10 Best Books on the Future of Higher Ed

by Staff Writers

The future of higher education – just like the future of everything else – could obviously shoot off in several different directions, some predictable, some utterly out of nowhere. But analyzing current trends in student achievement, corporate funding, shifting goals, and other gears in the college and university machine make it slightly easier to see where things might go from here. Everyone holds an opinion about what needs to be done to fill in the cracks and fix the breaks before they grow too unwieldy to permanently reverse. Check out some of the following books for insight about what needs changing to ensure a more stable, more intellectual future for America's college kids.

  1. Higher Education?: How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It by Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker:

    Political scientist Andrew Hacker and sociologist Claudia Dreifus traveled to colleges across the United States and noted just how little educational bang most students receive for their very expensive buck. From this extensive research involving hundreds of interviews, they draw up a solid, viable, and relatively painless plan about how to swing institutes of higher learning back to their original goals.

  2. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring:

    Case studies from schools as diverse as Harvard, BYU-Idaho, and others illustrate the different strategies higher education is utilizing to ensure the best possible learning experiences without exorbitant and/or wasteful spending. Technology, too, and its increasingly prominent place on campus also play into the authors' detailed outline for how colleges and universities should adapt to meet all current and future student (and even societal) needs.

  3. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa:

    One of the most common criticisms levied onto the college and university system – which will pop up frequently in most of these books – is how the ultimate educational outcomes don't always line up with the amount of debt students accrue in the process. Some of the standardized testing data Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa present in Academically Adrift will astound readers (not in a good way) and hopefully inspire them to alter the future so the financial investment proves worth it.

  4. Rebooting the New Talent Economy by Andrew S. Rosen:

    Because the world's economy is changing, so too must the institutes of higher learning in order to ensure graduates thrive once their careers begin – the problem is, that's just not happening. Andrew S. Rosen believes reunifying the industry with its initial values and a heightened focus on accommodating global financial and job market developments might prove the only way to save America's schools.

  5. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz:

    Higher education's failure to teach students much of anything might very well mean some radical and experimental innovations are necessary to kickstart it back into its original form. One possible route towards salvation involves heightened customization of the college experience granting both students and their professors more autonomy and a greater knowledge of what they can expect from the world.

  6. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg:

    At many private and public colleges and universities alike, structures currently trend towards what administrators want (and want as their salaries, in many cases!) rather than offering up intellectual environments where both professors and students thrive. Providing the most effective educational opportunities means establishing a more utilitarian space where everyone's needs end up sufficiently met and money stretches a little further.

  7. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp:

    Corporations – not to mention their interests – currently lurk silently and not-so-silently behind many of America's top institutes of higher learning as sponsors, meaning heavy marketing, running the show like a business, and even some instances of research censorship have grown into the new norm on campus. Rather than issuing a call for the complete elimination of the phenomenon, David L. Kirp thinks there might be some solutions to receiving generous funding without compromising academic integrity.

  8. The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Shaping the World by Ben Wildavsky:

    Analysts speak of "brain drain" as something to prevent, but US News & World Report's Ben Wildavsky thinks the influx (and outflux) of talented students and professionals should be embraced. So many diverse perspectives only enhances the ability to accomplish groundbreaking research and, not least of all, trains graduates how to best maneuver an increasingly international society.

  9. The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must be Protected by Jonathan R. Cole:

    Look at the possible fate of American higher education by analyzing its past and understanding why the key to keeping them competitive remains sticking to the educational ideals behind their respective inceptions. However, they must also display a willingness to practice flexibility in the current tech-driven, global, and not-so-lovely economy if they hope to carry out their laudable legacies.

  10. Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should be Learning More by Derek Bok:

    Yet another straightforward glimpse at how the college and university system generally (but not always!) manages to ill prepare students for the real world while still costing them entirely too much. Seeing as how Derek Bok used to act as the president of Harvard, it's safe to assume he probably knows a few things about what needs to be done to improve higher education for students of the future — maybe even the present.