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Publisher's Summary

For The Real World of College, Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner analyzed in-depth interviews with more than 2,000 students, alumni, faculty, administrators, parents, trustees, and others, which were conducted at ten institutions ranging from highly selective liberal arts colleges to less-selective state schools. Their findings challenged characterizations in the media: students are not preoccupied by political correctness, free speech, or even the cost of college. They are most concerned about their GPA and their resumes; they see jobs and earning potential as more important than learning. Many face mental health challenges, fear that they don't belong, and feel a deep sense of alienation. Given this daily reality for students, has higher education lost its way?

Fischman and Gardner, both recognized authorities on education and learning, argue that higher education in the United States has lost sight of its principal reason for existing: to increase what Fischman and Gardner call "higher education capital"—to help students think well and broadly, express themselves clearly, explore new areas, and be open to possible transformations. Fischman and Gardner offer cogent recommendations for how every college can become a community of learners who are open to change as thinkers, citizens, and human beings.

©2022 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner (P)2022 Tantor

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An interesting research story, but with a flaw

I am a nerd who finds a story of how Harvard professors conducted a study of the attitudes of college students, faculty, and administrators. The book is structured much like a journal article with sections on methodology, results, discussion, and recommendations, but it reads like a story. If you are not a nerd, this book may not be your cup of tea. If you are a nerd, I would recommend this book because the authors make interesting discoveries. For example, students report mental health problems at a surprisingly high rate.
I have a criticism of one of the study's conclusions and will write to the authors about it. The authors are critical of students who come to college to get good jobs instead of to develop their intellects and improve their understanding of the world. They seem to believe that a liberal arts education should be the focus of all college students. They characterize career-oriented students as holding a "transactional model" instead of an intellectual development model. The authors found that many college administrators believe that the purpose of a college education is transactional, too.
The authors never try to put themselves in the shoes of students who are job-focused. They don't realize that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a third of college students never graduate because they can't afford to pay for college. The authors appear oblivious to this reality. Real wages have dropped considerably in the past 30 years, but the cost of a college degree has risen considerably. Families have to make big financial sacrifices to send their kids to college today. Families make those sacrifices because they want their kids to have a jobs that pay well, and it's no wonder that their kids become narrowly focused on getting a good job after graduation. To these students, failure to secure a good job would mean that their families' sacrifices were for nothing. The authors should have dug deeper into the financial problems students face.
The authors should have made more balanced recommendations about transactional students. They seem to want colleges to convince students to abandon the transactional model, but the transactional model is not inconsistent with the intellectual development model. They should have recommended that colleges help students to integrate their career focus with a focus on intellectual development. Career-oriented students need to know that if they develop critical thinking skills and a more worldly perspective while in college, they will have a life-long career advantage.