Rethinking Higher Education for the Knowledge Economy
Fall, 2017
Wednesday 415p – 615p
3 credits
Graduate Center


Co-taught by:
Gilda Barabino
Dean, Grove School of Engineering, City College

Ann Kirschner
Dean Emerita, Macaulay Honors College
University Professor, CUNY Graduate Center

Note: Professors Kirschner and Barabino will take the lead on different topics of the seminar, though often both will attend the class.

What does it take to prepare students for success in the 21st century? This graduate seminar will explore innovations in higher education, with a special focus on technology and new pathways that lead to lifelong learning.

The course will be interdisciplinary in its approach, and will look at the web of assumptions about democracy and social mobility that underlie the American system of higher education. It is appropriate for future faculty members, administrators, or anyone who plans a career in education or public policy, or is interested in innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in education.

Leaving aside the philosophical question of what constitutes “success,” we start with a set of observations:

● For the foreseeable future, the majority of good paying jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education.
● America’s faith in the importance of a college degree is, however, declining among prospective students and their families. About half of today’s graduates question the value of their diploma.
● The undergraduate student body has changed dramatically: what was once the “nontraditional” student — older, working, diverse, more likely to be first generation to graduate from college, more likely to transfer at least once — is now the mainstream of America’s 20 million college students.
● Liberal arts majors are less and less popular, as students grapple with the challenge of debt, pragmatic concerns about employability, and outmoded pedagogy and curricula.
● University curriculum and pedagogy in technology-related majors cannot keep up with the velocity of change in the private sector, a misalignment that will only increase in the future. Moreover, as computer science enrollments grow, universities struggle to maintain adequate instructional capacity.

And a set of questions, intended to be broad and provocative:

● Is higher education set up to serve today’s students?
● Is the college diploma the future “coin of the realm” for students? For employers?
● Is the six year graduation rate the right standard of success? What are possible new pathways to success? Should college be shorter? Longer? In residence? Online?
● Is “vocational” vs. “academic” an anachronistic construct? In an era when the majority of students say they go to college to get a job, how should we think about balancing career-consciousness vs. intellectual aspiration?
● Should every student study coding? Shakespeare? How will student confidence in their diploma be affected by the need to pursue high tuition “boot camp” programs to gain employment in competitive new economy jobs?
● Assuming the supply (college grads) and demand (jobs/employers) that is constantly in flux, how do we rationalize the market for higher education with respect to instructional capacity, a euphemism for how we do shift college teaching lines to match preferences and needs?
● Most employers use a college degree as a proxy for skills attainment; that confidence is perhaps the most important asset of higher education. If we lose this confidence either through outmoded curriculum or more reliable or more precise forms of skills assessment, what happens to the value of higher education?
● What is the role of experiential learning: internships, study abroad, undergraduate research?
● What pedagogies or newfangled approaches to the disciplines produce the kind of critical thinking that employers say they want? What is critical thinking, anyway?

Imagine a child of six today, graduating from high school in 2028. What do we think college will look like and how do we get ready for that student?

The course is cross listed as an elective with the CUNY Graduate Center departments of Urban education; ITP; MALS; The Futures Initiative; Sociology; Higher Education Administration (Baruch) and we welcome participants from the IUDC doctoral programs.


before class: Diamond Age, Ender’s Game, Ready Player One — PICK ONE!

READING LIST: See syllabus and suggested readings


The course will be conducted in a seminar format, emphasizing class presentations and participation. There will be visitors drawn from leaders in higher education and technology. Students will interview students and leaders at other universities, as well as corporate leaders.

Each seminar meeting will include a weekly lightning round, where each student will present an article/new study.

As a mid-term project, each student will choose and present My Big Idea. This should focus on a problem and a solution, considering audience, feasibility, impact. For the rest of the semester, your lightning round will focus on developments in and around that idea and project.

