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College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be Hardcover – March 20, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691130736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691130736
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2013 O.L. Davis, Jr. Book Award, American Association for Teaching and Curriculum

Winner of the 2013 Gold Medal in Education II (Commentary/Theory), Independent Publisher Book Awards

Winner of the 2013 Philip E. Frandson Award for Literature in the Field of Continuing Education, University Professional and Continuing Higher Education Association

Finalist for the 2012 Book of the Year Award in Education, ForeWord Reviews

Honorable Mention for the 2012 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Education, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"At a time when many are trying to reduce the college years to a training period for economic competition, Delbanco reminds readers of the ideal of democratic education. . . . The American college is too important 'to be permitted to give up on its own ideals,' Delbanco writes. He has underscored these ideals by tracing their history. Like a great teacher, he has inspired us to try to live up to them."--Michael S. Roth, New York Times Book Review

"The book does have a thesis, but it is not thesis-ridden. It seeks to persuade not by driving a stake into the opponent's position or even paying much attention to it, but by offering us examples of the experience it celebrates. Delbanco's is not an argument for, but a display of, the value of a liberal arts education."--Stanley Fish, New York Times

"A lucid, fair, and well-informed account of the problems, and it offers a full-throated defense of the idea that you don't go to college just to get a job. Delbanco's brevity, wit, and curiosity about the past and its lessons for the present give his book a humanity all too rare in the literature on universities."--Anthony Grafton, New York Review of Books

"[I]nsightful and rewarding. . . . Delbanco's evocation of these nineteenth-century precedents is of central importance, for they allow him to demonstrate that liberal education, far from being an elite indulgence, is inseparable from our nation's most cherished and deeply rooted democratic precepts. In the face of today's hyper-accelerated, ultra-competitive global society, the preservation of opportunities for self-development and autonomous reflection is a value we underestimate at our peril."--Richard Wolin, The Nation

"Has the democratic ideal of a classical education, open to rich and poor alike, become a thing of the past? That's the scenario proposed by esteemed literary scholar Delbanco in this engaging assessment of how American higher education has lost its way. . . . He makes a strong case that the purely materialist approach to education assures that the disparity between rich and poor students only widens, with 'merit-based' financial aid and scholarships all going disproportionately to students from families with money. . . . This is an impassioned call for a corrupt system to heal itself."--Kirkus Reviews

"To renew higher education in an age of secular pluralism, Delbanco summons his colleagues to a defense of the university's role in fostering humane and democratic impulses. . . . Delbanco's agenda for reform--curricular, pedagogical, financial, and technological--will stimulate a much-needed national dialogue."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist

"Delbanco explores American higher education in a manner befitting a scholar of Melville and the Puritans, with a humanist's belief in lessons from history and in asking what the right thing is to do. . . . College has always been a microcosm of society, so a book about it is also about how we're doing as a country."--Clare Malone, American Prospect

"A thoughtful and insightful look at American college's exceptionalism and pitfalls. . . . Whether you're in college, thinking about college or just paying for it, it's a good read to help better understand one of America's oldest and finest institutions. And if we want it to stay that way, we all better get schooled about it."--Kacie Flynn, Vox Magazine, Missourian

"The 'Was' part is an illuminating reminder of the Puritan origin of early colleges, such as Harvard and Princeton, where only wealthy males needed apply and where religion, literature and philosophy dominated the curricula. The 'Is' section considers the prohibitive cost, the woefully underprepared applicants, the self-centered teachers and the dominance of research over instruction of undergraduates at today's colleges. Obviously the 'Should Be' is Delbanco's motive in this effort. . . . He dreams of the day when college teachers are back in the classrooms, working collaboratively to bring their youngsters into this new century."--Kathleen Daley, Newark Star Ledger

"Recommended for academic and general audiences as a thoughtful, literate, and gracefully written reminder of what higher education needs to be."--Elizabeth R. Hayford, Library Journal

