Saturday, January 31, 2009

Higher Education & Humanistic Decline

On Jan. 18, 2009, Stanley Fish published an opinion article in The New York Times entitled "The Last Professor", lamenting the decline of Liberal Arts and humanistic education in American colleges and universities. I seconded Professor Fish on his stance and re-post my comment (#449) with added links below:

This editorial informs us about the pedagogic difference between illumination, that is a traditional humanistic education, and academic training of professional skills. The latter has taken precedent during the last century and dominates American higher education today. The author cites Phoenix University as case in point.

In support of a higher education that is more oriented toward learning how to examine complex processes, less focused on the solution of a single issue, and less translational, we may consider fundamental scientific research. The eminent virologists, who shared last year’s Nobel Prize for their breakthrough discoveries in AIDS research, did not start out on their careers with AIDS on their mind. Actually, when they set out, AIDS was not known. They were interested in understanding a certain type of virus, retroviruses. The AIDS virus serendipitously happened to be a retrovirus. The prior knowledge about this type helped to unravel the virus’ secrets. Phoenix University is not going to educate such people.

Professor Fish probably meant University of Phoenix as an example of for-profit institutions of higher learning that offer courses mainly online. On Jan. 25, Colby Sledge of The Tennessean reported in an article entitled "Tennessee could discipline for-profit colleges" on the low in-state completion rates for the student body at private for-profit colleges and universities. The newspaper hosts an informative database on enrollments, completion and placements rates at such institutions in Tennessee. Most offer specialized professional training and report successful in-field placement for more than three quarters of their graduates. According to this database, University of Phoenix at Nashville reports 869 students enrolled. The completion rate is listed at 39.6% without placement. (Akademos, Inc.)

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