The Corner

Education

The Higher Ed Ship Is Sinking; What to Do?

Students walk through the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 1, 2016. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

COVID has created a crisis in higher education. What can we do to use that to our advantage?

In today’s Martin Center article, Stephanie Brenzel, who teaches at the University of Toronto, offers her thoughts.

First, things are bad and getting worse if you believe in politically neutral liberal arts education. Her field is religious studies, and she offers this bouquet of job postings as evidence of its tilt:

  • A global liberation professor with expertise in “global theologies of liberation and de-colonial theory”
  • A Latin Patristics professor who can apply the insights of Augustine of Hippo to race, ethnic, and indigenous studies
  • An Asian religions professor working on “critical approaches to race, gender, sexuality, social hierarchies, and inequality, and power struggles and political movements.”

Things are bad. Is there any solution?

She starts by arguing that the ideas advanced in a recent Martin Center piece won’t work, among them looking to governing boards to clean up the mess.

Brenzel argues that reformers should “focus on supporting business endeavors that offer sidelined scholars a platform to teach and present their research. Of course, bringing the free marketplace to higher education is easier said than done. Companies like Udemy—which allow anyone to create, upload, and sell online courses — are not allowed to issue degrees.”

But that leads to another problem — accreditation, which is run by forces of the education establishment. But it’s possible to get around that, she argues, by focusing on high-school students, and turning to private junior colleges.

Brenzel concludes, “With the added pressures of COVID-19, the ship of higher education is sinking. Plugging a few holes as Pullmann and Maitra suggest won’t stop it from going down. It’s time to think about what lifeboats we need to deploy.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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