Boston — REACTION among educators to the Carnegie Foundation's major critical study on undergraduate education released a week ago has been overwhelmingly favorable. Further, the timing for the report - the largest of its kind ever attempted - appears to have been excellent, despite public and media attention on the elections. The curricula and course work most undergraduates take in college is too fragmented and specialized and badly needs to be made coherent, writes Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation and author of the report, titled ``College: The Undergraduate Experience in America''; further, campuses are cold and disunited and need a renewal of community spirit and structure.
``The report captures much of what sensitive and sensible people in higher education have been saying for some time now,'' notes Patricia Graham, dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. ``Boyer has ... written it in a way that brings it to the public.''
While colleges are described as ``troubled institutions'' in the study, Dr. Boyer has since gone out of his way in public statements to describe a new awareness and a long overdue ``humility'' on the part of college faculty and administration. Colleges know they need to change, he says.
Today in Phoenix, Ariz., as if to validate Boyer's point, the presidents of 12 major research universities will formally announce ``The Alliance on Undergraduate Education.'' The alliance, which includes Ohio State, Penn State, and the University of Minnesota, is forming around the need to rethink quality of instruction, the role and preparation of teaching assistants, and general education requirements in college.
The Carnegie study was further bolstered by a national poll of freshman attitudes released the same week that ``College'' appeared. The narrow, career interests of students found by Boyer squared with the latest figures in an ongoing 20-year study conducted by Alexander Astin of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, who found that the primary goals of incoming freshman were money, power, and status.
In a Washington, DC, press conference, Dr. Astin told reporters it was time to ``begin requiring courses'' that deal with value issues such as the purposes of a liberal arts education and ``the relative merits of material and spiritual values.''
Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who has sternly criticized US colleges recently, told the Monitor he was ``pleased that the largest scholarly study of colleges supports the evidence of intellectual and moral drift on campus,'' saying ``now maybe we can do something about it.'' Dr. Bennett was also pleased to find student support for ``codes of conduct'' on campus, and for kicking out drug offenders. The report, however, was ``too reflective'' on these issues, Bennett felt: ``For these problems, we don't need to act like Hamlet. Fix it.''
Boyer's assertion that colleges must work to create a new balance between individualism and community on campus, and that students need to be brought into faculty discourse on political and social issues has received widespread support.
``Anybody who has been in campus in recent years,'' says Robert Atwell, president of the American Council on Education, ``knows about the disconnection between residences and the classroom. The dorms are arid and disreputable in too many instances.'' UCLA's Astin asks, as does the Carnegie study: ``Is it time to consider community service as part of the requirements for a BA?'' His own studies already show that prestige and size do not make the best schools. Rather, a school's ``potency factor'' is its ``ability to get students involved'' - have them live on campus the first two years, provide lots of faculty contact, and encourage extracurricular activity.
Will the new study take hold, make a difference? Harvard's Dr. Graham says it can - but how fast depends on public hue and cry. Bennett agrees but feels, ``what we do not need now is a large national debate about how to improve.'' The debate should instead ``take place on each campus,'' he says. One expert who wished to remain unnamed says the report is fine in theory, but that getting heavily entrenched academic departments on campus to change and ``open up'' may be ``unrealistic.''
Boyer feels a new momentum for change on campus is already there.