College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for StudentsCollege Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For someone who follows the Chronicle of Higher Ed or popular coverage of higher ed in general, there is not much new or surprising here. But Selingo personalizes and contextualizes the facts and figures being thrown at us in the media with his own reporting of anecdotal realities for students, parents and universities. The book cover review quotes focus on the technology disruption elements of his book, but this focus seems only to serve his broader and deeper indictment of the current system in general.

My takeaways from Selingo’s coverage:

-Most universities are out of touch and slow to respond to what is a major shift in educational needs and expectations of higher ed students & parents.

-Current degree and major models may hinder more purposeful and future looking learning. Other models, such as those presented on pg. 149 could be explored.

-A gap year could help students mature and be ready to start college.

-Flexibility in course delivery models and certification methods is an emerging need.

My criticisms of Selingo’s coverage:

-Selingo shares several stories of exceptional faculty with excellent teaching practices, but when he discusses “faculty” at large he shows some disdain. He writes this book from a student and parent advocacy standpoint and sometimes puts too much responsibility on faculty shoulders and often colors them as dispensable.

-Similar to the prior point, Selingo makes some messy causal claims about institutional responsibility for student success that are a little heavy handed. His logic gets a bit convoluted in trying to answer the question of individual or institutional responsibility for students finishing their degrees. He acknowledges the confounding variables for why students might drop out, but then still wants to argue that because Princeton graduates students at such a high rate, every student should have an equal chance of graduating from any institution. In some logical contortions he tries to support this claim by talking about high achieving students who undermatch- or go to schools with lower graduation rates. But he doesn’t follow this up to show if those students, who might also have gotten into a top tier school, finish the lower tier programs with lower rates- he just says they lowered their chances of graduating by merely entering the school. Give me data on some of these individual, undermatched students’ graduation rates, and I might see his point better. But whenever he can’t find the data, he implies some institutional conspiracies and proceeds to speculate.

-Where he does have data- earnings comparisons between schools, I start to cringe a little. Though he acknowledges that colleges should be for more than setting ones’ future wages, he can’t stop talking about it and letting that data influence his recommendations for the future of education.

What inspired me in Selingo’s work:

– He focuses on ways to encourage universities to get to the “sweet spot” of their students’ learning needs. This is my favorite quest. In interviewing some Indian students about a training program they attended once, I saw a student describing his favorite college professor. With reverence, his eyes lit up and he said,”Oh! did he know how to get to the crux of the matter.” I replay this in my head often for its passion.

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