by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Seery explains in a column adapted for the Martin Center how small liberal arts colleges are impacted by recent negative trends in higher education.
I’m an outspoken apostle for the small liberal arts college (SLAC) form of education, a distinctly American institution. But that institution is falling fast into desuetude. Only about 1 percent of the nation’s twenty million undergraduates are educated these days in a SLAC. I assert that this form of education ought to be recognized as the gold standard for undergraduate education (rich, poor, white, black, religious, secular, you name it).
The comparative advantage of the SLAC’s “business model” has been that it is small and intimate. The smallness facilitates face-to-face forms of teaching and learning. It thus showcases an interactive mix of personalism, relationalism, and localism.
Much ado has been made about administrative creep and bloat at big universities across the country, the proliferation of vice presidents and deans and assistant directors and supervisors and others with executive-sounding or middle-manager puffed-up titles. That cancerous disease has infected small colleges too, and its damaging effects are particularly pernicious there.
An autonomous managerial class has emerged whose immediate and ulterior motives are occupational as opposed to educational (a distinction that ought not to be collapsed), and whose mission is to serve administrative as opposed to teaching purposes. Perhaps worse of all, the managerial model of organization, in trying to bring small colleges into the fold of purportedly national “best practices” is destroying the distinctiveness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges.
For the rapid destruction of the American small college, I could wag my finger at a number of culprits and conditions. But I want to focus my ire here on one main responsible party: their presidents. They bear the bulk of the blame.