30 Years of Higher Education
Members reflect on how far education has come and how far it still must go to provide every student with the best learning experience possible.
By Vicky Hendley

From the March 2000 AAHE Bulletin

Also: Join the Debate: Your comments on 30 Years of Higher Education

As AAHE celebrates its 30th year, AAHE Bulletin asked the members to comment on the important changes in higher education over the last three decades.

Access and diversity, technology, and assessment are the most important changes in higher education, according to AAHE members who responded to a recent email survey. And those issues will continue to play key roles in the future. But what may (or may not) be surprising is that those same changes are also seen as higher education’s biggest challenges.

Members’ responses paint an interesting picture of the past, present, and future of American higher education. Educators are proud of the decades’ successes, aware of the problems still to be faced and overcome, and, for the most part, hopeful about the continuing improvement and success of their profession. Following is a sample of their thoughts, ranked by number of responses and listed in descending order.

1. Access and Diversity
More than 70 percent of respondents mentioned improved access or more diverse campuses as the past decades’ most profound higher education change.

The "democratization of higher education" is how Linda Anstendig, associate professor of literature/communications at Pace University, describes successful efforts to bring more minority students to college campuses. "The enriching diversity and different legacies that today’s college students bring to the campus and the college has expanded our worlds and appreciation for different cultures and ethnicities," she explains.

The "democratization of education" is also how Gary Kiger, head of the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology at Utah State University, describes successful diversity efforts. "A college and university education has become more available to a diverse group of students through financial assistance, affirmative action, employer expectations for educational credentials, and so forth," he explains.

Increased participation by African-American students was particularly noted. A. Jerome Jewler, professor of mass communications at the University of South Carolina, began teaching in 1972 and remembers a very different campus from the one he teaches on today. "The African-American students we had in the early 70s . . . weren’t ready for college. How could they be? Many had attended substandard schools and were admitted to the university, I think, because that was what we did then. Today, our African-American students, by and large, tend to be overachievers, perhaps to compensate for what they perceive as how white people stereotypically label them as underachievers."

While educators agree that colleges have done much to attract more minority students, many are very troubled by what happens when those students arrive. "The unhappy paradox of increasing minority access and decreasing minority degree completion" is a real problem, explains Clifford Adelman, senior research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education. He is also worried about "the gimmicks to increase racial/ethnic diversity by formulas instead of the hard work of precollegiate outreach programs and the provision of opportunity-to-learn to disadvantaged students."

Bob Hughes, dean of instruction for transfer programs at Highline Community College, agrees that stepped-up recruiting and admission efforts are not enough. "Colleges and universities have not adapted to the changing student population or the changes in work over the past 30 years. Instead of adopting policies and practices that address the underprepared students who are entering higher education, schools have for the most part retained pedagogical and curricular practices that worked for the highly selective and stratified colleges and universities of past generations."

Kay Hegler, professor of education and assessment officer at Doane College, agrees that there is still a long way to go. "Higher education has moved slowly in areas of equity: We have been slow to ensure equity in opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially those in minority races," she explains.

Efforts to ensure a diverse faculty also are far from complete, she says. "For many institutions, faculty and administrators of color are recruited only when the issue is forced by national accreditation agencies. Many institutions are unwilling to meet the salary level to retain faculty and administrators of color," Hegler explains.

2. Technology and Distance Education
Love it or hate it, educators concur that technology has had a major impact on higher education, and that adopting the new tools is mandatory.

"Technology has had, and will continue to have, a real effect on many aspects of higher education both in terms of how we do research and teach and on the student experience," explains Judy Patton, University Studies Program director at Portland State University. "Technological advances continue to amaze me, and their impact on my life and work is considerable. I enjoy the computer and what it allows me to do more easily, quickly, and professionally. I enjoy using it in teaching and helping students use it. It has aided me in my research and made it much easier to find and access information, both in terms of people and of recorded and visual information."

Karen M. Kedrowski, director of the Office of Effective Teaching at Winthrop University, doesn’t see herself as an "early adopter" when it comes to technology, but nonetheless, she’s enjoying the benefits. "While I am something of a Luddite, I do use new technologies, and some of them are very valuable in the classroom and for research. I find email is very valuable. Posting handouts on the course webpage is a great time-saver. Web-based reserves are wonderful. For research, I can get my hands on documents that I could not hope to have easy access to at a small, regional university with a limited library budget."

