Fall school terms start soon, so magazines run lots of education stories. (WORLD’s annual Back-to-School issue will be posted online a week from today.) The Atlantic’s September issue has a cover story headlined “Is College Doomed?” Its theme is standard (“Traditional universities are in trouble. How for-profit insurgents are trying to tear down higher ed—in order to rebuild it”) but it has more specific detail than many, because writer Graeme Wood took a close-up look at a start-up online college this fall worth following, Minerva.
At that college and others the goal is to hold down costs by stripping away the social reasons for going to college—such as football games or plush dorms and recreational facilities—and intensifying the work. Conventional colleges may not want to give up the social competition but I believe they can make the classroom experience better by taking five steps:
- Hire professors who are good teachers. Articles in academic journals are secondary. Applicants with some work experience outside academia should be preferred.
- Require much more writing, and hire professors willing to spend the time carefully grading student papers.
- Require that students attend nearly all classes and turn off cellphones and web access unless an in-class project requires computer research.
- Eliminate lectures almost entirely. Hire professors who know how to structure class discussions to bring out essential points.
- Require that students work part-time to pay part of their tuition. They’ll value more what they have to sweat for.