"[College] will give a lot of pleasure to anyone who cares about undergraduate education. It offers a fascinating history of the creation and growth of US colleges and universities, some sombre reflections on the tension between the desire of many universities to be known as great research institutions and the needs of their undergraduates, and some angry thoughts about the way in which elite education reinforces economic inequality. . . . Delbanco writes with the exasperated energy of a radical assistant professor half his age, and displays an unforced affection for undergraduate students that is deeply engaging and permeates the book with an infectious optimism about the possibilities of liberal education in spite of all the obstacles that he lists."--Alan Ryan, Times Higher Education

"Refreshingly, Delbanco's examination of what college was doesn't turn into a longing backward look. . . . This book is a result of what Delbanco says is two decades of visiting more than 100 colleges of all types, from community colleges to the undergraduate divisions of research universities. It is also the product of extensive reading: He seems to have digested every self-flagellating and self-congratulating essay, every cri de coeur and jeremiad about higher ed that has been produced since scholars sat down together in collegium."--Sebastian Stockman, Kansas City Star

"This is a brief, well-researched book, and an insightful account of the factors that shape the current higher educational landscape."--Dennis O'Brien, Commonweal

"[An] eloquent book--a combination of jeremiad, elegy and call to arms."--Alan Cate, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In College, [Delbanco] looks to the lengthy and dynamic history of higher education in America as a lens through which to examine its current crises and unsettled future."--Serena Golden, Inside Higher Ed

"'Every year the teacher gets older while the students stay the same age.' This has always been true, but Delbanco's observation has a poignant weight today when college is always justified as being for something, whether for the economy, or for democracy, or for social mobility, and not as a place that exists as a community asking questions together, trying to unify knowledge to make sense of our lives--in short, as a place where we pursue the truth."--Angus Kennedy, Spiked Review of Books

"Andrew Delbanco does a marvelous job tracing the evolution of one of the most treasured institutions in the United States, 'college,' in terms of the ideal of such an institution and the challenges it is facing. . . . Delbanco's book would be a great one for students and scholars in the fields of educational philosophy, history of education, educational policy, and other related fields. It would also be a good read for anyone who is interested in the development of higher education in the United States."--Shouping Hu, Teachers College Record

"What commends [t]his book is its richness of reference and its willingness to charge colleges and universities with lapses that should sow insomnia among administrators."--James Morris, Wilson Quarterly

"College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be gives a clear picture of all the forces, both within and outside the university, working against the liberal arts."--Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard

"Andrew Delbanco's recent book is to be praised, for it reminds us that college should be about character formation and not a surrender to a customer service mentality that inflates accomplishments to please future employers, placate doting parents and repair fragile egos. . . . Enlightening."--Robert J. Parmach, America magazine

"Well researched, succinct, and eloquently written, this little book should be in every library in every institution of higher learning. It would be an appropriate book for all new faculty members so that they can quickly come to understand the professional situation they are now in. . . . Delbanco's intention is to avoid writing a jeremiad, elegy, funeral dirge, or call to arms. He has succeeded. His realistic account of the current state of affairs is indeed sobering."--Choice

From the Inside Flap

COURSE USE ENDORSEMENT: "We were the first to use College in a first year writing program. The book has been widely successful and served as a wonderful platform for classroom discussions about why students are in school, what do they want to learn, and who they think they want to become. Great praise to Andy Delbanco for writing such a compact book containing both history and wisdom."--Eli C. Goldblatt, Director of First-Year Writing and a professor of English at Temple University

COURSE USE ENDORSEMENT: "Andrew Delbanco's College offers first year undergraduates multiple perspectives onto an experience that each one of them is encountering for the very first time. It is a sophisticated but accessible text that speaks in multiple registers, challenging faculty, professional staff, graduate students, and undergraduates of all ages to think about the past, present, and future of the institution in which they work and live. As a common reading, College provides a framework for the question that every freshman in some way is asking throughout the year--what should college be? That very big question is at the center of a book that asks undergraduates to confront the ethical dilemmas posed by the increasing costs of a higher education that ever fewer people can afford. It also challenges students who will be our future leaders to consider what such inequality might portend for an American democracy whose vitality requires an educated majority citizenry."--Frank Wcislo, Dean of The Ingram Commons, Associate Professor of History and European Studies, Vanderbilt University

