Faculty and administrators need to do a better job of explaining what colleges and universities are for and what scholars and researchers do – not necessarily the specifics of esoteric research, but why it’s valuable for students and to society.
In the ’60s, they used to call it “relevance,” he said.
Colleges and universities should focus on renewing support for undergraduate education and separate its costs from business and other services. They also must explain tuition and financial aid better, including the difference between sticker price and net price.
Despite the recent proliferation of online courses, the ventures are still experimental and won’t bring in new revenue, he predicted. Nevertheless, the academy should experiment with online applications as pedagogical tools, such as the so-called “flipped classroom” in which students listen to lectures on their own time and use classroom time for activities to enhance their learning, he said.
“It’s not going to transform higher education or make residential colleges obsolete,” he said. “What we’re finding out in the research is that hands-on, face-to-face, active learning is preferable, not remote lectures. There’s an irony there.”
The recent recession hastened the utilitarian trend, he said. Students worry about finding jobs, and their parents are anxious for education to pay off. They look to universities for reassurance, but the practical element is secondary to education and research.
“College is not designed to prepare students for specific jobs,” Rawlings said.
In pushing higher education to be more practical, “Texas is ground zero now,” he said. Gov. Rick Perry wants to base faculty evaluations on the amount of revenue they raise and the number of students they teach, treating universities as vocational schools and diploma mills, Rawlings said.