The vast majority of American college students attend two thousand or so private and public institutions that might be described as the Middle -- reputable educational institutions, but not considered equal to the elite and entrenched upper echelon of the Ivy League and other prestigious schools. Richard DeMillo has a warning for these colleges and universities in the Middle: If you do not change, you are heading for irrelevance and marginalization. In Abelard to Apple, DeMillo argues that these institutions, clinging precariously to a centuries-old model of higher education, are ignoring the social, historical, and economic forces at work in today's world. In the age of iTunes, open source software, and for-profit online universities, there are new rules for higher education.
DeMillo, who has spent years in both academia andin industry, explains how higher education arrived at its current parlous state and offers a road map for the twenty-first century. He describes the evolving model for higher education, from European universities based on a medieval model to American land-grant colleges to Apple's iTunes U and MIT's OpenCourseWare. He offers ten rules to help colleges reinvent themselves (including "Don't romanticize your weaknesses") and argues for a focus on teaching undergraduates.
DeMillo's message -- for colleges and universities, students, alumni, parents, employers, and politicians--is that any college or university can change course if it defines a compelling value proposition (one not based in "institutional envy" of Harvard and Berkeley) and imagines an institution that delivers it.
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When academics get together to talk about the future, they talk mainly to each other, but the American system of higher education has many more stakeholders than that. Over the course of months, the intended audience for what was now clearly becoming a book manuscript shifted noticeably from my academic colleagues to a more general readership--parents, students, taxpayers, elected officials, employers, decision makers at all levels--citizens who have a stake in what happens to the nation's colleges and universities and want to be informed about the forces shaping their future.
This book is intended to reach the many stakeholders in America's higher education system who are outside the academy, who are not involved in higher education on a daily basis, and whose voices are seldom heard from within. It is not a book of secrets, but I suspect that many readers will be surprised by what they read here. Some of my colleagues will be shocked that the curtain has been parted, but many more will welcome the daylight.
I resisted the temptation to write a business book for universities, although I have tried to identify the milestones that should be on any roadmap for change. I have no recipes for success. Beyond the Rules for the Twenty-First Century inchapter 20, there are no concise chapter summaries that can be transcribed to executive briefings. This book should be read like a novel. Each chapter reveals a little more about the forces shaping our institutions, the character of American higher education, and why some universities make good choices while others do not.
Richard A. DeMillo is Distinguished Professor of Computing and Professor of Management, former John P. Imlay Dean of Computing, and Director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Institute of Technology. Author of over 100 articles, books, and patents, he has held academic positions at Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Padua. He directed the Computer and Computation Research Division of the National Science Foundation and was Hewlett-Packard's first Chief Technology Officer.
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