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Academic Health of Colleges, Schools Said Interdependent

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Washington--Acknowledging that the lowered standards of universities have been "contagious," college educators meeting here last week called for a renewed recognition that the academic health of the nation's colleges and that of its secondary schools are interdependent.

The final report of the Association of American Colleges' three-year Project on Redefining the Meaning and Purpose of the Baccalaureate Degree, released here at the association's 71st annual meeting, stresses the need for more coherence in the college curriculum, not only to give greater value to the bachelor's degree but also to set clearer goals for the nation's schools.

'Abandonment of Structure'

"One consequence of the abandonment of structure by the colleges has been the abandonment of structure in the schools," states the report. "The decline in requirements is contagious, and in the absence of system in national educational arrangements, articulation between secondary and higher education has been allowed to break down."

The report adds that the "loss of definition and rigor" in college programs has supported a false notion that learning is effortless. And it charges that the loss of purpose and definition on campus has contributed to the erosion of the goals and mission of the nation's schools.

The report recommends that academe recognize teaching and research as functions of equal importance; that faculty members rise above narrow departmental concerns and take responsibility for the overall university curriculum; that a minimum curriculum involving nine broad areas of inquiry be required of all students, and that these areas of inquiry be incorporated into every university course; and that reliable, qualitative means be developed for evaluating students, programs, and faculty members.

The report was the fourth major study to be released in recent months calling for major initiatives to improve higher education. It followed a study by the National Institute on Education that called for higher faculty pay, more emphasis on teaching, stricter graduation requirements, proficiency tests, and two years of liberal education for all students.

A report by Howard R. Bowen and Jack H. Schuster of the Claremont Graduate School, released in December, called for vigorous efforts to draw talented young people into academe to pursue teaching careers to replace faculty members who will retire in the next few decades.

And a separate report, written by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, called for improved education in the humanities in college, with renewed emphasis on the study of Western civilization.

'Seamless Web' of Reform

Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a member of the select committee that wrote the aac report, said he was concerned that recent evaluations of the problems in academe have not paid enough attention to the importance of better articulation between colleges and schools.

Characterizing education as "a seamless web," he said education reform should be viewed holistically.

By and large, he said, school and college officials are having "conversations," but "these conversations have not yet come together. This has diminished the effect of reform at both levels."

But Mr. Boyer cited several "contructive" ideas, such as programs bringing together college and school faculty members and systematic efforts to evaluate the articulation problem by the nation's six regional education boards, which by nature keep the "entire scope" of schooling in mind.

Smooth Transition

David Spence, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board, one of the organizations cited by Mr. Boyer, told the 750 college presidents, deans, and faculty members attending the conference that "too much of what is credited as college-level work is not." He said the best way to remedy the problem was not to close access to higher education but to smooth the transition between high school and college.

He urged state systems of higher education to work closely with high schools to promote joint reviews of curricula, diagnostic testing, remedial help in the high school, and improved teacher education.

Secretary Bennett, extending the theme of interdependence, noted that colleges could learn some lessons from recent research on effective schools. Like schools, he observed, colleges must have strong leadership at the top; a set of shared values throughout the institution; high expectations of students and their teachers; regularly assigned homework; and an atmosphere of purposefulness.

He said he believed that the recent series of reports on higher education could do for colleges what the National Commission on Excellence in Education and other groups have done for schools.

Public Attitudes

But Mr. Boyer said he did not think higher-education reform could go nearly as far, primarily because the general public "doesn't have the same frustration about colleges as they do about schools."

The public believes that colleges are working well, and "the problems don't seem to touch their pocketbooks and lives" as do those of the public schools, he said.

"That doesn't mean there won't be a vigorous debate," Mr. Boyer added. "But it will be one without explosive headlines."

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