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College: What It Was, ...
Andrew Delbanco
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College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  482 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
As the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience--an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers--is in danger of becoming a thin ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published April 22nd 2012 by Princeton University Press (first published March 20th 2012)
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Bryan Alexander
A very engaging yet deeply frustrating book, Delbanco's College tries to offer a grand vision of higher education, but falls into the error of mistaking a niche for the whole.

College is, mostly, a pleasure to read. Delbanco is passionate about his subject, and keenly committed to learning. His account of academic history draws nicely from primary sources, yielding humorous quotes and echoes of the present. Delbanco's prose is thoughtful and elegant.

His overall claim for a specific form of higher
Jul 16, 2012 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the beginning of this book, subtitled “What It Is, Was, and Should Be,” Delbanco has placed this quotation from W.E.B. DuBois which can stand for Delbanco’s argument:

“The true college will ever have one goal – not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.”

Delbanco is Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and a deep thinker about the nature of education. In this book he sets out to examine the role and the function of the undergraduate college, b
Dec 27, 2013 Francine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as I picked up part of a conversation between 2 of my former colleagues. Though I am now emeriti librarian, I haven't stopped caring about the educational enterprise.

The author defends the humanities, which I studied for the sheer joy of it on the way to graduate school, so he captured my attention right away. Delbanco does a thorough job of presenting a history of higher education in America, the importance of an informed citizenry (another of my interests)and offers a balanced view
Mark Bao
May 14, 2015 Mark Bao rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hot-iron review, to be revised with a more complete one when I go through it again in a few weeks. — A solid look into college and how it has progressed over time, and the key challenges today with college. The main thing that Delbanco argues is that college is moving away from the key points that made it a useful institution, mainly, that it serves as a "mid-point" for students to transition into real-world life. We are losing that: with a more vocational (technical-skills) focus, movement away ...more
Nov 02, 2013 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: higher-education
Andrew Delbanco opens this book describing a faculty meeting early in his tenure at Columbia where the end of "needs blind" admissions was being debated. He described this debate as the beginning of a journey of thinking about not only his chosen discipline but the whys and wherefores of the university, of which this book is a product.

The book follows the schema of the title. He looks at the origins of colleges in this country, particularly dwelling on the church-related character of their begin
Apr 24, 2012 Karyn marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Apparently a celebration of the old-fashioned liberal arts education. Even beyond the fact that such a thesis is dear to my heart, any book that begins with the observation (quoting Vedders) that “with the possible exception of prostitution, teaching is the only profession that has had absolutely no productivity advance in the 2,400 years since Socrates," makes it straight to the top of my Must Read list.
Aug 10, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As our oldest child is about to head off to college, I appreciated this book. It's a long essay on the history and promise of liberal arts institutions. Much of the history was completely new to me. Some of his concerns about the present reality were too.
Rachael Henkel
May 04, 2012 Rachael Henkel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good info, interesting read. I read this for some background info for my interview with admissions - cross your fingers for me!
Brook M.
Dec 26, 2013 Brook M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Each year a book is selected that Vanderbilt sends to all first year students over the summer and then discusses this book at the commons in houses and Vanderbilt Visions groups:

In some ways the selection of this book is a bit of a surprise to me (oh, you are just admitted to college – let’s take a look at the inglorious past of higher ed and all its problems today) and on the other hand I am really excited to see what input students will have on this and
Gregory Linton
In this small book, this Columbia University professor provides a wide-ranging look at the development of higher education in America, beginning with its origins up to the present day.
The conversations with colleagues regarding this book were good. Delbanco brings up many important points.
Sep 01, 2012 Mini rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book because it made me wrestle with big ideas, like the value of the American educational system, or how we determine the merit of individuals. While I think the author agreed a bit more with my professor parents than with me, I also think he made some great points. One was that college is supposed to be a place where students grow as people. Delbanco stressed that college helps young adults open themselves up to other worldviews and understand how people have dealt with existentia ...more
May 15, 2016 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent, essentially agenda-free, book about the history of colleges and universities in the US and, more importantly, the changing pedagogy and assumptions surrounding the purpose and organization of college, who and what it is for, and how our understanding of that has evolved--not just from the 50s to today, but from the founding of the first colleges in the colonies before 1776.

I found it fascinating, useful and refreshing to read about the expectations that "society" (or perha
Peter Kerry Powers
You can find my summary comments about Delbanco's book on my blog-- Also links there to a few other of my reactions. A bit of that response is below.

"My own college defines itself as a college of the liberal and applied arts and sciences, building that tension in to its self-definition. Where and how to find that balance is always the question.

"I came away in the end being uncertain whether Delbanco’s book actually helped me answer this last question. Del
Dec 31, 2013 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a required book for my Associate Dean’s Think Tank group. I enjoyed the read and learned a great deal about the historical evolution of the college and university. The author, a professor in higher education for almost 30 years, tells the story of the meaning of college, the difference between a college and university, who is attending college and predictions for the future. I laughed as I started to read the book when the author wrote, “One of the peculiarities of the teaching life is ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Chuck rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little disappointed. Please forgive the rant. This book is a well written overview of higher education. It is a useful handbook for someone interested in higher education who wants to read no other book on the subject. However, other than the breadth of its content and the prestige of its author (a professor at Columbia), it lacks a useful contribution to those who more closely follow higher education. Delbanco himself admits to his naivete before writing, stating that this is outside of ...more
David Drysdale
Mar 18, 2014 David Drysdale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As many others have commented, this is a pleasurable read that practices what it preaches. The best case it makes for the value of a liberal education is the author's own writerly practice. He musters examples from literature, philosophy, and history to build a compelling case for exploration and lateral learning without overtly demonizing Gradgrindian outcome-based learning. Sadly, it's an argument that will almost certainly fall on deaf ears--or, rather more likely, on the ears of the eager ch ...more
Mark Hiser
Most of us, I am sure, are aware that American colleges and universities are under attack and face serious challenges. Unemployment is high. Many college graduates cannot find jobs. Student loan debt surpasses credit card debt. Tuitions keep going up while some studies suggest that many college students do not make much academic advancement.