COURSE USE ENDORSEMENT: "I have been using the book in a freshman seminar in which we are exploring college. Most of the texts we are using are academic satire novels, but we are using Delbanco's book to help us talk about the place of college in American culture. Although some of the students are not as interested in the historical background, they do find his discussion of the current state of college to be interesting and informative. For example, nearly all of my students are on some form of financial aid, and when they read Delbanco's examination of the costs of college, they seem to wake up intellectually. For them, Delbanco's critique speaks directly to their own experiences and frustrations, and they appreciate learning the contexts. More to the point, they deeply appreciate seeing their anxieties about the costs of college are taken seriously enough to warrant such careful attention by Delbanco. My students also found Delbanco's analysis of teaching and learning methods interesting and informative. They have their own opinions about what creates a good classroom experience, but they had never before seen someone examine different classroom methods in a systematic fashion. Delbanco's discussion of "lateral learning" seemed to provoke the most interesting discussion, and we spent almost an entire class session talking about why that might work in some classes but not others and why they liked and disliked that method of classroom management. Delbanco also spoke at one of our campus colloquia, where he was well received. In the question and answer after his talk, one of my students asked a question, and he was impressed by how seriously Delbanco took his question and how carefully he answered. Delbanco's serious response highlights what my students most appreciated in his book. He takes the entire concept of education seriously and demonstrates a deep understanding of not just the state of the university as it applies to faculty and administrators but also the way it affects the largest--and most important--constituency: the students. It was a revelation to my students that someone in Delbanco's position would take the trouble to think about what it means to be a student."--Richard M. Magee, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, Director of the Thomas More Honors Living and Learning Community, Sacred Heart University

"Those who love traditional colleges and universities, but also recognize the imperative of reducing inequalities in income and opportunity, confront a profound moral and intellectual challenge. Andrew Delbanco, one of our most humane and rigorous scholars, has turned his energies to this conundrum in his elegant and eloquent book. He writes that 'it is an offense against democracy to presume that education should be reserved for the wellborn and the well-off.' That is where all of our debates must start."--E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Our Divided Political Heart

"The special quality of this book stems from its firm grounding in the history of higher education. The result is a work that leads us to look with suspicion on claims that our colleges are deteriorating, challenges us to think anew about other trends that are often viewed as progress, and reminds us of the subtler aims achieved by teaching at its best."--Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University

"An intelligent, nonbombastic look at the state of higher education, College is a hugely useful primer for present and future faculty members, and their students. It should be read by every provost and dean, and by anyone responsible for maintaining a flourishing democracy. Delbanco's pen is neither dipped in the nostalgia for the golden days that never were, nor brushed with the cynicism that embitters those who have accepted the culture of universal commodification. This is a lively, engaging, and important book."--Mary P. McPherson, president emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and executive officer of the American Philosophical Society

"As a defense of liberal education, the humanities, and elite residential colleges, this book offers a more balanced and articulate argument than recent works on higher education and the professoriate. An easy read that is clear, varied, literate, and interesting, this book makes the reader think."--James Axtell, College of William & Mary

"This terrific book is wonderfully direct and engaging, and full of well-chosen historical examples and relevant quotations. Delbanco's love of learning comes through clearly. He eloquently articulates and defends a certain ideal conception of the undergraduate experience and rightly makes us worry about the prospects for preserving it."--Michael McPherson, The Spencer Foundation


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Customer Reviews

It really is well written and thoroughly researched.
Mevashir
As a Chinese, I really hope to see a book on Chinese education as good written as this one.
hydaths
An excellent read for anyone who's interested in college education!
twinlensreflex

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a charming but sad book with fresh insights on an old theme. The author lists the current, common genres of books on higher education: jeremiads, elegies, calls to arms and funeral dirges. His is among the latter--a lament for the fact that the liberal arts college which embodies a community of learning is, increasingly, an anachronism. Only one in fourteen American undergraduates study within such an ethos today and even that ethos is different than it once was, since such institutions are not free of the vocationalism and commodification that all too frequently characterize contemporary higher education.

