What Should Be the Role of America’s Public Colleges and Universities? (Opinion)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
My views on higher education are very similar to my views on medical care: we suffer from excessive cost growth driven by credentialism, third-party payment, a lack of transparency, and overreliance on inefficient public institutions. Vance Fried of Oklahoma State University has offered the definitive critique of how federal higher education policy shapes this landscape. Razib Khan raises another interesting question: should public colleges and universities strive to offer the same complement of courses of instruction as elite private research universities, or should they, drawing on the land grant model, focus on STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) that are widely acknowledged as the best avenues for upward mobility for students from working and middle class backgrounds? At the heart of Razib’s argument is the view that public institutions should primarily devote themselves to facilitating upward mobility, and this in turn suggests an emphasis on STEM: Even a field as non-scientific as law can be acknowledged to have necessary utility in an advanced society. In contrast, though anthropology is edifying and sharpens our perceptions of the state of human affairs it is a new discipline which is not necessary for a modern society. In a straightened fiscal environment I think it’s reasonable to suppose that public education should be focused on fields which have a practical import.

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