The higher education landscape across the globe has been changing dramatically over the last decade. Today, the average college student is 26.4 years old. Jobs that remained stable for a hundred years are no longer growing; newer jobs are emerging in digital technologies. Before the pandemic, one-third of college students had some form of online learning; but over the course of the last year, almost all college education has happened online.
These changes bring a new set of challenges and opportunities for educators. Making the most out of this evolving higher education space needs fresh new ideas. In this blog post, we recommend ten books that can help you understand the higher education ecosystem, navigate the transformation it is going through, and prepare for the future.
Books that offer a historical perspective
#1 ‘A History of American Higher Education’ by John R. Thelin
To improve our higher education system, it’s pertinent that we understand why it is the way it is. A History of American Higher Education gives a detailed account of the birth and evolution of America’s educational institutions, both public and private colleges/universities.
The book goes back to the colonial era and traces American higher education till just before the pandemic (the most recent edition being released in 2019). The author skillfully combines official institutional history with legends and lores to make a deeply-researched, authoritative text.
For educators interested in the history of higher education, this book is a great primer.
#2 ‘American Academic Cultures’ by Paul H. Mattingly
While tracing the history of higher education, Mattingly pays keen attention to social context. He divides the story into generational cultures: industry-driven, progressive and pragmatic, internationally minded, corporate model etc. He presents education as being deeply influenced by the dominant culture of the time, emphasising the role of society in the evolution of the American student.
As educators build a higher education system for the future, this book can play a significant role in inspiring ideas that are grounded in contemporary reality.
Books for better online learning
#3 ‘Free Range Learning in the Digital Age’ by Peter Smith
Peter Smith is an educator and thought-leader in adult learning. In this book, he highlights how adult learners without credentials can use a virtual campus to advance their skills through digital tools. While a lot of the advice is aimed at how learners can make the most of online education, it offers a learner-seat view of what kind of education would be most useful for the 21st century.
If you’re thinking about higher education, continuous learning and the future of education, this book is a useful companion.
#4 Learning Analytics Goes to School by Andrew Krumm, Barbara Means, Marie Bienkowski
The large volumes of data, derived from the new technologies that drive today’s higher education, can offer meaningful insights and ideas, when put to good use. Learning Analytics Goes to School shows us how.
For educators who are interested in using data in research and practice of education, this book offers effective tools and techniques.
Books for better administration
‘#5 How to Be a Dean’ by George Justice
By drawing insights from the author’s own leadership experience at two large research universities, the book helps administrators in similar roles to reflect on their work styles. It gives a glimpse into the daily responsibilities of an institutional leader and what they entail. Justice also explains the different natures the role can take in the larger academic context, and how he handled conflicts between academia and management.
If you’re looking to improve your impact as an administrator, this book is for you.
#6 ‘The College Stress Test’ by Robert Zemsky, Susan Shaman, and Susan Campbell Baldridge
The College Stress Test is an insightful book on the market viability of an educational institution, a pressing concern for leaders. The authors use statistical analysis to study aspects that lead to college closures and present an informed perspective — setting the book apart from the doomsday predictions on the subject. It also recommends changes like restructuring courses, revising fees etc. as a roadmap towards institutional viability in a market-oriented terrain.
To understand the business side of education, this book is a useful starting point.
Books to understand students better
#7 The Stressed Years of Their Lives by B. Janet Hibbs, Anthony Rostain
Authored by two mental health experts, the book is a guide for parents to see their children through the challenges of college life. Although written primarily for parents, it offers an empathetic look into how anyone can help students navigate their college experience.
This book can help instructors and administrators gain a better understanding of student psychology and challenges, especially pertinent during the times of a pandemic.
#8 The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us by Paul Tough
The author explores the problems of dealing with economic inequality among peers with real-life stories of American students. He follows them from the application process and into college; at Ivy League schools and community colleges. The book ran into conflict with the college board in question, which released a critique disagreeing with his viewpoints.
Nonetheless, it offers an engaging study of the structural problem of education being oriented towards financially advantaged students.
Books on the politics of the system
#9 Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
The recent crises regarding paid admissions and racial bias in selection have revealed deep systemic flaws in American higher education. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire addresses the gap that causes such issues by advocating for a pedagogy that views the learner as a co-creator and not a vessel to be filled. He criticizes this system, calling it the “banking model” of education.
This book is likely to inspire new ideas for building higher education that is equitable and diverse.
#10 Trans* in college: Transgender students’ strategies for navigating campus life and the institutional policies of inclusion by Z. Nicolazzo
The book addresses the issue of students with non-traditional gender identities being marginalized when making campuses more inclusive. Nicolazzo draws from the experience of being a trans person in education to highlight the inefficiencies of inclusive policies, and how marginalized students can navigate them. It is both a deeply personal and political account of how colleges ‘include’ and ‘exclude’.
This books throws light on issues of discrimination and marginalization that educators will do well to take note of.
Larry Cooperman’s The Art of Teaching Online offers an actionable guide to being a better online instructor. John Warner’s Sustainable. Resilient. Free.: The Future of Public Higher Education imagines a radical future. Michael M. Crow and William B. Dabars’ The Fifth Wave: The Evolution of American Higher Education argues for a comprehensive redesign of the education system itself.
Higher education across the world is at a critical crossroads where college fees are rising, curriculum is growing outdated, and there is a distinct shift towards online classes and hybrid campuses. The idea of the student as a customer is gaining ground, and more and more universities are focussing their energy on improving student experiences.
To navigate this phase successfully, educators need to look beyond just their lessons. They need to understand the social, cultural and economic context in which higher education functions. They also need to build empathy for the psychological situations of their diverse students. We hope this collection of books will offer a meaningful starting point in that journey.