Book by Keeling, R.P. & Hersh, R. H
Review by Stephanie Bibbo
Academic Advising
Emmanuel College

The provocative title, We’re Losing our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education, sets the tone for Keeling & Hersh’s exposé of the American higher education system.  Within the first few pages, the authors captivate readers by tackling the harsh reality of post secondary institutions running like businesses.  The authors boldly state that as a result of a business-like mentality, true higher learning “that prepares students to think creatively and critically; communicate effectively and excel in responding to challenges of life, work, and citizenship” (41) is lacking in higher education today.  Thus, “the degree has been cheapened by letting it certify only the process of going through the motions of college” (15).

The authors acknowledge the rising cost of higher education is troubling, but instead of undertaking the problem through a business paradigm (i.e. trying to make current processes more efficient and meet the bottom line) Keeling & Hersh advocate for a complete change in perspective not only to create solutions but to reframe the issue.  The crucial question becomes how to improve the quantity of quality learning that occurs in higher education to restore value and honor to the college degree.  

Through a lengthy, though effective and jargon-free overview of student development theory, the authors provide evidence that  higher learning - the type of learning that is intentional, transformative, and developmentally balanced - needs to be the top priority for all institutions (54).  It should be the criterion for all decisions made in colleges and universities.  Keeling & Hersh do not promote this as an easy task, especially for institutions that place high value on magazine ratings, applicant pool rises, and manicured campuses.
Realizing the difficulty of this paradigm shift, the authors spend a significant amount of the text outlining solutions in the form of benchmarks and principles to remain applicable for all types of institutions.  Although higher learning entails intentional outside the classroom experiences, the authors put a heavier focus on in the classroom learning.  This creates an unbalanced, albeit true, call for drastic change amongst faculty members.  This could be a point of contention if the text was chosen as a campus wide professional development tool.

Some solutions are more radical such as changing the tenure system to reward higher learning first and foremost. Others are common trends in the higher education community that have been discussed numerous times.  The principles also range in scope from formulating a core curriculum with the same learning outcomes across disciplines to requiring faculty to attend professional development opportunities focused on how to teach developmentally.  Completing timely, formative assessments throughout each experience is necessary to prove higher learning is occurring and restore the value of a college degree.

This text is more than a call to action.  It is a steppingstone in the conversations that need to be occurring on the national and local levels in order to begin a cultural shift.  The authors realize that if only a few institutions begin this cultural shift it could put those colleges and universities at risk in the unfortunate competitive business setting.  Keeling & Hersh are asking accrediting body board members, higher administration at colleges, trustees, and directors within the student affairs profession to all be on board and start conversations with faculty and staff about changes.  Each institution’s culture must change from the inside out simultaneously with a national conversation to educate the general public and guide the institutions through the philosophical change.

We’re losing our minds: Rethinking American higher education. (2011). Book by  Keeling, R.P. & Hersh, R. H. Review by Stephanie Bibbo. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.  205 pp. $25. ISBN # 978-0-230-33983-5.

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