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The core explanation is this: the academy lacks a serious culture of teaching and learning.When students do not learn enough, we must question whether institutions of higher education deliver enough value to justify their costs.
Resolving the learning crisis will therefore require fundamental, thoroughgoing changes in our colleges and universities.
There must be real change -- change beyond simplistic answers such as reducing costs and improving efficiency -- to improve value.
We have reduced K-12 schooling to basic skill acquisition that effectively leaves most students underprepared for college-level learning.
We have bastardized the bachelor’s degree by allowing it to morph into a ticket to a job (though, today, that ticket often doesn’t get you very far).
We allow passivity to dominate students’ already slight engagement with courses and faculty.
Collectively Putting Learning First The common lament that higher education has become a business, or that it has emerged from its recent struggles having too much “corporate” character, is not the primary issue.Colleges focus too much on rankings and pushing students through, and too little on academic rigor and quality.Change -- and not a little -- is needed across higher education, Richard Keeling and Richard Hersh argue. Too many college graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently and clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers. How can this be if American higher education is supposed to be the best in the world?We mean the enormous expenditures devoted purely to securing a “better ranking” in the magazine surveys.We mean the progressive reduction in academic, intellectual, and behavioral expectations that has undermined the culture, learning conditions, and civility of so many campus communities.We mean the assumption that retention is just keeping students in school longer, without serious regard for the quality of their learning or their cumulative learning outcomes at graduation.We mean giving priority to intercollegiate sports programs while support for the success of the great majority of students who are not athletes suffers.Without academic expectations to bring structure to students’ time, too much time is wasted.In the absence of high academic and behavioral expectations, less demanding peer norms become dominant.Reconstituting the Culture of Higher Education The current culture -- the shared norms, values, standards, expectations and priorities -- of teaching and learning in the academy is not powerful enough to support true higher learning.As a result, students do not experience the kind of integrated, holistic, developmental, rigorous undergraduate education that must exist as an absolute condition for truly transformative higher learning to occur.