As a final assignment, students will choose an area of innovation and present a case for adoption. This can take the form of an 8-10pp paper, focused on your big idea. Option: do in groups, in which case it would have to be more than a paper, maybe a paper plus some collaborative material that you define, eg a website, a literature search, a set of recorded/facilitated interviews with domain experts, a scenario for a big idea. Another idea: some may elect to be embedded with a specific company for group strategy projects (we can help connect you to companies for that.). And think of wildcards: Pick five recent books, say, on liberal arts majors and technologies, and review them, interview the authors. Or, take a MOOC and interview classmates and review the course. Or, use the THREE HORIZONS methodology to analyze your own department’s strategy and make a case for some great new initiatives.

Got a better idea? Try us!

Aug 30
Professors Kirschner and Barabino
Introduction: Why this course? Why are you taking the course? What should our goals be?

Sept 6

Admin:  settling in new class members, auditors, final class list.
Presentation of model midterm/final project and grading for the class

Reading — Higher Education in the Digital Age, by William Bowen (available on JSTOR) (Note: don’t forget the notes.

Discussion:  Setting Priorities: What are the key problems we want to address? How do your issues overlap with those of Bowen’s?

Lightning rounds:

    • GROUP A
      • Juan
      • Joe
      • Wynter
      • Serena
      • Sa-Rawla
      • Alvaro
      • Akeem
      • Sylvia

Sept 13
Guest professor: Cathy Davidson
Reading: Cathy Davidson, The New Education
Also might want to take a look at Robert Zemsky, Making Reform Work: the Case for Transforming American Higher Education

Sept 20 — no class

Sept 27
Shakespeare or coding: what’s ahead for curriculum
Reading: Andrew Delbanco, College:  What it was, is and should be
Read about the debates around liberal arts and STEM education, see recent books on this topic covered here — as always, read the discussion notes:  these are excellent.

Please note:  different format for 9.20 class :

Group A — it’s all about STEM.

Group B — affirm the liberal arts as the way to go.

Oct 4  Innovation:  how do you re-imagine the future without admitting defeat before you even begin?  How do you overcome the “we could never do that” voice whispering in your ear?  we will be learning about the Three Horizons methodology, which has helped many organizations and institutions plan a brighter future….take a look at this article if our books don’t arrive on time.

Guest speaker, David Levin, CEO McGraw Hill Education

David Levin Scenario CUNY 10 -05 -17

Group B:  Lightning round 

Oct 11

Instructor: Rose Wesson, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Administration, The Grove School of Engineering

Topic: Graduate Education

Discussion questions:

What role does graduate education play in preparing the US workforce, impacting the economy and ensuring the nation’s well-being? What does the future hold for graduate education? How should graduate education be structured to better serve the needs of diverse students, the workforce, and the Nation?

This question is being addressed for the scientific enterprise by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education in the 21st Century. (


The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States
Graduate Training in SBS


Group A:  Lightning round 

Oct 18
Technology:  Guest speaker, Matt Greenfield, ReThink Education

Group B:  Lightning round 

Oct 25
MY BIG IDEA PRESENTATIONS BY STUDENTS:  5 minutes of you, 5 minutes of us

See guidelines under Department of Clarifications and Inspiration

Nov 1
guest:  Heather Hiles, Gates Foundation

Pre-Read:  State of Investment in Education_CUNY


Nov 8
guest:  Ryan Craig, University Ventures

Read Ryan’s book, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education


Nov 15
Goals and Careers: Should everyone go to college? How might we integrate the world of work into college? What is the role of advising? Career services? Is “vocational” vs. “academic” an anachronistic construct? Cooperative programs.


  1.  Choose three colleges (non-CUNY) and observe how their websites present career services, employability, and the relationship between college and work.  In class, we will discuss what you gleaned from your perusal of campus career websites — if you were in the 90% of undergraduates who are looking for help with that first job, would you feel confident that this school would help you qualify for it, find it, succeed in it?
  2.  Write a brief essay, somewhere between 500 and 1500 words, about your first job after college, how you got it, how you were prepared (or not), what you did to enhance your skills, and why you left it. (Note:  if you prefer to write about your first job after graduate school, I can live with that!)

