Briefly Noted: Faculty-Free Universities & A Buyer’s Market in Higher Education?

Faculty-Free Universities?

We don’t make these things up, you know. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 12, 2013, p. A6) informs us that the state of California is considering endorsing a “faculty-free” division of higher education. The California Assembly has in front of it a bill proposing a fourth division of the state’s higher-education system, a “New University of California,” which would have no faculty members but which would still grant degrees based upon students passing examinations.

This New University of California would be governed by the same chancellor and board of trustees that oversee the other universities.

Under this proposal students enrolled in the New University would be able to “obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to pass the exams from any source, including paid courses, self-directed study, and . . . MOOCs.” When students felt prepared enough they could then pay a fee and take a test to get credit for the “course”–if they pass. Legislators hold mixed opinions on the bill while the California Faculty Association expresses concern at the bill. Most of them argue that increased classroom support and resources, not online options would better serve California.

In response, I note that this sort of mix-n-match system poses several challenges, of which I’ll limit myself to two: (1) the faculty-free university poses the same challenge as online degrees: how can students flourish if the human elements of the degree program are further removed and mostly electronically-mediated? At least in an online degree the institution can build in relational elements, but in the mix-n-match system this will be difficult, if not impossible, to do. (2) The Western university increasingly is becoming a pluri-versity. Even Christian universities are experiencing an ever-increasing worldview disintegration and disciplinary fragmentation which keeps us from building an increasingly unified and God-centered body of knowledge, that it further handicaps the specialized disciplines themselves, and that it impoverishes human existence by separating out what ought to be held together.

A Buyer’s Market in College Education?

The same edition of The Chronicle includes an article “Colleges Must Prepare for a Buyer’s Market” (p. A60). The author, Jeffery Selingo, argues that colleges must get better at answering the questions of increasingly savvy prospective students and parents. On the basis of increased resources, such as the U.S. Education Department’s College Scorecard, and the hyper-speed growth of online education, Selingo offers the following as questions colleges ought to prepare to answer.

First, colleges must be able to answer “What is my return on investment?” That is, colleges must describe to prospective students the relationship between the quality of the education and level of debt they may incur while attending that college. Second, “how mobile are the academic credits earned on your campus and elsewhere?” Selingo notes that with the rise of online education, particularly MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), colleges should “expect students to ask what happens if they come to your registrar seeking credit with a certificate . . . from a MOOC in hand.” Third, “how tech-savvy is your institution?” Here colleges must answer to the rising tide of course delivery options and thus should be prepared to answer questions about how technologically and pedagogically savvy their professors are.

Fourth, prospective students increasingly ask, “What are your college’s priorities, and does academic rigor rank at the top?” That is, more informed students and parents will sniff out an emphasis on prestige or tradition over academic rigor. Selingo suggests that colleges provide an honest appraisal of their grade distribution among the student body and faculty instruction. Fifth, colleges must grapple with the reality that the hot jobs of today may not exist in twenty years. Thus they must be prepared to answer: “Does your college prepare students for their fifth job, not just their first?”

Sixth, if money is king in the decision process, the king often makes his real face known late in the game. That is, most families do not know the complete financial-aid package and thus their expected contribution to the cost of education until a few weeks before the deadline for a decision. Hence colleges ought to answer, “How easily does your institution allow admitted students to compare financial-aid offers?” Finally, in light of the fact that one-third of all colleges in the U.S. are “significantly weaker than before the recession and are on an unsustainable fiscal path” prospective parents especially will wisely ask “Is your college transparent about its own financial health?”

Selingo’s article raises a praetorian guard of further questions and discussion points. I limit myself to this point: Selingo is right that colleges must learn to be increasingly consumer-friendly while at the same time unflinchingly sound academically and pedagogically. The learning curve will be steep, but if we navigate these waters wisely, we might just come out stronger in the end with an increased ability to give our students a strong and consistent return on their investment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  1 Comment

  1. dr. james willingham   •  

    Why not take advantage of the idea of faculty free education? I have attended 10 different colleges and universities, all the way from a small Baptist College to an Ivy League University, and hold five degrees plus work on number six. God forbid that I should sell short the teachers who have contributed to my development. However, I do not wish to fail to recognize something about learning that I have garnered from all of those years, something that says testing for degrees can be and should be a part of the scene. Why? For the following reasons.