But educators are concerned by what President Clinton has called "The Digital Divide." Doreen Lasiewski, director of instructional development at New England Institute of Technology, reports a gap between "the "haves’ and "have nots’" — precollege students with home and school access to computers and their non-"wired" peers. That gap, she says, "appears to be widening and creating an obstacle in the preparation, admittance, and success of achieving a postsecondary education."

And Mary McMullen-Light, Writing Across the Curriculum coordinator at Longview Community College, has another concern — "The seduction of academia" by the glamour of technology. "The meteoric rise in the status of technology within academic culture is, I’m guessing, unprecedented. No other teaching tool I’m aware of has gotten near the P.R. nor escaped the rigorous scrutiny that traditionally fuels academic research. It seems to have been embraced as a quick-fix to complex problems and with little scholarly research supporting its grandiose claims."

Technology has allowed for the expansion of distance education, which gives some educators pause. Paul Sorrels, vice president for academic affairs at Bluefield College, for example, is troubled by the rise of "for profit" emphasis both in new schools and in our established colleges. "Adults need help completing their degrees, and alternative formats and processes are needed," he agrees. "However, many schools are "cheapening’ their product (degree) in order to "capture’ new enrollment, thus more funds!"

Keiko Pitter, chief technology officer at Whitman College, adds this last thought: "I understand the need for "just-in-time delivery’ of education, but I think it’s sad that education has became a thing of convenience rather than the process of learning and developing one’s intellectual self."

3. Assessment
While many respondents welcome a continued emphasis on assessment practices, citing assessment as a valuable barometer of teaching efforts, some see the assessment and accountability movement as an unnecessary increase of government intrusion.

Assessment advocates such as Portland State’s Patton report many benefits from the recent emphasis on assessment. "The outside pressure for increased accountability has led to a new awareness and focus on teaching and learning at the university," she explains. "We are still in the process of restructuring the academy to take this into consideration."

Others give assessment efforts mixed marks. "Greater accountability to the public, governing boards, and accrediting agencies . . . has been both good and bad," reports Maurice Baker, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska, "It probably has caused closer examination on the part of faculty of their responsibilities and hopefully improvement of the educational process as a result. At the same time, some regulations placed on institutions have been for political correctness and not necessarily for improved educational reasons. . . . While our measurement aspirations have not yet been matched by implemented measures, the focus on accomplishments has driven, and will continue to drive, enhanced learning."

And a few are much more critical. Reid Johnson, an assessment consultant with IEA Consulting Services, says assessment efforts have, for the most part, failed. Colleges and universities missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate the importance and integrity of higher education by fighting against institutional effectiveness mandates "out of ignorance, arrogance, and fears of looking bad," he explains.

"Since then," Johnson adds, "the people who know and care the least about higher education — state legislators, bureaucrats, and civilian boards — have increasingly taken over public higher education, grossly corrupting higher educators’ ability to achieve our noble mission."

4. Growing Emphasis on Teaching and Learning Issues
The notion of "learner-centered education" has completely changed higher education delivery, according to Whitman’s Pitter. "Teaching is no longer centered around a professor who professes, but around students who want to learn," she explains.

Laurie Richlin, president of the International Alliance of Teacher Scholars, Inc., agrees. "There has been the development of a decent and growing knowledge base about the effect of teaching on learning, and a growing intellectual interest in finding out how that knowledge can be used in individual classrooms," she reports.

The next step in this growing realization that higher education’s mission is learning not teaching will be a new emphasis on education’s end product, according to Robert B. Barr, director of institutional research at Palomar College. "We should judge a college most importantly on whether it is getting better at this work; whether, for example, this year’s graduating class is better educated than last year’s," he explains.

"Does this mean that we honor teaching any less?" Barr continues. "No. Teaching is not honored nearly enough in our colleges and universities. However, just as we judge the work of an artist by his or her body of work, likewise we should ultimately judge teaching and institutional instructional practice not by its own characteristics but in terms of its resulting body of work, the depth of learning and the degree of success of all the college’s students."

