One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education

Mar 7, 2013 by

In celebration of the hundredth issue of Academic Questions, we present “One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education”—a wide range of ideas from a wide range of contributors with a wide range of interests in higher education. Some ideas are ready to be executed immediately, others to be contemplated for future action, some are brand new, others leavened with forgotten wisdom, but as a whole they offer incontrovertible proof of the enormous vitality among those who wish to see improvement and reform in higher education today. We thank all the contributors for their efforts, and many thanks also to Ashley Thorne, who helped the editors track and coordinate this ambitious project.
REPORT CLASS GRADES
Richard Arum, Professor of Sociology and Education, New York University
Colleges and universities could administratively address the problem of declining academic rigor by instituting a simple change: for every course a student takes, the student’s transcript would report the individual grade received as well as the average grade students received in the course. The transcript would also report the overall grade point average (GPA) of the student as well as the course grade point average (CGPA).


Without impinging in any way on either the ability of individual faculty to grade students as they choose or the freedom of students to select courses as they see fit, this administrative reporting change would make readily apparent whether a student excelled at coursework, or instead excelled at choosing a path through higher education that held students in relative terms to lower academic standards. Incentives for faculty to grade leniently and for students to choose easy coursework—which has led the academy in recent years to a “race to the bottom”—would be significantly reduced.

Examining post-college transitions of recent college graduates, Josipa Roksa and I have found that course transcripts are seldom considered by employers in the hiring process. Transcripts would be significantly more meaningful with this simple and relatively costless administrative reporting change. If colleges and universities did not have the political will to make such changes on their own, access to federal financial aid dollars could be made dependent on institutional compliance. More than one-third of college students today study alone for their classes less than an hour per day and yet are able to achieve a 3.2 GPA. Parents, employers, and students have a right to know how this type of college success is accomplished.

CREATE UNIVERSITY TASK FORCES ON INTELLECTUAL PLURALISM
Stephen H. BalchFounding President, National Association of Scholars; Founding Director, Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, Texas Tech University
Back in 2005, under pressure from David Horowitz and his congressional allies, American higher education’s flagship organization, the American Council on Education (ACE) issued a Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibility, its first sentence boldly equating “intellectual pluralism” with “academic freedom” as “central principles of American higher education.” On paper this represented an extraordinary concession to critics. In practice it has largely remained a dead letter.

It’s time to give it life. The ACE statement contemplated discussions about intellectual pluralism across America’s campuses. It also suggested involving larger publics. Let these discussions now begin.

One way to get them rolling would be through the creation of university and college “task forces” on intellectual pluralism, charged with assessing how best to promote its growth and preservation. Nothing would be more in keeping with the spirit of the ACE statement. Consisting of faculty, administrators, trustees, and representatives of the alumni and public, considerations of philosophic diversity and intellectual acumen would guide their appointment. After holding intramural and external forums, canvassing promising academic practices nationwide, and consulting literatures and experience on the preservation of pluralism in analogous environments, they would issue recommendations for establishing intellectual pluralism as that centerpiece of academic policy envisioned by the ACE.

REQUIRE WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Jay Bergman, Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University
Every American should know Western civilization, of which American culture and political institutions are an integral part.

By Western civilization I mean the constellation of ideas, political arrangements, ethical precepts, and ways of organizing society and the economy that are traceable to (1) the ethical monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews, adopted by Christianity, which implied that man, as God’s creation, has inherent worth and dignity, and (2) the tradition of rational inquiry, indispensable to science and technological progress, that began in Ancient Greece.

Much of Western civilization is distinctive, and several of its essential features are unique: a belief in progress and even, at times, in humanity’s perfectibility; a Promethean faith in man’s ability to harness nature; a strong emphasis—greater than in other civilizations—on individual rights and the inviolability of individual conscience; and a belief in moral principles, grounded in nature and discoverable through reason, that are timeless, absolute, and universal.

To be fully educated, students should know what Western civilization has given to America and to humanity. In practical terms, this means mandatory courses in Western history, philosophy, and literature. Without having at least some knowledge of these, American students cannot function as informed citizens in a country arguably superior to the various dictatorships in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East—themselves reflections of civilizations very different from Western civilization.

This does not imply that America is perfect. But to effect change, students must understand the history of their own civilization and society.

BE A MENTOR
Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States; Associate Professor of Developmental English, Northern Virginia Community College
As a teacher, a mom, and a grandmother, I have seen firsthand what a difference a great mentor can make in the lives of students. Having been an educator for more than thirty years, education for me is not an abstract policy debate—it’s about real people who lead real lives.

My students are men and women who return to school to get the training they need to reach the next level in their career. They are young people just out of high school trying to find their path in the world. And they are moms and dads squeezing in classes between full-time jobs, community activities, and raising kids.


They are all looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. In the middle of all that these students have going on, a mentor can provide a tremendous service just by being available—reaching out to show support, understanding, and a path to opportunity.

I have seen mentors help students set career goals and take steps to reach them. I have seen mentors let students know about resources or organizations that might be available to help them reach their goals. And I have seen mentors inspire confidence in students who need a little reassurance as they put their decisions into action.

From my perspective as a teacher, it’s easy to see how my students change over the course of their college careers. But one thing I’ve recognized is that the students don’t always see it themselves.
That’s where a great mentor can have a tremendous and inspiring effect. Mentors can help students chart and understand the dramatic growth they go through—and use all the tools available to build the career they want and pursue the life that they dream about.

I see every day that people across this country are making extraordinary efforts to improve their lives and the lives of their families. Mentors can help them turn those efforts into reality.

One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education | National Association of Scholars.

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