Review of “American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know”

I recently had the pleasure of reading American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press) by Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Goldie has a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the best higher education journalist out there, and this book reflects her ability to summarize complex topics in higher education for a broad audience. Veteran researchers in higher ed finance and policy probably won’t come across too many new things in this book, but it serves as an excellent primer for policymakers, students, and the general public.

The book consists of four main sections, in which Blumenstyk quickly moves through key questions of interest to the higher education community and the public. Each section focuses on an overview of the topics at hand and brings in data and research in an easily accessible manner. In the first section, she examines students, with some of the following questions being considered:

–Who enrolls in college? How have demographics changed over time?

–How does the college admissions process work?

–Are students academically prepared for college, and what is the extent of “undermatching?”

In the second section, Blumenstyk examines higher education finance, paying attention to both student and institutional finance. Some of the questions considered include the following:

–Why does college cost so much? She gets extra credit from me for explaining the difference between cost (the amount of money spent to provide the educational experience) and price (what students and their families actually pay). This is a crucial distinction that is rarely made with the general public in mind.

–What do student loan burdens look like? And are they reasonable?

–Are institutional finances stable? What types of colleges may be in trouble going forward?

The third section of the book centers on leadership and governance. The following questions are considered:

–What is a typical governance structure like? What are the roles of internal stakeholders such as faculty and administrators?

–What are the roles of external stakeholders such as policymakers, foundations, and accreditors?

–What do state and federal accountability policies look like?

In the final section, Blumenstyk looks at some practices and policies that may represent the future of higher education. While some of the items discussed below will probably not have as large of an impact on higher education as we think right now, this section serves as a great reference regarding some of the buzzwords in higher education. These topics include:

–What do MOOCs (massive open online courses) look like, and how have they been adopted to this point?

–What is competency-based education, and what are other ways to earn college credit without sitting in a classroom (or in front of a screen online) for a semester?

–How are “big data” and predictive analytics being used to change educational practices and policies?

–Will traditional campuses survive? And what types of colleges are most at risk?

This book provides a great overview of the state of higher education and directs readers to additional resources for further reading. Not only do I recommend this book to those looking to learn more about higher education, I plan to use parts of this book for my organization and governance and higher education finance classes in the future.

[Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

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Robert Kelchen

Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University, is data manager of the Washington Monthly College Guide.