The road to learning-centered teaching still has some bumps in it, and the University of South Carolina’s Jewler reports that those bumps are often put there on purpose. "Universities seem to be performing a balancing act, claiming on the one hand that we must develop our teaching, while on the other insisting that every faculty member on a tenure track must produce research," he explains.

"I don’t think we have that many individuals who can do both, and do both well. I wish they’d let those of us who are good teachers develop our skills further and write about them, while [allowing] our research colleagues to spend more of their time out of the classroom — especially if they don’t do a very good job there," Jewler says.

5. Emphasizing Career Preparation over Liberal Education
Many educators are concerned over what they see as a trend to emphasize specific career preparation over a quality liberal education. Tony Filipovitch, dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research at Minnesota State University, sees a shift from education to training. "From legislatures to parents to students, what goes on in higher education is seen increasingly as an instrumental relationship (I pay you to provide a product) rather than a human engagement, the goal of which is to transform the mind and soul of another."

Jim Bess, a professor in the Administration, Leadership, and Technology Department at New York University, also reports that "colleges and universities have let themselves be seduced into letting their curriculums address near-term vocational needs rather than long-term, liberal education."

Sharon Lynn Sperry, associate director of summer sessions and special projects at Indiana University-Bloomington, also is concerned by this trend. "The college degree is more and more seen as a ticket to a high-paying job at the expense of a vision of college as a place to expand the mind and enrich the humanity of students," she says.

This is a real problem because, according to Daniel R. Stenberg, executive assistant to the president at Southwestern Michigan College, "Undergraduate education should be a liberating experience helping the individual develop an understanding in multiple areas. As higher education allows undergraduate students to avoid areas of study, it contributes to a lack of critical thinking skills and an intolerant social structure. Higher education should be the first place an open exchange of informed ideas occurs, with students encouraged to explore multiple disciplines."

6. Rising Costs and Changing Finances
The economics of higher education — from the price tag of a diploma to the new emphasis on fund-raising — is also of major concern for educators. Betsy Barefoot, codirector of the Policy Center on the First Year of College at Brevard College, worries about the significant debt students must assume to receive an undergraduate education.

The overwhelming emphasis on raising money is also a troubling trend, she says. "The size of an institution’s endowment has become another way colleges and universities are ranked. This activity has filtered down so not only development professionals, but also academic administrators and faculty, are spending a significant proportion of their time soliciting potential givers," she reports.

A dean who asked that his name not be used reports a similar problem. "Fund-raising is consuming a greater proportion of human resources today than in the past because state-supported institutions have become state-assisted institutions," he explains. "Institutions are shifting priorities to please alumni first, external funding agencies second, parents of current students third, students fourth, and faculty last."

7. The Growth of Community Colleges
Community college enrollment has more than doubled during the last 30 years, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics, and many educators congratulated the schools for making higher education accessible to more students, particularly students who are members of minority or other historically underserved groups.

And community colleges have adapted to the new needs of their ever-growing student populations, according to Ernest A. Martinez, executive vice chancellor of the Alamo Community College District. "As community colleges changed from offering exclusively transfer work to providing technical training, workforce training, and other community services, a variety of needs have been met that were previously ignored," he explains.

8. Adopting a Business Model
Should students been considered "customers"? "Absolutely not" is the consensus of survey respondents, many of whom decried the trend to change the governance of higher education institutions from an academic model to a business one.

"The blind adoption of business and government practices for greater accountability and oversight has often led academia down the wrong path," explains John Trefny, vice president of academic affairs at the Colorado School of Mines. "Students are really not "customers’; higher education is really more than just training. The various types of modern institutions have much to learn from one another, academia included. But we, and especially our governing agencies, need to be aware of the differences between higher education and other endeavors."

Sandra Hurd, professor of law and public policy at Syracuse University, agrees, adding that at some institutions, "the shift to a business model has led to decision making that is not flexible enough to account for the very real differences between academic institutions and for-profit businesses."

Tom Van Valey, chair of the Department of Sociology at Western Michigan University, is very concerned about what he sees as "bottom line" thinking. "I finished my Ph.D. in 1970. I was interested in higher education because it was a career track that was intellectually stimulating and challenging. I didn’t expect to make a lot of money, but I did expect to be respected (and rewarded) for my accomplishments. I didn’t expect to be treated like a worker in a factory (albeit with higher level of training and expertise), and I certainly didn’t (and still don’t) see students as "customers.’"