Some politicians even call college graduates "snobs" while others tell our youth that they cannot "succeed" without a college education.

Many Americans,ther
Aug 04, 2015 Roy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Delbanco presents a short history of higher education in the United States and an analysis of the status of contemporary colleges, especially the "Ivy League" schools. He is clear that he distinguishes colleges from universities, education from training. In fact, the word "engineering" appears only once in the book.
His primary point (with which I agree) is that colleges have been diverted from their original intent: "...the best traditions of the American college as an institution devoted not on
May 15, 2013 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Andrew Delbanco is a gem of a scholar. This is a thoughtful, if sometimes painfully honest, assessment of what college should be about. I am personally attracted to Delbanco's passionate but moderate stance. Traditional college isn't all we sometimes make it out to be. Neither will innovations be all that the more zealous MOOC-boosters hope they will be. But while not ignoring the value and uses of innovation, there's no reason to give up on the reason for higher education: nurturing smart, thou ...more
Austin Somlo
College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be...a better title would be: College: What The Book Was, Is, and Should Have Been.

Reading it for a while and then ultimately getting bored with the incessant allusions to other works, I finished the last 75 pages while in the crapper one or two pages at a time. I've had enough experience of attending many universities and colleges, only to come to a successful realization: they are all the same. The bottom line is: $$$$$$$.

That's what college is all about,
Taymour Siddiqui
I liked it. It was a fun and quick read. My main complaint with the book is that it didn't give me exactly what I was looking for. Don't get me wrong it's a very well-written book but the main thing I got from it was what College is (or should be) about based on the goals college had earlier. He advocates trying to revive that goal and talks about some current problems and how college has gone away from it's original purpose. But, I feel like I didn't get an ending. I felt unsatisfied. He didn't ...more
Feb 01, 2014 Mof rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great quotes from a educator commenting on college: A superior faculty results in an inferior concern for teaching. Five goals of college: A skeptical discontent of the present informed by a sense of the past Ability to make connections between seemingly disparate phenomena Appreciation of the natural world enhanced by knowledge of science and arts A willingness to imagine experience from perspectives other than ones own A sense of ethical responsibility Answer not in grades or examination but h ...more
May 31, 2014 Nils rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: higher-ed
Delbanco holds out hope for the ideal of what college is imagined to be: a time for intellectual exploration, learning how to learn, and learning about oneself. This ideal he admits has always been mainly honored in the breach, but today is only possible at a shrinking elite fraction of the ever-growing mass higher education enterprise, and even then the opportunity is only seized upon by a fraction of the students at these places. He admits that giving everybody the ivy-clad ideal is financiall ...more
Dec 28, 2013 Laurel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I believe that the "take away" from this book was that higher education has changed in that the reason people pursue a credential is related more to career than for the sake of learning and becoming a better person through the pursuit of knowledge. It was a quick read and the author never really made a distinct point about higher education, as promised in the title. This look at the state of higher education did not have the shrill tone of many related books published recently. I read this book ...more
Jun 14, 2013 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great critique of the factory model of higher education, where the priority is on pouring in technical knowledge as efficiently as possible. Instead, the author makes an argument that college has and should be about developing character in addition to raising one's economic prospects and ensuring an educated electorate. He has a strong humanities approach and rarely refers to empirical evidence, and I thought his presentation would have benefited from some of the recent empirical research on non ...more
An extended discussion of the various balancing acts that occur in higher education. Is education about expanding the mind or providing skills for employment? Should schools focus on quality or access? Do faculty have too much incentive to neglect teaching in favor of research? These are the big questions Deblanco outlines. His focus is primarily on the elite research universities, but he detours into a few other sectors in order to draw contrast. Overall an excellent primer on the complications ...more
Jan 17, 2013 Raisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a great book giving a different perspective on undergraduate education than what we currently here in present debates. Beginning with a history of the college and its purpose, DelBanco shows how college, university, teaching and research has evolved in the US and ends with what he thinks the college should preserve. Makes one think about what exactly undergraduate education is and the challenges it faces in university's administration and the current economic and political environment.
Laurel L. Perez
Jan 21, 2015 Laurel L. Perez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that in some ways leaves one with more questions than answers, though one might argue that that is the point. If you ever wanted to know what college once was, and what it is today, including most of the factors that one must take into account, this is a pretty accessible account. Worth a read if you're in college, whether as a student or an instructor.
Michael Joseph Brown
Like the premise of the book: thinking through the roots of liberal higher education in this country. I found the book a little "preachy," however. Americans are fond of restorationism in religion and politics. Now I guess we can add higher education. We can and should look back to our roots, but real transformation in higher education is going to emerge from a model we have not seen.
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College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be 1 5 Feb 12, 2013 06:17AM  
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  • Reframing Academic Leadership
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  • Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality
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  • The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (Issues of Our Time)
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  • Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter
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  • How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership
Andrew H. Delbanco (born 1952) is Director of American Studies at Columbia University and has been Columbia's Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities since 1995. He writes extensively on American literary and religious history.
More about Andrew Delbanco...

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