    One, I was taught to do research by a great Black Historian, Dr. Lorenzeo J. Greene, of Lincoln University in Mo. (noted in the 8th chapter bibliography summary of Dr. John Hope Franklin’s discussion on Slavery in Colonial New England as the authority on the subject). Dr. Greene encouraged me to do research, and I began in the Winter and Spring of 1963, some half century ago now, to do research in Baptist Church History (he had said choose a subject that interests you and take notes on every source you can find). The result was 3000 5×8 notecards covering more than 250 sources from which I wrote a thesis in American Social & Intellectual History on a Baptist doctrine over a 100 year period, a work that led to some very crucial and key insights into the nature and effect of biblical doctrine on human conduct. I would discuss the matter with the Chairman of the Pscyhology Dept of North Carolina State University in the Summer of 1974. He was doing research at that time on ideas and their effects on human behavior and desired that I would take an M.A. and Ph.D. under him. I chose instead to do the Doctor of Ministry at SEBTS, and my wife said, “You will be sorry.” I was and am. In any case, I continued doing research in other fields (e.g., 2000 5×8 notecards on I Cors.13 and a Greek Honors paper on the subject, 2000 on preaching, 1500 on the first 13 Psalms, 600 on Creation, and even more on eschatology and other subjects, not countine notebooks on I John, etc.). All of this research seems to go to waste as there is little publishing of people who do not followed the prescribed patterns for scholarship and peer review processes. English schools at least offer higher doctorates for such research, if one can get them written up and published. We, however, have nothing like that.

    The sad part is to have stumbled over the nature of the biblical doctrines and how they work to make one balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. Also there was another way of considering the dialectic. Instead of a thesis antithesis process leading to new synthesis, there is the taking of the thesis and antithesis as two poles which set up a tension in the human mind. enabling a believer to become balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic.

    Additionally, there is the discovery that the scientific method has its flaws and shortcomings, that it is too analytical, suffering as one minister said in the 60s from the paralysic of analysis, that it is unable to handle a hypothesis and a null hypothesis which are both true at the same time. I remember the shock that one science educator displayed, when I told her about the issues. She gasped, “How did you know that?” Her meaning was how could a dumb preacher know such things.

    The truth be told, I have done some thinking on the issue along with the idea of exegesis of Scripture. It was a result of that thinking that I applied to the issue of how Sandy Creek could have eldresses exhorting the congregations back in the 1700s, when they would never question the veracity of the Bible. Two things are very much lacking in our considerations of what the Bible teaches, namely, the intellectual and the synthetical. The Bible being inspired by Omniscience must reflect a depth of wisdom commensurate with such a source, that is the effect must be reflective of its cause. While the Bible is simple, it is not simple minded. It is profundity in clarity,a nd its depth is, accordingly, incomprehensible. It is like the American Indian friend of mine who thought he was stepping off in a mountain stream 2-3 feet deep, because he could see the grains of sand rolling along the bottom. What he had failed to take into account was the magnifying power of the clear mountain stream. As a result he almost drowned as the depth was 18-20 feet deep. The Bible is like that, clear and deep beyond imagination. Like the Mariannas Trench off the Southwest coast of the Philippines, the deepest swimming hole on earth according to the US Navy, the Bible is the deepest of all writings on earth, one more than able and even ultimately able to challenge the finest intellects. It holds the key to a 1000 generations of peace on earth and a million billion planets for a future unimaginable by man today, and all of this by the power of the Gospel. Southern Baptists are the beneficiaries of the powers involved in making such a seeming dream a reality, and by that I mean the Great Awakenings. Our churches grew out of the labors of folks converted in the First Great Awakening and they experienced the effects of the Second Great Awakening. No wonder thay were able to launch the Great Century of Missions, the modern missionary movement. I have often wandered what the future could hold for us, if we but had the confidence of the gospel, if we were not afraid to think outside the box, if we were willing to make great changes for the sake of our cause, even motivated by that cause to do so? This is going to become a reality, I trust and pray, because I have been praying for a Third Great Awakening for, it will be this fall, 40 years. Others have prayed longer than I have. I have read where D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed all during his ministry for such a visitation. I suggest there are others, and that the time is drawing near when the power of Heaven shall began to fall on the churches and the ministers and the people. All the promises set forth in Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt which inspired William Carey and others 200 years ago are still there to be pleaded in prayer. For God has not given us the Spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of sound mind (II Tim.1:7).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *