The "Existential" Crisis in Higher Education

Glenn Ricketts

At least, that’s what Syracuse University president Nancy Cantor is calling it in this recent piece at the Huffington Post.

Notwithstanding the ominous title, I’m not sure what Cantor intends  to say here : multiple re-readings haven’t gotten me out of the dark.  “From a media perspective,” she writes, the crisis is all about runaway costs and low productivity – college costs lots more money these days and doesn’t give you very much in return for that ever-inflating price tag.

But to put the point that way suggests to me at least that Cantor thinks there isn’t much substance to it. Rather than simply a “media perspective,” I’d say it reflects the experience of the poor folks who have shelled out the big money and don’t have much to show for it except a mountainous debt, bad grammar, and  unemployment.  The media may be reporting those trends, but they’re pretty “existential” for  lots of people and not simply the creation of journalists looking for a hot story.

I’m even less clear on what Cantor thinks we ought to do to address the “crisis,” although she suggests that we’ll need to focus our attention on “social mobility,” “civic leadership”  and “effective high-impact community-based collaborations.”    If I had to guess, I’d say that means hiring lots more deans of diversity, institutional wellness , sustainability and civic engagement with attendant  expensive commissions to study the crisis.    In other words, the same again, please.  Plus ca change……

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