We understand that the most important question to ask as we continue our work is why are we doing this? ; Why are we deconstructing higher education and proposing new ways to do college?
We do this work because:
1. Over the past 40 years, college has become far too expensive. Costs have tripled in real dollars since 1970. It must be made affordable and financially sustainable without relying on government subsidy or constant charity. Student debt is now more than $1,000,000,000,000.
2. While costs have increased, instruction has decreased both in quality and quantity. Each year fewer teachers teach more students, and less and less of students' tuition dollars go towards their instruction. Moving forward, we must find a path that refocuses on the purpose of the University which simultaneously improves cost and academic quality.
3. Despite the great expense of time and money, many students graduate from college with generic degrees that do not adequately prepare them to find work or address real-world problems. In order for this substantial investment to be worthwhile, students must graduate with an identifiably valuable set of hard skills and immediately employable credentials.
4. While many schools are successful in preparing students for specific post-college employment, they do so at the expense of the humanities. Science, technical, and professional programs are too often supported with money taken from the budgets of the liberal arts. Moving forward, schools and students must recognize that both sides of learning are essential for raising up creative and capable graduates.
5. For too long the world has looked down upon the poor language skills of U.S. college graduates. In Europe, there is a larger percentage of people who speak three languages than there are second-language speakers in the U.S. While grade schools must do their part as well, colleges must require more than preliminary study and re-structure the academic community to better incorporate second-language instruction.
6. In their well-intentioned efforts to provide students with excellent resources, most colleges have become isolated from their surrounding communities. The insular campus environment hinders students' ability to prepare for post-graduate life and inhibits them from applying their studies and work in a genuine context. In addition to academic and technical skills, graduates need to grow as authentic residents in a real community. Moreover, colleges' economic capabilities could be utilized to improve resources the entire community, rather than just the student population.
7. While students are paying more and more for their education, it isn't because of teachers' salaries. Many professors are poorly compensated for their work, often cobbling together adjunct positions from 2 or 3 universities in order to pay the bills. This commodification of teachers reduces the quality of the college experience for professor and student alike. In addition to poor compensation, nearly all teachers are asked to teach more and more classes to growing numbers of students. All of this serves to drastically diminish quality, especially important teacher-student interactions outside of class time. In order to excel and be truly challenged to learn, students need professors to be much more than conveyers of lectures, they need critics and mentors. We believe that colleges can achieve smaller class sizes and employ more full-time professors without breaking the bank.
8. In response to financial woes, for many colleges, higher education is moving online. In addition to universities expanding their offerings of cheaper, budget-conscious online courses, some students are giving up on the old model entirely by utilizing free, open-source learning tools. While the new technology certainly offers a lot of excellent ways to improve the model and reduce costs, it does not mean we should wholly do away with the old. Although it has lost its focus in recent decades, the in-person college model has extraordinary value that must be enhanced by these new resources, not replaced. The traditional University has some key values that online courses cannot adequately offer: motivation, accountability, criticism, tangible resources, a real context for work and study, and an academic community of experts and peers.
9. Regardless of recent trends, the culture of higher education--and society in general--has been entrenched in a culture of dualism that too often divides theory and practice into separate disciplines to the detriment of students. The traditional separation of blue and white collar work, of the sciences and the humanities, of the ivory tower and the trade school no longer apply. To be wholly educated and capable graduates, students must learn skills both hard and soft; Pursue a Major Skill and a Major Study, not as two separate programs but as an integrated practice where they can both learn to make a thing of value and question the value of that thing. Where they can learn to see problems, and then solve them.