Here, I allow myself the luxury of dreaming up Utopia College. Here would be its major components:
1. Faculty would not have PhDs. They'd have a masters in higher ed. teaching. Their training would focus on how to help typical undergraduates grow in those critical elements of an undergraduate education: writing, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, ethics, how to learn, and as Ralph Wolff, president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges advocates, unlearning: We get very stuck in our ways, which will be ever more dysfunctional as the pace of new knowledge accelerates.
2. Courses would be problem-centered rather than discipline-centered. So they'd bear such titles as "What, if anything, should we do about climate change?" "The art of finding and nurturing a great romantic relationship" and, "Reducing the racial achievement gap."
3. Provide extensive opportunities for long-term, one-on-one relationships with faculty, peer mentors, etc. All faculty and students would receive training on how to be a mentor and protege.
4. Cost of attendance would be dramatically reduced. There are many ways to lower cost without reducing quality:
- Utilize faculty and student residences as classrooms. They lie vacant during the day.
- Using non-PhDs as faculty would be less expensive and more effective. The disparity between the way PhDs and undergraduates think is too great. Also, many PhDs’ primary interest is research, often arcane research that shouldn't be core to undergraduate education. Carefully selected holders of an M.A. in undergraduate instruction would be both less expensive and better.
- Forgo fancy administration buildings.
- Forgo country-club-like campuses with their arboretum-like lawns and shrubs and amenities such as swimming pools and golf courses. Instead, make deals with nearby swimming and golf facilities that enable students to participate at reasonable cost.
- Reduce the cost of marketing. By providing crucial data about Utopia College (see below) on its website, the college should be able to sell itself. And because Utopia would offer a superior undergraduate education at a very low price, the media will likely provide lots of marketing assistance of greater credibility than any brochures a college could create. What sorts of data would be provided?
-- Results of the most recent student-satisfaction survey, to be conducted by the institutions themselves.
-- The most recent accreditation report.
-- The average cash, loan, and work-study financial aid for varying levels of family income and assets. And because some colleges use the drug-dealer scam — give the first dose cheap and then jack up the price —Utopia College would list the typical financial aid packages, not just for the first year, but for years 2 through 6.
-- Retention data: the percentage of students returning for a second year, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender.
-- Safety data: the percentage of an institution's students who have been robbed or assaulted on or near the campus.
-- The four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender.
-- Employment data for graduates: the percentage of graduates who, within six months of graduation, are in graduate school, unemployed, or employed in a job requiring college-level skills, along with salary data.
And so now, dear readers, what do you think? Have any suggestions for improving Utopia College?
I want to thank Ralph Wolff for the stimulating discussion that spawned this blog post. Of course, I take full responsibility for any and all weaknesses herein.