PLEASE POST BY MONDAY Nov 13, tag as My First Job 

— Group B Lightning Round

Nov 22

Governance in higher education, the locus and exercise of authority, legally originates from the governing board of an institution and practically is shared with the president and groups of individuals to include faculty and administrators.  As Bowen and Toblin point out in “Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education,” the lack of change in a century-old system of governance affects our ability to effectively address today’s increasingly complex issues facing higher education such as access, degree completion rates, educational outcomes and disparities. In class we will address questions regarding how governance affects the way issues are addressed and what should change and what should stay the same. The following readings will form the basis for discussion as we explore case studies involving CUNY and challenges it has faced.
CUNY case study by Martin Kurzweil –Locus of Authority – CUNY Case Study (M.A. Kurzweil)
GSOE case study by Gilda Barabino – Harvard MLE Case Barabino
CUNY Masterplan – CUNY_Master_Plan
CUNY PO Governance Plan – P.OGovernance Plan
Rand Report on CUNY Governance – randdrr-2053-1
GSOE Bylaws – GSOE Governance-final
AGB Survey on Shared Governance – survey_2016_shared_governance
Links to additional resources:

— Group A Lightning Round

Nov 29
Discussion questions:

YOUR DEGREE HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE: creating the school of lifelong learning.


AK Nov 29 class

What’s next in higher ed?  Is college necessary today? And will college be necessary tomorrow?  If not, what might replace it?

  • Is the degree the best indication of job readiness?  What do employers want?  Does that matter?
  • Is the BA the new high school diploma?  What does this mean for graduate education?
  • What about a 3-year graduation goal?
  • As career paths become more complicated, as skills become more subject to obsolescence? how do we keep up?
  • What should the role of the university be in aligning curriculum to careers?  Should the faculty be held accountable for the “freshness” of their syllabus and pedagogy?
  • What experimental models seem most promising?

If you were starting a college today, how would you re-invent the degree?  what about experimental models: MVP, competency-based, MOOCs, nanodegrees, credentials.

And the question we started our class with:  Imagine a child of six today, graduating from high school in 2028. What do we think college will look like and how do we get ready for that student?


What constitutes a functional college degree, according to Lumina?
Coding academies:  Ecole 42
Moocs are dead 

tuition-free colleges:
University of the People
World Quant University 

Where credentials meet degrees:

Group B Lightning round — LAST ONES!

Dec 6/Dec 13
Student presentations:  MY BIG IDEA

Dec 6:  Joe Alvaro Samina Serena Miriam Wynter

Dec 13:  Michelle/Sylvia Ben Amanda Sa-Rawla Juan Akeem Ben

Note:  If you need to change your date, please reach out to one of your classmates for a swap.

We agreed that the presentations will be no more than 10 minutes each, with your own determination as to the mix of presentation and class discussion.  If you are using props or digital tools or handouts, please have them prepared in advance.


For fun, look at Father Sarducci’s Five Minutes University.

And not for fun, but serious and thoughtful observations on higher ed, check out the newly released Academy of Arts and Sciences report on Future of Undergraduate Education.  

Additional suggestions for further reading

David Kirp. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line.   By David Kirp. Harvard University Press. 2004.

Richard J. Light.  Making the Most of College: Students Speak their Minds. (Harvard University Press. 2006).

Rebecca Chopp, Susan Frost, and Daniel Weiss. Remaking College. (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. 2014).

Robert Zemsky, Remaking the American University: Market Smart and Mission Centered (2005)

William G. Bowen, Martin A. Kurzweil, and Eugene M. Tobin,Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Gordon Winston and Catharine Bond Hill, Access to the Most Selective Colleges by High- Ability Low-Income Students: Are They Out There?, (Discussion Paper No. 69). Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education, 2005.

Joshua S. Wyner, John M. Bridgeland, and John J. DiIulio, Jr., Achievement Trap:  How America Is Failing Millions of High Achieving Low-Income Students, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, 2006.

Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery, The Missing “One-Offs”: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2013.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari  Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown

Designing the New American University by Michael Crow and William B. Dabars

Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education by Jonathan Knee

Frank Rhodes’ The Creation of the Future: The Role of the American University”

William Manchester. A World Only Lit by Fire