‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’ (The Atlantic)

By TIMOTHY PRATT

DEC 26 2013

As colleges feel pressure to graduate more students for less money, professors worry that the value of an education may be diminished.

Universities in South Dakota, Nebraska, and other states have cut the number of credits students need to graduate. A proposal in Florida would let online courses forgo the usual higher-education accreditation process. A California legislator introduced a measure that would have substituted online courses for some of the brick-and-mortar kind at public universities.

Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs. The University of Southern Maine may drop physics. And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.

Under pressure to turn out more students, more quickly and for less money, and to tie graduates’ skills to workforce needs, higher-education institutions and policy makers have been busy reducing the number of required credits, giving credit for life experience, and cutting some courses, while putting others online.

Now critics are raising the alarm that speeding up college and making it cheaper risks dumbing it down. “We all want to have more students graduate and graduate in a more timely manner,” says Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors. “The question is, do you do this by lowering your standards?”

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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