William Bennett, former Secretary of Education during the Reagan administration, focused on the future of the American education system Monday at the Liberal Arts Building.
Bennett earned his doctorate in political philosophy from UT before attending Harvard University Law School. He hosts the nationally syndicated conservative radio show “Morning in America.”
“Technology is going to change a lot of higher education — and in all levels — especially with the ability to deliver a high-quality product for students who are both digitally competent and confident,” Bennett said.
Bennett said one of the first steps in changing education is making the most out of the money invested in students. The amount of money that is being spent per student, currently around $12,000 per student, according to Bennett, has been constantly growing and the money is not necessarily being used in an effective way.
“We were doing a great job in this country toward 1963 and then it fell apart with progressivism and formalism,” Bennett said. “The longer you stay in school in America, the dumber you get relative to kids in other industrialized nations.”
Bennett said part of fixing higher education encompasses reshaping priorities on studies that are useful in the business world and other industries, as well as holding professors accountable for bad performance.
“I think tenure is a fixture in university life that I never thought it was rational the way it works, just because maturation and expertise in different disciplines occurs in different ages,” Bennett said. “There are very few philosophers and literary scholars who were great at 25; it takes time and aging. You know with some of the disciplines it is like wine, the more time the better. People in music, dance and mathematics ... you can see the talent and the ability very early. For other disciplines it takes longer so I think that tenure should be very gated by discipline.”
Bennett’s opinion on how crucial good teaching is in preparing students for the workplace was well received by some of the attendees.
“There needs to be a change in higher education,” said Donald Tracy, director of business and marketing at Austin Community College. “I think we are not training our students with the skills and talents that business and industry needs.”
Lesley-Anne Dyer, a post-doctoral student at the Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas, said she agrees with Bennett in the belief that education starts at home.
“And I think that is partly the reason why there has been a decline in higher education in the U.S.,” Dyer said. “I find that students are not able to master a text just by reading it, they need to be walked through it. Knowing how to do a research paper, for instance. I have upper level students who have never been to the library before."
Printed on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 as: Bennett: Higher ed wracked with faults