A report on the conference, “Reform and Innovation in the Changing Ecology of U.S. Higher Education: Inaugural Strategy Session”. Stanford University, 2-3 December 2010
Authors: Michael W. Kirst, Mitchell L. Stevens, and Kristopher Proctor
Colleges and universities with essentially open admissions enroll the vast majority of US students, yet until very recently they received only a small proportion of the social-science attention given to higher education. Academic researchers, policymakers, journalists, and the general public often are attracted to the glamour of academically selective schools - the handful of "elite" institutions to which admission is a coveted prize. This attention bias in favor of elites poses important intellectual, political, and policy problems as we consider the state of higher education in the US. It makes a small number of statistically atypical schools the implicit standard by which many others appear as lesser imitations. It fogs policy discussions with outdated conceptions of "traditional" college students on "traditional" campuses. It distracts many researchers, philanthropists, and elected officials from understanding and responding to sweeping changes in the organization of US higher education. In light of the Obama administration's ambitious new goals for college attainment, the need for researchers to assess higher education without distortion is especially important.