Checklist for Change: Making American Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise

Overview


Almost every day American higher education is making news with a list of problems that includes the incoherent nature of the curriculum, the resistance of the faculty to change, and the influential role of the federal government both through major investments in student aid and intrusive policies. Checklist for Change not only diagnoses these problems, but also provides constructive recommendations for practical change.

Robert Zemsky details the complications that have impeded ...

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Checklist for Change: Making American Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise

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Overview


Almost every day American higher education is making news with a list of problems that includes the incoherent nature of the curriculum, the resistance of the faculty to change, and the influential role of the federal government both through major investments in student aid and intrusive policies. Checklist for Change not only diagnoses these problems, but also provides constructive recommendations for practical change.

Robert Zemsky details the complications that have impeded every credible reform intended to change American higher education. He demythologizes such initiatives as the Morrill Act, the GI Bill, and the Higher Education Act of 1972, shedding new light on their origins and the ways they have shaped higher education in unanticipated and not commonly understood ways. Next, he addresses overly simplistic arguments about the causes of the problems we face and builds a convincing argument that well-intentioned actions have combined to create the current mess for which everyone is to blame.

Using provocative case studies, Zemsky describes the reforms being implemented at a few institutions with the hope that these might serve as harbingers of the kinds of change needed: the University of Minnesota at Rochester’s compact curriculum in the health sciences only, Whittier College’s emphasis on learning outcomes, and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s coherent overall curriculum.

In conclusion, Zemsky describes the principal changes that must occur not singly but in combination. These include a fundamental recasting of federal financial aid; new mechanisms for better channeling the competition among colleges and universities; recasting the undergraduate curriculum; and a stronger, more collective faculty voice in governance that defines not why, but how the enterprise must change.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In University of Pennsylvania higher education scholar Zemsky’s (Remaking the American University) blunt and accessible new book, he delivers a refreshing vision and outline for reforming American higher education that is neither starry-eyed nor hopeless, and thankfully free of neo-inspirational screed, flowery rhetoric, or a call-to-arms ending. His diagnosis of and solutions to escalating costs, improving scholarship, and raising completion rates are thought-provoking, and he cites many real-life innovations. For example, at the University of Minnesota’s new Rochester campus, through a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, only one bachelor’s degree is offered—in health sciences, naturally. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, by analyzing dismal completion rates found “barrier courses” in general education requirements, causing large numbers of students to fail and then drop out. The author ends with a long and clear checklist of how interlocking parts of the higher education world can change the American university. Though Zemsky begins by writing that “the number of people on whom change within higher education actually depends is substantially less than a thousand,” this candor makes the book a more satisfying read, cementing his clear wish to not talk down to his audience. The lay reader can only hope this book reaches those under-a-thousand decision makers. (Aug.)
University of Michigan

"This book is a call to arms—a compelling and challenging synthesis of the experiences, analysis, and wisdom of a leader in higher education policy."
— James J. Duderstadt

President, Great Lakes Colleges Association - Richard A. Detweiler

"This book is a breakthrough contribution. Zemsky tells us to stop making the same old, unproductive arguments yet again, and to take a set of actions which, in combination, will help us create a new, effective, and sustainable future for higher education."
University of Michigan - James J. Duderstadt

"This book is a call to arms—a compelling and challenging synthesis of the experiences, analysis, and wisdom of a leader in higher education policy."
Library Journal
Rather than championing the liberal arts, in contrast to Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, author Zemsky (education, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Making Reform Work: The Case for Transforming Higher Education) wishes to see professional programs expanded. Likewise, Zemsky doesn't decry what some see as the corporatization of higher education (see Henry Giroux's The University in Chains) but rather urges colleges and universities to seek out corporate partnerships in order to be "better aligned with the market." This recipe for change includes a few controversial items, like granting credit for competencies gained rather than time spent in the classroom and the adoption of a 90-credit baccalaureate degree. But there are few original proposals, and Zemsky's call for a standardized testing regime in higher education is simply borrowed from Richard Arums and Josipa Roksa's recent study, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. VERDICT Zemsky draws heavily on his background as a consultant during the policy wars of the 1980s, and his work will likely hold the interest of educational scholars. Cautiously recommended for university libraries supporting graduate programs in education.—Seth Kershner, Northwestern Connecticut Community College Lib., Winsted, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813561349
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 8/20/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,490,358
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT ZEMSKY is a professor and the chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Remaking the American University: Market Smart and Mission Centered and Making Reform Work: The Case for Transforming American Higher Education (both Rutgers University Press).

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