To the Editor:
Brian Rosenberg’s essay, “Higher Ed’s Ruinous Resistance to Change” (The Chronicle Review, September 25), will surely elicit some strong responses, but every idea he posits deserves consideration.
Still, I don’t think Rosenberg went far enough. His proposed reforms would likely improve outcomes for learners who can set aside time and money to obtain a four-year degree (or even a three-year degree, as Rosenberg suggests). But millions of Americans cannot afford that luxury, and postsecondary-education leaders cannot neglect learners who must work or take care of families while pursuing a degree. They also cannot ignore the fact that Americans today are not only less likely to stay with one company their whole career — they’re unlikely to stick with one career their whole lives.
Colleges and universities are missing an opportunity if they do not help nontraditional or lifelong learners develop their aptitudes and find purpose in work. The type of competency-based learning options deployed by Purdue and Western Governors University, offering students individualized academic support that fits their needs, and changing transfer of credit policies so people can easily move in and out of the academy will make postsecondary education more accessible to modern learners.
Campus leaders also must emphasize openness. Rosenberg notes college and university presidents are worried about the perception that their campuses are places of intolerance. Professors’ voting patterns aren’t driving this anxiety. Fear of debate is. Students and faculty feel like they need to self-censor. The bias at too many institutions is to protect students and even faculty from encountering ideas they may find disagreeable.
Employers are looking for workers with soft skills — the ability to communicate, empathize, and compromise. In addition to fomenting intolerance, the proliferation of safe spaces and disinvitation of speakers contributes to the belief that the academy is not preparing learners for a complex and often scary world.
Rosenberg is right: Without change, some institutions will go bankrupt. To survive and to continue to play a vital role in society, postsecondary education leaders must embrace revolutionary change.
Charles Koch Foundation