A quote from the former head of the University of Phoenix says it all: "I'm happy that there are places in the world where people sit down and think. We need that. But that's very expensive. And not everybody can do that. So for the vast majority of folks who don't get that privilege, then I think it's a business." His business, i.e., his single for-profit institution now enrolls five times as many students as Ohio State. So much for the democratic impulses which once marked higher education: thinking is nice but it's simply too expensive. (Never mind the fact that most of the for-profits have tuition levels far in excess of those of AAU flagship, public institutions.)

At bottom, there is but a handful of institutions which remain bona fide communities of learning, largely untouched by the sliding standards, gutted curricula, grade inflation and dubious modes of certification that characterize so much of our educational enterprise. Professor Delbanco mentions Rockefeller University (which has no undergraduates) and the California Institute of Technology.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on April 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many of the points that Andrew Delbanco makes will be well known to readers of current books on higher education: that the work done by the traditional college, especially by the humanities, is in peril; that insufficient attention is paid by graduate schools to training excellent teachers; that many of those who teach as adjuncts in our nation's universities are woefully undercompensated; and so forth.

What distinguishes this analysis is the light that its historical approach shines on an underlying paradox that is too little known and poorly understood: that the great universities in our country were built by men who cared about character as well as intellectual prowess and who were committed to extending their own privileges and opportunities to those who did not benefit from them--women, Jews, African Americans especially. It was from a society built on privilege that the opportunities of the present have evolved.

It is easy to condescend now to the "noblesse oblige" of a previous generation, and Delbanco does not shy away from acknowledging its weaknesses (there is no "greatest generation" nostalgia here). But he is also quite clear about what the American university has lost as it has turned away from its Protestant origins, with their acknowledgment of unearned grace and their attention to subjects that nourish the soul and not just the economy, and toward a very hard-nosed embrace of "meritocracy." Delbanco usefully unpacks that last term, "meritocracy," revealing its original use as a pejorative that that would reduce human virtue to the sum of IQ plus effort. As the word's genealogy has unfolded, and we have come to accept "meritocracy" as an unalloyed good, we have lost our appreciation of the complexity of character and the value of duty to others.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Librum VINE VOICE on August 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
College is, as others have characterized it, a "lovely" book: part brief history of the institutions of the college and the university in the U.S.; part reflection on the ideals of higher education; and part prescription for the future. The first and second parts are quite ably done. Delbanco writes as I imagine he teaches, ever ready with a sharp observation and an interesting supporting quote. And his earnest concerns and commitments shine forth on every page. Throughout, I found myself nodding in agreement with Delbanco, and was pleased to learn a fair amount along the way. What kills 2 stars for this reviewer, though, is the exceptionally weak third part of this book (which is limited to a brief final chapter): the what's-to-be-done part. For all of Delbanco's erudition, long experience in the academy, and the thought he's put to the challenges of higher education, in the end he has almost nothing to contribute to the cause of solving these challenges.

Granted, higher education is an exceedingly complex space, with exceedingly complex and interlocking problems. No one size fits all approach will ever suffice to address the broad challenges Delbanco rightly identifies. Yet, to leave off simply by suggesting that faculty, departments, and college administrations should take the job of educating undergraduates more seriously, and that they should do a better job of training future faculty to provide this education, is to state the obvious. When I picked up College, I was hoping for a manifesto. What I got was a gentle -- albeit edifying -- historical survey, and many thoughtful reflections by an author whose ideals align with my own, yet only the most superficial suggestion of how these ideals could be practically (re-)implemented.

I'd recommend reading College for parts one and two. Don't be surprised if you're underwhelmed by part three.
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