The posting below looks at some of the challenges currently facing undergraduate higher education. It is from Chapter 1 Learning Communities and Undergraduate Education Reform, in Learning Communities, Reforming Undergraduate Education, by Barbara Leigh Smith, Jean MacGregor, Roberta S. Matthews, and Faith Gabelnick. Published by Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 www.josseybass.com. Copyright © 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Challenges to the Academy - New Colleges, New Students, New Challenges
In the last four decades higher education in the United States has been transformed through a dramatic increase in the number and types of colleges and universities and the corresponding increase in student enrollment. The expansion of the higher education system has created unprecedented opportunities for place-bound students. Enrollment in two-year colleges went from fewer than half a million in 1960 to four million in 1980 (Kerr, 1990). Half of all students in the United States today spend their freshman year in a community college. At the same time, institutions of all types have become more comprehensive and wide-ranging in their curricular offerings. Although state-supported colleges and universities educate a growing proportion of all students, new types of institutions have also appeared. Nontraditional progressive colleges, for-profit colleges, and universities, and institutions that use technology as their primary mode of instruction have emerged. In addition, many existing colleges and universities have reexamined their missions. In America's research universities, where one-third of all undergraduates earn their baccalaureate degree, undergraduate education has clearly become a greater priority although the reach of the reform efforts falls well short of our aspirations (Reinventing Undergraduate Education, 2001; O'Connor and others, 2003). Many other four-year colleges and universities have crafted new mission statements. The result has been the identification of new sectors in higher education-from "the urban university" to "the new American college" to "the public liberal arts college" (Spear and others, 2003).
As higher education has expanded, the student body has become much larger and more diverse in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and cultural background (Marcy, 2002; Newton, 2000). Now only 16 percent of the student population may be described as "traditional"-that is, ages eighteen to twenty-two, attending college full-time, and living on campus. Many now attend college part-time. More that 70 percent work, and 41 percent are over the age twenty-five (Marcy, 2002). Many of these new students are the first generation in their family to attend college. The majority of the new students are women.
Patterns of college attendance have also changed. Largely commuter institutions have become a pervasive force in higher education, raising pressing issues about how to create a meaningful academic community in a nonresidential, transitory setting. Even more problematic when it comes to maintaining academic community and coherence is the precipitous decline in the number of students who attend only one college for all four years. Few students now graduate from the institution at which they began college career.
The fates of the two-year and four-year colleges have become intertwined, and issues of transfer and interinstituational articulation are increasingly important. To complicate matter further, recent studies show that students do not flow logically from high school to college or from two-year to four-year institutions (Ewell, 2002c; Adelman, 1999). In fact, there is substantial lateral movement across four-year schools. Meanwhile, relationships between colleges and high schools have become increasingly complicated. Widespread reform efforts in primary and secondary education are aiming for higher levels of student achievement, and a number of "early college" efforts are demonstrating ways to integrate the high school and college experiences and increase college attainment rates (Hoffman, 2003). At the same time, expectations for students are rising as our society becomes increasingly dependent on the kinds of knowledge and skill that are gained through higher education. In fact, the Association of American Colleges and Universities asserts that we are verging on universal college attendance as a college degree becomes the equivalent of a high school education one hundred years ago (Greater Expectations, 2002).
The challenges of educating a new generation of learners become apparent when we tackle the issues of student preparation and achievement, the mismatch between student and faculty expectations, and the differences between what colleges this is important and what parents and employers want. Although American higher education is often said to be the envy of the world, the level of student achievement and preparation needs to improve. Many statistics indicate this to be the case:
Although high school graduates may have taken the correct number of courses to graduate, more often than not they are not the right courses for pursuing postsecondary education. "About 50 percent of all first-time community college students test as underprepared for the academic demands of college-level coursesŠThis percentageŠhas not changed significantly across the United States in at least two decades" (Roueche and Roueche, 1999, p. 5).
Students' academic preparedness is down on a variety of measures, but students' confidence in their abilities is higher than ever (Hansen, 1998).
"While participation rates in higher education have increased, the gaps between high and low income levels and college completion rates have not changed" (Roueche and Roueche, 1999, p. 3), In addition, "numerically, minority students are less equal now than they were thirty years ago on the criterion that really matters: college graduation" (Renner, 2003, p. 40).
As Karen and Karl Schilling point out, we need to look at expectations for effort and engagement if we are to improve student learning. Their research at seven institutions demonstrates a substantial mismatch between student and faculty expectations for academic work outside of class, with faculty expecting three times more time of task than students report actually undertaking. Perhaps most significantly, the patterns of first-year student time investment seem to be durable across the four years, implying that freshman year is a n important place to set expectations and study habits (Schilling and Schilling, 1999). The 2002 Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) annual national survey of students corroborates these findings that students are studying less than ever, declining to an all-time low of 33 percent devoting six or more hours per week to studying (Higher Education Research Institute [HERI], 2003). This recent CIRP survey also indicates that trends among students show "grade inflation, increasing financial concerns, heightened stress, academic and political disengagement, declining social activism, and record-level volunteerism" (HERI, 2003, p. 16).
There is a growing demand from employers and parents and from inside the academy itself for a new kind of education that has higher expectations (Greater Expectations, 2002; Jones, 2003). Many are calling for a practical education that increases students' capacities for dealing with a rapidly changing world. They emphasize teamwork and collaboration and developing problem-solving skills rather than memorization and the accumulation of facts that will soon become obsolete. Often referred to as "lifelong learning" or deep learning," these capacities have become imperatives in our rapidly changing society. In fact, the new research in cognitive science suggests that lifelong learning is also fundamental to our long-term health (Quartz and Sejnowski, 2002).
References available on request.