The Decline and Revival of Liberal Learning at Duke: The Focus and Gerst Programs

Two academic programs at Duke University are helping undergraduates experience a well-rounded education, and these programs could be copied by other universities. This is the message of a new report from the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, “The Decline and Revival of Liberal Learning at Duke: The Focus and Gerst Programs,” by Russell K. Nieli.

Duke is responding to a problem that afflicts many universities: There is no longer a “core curriculum. “ Students round out their education by selecting courses that meet loose “distribution requirements,” but the resulting education can be fragmented, limited, and incoherent.

Duke has countered this fragmentation by forming the Focus and Gerst programs.

To view the executive summary of the report, click here.

Inquiry Paper No. 25: The Overselling of Higher Education

A paper published by the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy argues that higher education has been oversold to the public. Many students who are not really interested in academic pursuits are spending a lot of time and money to get a credential that is much less valuable than they suppose.

The paper was written by George Leef, vice president for research, and focuses on many of the common themes that dominate higher education policy today.

Inquiry Paper No. 24: English 101: Prologue to Literacy or Postmodern Moonshine?

Since freshman composition became a required course at Harvard in 1872, it has seen many changes, but none so radical as the changes brought about in the 1970s, when composition theory became a specialty. Postmodern theories about teaching composition have transformed writing programs nationwide, and this paper examines what has become of freshman writing courses at the two flagship branches of the University of North Carolina, N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill.

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Inquiry Paper No. 23 The State of the First Amendment in the UNC system

FIRE’s Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System serves to educate the public about the rampant abuse of First Amendment rights within the UNC System, and to put North Carolina’s public colleges and universities on notice that it is unlikely—if not impossible—that most of the policies discussed in the report could survive a constitutional challenge.

Inquiry Paper No. 22 Governance in the Public Interest

The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina has a fiduciary obligation to ensure the academic and financial health of the University of North Carolina (UNC) while serving the best interests of the state. In fulfilling its fiduciary obligation, there are a series of basic principles that the Board must apply. They include representing the entire university system, not a single constituency; understanding their role as Board members; setting the agenda; keeping informed; understanding the budget and ensuring the efficient use of resources; insisting on high academic standards, defending academic freedom and focusing on student learning.

Inquiry Paper No. 21: An Empty Room of One’s Own

For several decades, women’s studies programs have found comfortable sinecures at publicly funded universities of North Carolina including UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, NC State and East Carolina University. Heralded by feminists as the symbols of women’s equality in academe, the programs were set up to offer majors and minors in women’s studies, advance scholarship in the field, host their own special events, and design and teach their own classes. Women’s studies programs also had their own administrators, faculty, and office space. In their way of thinking, feminists had secured in the ivory tower, what Virginia Woolf described as “A Room of One’s Own.”

Inquiry Paper No. 20: On the Investment Payoff of Higher Education

A recent paper entitled “The Investment Payoff” purports to identify a number of significant benefits from higher education – increased personal income, lower unemployment, improved health, reduced reliance on public assistance, more volunteerism, and increased electoral participation. Readers are subtly led to conclude that increased spending on higher education would mean more of those desirable benefits. The weakness of the paper, however, is that it merely shows correlations between the group of college degree holders and the favorable outcomes. Policy makers should not be swayed by “The Investment Payoff” into putting additional resources into higher education.

Inquiry #19: Tuition Waivers at the N.C. School of Science and Math

Since the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) opened in 1980, the school has attracted some of the state’s top high school students to come to Durham study at the residential high school. At the school, students take college-level courses, and they have performed well on SAT tests and in national competitions and been admitted to some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. In recognition of the school’s generally high level of academic achievement, in 2003 the General Assembly instituted a policy of waiving tuition charges for NCSSM graduates who enroll in any University of North Carolina institution. That policy, however, cannot be justified by any of the arguments advanced in its favor. It produces no public benefit, costs the state money, and unfairly discriminates in favor of NCSSM graduates.

Inquiry #18: How Solid is the Core?

The study, by the National Association of Scholars for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, examines the general education requirement and two bellwether majors, English and history, at 11 North Carolina universities, based on information provided by the institutions in their university catalogs for the years 2002 or 2003. We have taken into account the various ways in which individual universities design and publish their catalogs, and have effectively compared all the institutions for the same time frame.

Inquiry #17: Do College Rankings Mean Anything?

The annual college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report are widely read and regarded as an authoritative assessment of the nation’s colleges and universities. If the U.S. News rankings place one school higher than another, many people take that as proof that the higher-ranked school is academically better. Unfortunately, the U.S. News ranking system is deeply flawed.

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