptiles whose unbridled greed wrecked the economy and may still wreck the country.

The rising cost of higher education effectively extracts more and more money from American families.  But rather than providing a better education, universities spend it on themselves.  Increasingly colleges turn their backs on our historic mission of educating tomorrow's engineers.  Faculty are rewarded for research.  Clearly some research has palpable benefits for society as a whole, but the effort and time required to do good research effectively detracts from the education of undergraduates.  The current economic crisis is stimulating discussion of whether a college degree is worth the expense and whether community colleges actually offer better value.

Like many others these reflections on how the internet and changes to society have impacted universities led me to the conclusion that while we're in trouble, it is possible to redesign higher education for the next century.  If you're interested in some concrete ideas click on the video link below...