Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Pursuit of Higher Education

As reported in today’s Inside Higher Education, in addition to abandoning business as a major field of study, college freshman are more worried about finances.  Although this may strike some as incongruous, it is completely in keeping with other results from the survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) through its Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). The survey also indicates that college freshmen have an increased need for remedial study in every academic area outside of Social Studies.  It is any wonder?
From the HERI report:
"Volunteering is also connected to "social agency," a CIRP scale of six items on the survey that measures the extent to which students value political and social involvement in their community as a personal goal. Incoming students who have volunteered or participated in community service as part of a class as high school seniors are more likely to score high in social agency values than those who have not. The same finding holds for increases in "pluralistic orientation," another CIRP scale that measures the extent to which students take seriously the perspectives of others."
"Educational and civic leaders know that colleges and universities play an active role in advancing students' commitments to civic engagement and community involvement," said AAC&U President Carol Schneider. "It is very heartening to see that those students who have these kinds of experiences in high school are also far more likely to volunteer and have higher levels of social agency and pluralistic orientations in college. This supports the efforts of institutions to build on students' predispositions and resonates with the AAC&U Core Commitments initiative to energize campuses."

Recognizing the importance of the core commitments of the American Academy of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), HERI has begun to include these core values as part of their survey of college freshmen.  As the oxymoronic notion of “social agency” begins to vie for position in the hierarchy of educational importance to the institutions of higher education, it should be of no surprise that personal goals begin to be subjugated to social goals among the students themselves.

If such institutionally supported self-sacrifice and second handedness is not enough to make you scream, my challenge to you is to read the description of the “
developmentally appropriate goals for students in college” that the AAC&U core commitments identify as essential character traits – remembering that these core commitments are used in a survey which is then used to justify goals of institutions of higher learning – without seething. 
If you don’t have the time to review these appropriate goals, allow me to offer some highlights lifted directly from the AAC&U website (with my rejection):
  • Making an effort to take in everything that is around you, even if beyond the range of the five senses  (advocating mysticism)
  • Being conscious of connections between race, class, and privilege (advocating racism)
  • Doing good for the “sake of doing good,” without any expectation of compensation or reward  (advocating altruism)
  • Giving of oneself even in the absence of gratification (advocating altruism)
  • Recognizing the oneness of the human race  (I don’t even know how to classify this one)
  • putting the needs of others before one’s own (altruism); working to correct social and economic inequities (egalitarianism);
  • Seeking the opinions of experts and having the ability to distinguish the value associated with those opinions (argument from  authority)
  • Being able to make a judgment without being judgmental (violates law of non-contradiction)
  • being loyal to individuals and institutions that have contributed to one’s development; upholding the value of a promise (quite naked appeal to emotions – loyalty)
And why are these traits are deemed important:
  • They reinforce the notion of social justice
  • The presence of these traits in individuals is a reflection of the greater good of society
It's rather stunning.

So why are these bad ideas, fallacies and contradictions included in core commitments? 

According to the AAC&U:

Liberal Education & Personal and Social Responsibility

It is crucial that we return to the core commitments of personal and social responsibility inherent in liberal education. A true liberal education involves much more than academic growth:

  • It develops a student’s personal qualities by cultivating curiosity about new ideas and differing views, honing the discipline to follow intellectual methods to conclusions, strengthening the capacity to accept criticism, increasing tolerance for ambiguity, and fostering commitment to the imperative for honesty.
  • It also involves developing a student’s sense of collective responsibility by helping students learn how to understand the world from others’ perspectives—that fundamental capacity that can lead to the recognition and resolution of moral conflict and the resolve to work with others for a greater public good.
Of course, there are some legitimate personal educational goals included in these core values.  However, in packaging the rational judgment of the individual to pursue his own education with the social needs and the "greater public good" as equally important in the of shaping one’s life, the AAC&U sounds more like Kabbalah practitioners than an association concerned with the quality of education.

This could all be brushed off as subjectivist crud if it did not affect the goals of institutions of higher education and therefore, quite likely the mindset, or perhaps I should say mindlessness, of the students they churn out.

Finally, here is a screen shot of a very interesting slide I found from a power point presentation of one of the authors made regarding the usefulness of the HERI study.  In it she shows that among the Civic Engagement Outcomes: Educationally Purposeful Activities*, taking honors or advanced courses has the “largest negative predictor (for the outcome)” of social agency.   That alone really ought to tell us, let alone the educators, all we really need to know about the rest of their core commitments.

[*I had to do some research to find the right .pdf URL:  This slide is on page 4 of 5, left, center set.  While the author uses a generic name for the institution in the presentation, I have no reason to think that the information she presents in the multivariate analyses is not from the real data.]

[Update: 23 Jan 2010, corrected "advanced placement" to "honors and advanced courses" regarding slide from CIRP presentation. Update 27 Jan 2010, edited format.]


HaynesBE said...

Wow. Thank you for that research.

Lynne said...

"[T]olerance for ambiguity."

That phrase is the most telling of the AAC&U's philosophy of education.