“College (Un)Bound – The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students” by Jeffrey Selingo, Editor at Large, “Chronicle of Higher Education”

This recent book (2013) contained many familiar themes, because when the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks, my colleagues listen, and they often circulate articles with added comments. Most of what this book covers was familiar, but it is useful to read it systematically.

This book sounds a clear warning to colleges and universities – adapt or go out of business. Yes, “business”. Higher education is no longer a sector above the economic fray. With state tax support shrinking and unlikely to recover, public colleges are driven to act like their private counterparts, for better or worse. Selingo emphasizes the positive by giving examples of colleges that have made major changes. (Aside from passing reference to Princeton, New Jersey schools are not mentioned.)

The people who really need to read this are PARENTS. Maybe my family would have made different decisions if we had seen all of this information 7 or 8 years ago (but maybe not). Selingo points out that high school students base their college choices more on emotion than considered judgment, and parents hate to disappoint them. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. Decisions are often made under pressure of deadlines, and before the full price is known.

My conclusion is that it is still worthwhile to get a Bachelor’s degree, for two reasons. It will increase your lifetime earnings, and the “college experience” in all its wonderful variability engenders personal growth. But I would add many caveats to this if advising friends.

That said, everything about college is changing. Selingo lists the following “disruptors” of higher education:

  • college indebtedness,
  • withdrawal of state support,
  • demographics (not enough 19 year olds),
  • availability of alternatives and
  • the “value gap”, the difference between the cost of college and it’s perceived value.

What, no mention of technology?! Actually, that gets an entire chapter, as well it should. But today’s students take it for granted, and heaven help any faculty member who doesn’t get on board.

Selingo brings up a topic close to my heart – ratings systems. I hate them! My college is completely under the spell – we have to participate, and we have to “look good”. I would not recommend that students and parents base their decisions on any of the existing systems. Selingo offers some better ideas.

I recommend this book for everyone. We are blessed with choices and options, and need to approach them thoughtfully.

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