Friday, September 13, 2013

The Troubled Future of Higher Education

The political scientists Gary King and Maya Sen have just posted an excellent working paper clearly outlining the major problems facing higher education: economic, political, sociological. The main thrust is that, although only 30% of the American population obtains a four-year college degree (thus leaving an untapped 70% who could finish college degrees), the higher education system is facing major constraints due to limited budgets and major technological advances. For example, online sites such as Khan Academy are effectively competing with universities, and for-profit universities are growing at a high rate. I'd add to their list the potential for big data analysis to displace the role of experts; I refer to the effect of sabermetrics on baseball journalists or data mining algorithms on marketers as possible canaries in the cage for academics. Regardless, King and Sen's paper is a must-needed beginning of a discussion about the future of higher education in the wake of profound social changes. After all, it was only a mere decade ago that Time and Newsweek were major cultural institutions in American life.