[EAS] Are We In An Education Bubble?

Peter J. Kindlmann peter.kindlmann at yale.edu
Thu Apr 14 00:29:11 EDT 2011

Dear Friends and Colleagues -


Yale alumnus Micah Siegel (EE '92) brought this article (and its
TinyURL) to my attention. This is a subject not enough talked about, even as our
society is undergoing serious structural changes.

For more than 10 years now I have claimed that drivers like the need for
meaningful research interdisciplinarity and the shifting social perception of
education, have put American higher education in the midst of a "100-year"
transformation like the 1880-1910 period that brought the modern American
research university to prominence. The vision then of the structured creation of
new knowledge, dominated by distinct university departments, and accompanied by
the creation of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Dewey Decimal
System and the expansion of the Patent System, is showing strains.

Are incremental changes in American higher education an adequate response now?
Or are fundamental structural changes needed?
Subscriptions for preoccupied faculty to the "Planning for Higher Education"
quarterly are probably not the answer, worthy journal though it is.

How novel a situation are we facing? The modern research university's "First 100
years" saw major cycles of creating jobs, surviving structural change and
technological transformation. Still, prompts to incisive discussion about our
present are urgently needed. Charles Handy, one of my favorite authors, said it
eloquently in his 1984 book "The Future of Work" (p. 153):

An education system is a mirror of a society. It is unrealistic to blame it for
the flaws in that society or to expect it to be the lever for change, although
one or two brave spirits may experiment at the edges. It is no part of the
argument here that education should lead the way into the future, only that it
adjust its mirror quickly enough to reflect the world that is springing up
around us rather than the world that used to be. All the opportunities of the
future of work depend upon a population with access to education, a people
geared to think and act for themselves, a nation that will rejoice in choice and
responsibility, not shun them. If we do not get education right, quickly, we
will be faced with a scenario of lost opportunities and a generation of whom it
might be said one day, 'They have a bright future behind them.'


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