College, Reinvented

October 15, 2012
College, Reinvented

David Schwen for The Chronicle

Last month you could see who was lining up against higher education just by looking at the local magazine rack. It seemed to be pretty much everyone.

Newsweek ran a provocative cover story—"Is College a Lousy Investment?"—which suggested that we might be better off sending kids into jobs and apprenticeships. The conservatives at The Weekly Standard were bemoaning the death of Western literature, blaming its demise on "the general crisis of higher education," which was "the next big bubble to burst." And Utne Reader, the lefty digest, used a scornful image to push its cover story about "indentured students": a cartoon of Albert Einstein flipping burgers.

"What's a college degree really worth these days?" the magazine asked.

That is the tone of the national conversation right now. It's not just experts, lawmakers, and disgruntled academics who see problems in the industry. Now parents, students, employers, and pundits say higher education is fundamentally broken—inefficient, ineffective, overpriced, outdated, out of touch.

What would it take to reinvent college? The following articles, and more in coming issues of The Chronicle, will begin to imagine a different higher-education landscape.

In this issue, our reporters and contributors take a variety of looks at some of the persistent conundrums of academe: how to staff the faculty and improve teaching, how to produce research that will connect with the public, how to bring in more money, and how to help students and families pay for it all, to cite a few of the challenges.

But we're just chipping away at the bigger issue, which is where you come in. With an enterprise as complicated and far-reaching as higher education, we invite our readers to come up with their own big idea: If you could start a successful institution of higher education from scratch, what would it look like?

We'll publish the best five ideas from readers and then invite you to vote for a winner. You'll find more details on page A7.

But first, consider the following scenarios.

—Scott Carlson