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Navigating the Great Upheaval: Week 1 - Looking Backward


The Great Upheaval: How Did We Get Here?

Levine and Van Pelt look to the past to provide context for the present and inform their predictions for the future. In the four chapters of this section, the authors describe the impact of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions on the economy, society, and higher education and identify parallel transformations in our current circumstances.

Quote: “We know the industrial era transformation was not like an avalanche that wiped out everything in its path. There are still vestiges of the colonial colleges; America’s four-year, residential, liberal arts colleges are its progeny. But nothing emerged from the transformation unscathed. The liberal arts college changed its organization, staffing, students, curriculum, methods of instruction, and assessment. But it remained residential, it continued to offer a four-year undergraduate program, and it still awards a bachelor’s degree.

“The transformation created new forms of higher education - universities, technical and scientific schools, and junior, now community, colleges - which quickly dwarfed the remnants of the old agrarian system. What remained was modernized rather than discarded. This seems likely to be repeated.” (Levine & Van Pelt, 2020, pp. 108-109)


The following resources explore additional perspectives on how higher education is impacted by and, in turn, impacts society, the economy, and individual opportunities.


11 Lessons From the History of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, 2017. (10 min read)

Quote: “The sad fact is that most institutions were not designed with non-traditional students in mind.  Many institutions still offer an education that lacks the flexibility or support structures that many non-traditional students need.  Meanwhile, the fastest growing market segment – continuing and professional education – remains underserved.”

The Education Gospel, Tressie McMillan Cottom, 2018, pp. 1-26. This introductory chapter to the book Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy explores how changes in the American labor market (greater risk and responsibility for workers, less job security) radically changed higher education, specifically leading to a for-profit college boom.

Quote: “When we offer more credentials in lieu of a stronger social contract, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for social insurance and get workforce training, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for justice and get “opportunity”, it is Lower Ed… [O]ur political choices constructed Lower Ed as a legitimate way to navigate the vicissitudes of the labor market.” (p. 12)

Why Higher Ed’s Promise Remains Unfulfilled, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2019. (22 min read).

Quote: “As with many things, there is no single explanation for higher education’s failed promise. It’s a story of choices made and paths not taken, of decisions by policy makers and the actions of colleges themselves. The result: Instead of acting as a leveler, higher education magnifies economic differences and reinforces them. The better off you are, the more likely you are to go to college. If you go to college, you are likely to be better off.”


Bread and Roses: Helping Students Make a Good Living and Live a Good Life, Terry O’Banion, 2016.  (56 pages)

“In this timely monograph, Terry O’Banion offers a wealth of ideas to inform both discussion about and action on these issues going forward, and he does so with a return to “the main thing” in community college education: teaching and learning. O’Banion walks the reader through a discussion of curricula— both liberal education and career and technical education, including their roots, their development, and especially, the intellectual and structural chasms that have long divided them.”

Quote: “We are stuck in educational models developed in the 18th century for an agricultural economy and in the 19 th century for an industrial economy. Public schools still let out at 3:00 in the afternoon because in the 1800s students needed to milk the cows, gather the eggs, and feed the hogs. We still operate in chunks of time such as the 50-minute class because in the 1900s we tried to duplicate the efficiency of building Model-T Fords on an assembly line. The school bell is an artifact of the factory whistle. Roger Moe once described education as '1,000 years of tradition wrapped in 100 years of bureaucracy'."


  1. In what ways are college teaching and learning the same as they were 20 years ago? Fifty years ago? A century ago?
  2. In what ways has teaching and learning changed significantly in the past 10 years? In the past two years?
  3. Considering the evolution of higher education over the years, which specific institutional practices or norms from the past do you think have either facilitated or hindered our ability to navigate the current wave of radical transformation?
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