Why higher education in the United States has lost its way, and how universities and colleges can focus sharply on their core mission.
For The Real World of College, Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner analyzed in-depth interviews with more than 2,000 students, alumni, faculty, administrators, parents, trustees, and others, which were conducted at ten institutions ranging from highly selective liberal arts colleges to less-selective state schools. What they found challenged characterizations in the media: students are not preoccupied by political correctness, free speech, or even the cost of college. They are most concerned about their GPA and their resumes; they see jobs and earning potential as more important than learning. Many say they face mental health challenges, fear that they don’t belong, and feel a deep sense of alienation. Given this daily reality for students, has higher education lost its way? Fischman and Gardner contend that US universities and colleges must focus sharply on their core educational mission.
Fischman and Gardner, both recognized authorities on education and learning, argue that higher education in the United States has lost sight of its principal reason for existing: not vocational training, not the provision of campus amenities, but to increase what Fischman and Gardner call “higher education capital”—to help students think well and broadly, express themselves clearly, explore new areas, and be open to possible transformations. Fischman and Gardner offer cogent recommendations for how every college can become a community of learners who are open to change as thinkers, citizens, and human beings.
About the Author
Wendy Fischman is a Project Director at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and lead author of Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work. Howard Gardner is Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the author of A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory (MIT Press) and many other books.
"In this fascinating book, Gardner and Fischman (both, Harvard Graduate Sch. of Education) share the quantitative and qualitative results of a study conducted from 2013 to 2018, intended to ascertain how participants viewed higher education; they conclude that it has 'lost its way and stands in considerable peril.”'The authors found that students are struggling with mental health and feelings of belonging and alienation—from their fellow students, from their scholarly work, and from their institutions. The study focused on 10 colleges and relied on surveys and interviews with students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, young alumni, and parents. The book examines four mental models, which explain students’ reasoning for pursuing higher education, and notes that students and administrators may feel at odds if they have different mental models. The authors end with recommendations for specific actions to help foster a sense of belonging in students; an epilogue includes a thought-provoking dialogue between the authors as they reflect on their own educational journeys...Recommended for college faculty, administrators, and trustees keen on aligning a college’s mission with the needs of its constituencies." —Library Journal
"The authors offer multiple prescriptions to reframe higher education, beginning with a new laser focus on academics. They recognize there will be resistance, including from parents who want their children to enjoy the social dividends of a campus and believe the main payoff from a college degree is a job. Gardner and Fischman counter that social opportunities can be found in many other settings, and students can hone job skills by going directly from high school into training programs. Their position: The return on investment from a college education should not be measured in job offers and salary but in the lifetime return of being able to think about and solve real-world problems." —the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"An insightful survey of what students actually get out of campus. This book provides valuable data and reflection on the ways that higher ed has “lost its way” and how it can recenter the academic mission. As someone who has spent more than 30 years teaching at a national liberal arts college, I hope that higher-ed stakeholders put this accessible volume on their summer reading list." —Washington Independent Review of Books
"An important book for anyone who cares about the future of American higher education." —CHOICE
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