Higher Education Policy Examined in Historical Context

Article excerpt

Higher Education Policy Examined In Historical Context

The topic of policy is comprehensive and complex. Policy in higher education implies formality and consensus. In this, his third volume for the Carnegie Council's series of policy studies on higher education, author David Riesman examines microcosms of detail in higher education policy, offering very specific examples, while weaving in commentary about such broad topics as ethnic groups and social forces.

On Higher Education does not leave the reader with a sense of formality and consensus. While it is possible to make comparisons among similar institutions using variables such as public/private, community/ "traditional," and liberal/conservative, integrating this work is very difficult. Nonetheless, the breadth of content is what makes this volume worth reading.

The book covers about a twenty-year period from the sixties to the eighties. Aside from the changing demographics of the student body and the various responses from the higher education community, Riesman looks at the evolution of student power and discusses the challenge of sustaining group commitment to a revolution as opposed to acting in one's own self interests.

According to Riesman, students missed opportunities to wield power, and institutions missed opportunities to enhance the quality of education. The author surmises that in order to maintain the veneer of liberalism and retain students of varied backgrounds, many institutions lowered standards and inflated grades. However, efforts made to counter these trends are not clearly documented.

Riesman seems to place little value on factors that contribute to a person's college choice. He also implies that college must be central in the student's lite. However, we know that for some non-traditional students, family and job responsibilities often dictate that choice.

And the value of the community college could have been explored in greater depth. Instead, that value seems to be relegated to a lower status. The author says that community colleges foster a "false intellectual confidence" and set students up for failure at four-year schools. His reference to "social penalties attached" to a fear of success by transfer students suggests a preference for limited opportunities.

In addition, an integrated discussion of diminished expectations was missing, as was mention of the positive role community colleges play in serving students who pursue terminal two-year degrees as well as those who continue their education at four-year institutions. …