Lesson Plan by William G. Bowen; Michael S. McPherson
Publication Date: 2016-03-29
Princeton University Press
Lesson Plan draws together many studies, insights, and themes in the continuing conversation to address significant problems in American higher education. Bowen and McPherson, each past presidents (Princeton, Macalester) state clearly that many so-called crises (well-aired in the media, especially in this election season) are exaggerated or simply false. On the other hand, many real problems –high dropout rate, inefficient staffing, insufficient teaching skills, and the outsized role of university athletics—have received far too little attention and nuanced conversation.
The authors assess these genuine challenges and propose some bold and sensible ideas for re-negotiating the essential features that have both made American higher education great, and contribute to its shortcomings. Affordability is a major concern, and contributes to students dropping out, taking too long to graduate, and trying inadvisable work/study loads. Racial, ethnic, and socio-economic minorities fare poorly, which reinforces social and economic divisions both within and after college. Not completing college leaves former students with heavy debt loads and insufficient incomes. Changes in national financial aid policies away from merit and towards matching needs, increasing respect for teaching, improving the working lives of adjunct faculty, and greatly improving instruction in basic mathematics by combining adaptive technologies and face-to-face learning would go a long way to addressing real challenges of affordability, retention, completion, and effectiveness.
Bowen’s and McPherson’s devotion to strengthening academic leadership, encouraging responsible risk-taking, and reigning in the corrosive effects too much money in collegiate athletics may risk alienating academic leaders, athletic directors, and sports fans. Only when universities are both allowed real independence to place academics first and athletics second can the real challenges facing higher education be addressed.
Anyone in higher education should read this: faculty, adjunct faculty, librarians, graduate students, and administrators especially. Every university has a stake in the important challenges and their positive or negative outcomes. As SHU moves towards another process of identifying strategic directions and plans, this short, readable book can provide a great deal of clear-headed corrective thinking.