Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk is a thought-provoking documentary available on Netflix and worth a couple hours of your time. While it is about 7 years old, it is relevant to the extent that it sparks a few questions and as we look back, we can see that America has taken note and is making some much needed changes.
How are colleges judged? The data we look at when choosing a college is often autopsy data: SAT or ACT scores (which many states look at to judge High School success), enrollment percentages, & retention rates. It was pointed out in the film that the people who provide this data do so because they have nothing else to provide. Is that really true? What about the students who take one of the PRAXIS tests as a graduation requirement? As far as I know, all education majors have to take it. What if colleges and universities made it a graduation requirement that EVERY student had to take either PRAXIS, MAT, or GRE? Would this not give us a more accurate picture of what the college actually provided in terms of critical thinking and preparation for life beyond the Bachelors degree? Perhaps it would also give students a greater incentive to study more and party less… to think… and to engage in class discussions and conversations with professors during their office hours. Students also have the opportunity to evaluate their professors at the end of the semester. What if that data were publicly available in some context?
What are your thoughts on the commercial backing of college athletics, a major source of funding for some schools? Any economists out there? What do you think of the idea of boycotting such events to urge a shift toward the commercial backing of more intellectual activities? I understand it is a matter of supply and demand, so I’m not sure such an extreme reaction would be in the best interest of education. I can’t imagine the small town I live in sustaining a sense of community without the Friday night lights certain months of the year, let alone a college campus like USC or Clemson without its alumni returning year after year for the big game (filling the coffers of the institution which has to pay for capacity building, overhead expenses, salaries, and more)…I just don’t think people could be convinced to walk away from what is such a significant part of our culture. I’d rather see more people turning out for a seminar at our local state of the art auditorium, but it just isn’t that simple. So is it really worth complaining about the fact that our nation offers higher rewards for giftedness in athletics than it does for talent in any other area? Can we figure out a way to use that to everyone’s advantage?
One of the essential questions the film asks is, “How do we open the doors to education…?” Many schools are responding to this question by putting courses and even entire degree programs online. It takes a huge degree of self-discipline from the students who enroll in these courses. Time management becomes a critical issue. Sustaining focus on tasks toward completion of a goal and critical thinking become solitary activities, yet research shows that collaboration is so vitally important. So more and more it looks like social media is the answer. Nevertheless, there will need to be skilled people who can take a multidisciplinary approach to foster collaboration and coach autonomous skill sets (such as navigating the best practices of interpersonal and intrapersonal communication), offering face time when needed (whether within physical proximity or through means of services like Skype). This is where the educationist comes in, the creative analyst who facilitates student success along the course each learner charts for his/her self.