If you have some time, read through this intriguing piece by Peter Brooks via New York Review of Books. The article discusses a variety of books published recently regarding the problems associated with higher education, mainly what is wrong with these institutions. No question there are problems. However, a key takeaway from Brooks’ analysis here is the one related to what higher education is doing right as opposed to what other organizations are not. I think he’s spot on.
American higher education is a nonsystem that is messy, reduplicative, unfair—just like American society as a whole—but it has made genuine commitments to quality and to a greater degree of social justice, to the extent that is within its control, than most other institutions of the society. It has brought new blood into old elitist institutions, and indeed has thoroughly scrambled the hereditary caste it began with. You have simply to walk the paths of any reputable American university today to see that the student population looks like the range of American ethnicities—far more than many other institutions. Universities have taken seriously calls for inclusiveness and affirmative action. The large expenditures on their admissions offices that bring sneers from Hacker and Dreifus have promoted diversity in ways unimagined fifty years ago.