School’s in Session

Author and journalist Anya Kamenetz envisions a higher-education system for the 21st century

UNLV students, teachers and administrators—who know all too well the problems plaguing U.S. colleges and universities—should find their way to the Clark County Library on May 23. At 2 p.m., author and journalist Anya Kamenetz will discuss skyrocketing tuition, plummeting graduation rates and student debt that’s creating another a credit bubble … and her solutions to those problems.

Kamenetz doesn’t mention UNLV in her new book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Chelsea Green), but she knows its type.

“Obviously it’s in a state that’s had a lot of population growth, a lot of strain on the system,” says Kamenetz, who’s 29 and lives in Brooklyn. “That would definitely be the kind of school that would be struggling and looking to innovate. That’s my general take on a lot of Western states and their colleges and universities.”

Increasing enrollment, decreasing budgets and a dearth of jobs for graduates are forcing these schools to adapt, says Kamenetz, who also authored Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Credit Cards, Bad Jobs, No Benefits and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers—And How to Fight Back (Riverhead Trade, 2006).

“There had been more public money and support for higher education, but then in a time of scarcity it went down and people asked, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ That’s exactly why I wrote this book.”

Researching DIY U, Kamenetz—a staff writer for Fast Company magazine—attended conferences, visited schools and interviewed students, teachers, administrators and government officials.

She says UNLV and other universities should use e-textbooks, offer more online classes and study ways to streamline the degree process, which dates to the Middle Ages.

“Students need to get their bachelor’s degrees faster and cheaper, and universities need to serve more people. But they have to be careful about it, because they don’t want to just shove people through. They have to include the right kind of experiential stuff—travel, internships and stuff like that—at the same time.”

If schools don’t adapt, Kamenetz says, they’ll be cut off from funding, lose programs and class sizes will increase. The quality of education will go down, the cost up.

“My biggest message is that cost increases are not a given,” says Kamenetz, who’ll sign copies of DIY U after the discussion. “If a school is careful about how it changes, it can cut costs. And that kind of attitude and approach helps students, is more effective and is the way successful institutions are going to grow in the future.”

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