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Higher Education in America
Cover of Higher Education in America
Higher Education in America
Revised Edition
by Derek Bok
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Higher Education in America is a landmark work—a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of the current condition of our colleges and universities from former Harvard president Derek Bok, one of the nation's most respected education experts. Sweepingly ambitious in scope, this is a deeply informed and balanced assessment of the many strengths as well as the weaknesses of American higher education today. At a time when colleges and universities have never been more important to the lives and opportunities of students or to the progress and prosperity of the nation, Bok provides a thorough examination of the entire system, public and private, from community colleges and small liberal arts colleges to great universities with their research programs and their medical, law, and business schools. Drawing on the most reliable studies and data, he determines which criticisms of higher education are unfounded or exaggerated, which are issues of genuine concern, and what can be done to improve matters.

Some of the subjects considered are long-standing, such as debates over the undergraduate curriculum and concerns over rising college costs. Others are more recent, such as the rise of for-profit institutions and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Additional topics include the quality of undergraduate education, the stagnating levels of college graduation, the problems of university governance, the strengths and weaknesses of graduate and professional education, the environment for research, and the benefits and drawbacks of the pervasive competition among American colleges and universities.

Offering a rare survey and evaluation of American higher education as a whole, this book provides a solid basis for a fresh public discussion about what the system is doing right, what it needs to do better, and how the next quarter century could be made a period of progress rather than decline.

Higher Education in America is a landmark work—a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of the current condition of our colleges and universities from former Harvard president Derek Bok, one of the nation's most respected education experts. Sweepingly ambitious in scope, this is a deeply informed and balanced assessment of the many strengths as well as the weaknesses of American higher education today. At a time when colleges and universities have never been more important to the lives and opportunities of students or to the progress and prosperity of the nation, Bok provides a thorough examination of the entire system, public and private, from community colleges and small liberal arts colleges to great universities with their research programs and their medical, law, and business schools. Drawing on the most reliable studies and data, he determines which criticisms of higher education are unfounded or exaggerated, which are issues of genuine concern, and what can be done to improve matters.

Some of the subjects considered are long-standing, such as debates over the undergraduate curriculum and concerns over rising college costs. Others are more recent, such as the rise of for-profit institutions and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Additional topics include the quality of undergraduate education, the stagnating levels of college graduation, the problems of university governance, the strengths and weaknesses of graduate and professional education, the environment for research, and the benefits and drawbacks of the pervasive competition among American colleges and universities.

Offering a rare survey and evaluation of American higher education as a whole, this book provides a solid basis for a fresh public discussion about what the system is doing right, what it needs to do better, and how the next quarter century could be made a period of progress rather than decline.

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About the Author-
  • Derek Bok is the 300th Anniversary University Research Professor at Harvard University. He served as the twenty-fifth president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991, and he served again as interim president from 2006 to 2007. His many books include Our Underachieving Colleges, Universities in the Marketplace, and the acclaimed best seller The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (all Princeton).
Table of Contents-
  • Preface to the Revised Edition ix
    Acknowledgments xi

    Introduction 1
    Part I The Context
    Foreword (I) 7
    Chapter One The American System of Higher Education 9
    Chapter Two Purposes, Goals, and Limits to Growth 28
    Chapter Three The Governance of Nonprofit Universities 44
    Afterword (I) 72
    Part II Undergraduate Education
    Foreword (II) 77
    Chapter Four Going to College and Earning a Degree 81
    Chapter Five Paying for College: The Challenge for Policy-Makers and Academic Leaders 98
    Chapter Six Entering the Right College 122
    Chapter Seven The Expanding Audience for Higher Education 145
    Chapter Eight What to Learn 166
    Chapter Nine How to Teach 183
    Chapter Ten Prospects for Reform 201
    Afterword (II) 220
    Chapter Eleven Graduate Education
    Part III Professional Education
    Foreword (III) 249
    Chapter Twelve Medical Schools 256
    Chapter Thirteen Law Schools 271
    Chapter Fourteen Business Schools 287
    Afterword (III) 306
    Part IV Research
    Foreword (IV) 321
    Chapter Fifteen "Publish or Perish" 328
    Chapter Sixteen The Changing Nature of Scientific Research 342
    Chapter Seventeen The Environment for Research 358
    Afterword (IV) 377
    Part V A Final Reckoning
    Foreword (V) 383
    Chapter Eighteen Matters of Genuine Concern 387
    The Last Word 408

    Notes 413
    Index 453

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 2, 2013
    It's hard to imagine anyone better equipped to write this book than two-time Harvard president Bok (The Shape of the River), whose experience, professional knowledge, and scrupulous research pervade every page of this eminently readable study of American higher education. Keenly establishing the diversity of higher learning institutions in the early chapters, then addressing professional schools, Bok's comprehensive approach covers an array of rising concerns, including: "our stagnating graduation rates"; attrition in graduate school; the increased importance of research in the sciences; and "the hazards of commercialization." His purview extends from the historic roots of the American college to the impact of technology and expansion to overseas locations. Practical suggestions abound, such as steps colleges can take to improve graduation rates. No aspect of academic professional life is neglected; Bok takes notice that writing letters of recommendation is "a burden on the faculty out of all proportion to any real value served" and of "the emergence of China as a rising powerhouse in science and engineering research." Broad as Bok's scope is, its coherent structure, lucid style, and  balanced tone ensure that this important scholarship is also a pleasure to read. It is a book of tremendous long-lasting value.

  • -Michael S. Roth, Washington Post "Highly recommended for education professionals, policy advocates, and the broad public as a thorough and thoughtful examination that assesses strengths and weaknesses and suggests paths to academic improvement."
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    Princeton University Press
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