Introducing The Higher Education in the 21st Century Symposium

300px-UcsbuniversitycenterandstorketowerNote: This post is part of our League Symposium on Higher Education in the 21st Century. You can read the introductory post for the Symposium here. To see a list of all posts in the Symposium so far, click here.

Back in the pre-Reagan era, when I was an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Barbara, tuition and fees ran about $250 per quarter, or $750 a year. Today, tuition and fees for my stepson, who is attending UC Davis, add up to almost $14,000 a year, an 18.7 fold increase that has dramatically outpaced inflation. His undergraduate experience is turning out to be a far costlier endeavor than mine was.

Yet, despite the 30-some years that separate our undergraduate days, our college experiences remain strikingly similar on some levels. We both picked majors, completed our general education requirements, attended class, turned in term papers, and sweated out final exams week. Much of the teaching featured a professor at the podium with students in the lecture hall taking notes.

On other levels, however, his undergraduate experience is much different, not only in terms of expense, but also qualitatively. I entered college prior to the personal computer revolution. The electric typewriter on which I pounded out my essays (as well as my first graduate school research papers and the initial chapters of my dissertation) now sits in a closet gathering dust. Erasable typing paper was a necessity. I doubt my stepson has ever seen a piece of the stuff.

The personal computer and Internet have reshaped the educational universe. Whereas college students of my generation did our research in the library assisted by a card catalog, my stepson does it online. His bibliographies reference books and articles but also hyperlinks. Plus, he has availed himself of several online classes, sometimes from schools other than UC Davis, to complete general education requirements, an option unavailable in earlier eras.

Higher education has caught up to some of the advances brought by the computer age. But the older model of the undergraduate experience remains very much alive on campuses across the country. The question today is who does that model serve? Certainly not adult students, who make up an increasing percentage of college students. Nor necessarily working students, who may need to stagger out their education in order to afford it. As we move further into the 21st century, our current system of higher education will likely undergo vast changes to make it not only more cost effective but also more relevant to the student body it serves.

This week’s League symposium will examine these and other issues related to Higher Education in the 21st Century. As always, we look forward to your participation and whatever discussions it may engender.



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