Steve Hunsaker reviews "We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education" by Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh.

August 2, 2012
Writer: Steve Hunsaker

Facets of Quality

I recently enjoyed reading We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education by Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).  Due in large part to the frequency of our discussions of quality here at BYU-Idaho, I was especially interested in the authors' presentation of patterns and structures of quality in higher education.  The issues that Keeling and Hersh raise prompted questions in my mind about what we might do to raise the quality of our work. 

I present below, much as I did with "Disrupting Ourselves" and "From Teaching to Learning," a few of the more memorable passages from We're Losing Our Minds.  I do so to invite discussions and conversations on the question of quality.  I would like to hear what you think about these passages, or, if you've had the chance to read it, how you respond to the whole book.
Steve Hunsaker


"[A]t its root the idea of higher learning is one of positive change: the student who graduates will not be, and should not be, the same person as the one who started college." (6)

  • This raises for me the issue of helping students to see how they are changing through their studies, church activity, and life away from home.  Do you see value in tools that encourage greater self-awareness regarding learning and development?

"[T]he whole is greater than the sum of its parts . . . higher learning is not simply incremental and additive, but is in fact synergistic and requires mindful, coherent, and integrated design." (21)

  • How mindful, coherent, and integrated is the design of your program's curriculum?  Is the logic of that curriculum as clear to your students as it is to you?  What about the larger BYU-Idaho curriculum?  Is the work of completing coursework and degree requirements like working a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box?

"Each and every discipline encompasses and imparts not only facts but the tools for understanding and integrating those facts - concepts, paradigms, principles, and language, for example, that help students relate new information to what came before it, as well as comprehend how to apply that information in new situations. But only if students are expected to practice such learning will it happen." (54)

  • How do you help your students to understand and integrate the facts of your discipline?  How do your students make a coherent whole out of the bits and pieces of their coursework?  Is that a concern for you?  Keeling and Hersh suggest that that kind of integrative learning doesn't happen unless we teach it and expect it.  Do you agree?

"None of us would consider flying with a pilot who has not been fully trained and tested on takeoffs and landings - nor would we tolerate having an operation performed by a surgeon who had not been adequately certified by the training program and examining board, or having a root canal performed by an uncertified endodontist. No branch of the armed forces entrusts the deployment and leadership of troops to untested or poorly performing officers; in fact, testing is how leaders in any of the armed services know which officers perform well and therefore which ones to trust. In other words, when it really matters, we find ways to do timely, meaningful assessment of learning." (89)

  • Without smothering things right away with the instinctive "we could never do that here" response, let's think creatively about authentic disciplinary performances that reveal the quality of student learning.  There will always be a place for traditional measures of learning, but how much more confidence would we have in the quality of our work if our assessments were authentic opportunities to "do" our disciplines?  

"Our real concern about higher education should be value, not efficiency." (110)

  • This website presents a ranking of students' return on investment for 1,248 American colleges and universities.  Is that what value means for you?

"Imagine a college or university in which learning occurs through immersion in a powerful educational culture - a culture in which learning is an intentional preoccupation within and across courses, inside and outside the classroom." (119)

"The challenge is to construct . . . an institution-wide culture of serious teaching and learning that provides an integrated and purposeful educational experience in which students intentionally immerse themselves." (124)

  • If you could boost the visibility and the perceived value of learning and academics here on our campus, how would you do it?

"The core higher education outcomes are necessarily learned cumulatively and collectively, throughout the entire undergraduate program, and thus are the shared responsibility of the entire faculty and staff." (133)

  • How can we in academics "cross the aisle" and work more closely with our colleagues in student life and student activities to promote the creation of that powerful educational and developmental culture?

"For real change to occur, the quality and quantity of learning must replace any . . . others as the key touchstone for decision making in higher education." (161)

  • Do you buy this?  Does the quality and quantity of learning trump expanding access to a BYU-Idaho education?  Is raising quality more important than lowering costs?