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Higher Education as Its Own Worst Enemy

Higher Education as Its Own Worst Enemy

Higher Ed Dive

Susan H. Greenberg
September 28, 2023
In his new book, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”: Resistance to Change in Higher Education (Harvard Education Press), Brian Rosenberg, president emeritus of Macalester College, distills a career’s worth of experiences and observations into a trenchant critique of the industry he both loves and laments. He argues that the institutions designed to foster critical inquiry and the open exchange of ideas are themselves staunchly resistant to both. The very structures that have become the hallmarks of postsecondary education in America—classroom lectures, shared governance, faculty tenure—are in fact key obstacles to what he calls “transformational” change.
Rosenberg, currently a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior adviser to the African Leadership University, spoke with Inside Higher Ed via Zoom. Excerpts of the conversation follow, edited for space and clarity.
Q: Why does higher ed require transformational change right now?
A: The current financial trajectory of higher education is just not sustainable. For a long time, I resisted that idea … but I’ve come around to the belief that there’s going to be a major disruption of the current market and the status quo, driven first of all by economics. The discount rate at private colleges has been going up about 3 percent a year for an extended period. It’s now over 56 percent. And you can’t just keep cutting the price unless you figure out a way also to reduce the cost of actually providing the service. You keep adding 3 percent a year to the discount rate and eventually you get to 100 percent and you’re giving it away for free.
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