The best higher education books of 2021


From stories to advice, from investigative reporting to original research, from predictions to scholarly analysis, this year’s top higher education books have something for just about everyone. Here is a list of the top ten of 2021.

that of Nicole LaPorte Guilty admissions: the bribes, favors and forgery behind the college cheating scandal is an entertaining tale of the unscrupulous characters and side door schemes at play in the varsity blues college admissions scandal. Laporte details the ambitions and anxieties that made dozens of parents greedy co-conspirators or gullible supporters of Rick Singer, the hypomaniacal con artist behind the cheating, bribery, and lies that many wealthy families have used to gain admission. their children in an elite college.

The corruption did not end with Singer and his ruthless parents. As Laporte documents, officials at several colleges were willing to accept highly immoral, or blatantly criminal, schemes because they lined their pockets without caring about the individuals or institutions they were exploiting.

The new doctorate: how to build a better university education by Leonard Cassuto and Robert Weisbuch. The authors, two academics with decades of experience in higher education, propose a set of reforms and innovations aimed at transforming doctoral education into a more student-centered, diverse and socially engaged enterprise that widens the possibilities of the students and extends the advantages for society.

What universities owe to democracyy by Ronald Daniels (with Grant Shreve and Philip Spector) is an eloquent and passionate defense of the university as one of the “fundamental institutions of liberal democracy”, key to preserving and improving modern democratic societies.

Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, explores four functions universities offer healthy democracies: 1) promoting upward social mobility, 2) educating students to be good citizens, 3) creating and authenticating factual knowledge, and 4) cultivate a pluralistic education that prepares graduates to thrive in diverse communities.

Describing the illiberal threats facing higher education, Daniels balances a frank recognition of how universities sometimes fail in their democracy-building obligations with practical recommendations on how they can strengthen their contributions to the good. audience in each of the four functions. It is a powerfully persuasive call to a higher purpose.

at Ronald Musto The attack on higher education: the dissolution of the American university is a scholarly analysis of several anti-liberal accounts threatening to undermine the modern university, analogous to the dissolution of English monasteries in the 16th century. This analysis demands careful reading which will be rewarded with a fuller understanding of the origins of American colleges as well as the political rhetoric and cultural movements that have periodically thrown higher education into crisis.

Musto articulates its analysis around three qualities that have characterized American universities throughout their history: authority, separation and innovation. The book takes a close look at the forces on the right (and some on the left as well) that are dismantling these three qualities on a number of fronts.

Anti-college narratives engulf several controversies in higher education, ranging, as Musto documents, from governance to curriculum, funding to campus climate, from culture wars to sex scandals. Musto’s final thoughts on how higher education might rebuild an “academy ruled by its own intellectual agendas and the immediate needs of the students” offer intriguing, if not probable, possibilities.

The Evidence the Liberal Arts Need: Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Achievement by Richard Detweiler. President Emeritus of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, Detweiller presents a framework for understanding the three qualities that he believes distinguish liberal arts education: 1) predominantly non-professional content, instead involving a full range of knowledge that requires the development of intellectual skills; 2) a study context that emphasizes active pedagogy occurring in socially and emotionally engaging learning communities, and 3) outcomes that enhance social good and increase benefits to others.

What sets the book apart is the empirical evidence Detweiler obtained from telephone interviews with more than 1,000 college graduates, in three age groups, who attended different types of institutions and were exposed to different kinds of health. various university experiences. By analyzing this sample, he demonstrates the close relationships between several essential elements of the liberal arts and many important outcomes involving leadership, social contributions and personal success. The interview data is complemented by accounts written by 85 liberal arts college graduates, making the book a superb source for those who want a clear explanation of the value of the liberal arts.

Another call for the liberal arts is Let’s be reasonable: the conservative arguments for liberal education by Jonathan Marks, professor of political science at Ursinus College. A student of Allan Bloom, the oft-cited critic of American higher education, Marks writes in a conservative tradition, but offers a much more nuanced picture of higher education than is typical of hyperbole and hysteria. proposed by some conservative experts.

