Frank Bruni of the New York Times had a thoughtful column about the future of American higher education  over the weekend entitled “Questioning the Mission of College.” It is a balanced piece that explores the debate between those who want public higher education to be about preparing people for employment and those who say that it has to be about more than that.
In it, Bruni cites Governor McC rory’s controversial — some would say anti-intellectual — comments  from earlier this year as exemplifying the new, conservative, “jobs first” point of view. He then goes on:
“How practical versus idealistic should the approach to college be? I’m somewhat torn, and past columns have reflected that. I applaud proposals  to give young people better information about how various fields of study match up with the job market and about projected returns on their investments in college. And for students who want college to be an instant pivot into a job with decent pay, a nudge toward certain disciplines makes excellent sense.
But college is about more than that, with less targeted, long-term benefits that aren’t easily captured  by metrics. And some of the reforms being promoted right now lose sight of that and threaten to lessen the value of a degree….
Scratch the surface of some of the efforts to reform state universities and you find more than just legitimate qualms about efficiency and demands for accountability. You find the kind of indiscriminate anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism popular among more than a few right-wing conservatives.
It’s worth noting that Governor Perry has dismissed global warming as “one contrived, phony mess” and that many of the voices calling most loudly for change at the University of Texas are from the Tea Party fringe.
In other words there’s some crude, petty politics in all of this. And as we tackle the very real, very important challenge of giving young Americans the best and most useful education possible in an era of dwindling resources, that’s the last thing we need.”
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