Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Future of Higher Education

My tendency when trying to solve a problem is to find a similar problem elsewhere that has already been solved or to find a situation where someone has managed to avoid the problem and figure out how it's been managed.  Efficiency or laziness?  Honestly, it's laziness.  Why not just learn from what's already happened instead of doing all that exhausting heavy lifting myself?

I've been reading a good deal about education and am participating in a summer project focused on thinking about the future of higher education.  I have many times related education to both the ministry and health professions and I think that, again, looking to these areas we can learn a good deal.

In particular, I think higher education and organized religion share a good deal.  We both believe that what we are providing is self-evidently good for the people who we serve.  At the same time, we've never really had to 'sell' ourselves.  Participation in religious institutions is something people were simply raised to do and so did.  Aspirations to go to college to become educated and think about big ideas is something we, in higher education, count on continuing.  But, our assumption that people would always want what we are providing means we have never really made the case for what we are doing.

And, now people are choosing to go to churches where they get what they want (big churches, few responsibilities, spending time with the people they want to spend time with, entertainment and little challenge to already existing beliefs) and my pastor friends bemoan this.  Likewise as people begin to choose the college education they want, they are probably not going to choose what we think they need and what I really do think is, ultimately good for everyone.

I'd say that journalism is undergoing the same sorts of problems.  Democracy depends upon a thriving journalistic community and a population that is engaged with this community.  But, now people read only what they want to read and are able to fairly easily ignore what they want to ignore.  We spend more time confirming what we already believe to be true and less time becoming aware that things aren't what we thought they were.

Journalism, religion and education are also in the same situation insofar as much of what we have provided in the past is available for free (well, it isn't what we really have been providing but it's what people have thought we've been providing) and so now we are increasingly unable to fund our own versions of what it is we do (since there is less of a market for it).

One thing churches did do, lo many years ago, was make a distinction between monks and priests.  Having these be two different jobs has always made sense to me.  It's the monks who were the scholars and the priests who communicated the relevant learning to the laypeople.  It's long been a mystery to me why, in the academy, we expect faculty to be monks and priests.

Now, turning to religion (or journalism) doesn't actually provide solutions, but it does make clear that what's happening in higher education isn't unique to higher education.  We are at the mercy of the same forces that other important institutions are.  Which means we need to be looking at the conversations in these fields to see what we can come up with together as a strategy for where to move and how to best retain our core values without shrinking into the vanishing point.

No comments: