The Herald Bulletin

December 12, 2013

Jim Bailey:The high cost of higher education hits home at AU

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — The announcement was something of a bombshell for students and faculty at Anderson University with fiscal cutbacks that included elimination of majors in the fields of theatre, philosophy and French.

In essence, however, the process demonstrates stark reflection of changes in the pattern of higher education and how they affect the already high cost of preparing students for the real world.

And doubtless similar stories are being told across the spectrum of America’s privately endowed colleges and universities as they wrestle with continuing to attract students in sufficient numbers to balance the bottom line.

Class offerings at AU are infinitely more diverse than they were when I was an undergraduate more than half a century ago. As a young man with ambitions in the field of journalism, I was forced to major in English while picking up maybe a dozen credit hours in courses relating directly to writing and journalism.

In those days there was a critical demand for teachers to educate mushrooming numbers of baby boomers, and institutions like Anderson were grinding out budding young teachers by the hundreds. I quickly ascertained that trying to convey knowledge to younger human beings was not my forte.

In those days French, German and Spanish were offered. Anderson College’s French teacher at the time originally came from Virginia, and students frequently joked that at Anderson you learned French with a Southern accent.

But the educational picture has continued to evolve. Instead of assembly-line school construction, buildings once devoted to education are standing empty and teaching jobs are hard to come by.

Fields such as theater, philosophy and French are the stuff of teaching more than practical application, unless one wants to set up shop as a guru or something. Nor are profitable theater jobs waiting for all comers without specialized training at some place like Juilliard School in New York. Then paying off those college loans is a challenge.

I recall reading one essay in freshman English titled “Even A.B.’s Must Eat.” Indeed, a nephew of ours who holds a college degree in a potentially profitable field such as engineering or architecture or something of the sort has been working in a music store for the past year or two.

Thus the trend toward students spending out thousands of dollars, regardless of who’s footing the bill, on courses they like are opting for more practical avenues of education that carry the potential of paying for themselves over time. AU’s engineering courses, for instance, are booming even if overall enrollment is waning. And greater numbers of students are choosing niche educations at places like Ivy Tech instead of a four-year college degree.

So awaits the challenge of adapting today’s college education for the changing society in which we live. A college degree still holds the potential for valuable careers in today’s world. But the minefields along the way require some painful adjustments in getting there.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.