27 January 2011

A Shift in Thinking


For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. In general, the experience is an annual reminder of the tremendous promise of America's next generation. We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars.
I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years - not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America's great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago. (HT Robin Hanson)

What Ms. Wilson has apparently failed to realize is that colleges have shifted their focus over the last twenty years.  It used to be that college was a consumer product.  As such, it was viewed as a way to become more sophisticated and urbane, or at least appear that way.

Now it is viewed as an investment.  People view college as a way to become credentialed for the job or career they want.  Unsurprisingly, jobs are exceedingly narrow in focus.  Therefore, education must likewise be narrow in focus.

Given how the government, mostly at the behest of liberals, has subsidized postsecondary education for years with the goal of ensuring that every last citizen has a college diploma, it should come as no surprise that the shift has occurred.  Most people simply do not care about appearing sophisticated and urbane.  In fact, most people care about making money.  Since the composition of college attendees has changed from primarily consumers to primarily investors, it should make sense that colleges have shifted the focus of their curricula to reflect that.

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