A Proponent of Technified, Skills-Based Higher Ed is Out, but His Soulless Vision Lives OnRoundup
tags: education, higher education, liberal arts, colleges and universities, Educational Technology
François Furstenberg is a professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University.
In late March, less than two years into his term, Temple University’s president, Jason Wingard, abruptly resigned. Mounting controversies over campus safety, concerns about declining enrollment, and lingering anger over the university’s aggressive response to a graduate-student strike (including the cancellation of health benefits and the revocation of tuition remission) culminated in crisis. Faced with a looming faculty vote of no confidence, Wingard did what he thought best for the institution.
Behind all these controversies, however, lay an ambitious “external agenda” that Wingard had intended for the Philadelphia institution. “When I joined Temple in the summer of 2021, our board and senior administrators were aligned on a common vision,” Wingard declared before resigning. “I believe that vision is still possible.”
He’s right: It is still possible — not just for Temple, but also for the larger world of academe.
Wingard’s recent book on the future of higher education serves as an excellent introduction to an ambitious vision shared by a host of higher-education reformers. The book advocates a turn away from traditional curricula toward alternative pedagogies that emphasize marketable skills. The future it sketches teems with business-minded academic reforms, outsourced course content, and the substitution of high-cost human teaching with cheaper technological alternatives.
It might be tempting to dismiss the writings of a failed university president as irrelevant, but that would be a mistake. Wingard’s book advances a broad program that extends beyond the deans, presidents, and trustees who promoted his career through the academy. That program is supported by high-level policymakers from both major political parties, by CEOs and financial executives who serve on university boards, by influential investors, and by sympathetic intellectuals and academics.
These ideas will not die with a single resignation. Unless a broader coalition mobilizes to stop them, they will continue marching across the landscape of higher education like zombies, transforming the content and purpose of curricula in the image of our post-industrial, financialized moment.
Wingard’s The College Devaluation Crisis: Market Disruption, Diminishing ROI, and an Alternative Future of Learning (Stanford Business Books, 2022) argues that the “golden age” of college education lies behind us. Between World War II and the Great Recession of 2008, a college degree reliably led to higher salaries and upward mobility. Today, however, the landscape has changed, and the “value of a college degree” — understood in terms of “return on investment,” or ROI — is collapsing. By 2030, Wingard predicts, college “will be replaced as the dominant pathway for the kind of talent development that presages professional readiness and career success.”
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