Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Education Consumers. . .

Many years ago after the Missouri Synod closed Concordia Senior College and the faculty dispersed, I heard the story of how one of those faculty had gotten a teaching gig in an ELCA school but ended up being denied tenure because the students also got a vote in who stays and who leaves.  In this case the rumor was that the LCMS guy required too much and the students did not appreciate the extra work.  It could be apocryphal but it seems credible to me.  Universities and even special schools like seminaries have become retail purveyors of an education experience more than they are places of teaching and learning.  Our education consumers have become not simply arrogant but savvy to the whole process.  They know that the numbers are on their side -- there will be fewer and fewer 18 year olds heading out in search of a baccalaureate degree over the next years.  Some schools will fare better than others in recruiting their share of the pot and others will end up losing out and probably closing their doors.  The student is in the driver's seat today and schools pay rapt attention to what the education consumer is looking for.  Armed with student loans likely to be forgiven, they are calling the shots.

Students come to university armed with their own information and objectives.  Instead of depending upon teachers, they let the schools know what it is they want and it is certainly not anything that would challenge the worldview, political perspective, and moral stance they came to school with.  They are not looking for someone to open doors and windows but to close them and provide them with safe spaces where their points of view are respected and certainly not debated.  It is not that the schools are going woke as much as they are simply conforming to the expectations of the work students headed their way.  They are desperate to impress the student with how accommodating they are to their point of view and to their wants and needs.  Success has less to do with teaching someone to think or arming someone with various arguments or points of view on a subject than treating the educational endeavor like any other survey defined success story any and every business would be proud to have received.

The challenge to religious schools is less that the ideology of that school is changing from the top down than the school has no real values except pleasing the student and hanging on to the tuition dollar that, at least for baccalaureate students, is an ever decreasing commodity.  In this respect it might be that the loss of religion in religious universities is as much due to the dimwitted pursuit of student happiness scores as it is a deep and abiding affection for the ideology.  For my mind, this is even more dangerous than an ideologically driven faculty and administration.  It is, in many respects, no different than the patient telling the doctor what ails him and what drug he saw on TV that will fix it.  Retail medicine, like retail education, may be highly successful but it will always fail in its core mission and purpose.

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