Show me the value!

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding my post about Ephemeralization of American Universities.  One of the solutions I advocate is concentrating resources where they matter most — and for most universities that is not in the first two years when increasingly commoditized, high quality content is available to replace ineffective bricks and mortar in-person classroom experiences. Many of my colleagues have argued that the classroom experience is not only pedagogically superior, it is what students value. That was an argument that always rang hollow to me.  It did not match my experience and many of colleagues agreed.

But my anecdotal reporting of experiences has limitations.  A new book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa puts some weight behind the proposition that during the first two years of college students learn little.  That does not mean the first two years has no value, but as the Ephemeralization pill experiment suggests, the value is much more likely to be social than academic.

Here’s how Jacques Steinberg describes it in his New York Times blog:

This is going to be a topic that generates a lot of heat.  Behind it all is the question: why are we spending such a large part of the higher ed dollar on that part of the college experience that returns the least value?

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