9. Changing Student Attitudes
Many educators say they believe that the adaptation of a business model has led to problems with student attitudes and behavior. Explains Van Valey, "I am not at all fond of students who go to college wanting to be trained for a job; students who simply want to do what is necessary to get a "B’ or even an "A,’ or to just complete a credential; students who "expect’ a grade simply by showing up; students who are not interested in the pursuit of knowledge (maybe even truth) for its own sake; students who are unwilling to open their minds and learn something new. As I see it, the trend toward commercialism is embodied in these kinds of attitudes."

Patricia M. Alt, an associate professor of health science at Towson University, also reports seeing more students come to college with a strange sense of entitlement. Students think they should be able to work full-time, have fancy cars or buy houses, and have the coursework bent to their needs, all while expecting great grades at the same time, she says.

Poor student attitudes have also had an impact on classroom conduct, reports Winthrop’s Kedrowski. "Our traditional-aged students often want to be entertained. In a TV/MTV world, they are very passive, and expect lots of bright lights, loud music, and other stimulation to be amused. They may not see the value in something that’s not packaged as entertainment."

"Moreover," she adds, "we have to develop new rules of etiquette for the classroom. It’s not just "don’t fall asleep.’ Now we have to include "turn off your cell phones and beepers,’ in addition to "stay awake and do the reading.’"

10. Contributions to Society
Higher education has made the United States, and the world, a better place, many educators noted with pride. "The collective impact of the improvements and developments in university research has made unprecedented contributions to all facets of society ranging from medicine, science, and technology to nutrition, engineering, and the arts," says Don Olcott, Jr., associate dean of Extended University and Summer Session at the University of Arizona.

The Future of Higher Education

The Bulletin also asked educators to look 30 years into the future and predict the next trends and changes. Despite today’s challenges, most say they are excited about the opportunities ahead.

Technology in particular is expected to continue to change the classroom, the campus, and teaching and learning in general. "The emergence of new educational technologies and new providers of educational services will break the mold into which colleges have grown for the past 50 years," predicts John Tagg, an instructor at Polomar College. "Many students will need to be taught how to take advantage of new technological media of instruction if they are not to use them in ways that trivialize the learning experience."

Colleges that redefine and reorganize themselves to meet these new challenges "have a rare and exciting opportunity to reinvent higher education," Tagg says. "Those that don’t, and hope to continue to rely on the largess of taxpayers and endowments, probably have a short future."

Chris Geith, director of distance learning and collaborative systems at Rochester Institute of Technology, is also predicting a major shake-up linked to technology. "I think the whole system will be turned on its head when networked technology, policy changes, and new kinds of companies and products change the landscape to look more like the new economy of today."

The future also looks good for scholarship, predicts Brian P. Coppola, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. "I am optimistic that a renaissance is under way, where a more traditional and more balanced set of expectations will characterize faculty work, and this will have a positive impact on student-faculty relationships and faculty-institution relationships."

"This change has begun," he says. "The change regains the center of higher education and will be driven by new faculty who simply will not reflect the poor role models in their academic upbringing. Right through the undergraduate level, the professional development culture for future faculty will flourish and instill a broader notion of scholarship in the next generation."

Robert Weisbuch, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, predicts "a renaissance for the liberal arts based on an increasingly confident and sophisticated sense of what those disciplines mean in regard to a multicultural, globally minded culture. And far more profound connections between college and high school faculty, whose co-workings at present tend to be temporary and piecemeal. In the post Cold War world, universities and colleges — and their scholar-teachers — must seek support for their privileges by becoming key citizens in their communities and beyond."

Other predictions:

"Higher education seems to be heading down the same path as health care: management by external sources and a decrease in the credibility and autonomy of the experts. The similarities are frightening, and higher education must be proactive and future-oriented to retain some semblance of control over our destiny." — Beth Patrick, assistant professor of speech communications at Olivet Nazarene University.

"I can see a system based on competency with less focus on seat time and course credits, allowing students the ability to proceed in their learning at much different rates. Society might become differently structured as well, increasing career changes and allowing much broader kinds of lifestyles." — Judy Patton, University Studies Program director at Portland State University.

