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Higher Education in America Hardcover – August 25, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691159149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691159140
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's hard to imagine anyone better equipped to write this book than two-time Harvard president Bok (The Shape of the River), whose experience, professional knowledge, and scrupulous research pervade every page of this eminently readable study of American higher education. Keenly establishing the diversity of higher learning institutions in the early chapters, then addressing professional schools, Bok's comprehensive approach covers an array of rising concerns, including: "our stagnating graduation rates"; attrition in graduate school; the increased importance of research in the sciences; and "the hazards of commercialization." His purview extends from the historic roots of the American college to the impact of technology and expansion to overseas locations. Practical suggestions abound, such as steps colleges can take to improve graduation rates. No aspect of academic professional life is neglected; Bok takes notice that writing letters of recommendation is "a burden on the faculty out of all proportion to any real value served" and of "the emergence of China as a rising powerhouse in science and engineering research." Broad as Bok's scope is, its coherent structure, lucid style, and  balanced tone ensure that this important scholarship is also a pleasure to read. It is a book of tremendous long-lasting value. (Sept.)


"Magisterial."--Stanley Fish, New York Times

"A detailed progress report on the challenges and opportunities facing our nation's colleges and universities. . . . Competition among schools produces benefits and causes problems. Most of the important ones are addressed in Bok's helpful volume. I hope he is right that we already have the ingredients in place to make the necessary reforms. I know we need university leaders like him to help activate those ingredients so that American higher education can continue to contribute in vital ways to our culture, our economy and our polity."--Michael S. Roth, Washington Post

"A thought-provoking book that defies political stereotypes. Because of its nuances, the book is a refreshing change from the openly hostile diatribes attacking higher education in recent years."--Peter Sacks, Minding the Campus

"Bok draws on the latest empirical research to set the record straight about systems of governance, undergraduate education, doctoral programs, medical schools, law schools, and business schools, teaching, research, and tenure, tuition, financial aid, affirmative action, the role of government, inter-collegiate athletics, online education, for-profit institutions, and what he calls 'matters of genuine concern.' Comprehensive, judicious, probing, and immensely informative, written for students, parents, and taxpayers as well as 'insiders,' it is one of the best books to appear on this subject in decades."--Glenn Altschuler, Huffington Post

"Hold on to your mortarboard; [Higher Education in America has] got five fat sections on the state of instruction at the undergrad then graduate level, with umpteen analyses of market forces at each turn, plus five forewords and four afterwords! Despite this daunting breadth, Bok keeps it real."--Katharine Whittemore, Boston Globe

"[Higher Education in America is] a magisterial yet often contrarian assessment of challenges facing university governance, teaching, and, indeed, survival."--Jim Sleeper, Huffington Post

"In the past few years, UK government ministers have paid a lot of attention to the American higher education system, and some new ideas introduced in England, at least, have come directly from the US. Higher Education in America, written by a former president of Harvard University, serves to highlight the similarities between issues we face in the UK with those in the US. . . . Easy to read and comprehensive. . . . A useful overview of the state of US higher education in the early 21st century."--Mary Stuart, Times Higher Education

"Monumental. . . . [Bok's] assessment is measured and clear, and we may confidently refer young academics and administrators to Higher Education in America as a primer on current affairs."--Mark Bauerlein, Weekly Standard

"One theme that I found particularly useful in Higher Education in America is Bok's treatment of undergraduate education and curriculum. Bok underlines the value of a broad university education at every level--for the individual, for the business who hires him or her, and for the society. . . . The book is worth reading carefully by faculty leaders and university administrators as they make their best efforts to enhance the educational effectiveness of their programs."--Daniel Little, Understanding Society blog

"Derek Bok asks all the right questions about higher education, and his experience, research, and staggering intelligence pervade every page. The real value here lies in Bok's thorough examination of some of the most urgent challenges facing higher education--and in his spot-on recommendations for what needs to be done to address these concerns. This is an important book for both academics and families looking at a future in higher education."--Grandparents.com

"Highly recommended for education professionals, policy advocates, and the broad public as a thorough and thoughtful examination that assesses strengths and weaknesses and suggests paths to academic improvement."--Elizabeth Hayford, Library Journal starred review

"Derek Bok . . . has a breathtaking grasp of higher education worldwide, and he states his positions in a lucid and learned manner. Moreover, he presents copious evidence to back his assertions so that the reader who wishes to challenge him knows precisely what data support his contentions."--Edward P. Sheridan, PsycCRITIQUES