Marks says his goal is to “advocate for liberal conservative education.” In doing so, he also suggests – reasonably – that the critiques that so many conservative pundits like to throw at left-wing colleges often miss the mark. For example, “Regardless of what you may have heard, our universities are not ruled by bald radicals and their student followers.”

Still, Marks raises legitimate concerns about the importance of liberal orthodoxy on many campuses and the surrender that has become all too common: “Although conservatives, for the most part, can work in peace, and although few faculty members on the left, there is little appetite to challenge conventional wisdom on the left.

Marks calls on universities to dedicate themselves to the work of cultivating reason and pride in “being reasonable,” and he warns that while such work is difficult, “if universities, distracted by other things, fail, students and graduates walk below … other banners are unlikely to do themselves or others any good.

Writing in a personal, often casual tone, Marks laments the fact that our colleges too often offer only “bland and sparse justifications” for the liberal arts, a loophole his book seeks – with considerable seriousness and success – to address. to fill in.

Agile College by Nathan Grawe. A sequel to his Demographics and demand for higher education, Grawe explores how higher education can prepare for the changes – particularly in student numbers – that will occur over the next 15 years.

It first updates the demographic changes that will test the higher education market and breaks that market down by region, student demographics, and higher education sector. Then, based on interviews with higher education officials from different types of institutions, he explains how to meet these challenges.

Grawe reviews several initiatives, including more effective recruitment and financial aid, improved retention, institutional growth, academic and extracurricular curriculum reviews, deliberate downsizing efforts, and more institutional collaborations, which could enable institutions to cope with the upcoming market upheavals.

The price you pay for college by Ron Lieber. The caption – “A whole new roadmap to the biggest financial decision your family will ever make” – sums up the purpose of this highly readable advice book. New York Times“Your Money” columnist. Lieber explains a wide range of topics that parents and families are likely to worry about the most when making decisions in college.

The issues it covers include costs of higher education, financial aid, admission play, hiring a college advisor, return on investment for college graduates, pros and cons of different types of universities, 529 plans, student loans and loan debts. Lieber provides practical advice on these and many other questions parents have when their children reach college age.

The State must provide by Adam Harris. A gripping tale of the history of black colleges in America, with a focus on how and why they were created, the fierce battles they fought, and the lingering inequalities they still face. Examining crucial Supreme Court cases on segregation, detailing the personal struggles of the students involved, and documenting the long legacy of neglect of black colleges and their students, Harris exposes the pervasive racism that is ingrained in so many aspects. higher education and persists, despite what Harris calls examples of “imperfect progress.”

that of John Thelin Essential documents in the history of higher education, 2nd edition. Intended to accompany its final decision A history of American higher education, this volume includes original documents intended to bring the “dry bones” of this story to life. It’s the story of higher education from the ground up – personal journals, college charters, presidential speeches, student memoirs, landmark legislation, founding reports. You name it, Thelin’s probably included an example of it, framed in his scholarly, yet entertaining style.

Honorable mentions:

  • What is public about public higher education by Stephen Gavazzi and E. Gordon Gee summarizes a national survey of Americans’ views on the main tensions facing public universities and offers practical suggestions on what can be done to improve their position in a politically divided country.
  • that of Stefano Sandrone Nobel Prize for Life includes brief conversations with 24 Nobel Prize winners. In addition to advice on their fields of study, the interviews reveal the personalities of the Nobel Prize winners, as well as their quirks, motivations, rivalries and – most importantly – their remarkable perspectives and discoveries.
  • Students Under Contract: How Government Guaranteed Loans Left Generations To Drown In University Debt by Elizabeth Tandy Shermer. An in-depth look at the history of the federal government’s role in funding U.S. higher education and the impact it has had on student debt.
  • The hidden curriculum, by Rachel Gable, draws on over 100 in-depth interviews with Harvard and Georgetown students to reveal the challenges first-generation students face in elite colleges. Gable discusses both the similarities and differences in the college experiences of these students compared to their continuing generation peers.