The American Prospect (home of best-selling author Robert Kuttner, coincidentally) is running an excerpt adapted from Anya Kamenetz‘s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Check out “The Virtual University.”
From The American Prospect:
For most of the thousand years or so since it was invented, a university education was thought to be suited for only a tiny group — a ruling class or a subculture of scholars. Today, nine out of 10 American high school seniors say they want to go to college. Since World War II, this country has turned higher education into not only a mass-market product but the best hope of achieving a middle-class income. Sending your kids to college is now part of the American dream, just like homeownership. And like homeownership, it’s something for which we have been willing to go deeply into hock.
Faith in the universal power of higher learning is at the heart of modernity. From enhancing our basic humanity to preserving culture, from developing our economy and technology to redressing ills like global warming and AIDS, there are very few needs for which more education has not been prescribed. As H.G. Wells famously put it, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
Young people worldwide are caught between the spiraling cost of college and an apparently bottomless hunger for it. According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), today 150 million students are enrolled in some kind of education beyond high school, a 53 percent increase in less than one decade. With such numbers, there is no foreseeable way enough traditional universities could be physically built in the next two decades to match the demand.
Meanwhile, here in America, the birthplace of mass higher education, we are stalling in our educational attainment while the rest of the world is roaring ahead. In the U.S., about 30 percent of high school students drop out, and just 56 percent of college freshmen complete their bachelor’s degree after six years, 150 percent of the time allotted. Only a little more than a third of Americans end up with any kind of college degree. For more than a century, arguably the world’s most educated nation, we’ve now fallen behind nine others. Unlike citizens of every other rich country except Germany, Americans in their late teens and early 20s are no more educated than older generations.