"I can see the design and governing of education being structured much differently to accommodate the changes and newly arising needs of society." — Beverly J. Schmoll, dean of graduate and special programs at University of Michigan-Flint.

"Postsecondary education will become the norm just as high school degrees became the norm in the 20th century." — Bob Hughes, dean of instruction for transfer programs at Highline Community College.

"Colleges and universities need to reconceive what they do and how they do it to meet the changing needs of the students we see. That will mean the creation of significant partnerships with the K-12 systems and communities that they serve. The successful higher education institution today and beyond must develop and maintain partnerships with a range of other types of institutions and groups to ensure that it is attuned to its community’s needs. Rather than viewing itself as the keeper of knowledge, the college or university must see itself as a partner in the exploration of needs and as a resource provider." — Jay Halfond, associate dean of academic affairs at Boston University Metropolitan College.

Time for a Change?

The last three decades have been a parade of change in higher education. For many in our survey, higher education is practically synonymous with change, and they are more than willing to embrace whatever comes their way. As Darvin H. Raddatz, a professor and chair of academic development at Martin Luther College, puts it, "Change presents the thrill of challenge. What’s not to like?"

Your comments on 30 Years of Higher Education

"An important change was the development of learning assistance centers as an academic support service for students and faculty from their origins as reading labs, study skills clinics, and learning resource centers. [See Sullivan, L.L. (1978). A Guide to Higher Education Learning Centers in the United States and Canada. Portsmouth, NH: Entelek and Lissner, L.S. (1989). College learning assistance programs: The results of a national survey, Issues in College Learning Centers, 9, 82-95.]"

The change I like least is "the increase in upper level administrative posts with little contact with either faculty or students."

I expect the most significant changes in the next 30 years to include the "challenge of private for-profit corporations who are entering education to market online courses and degrees. For the academy to meet this challenge, it must develop, market, and support its own online courses and degrees. In addition, it should consider developing online academic support centers and allow the use of academic services on campuses by online learners who live nearby but take courses elsewhere."
Frank L Christ
Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach, and visiting scholar, University of Arizona

"I am surprised that while in Europe ‘The Internationalisation of Education’ is a top issue, this trend isn’t mentioned in the comments of the AAHE Members."
Marieke Janssen

"My initial comments are for Scott Rice, Professor of English, San Jose State University. Scott, in your contribution to the debate, you complain about the growing "professionalization" of college and university administration and the separation of the academic professionals from the faculty and the academic enterprise. Recently I reviewed Philip Altbach, editor, (1996) The International Academic Profession: Portraits of Fourteen Countries (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). It is a significant international study of the academic profession. Unfortunately, your complaints are universal among the faculties of these fourteen nations. On the other hand, I am a doctorate graduate of Administration in Higher Education and have just completed a career of 40 years in student affairs/services higher education administration. It was my observation that those of us in senior student affairs positions, with degrees in higher education, generally stayed longer in the field and contributed more to the field in terms of research, publications and professional associations contributions."
Sandy MacLean
University of Missouri-St. Louis

"The most important change in higher education in the past 30 years (which happens to be about how long I have been teaching)? The development of a separate administrative culture that no longer identifies its interests with those of faculty. Whereas campus presidents were formerly academics who had moved from classrooms and libraries and laboratories into department and college administrations and eventually to the leadership of institutions, the typical president today is a bureaucrat and a careerist. An increasing number even have a degree whose very existence testifies to the bureaucratization of higher education, Administration of Higher Education. Instead of socializing regularly with faculty, presidents now play golf with wealthy businessmen, people who insist that colleges and universities must be run along corporate lines. Instead of worrying about academic issues like standards and degree requirements and resources for faculty development, our modern presidents worry about the bottom line and their next career move. Not surprisingly, they have jumped on the technology bandwagon. Distance learning and automated teaching will put those pesky tenured profs in their place, reducing their numbers and weakening their influence on curricular and pedagogical matters. Free from the interference of those who do the defining work of the institution, teaching and research, our modern presidents can make the wholesale changes necessary to accumulate the attractive resume items that attract more lucrative and prestigious appointments."
Scott Rice, Prof. of English
San Jose State University

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