American Universities The Detroit of Higher Learning

Are we seeing the end of university as we know it? On the surface the claim sounds ludicrous. After all, university enrolment is at an all-time high and the competition to get into the most prestigious universities has never been fiercer. But scratch beneath the surface and the picture doesn’t seem so rosy.

A little over a year ago Mark C. Taylor caused fury in academia with his pronouncement that graduate education today “is the Detroit of higher learning.” “Most graduate programs in American universities,” he argued, “produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).”

More recently, the Economist suggested that America’s universities could do the way of its car companies, citing high drop-out rates, bloated administrations and soaring costs as leading indicators of decline. “The most plausible explanation [for the apparent decline]” it claims, “is that professors are not particularly interested in students’ welfare. Promotion and tenure depend on published research, not good teaching. Professors strike an implicit bargain with their students: we will give you light workloads and inflated grades so long as you leave us alone to do our research.”

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American universities: the Detroit of higher learning?

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Anthony D. Williams is a best-selling author, speaker and consultant who helps organizations worldwide harness the power of collaborative innovation in business, government and society. Read more about Anthony.