January 24, 2011

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Our Superficial Scholars:

For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. In general, the experience is an annual reminder of the tremendous promise of America’s next generation. We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars.

I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years – not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago.

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why. . . . I detect no lack of seriousness or ambition in these students. They believe they are exceptionally well-educated. They have jumped expertly through every hoop put in front of them to be the top of their classes in our country’s best universities, and they have been lavishly praised for doing so. They seem so surprised when asked simple direct questions that they have never considered.

And this is not because they’re becoming narrowly focused math geeks.

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