Attending Princeton comes with privileges, even in comparison to other institutions of higher education. In his talk today, “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education: MOOCs, Money and the Future of Liberal Arts Education,” President-elect Christopher Eisgruber ’83 told a story about Princeton’s struggle with regulators. In 2009, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education argued that Princeton didn’t demonstrate enough evidence of student achievement. The Commission was looking for more data-driven assessments. Luckily, Princeton was able to maintain its current evaluation system after reemphasizing the requirements for the senior thesis.
This push for quantitative evaluation is an increasing trend throughout the United States — Eisgruber explained that regulators are “applying more intrusive rules and requirements” to measure student achievement. But this movement is controversial, as universities and regulators struggle to find the correct metrics to quantitatively measure the value of a liberal arts education.
If the goal of a liberal arts degree is to be able to think critically and apply problem-solving skills in any situation, then a standardized test is an inadequate measure of success. Eisgruber said, “This fetish for student learning outcomes is no friend to education and is no friend to engagement. Black binders of data, standardized testing at the college level, new bureaucratic red tape — those aren’t engines of learning.” But unfortunately, not all liberal arts institutions have the same clout with regulators as Princeton does.
Eisgruber said that many public universities are struggling in this regard. He explained that Princeton could be an advocate for liberal arts education on the national stage, especially to pave the way for public university liberal arts programs that may not be as successful in fighting “bureaucratic red tape.”
Eisgruber is right to argue that Princeton has a responsibility to public American universities. If Princeton is truly committed to its liberal arts education, we as a university need to shift our focus outside of the FitzRandolph Gate. It’s not enough to provide students here with a challenging and enriching liberal arts curriculum — we must promote an educational climate in which this type of education can thrive in universities across the country.