"With more than two decades of service as president of Harvard University behind him, Derek Bok has views on higher education that must be taken seriously. . . . Now in Higher Education in America, the Harvard professor offers a comprehensive and up-to-date volume that gathers analysis of these and numerous other topics in one place."--Choice

"Ambitious and thought-provoking, Higher Education in America represents an informed and informative addition to ongoing debates at the national, state, and institutional levels about the aims higher education ought to aspire to and how best to achieve them."--David M. Brown & John Thelin, Teachers College Record

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Customer Reviews

This book is detailed, as I expected, and delightfully lucid.
His scientific beliefs are in a higher education that he imagines as beautiful and deserving of love.
The 'good news' is that their literacy was significantly higher than the average of adults.
Loyd E. Eskildson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve on November 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Derek Bok is a positivist writing to the postmodern world of higher education. He firmly believes that there is an objective truth about colleges and universities, and he is determined to martial every ounce of empirical evidence to prove this. His scientific beliefs are in a higher education that he imagines as beautiful and deserving of love. And his affections are not blind. He details every disfigurement.

The book's strengths are in the sections on undergraduate education and professional education. The center of the story is the tension that is mounting around the need to improve the quality of undergraduate instruction. His evaluation of professional schools and how they balance the demands of the academy with the demands of the profession is masterful. (Plot spoiler alert.) Medical schools are given high marks and business schools are found lacking.

The weakness of the book is the Steinbergian view West. His core audience is the Northeast, but yet when he speaks of the needs to improve quality (learning and instruction) and quantity (enrollment and graduation) in higher education, he gives the elite selective schools the principal's hall pass. His view seems to be that the real job of educating America will fall to comprehensive colleges that are in a distant land beyond the Charles. Other than a fanciful idea about "admissions lotteries" for selective schools, he makes no real attempt to call for collective action by the Eastern elites. This is unfortunate, because he might be one of the few voices that has the strength to do just that. (His best opportunity in the text is missed in his chapter on "Graduate Education.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on December 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The impressive global rankings of American universities reflect the accomplishments of only a handful of institutions and is largely due to the excellence of their research, rather than the quality of education provided. It is also likely that our impressive standing owes less to the success of our own system than it does the weakness of foreign universities - long over-regulated and under-financed. Germany, France, and China have recently been investing in improving their universities, and China has also undertaken a prodigious building program and made major strides in increasing its numbers of published papers. Our attractiveness to students abroad may also be declining - our market share has dropped sharply in the last decade, though we still attract the largest number of overseas students. Meanwhile, young Americans attending college need a better education than before, now that accounting, finance, legal and scientific research, and engineering can easily be outsourced to overseas graduates willing to work for much less. Fortunately, Dr. Bok's book focuses on what colleges and universities can do to help themselves, starting now, not on what others 'should' do to help.

For-profit colleges accounted for less than 10% of undergraduate enrollments in 2008-09, 24% of Pell Grants, and 26% of federally guaranteed loans. Some spend more on recruiting than instruction, and many engage in deceptive practices - per a GAO investigation. Their students are also less likely to graduate w/I 6 years than students of similar qualifications who attended not-for-profits, and their earnings average 8 - 9% less. Thus, for-profit competition is helping educate more individuals, but at the expense of creating new problems.

How much are graduates actually learning?
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Format: Hardcover
HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA offers a thoroughly comprehensive account of the strengths and weakness of the contemporary American higher education system. He touches on every single aspect of activity - administration, teaching, research, the commercial role, the future of under- and graduate education, the admission systems - focusing in particular on strengths and weaknesses. With the help of several statistical surveys, he makes a strong case for the American education system to move with the times; to take into account new developments in technology and cognitive psychology and rethink its general approach towards pedagogy and learning. Too many professors, he argues, are set in their ways, preferring to teach to their own specialisms using methods that to a large extent seem outdated (such as the lecture) with little concern for the ways in which learners learn. He is particularly critical of those institutions that spend considerable sums on sports education - for example, on athletics or football - which he believes often favor those with sporting rather than academic prowess. He also believes in the importance of adopting interdisciplinary rather than discipline-specific approaches to educational reform, as the former approach might prove more cost-effective as well as promoting more innovation. Innovation, he believes, is especially important in US business schools, many of which are staffed by professors with little or no practical experience of the business world.Read more ›
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