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College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be
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College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  317 ratings  ·  50 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, 256 pages
Published April 21st 2013 by Princeton University Press (first published March 20th 2012)
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I probably should be kinder to Professor Delbanco. He did a lot of reading and careful thinking in order to produce this slender, elegantly written volume. But I've hit my limit with Ivy Leaguers who write about Ivy League colleges and believe that what they write has relevance to a broader audience. I've also hit my limit with humanities professors who try to wax wise about what college is and isn't.

This book is, like many that have come before it, myopic. The Ivy League and other elite colleg
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
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
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
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
David Drysdale
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
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.
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
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.
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
Rachael Henkel
Good info, interesting read. I read this for some background info for my interview with admissions - cross your fingers for me!
Brook M.
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
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
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
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
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
Enoch Kuo
Excellent writing, though a bit short on the recommendations. I would have preferred a more systematic approach, but it might not have been as friendly a read as it was as a result. There are a lot of excellent historical tidbits and stories strewn all across the pages, but the book really does not chart historical developments and changes to the institution in detail.
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
Laurel Perez
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Not sure my rating is as reflective of the book as it is my lack of knowledge about the subject matter and need to know about it. It was a good source of background information around which to frame an argument that merits discussion outside of academia. I would recommend it to others who like myself are interested but not currently immersed in that world.
It gave some good arguments for pursuing the college experience, which is what I was looking for. After finishing this book I was convinced that pricey colleges are not the answer. It shouldn't matter where you go, as long as you have a strong community, and appropriate niches for your pursuits. I'm glad my education was on the affordable side!
Clark Maddux
Quite disappointing. I had hoped that the author of a work as bracing as The Puritan Ordeal would develop a more cogent argument. Instead, this seems simple nostalgia, thinly veiled by shoddy history.
It is limited by Delbanco's focus on the situation at the elite private colleges. Despite that drawback, I found it a good overview of the history of higher education in America. It is a rousing defense of the tradition of liberal arts learning and a stinging attack on how universities are turning away from that mission.
Read this for a faculty book discussion and then participated in a panel about it. Very interesting book about the history of "liberal arts" education and how college is no longer really about this sort of "character" building and well-rounded education. It has become more of a career and job training business.
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College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be 1 4 Feb 12, 2013 06:17AM  
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  • Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More
  • Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites
  • A History of American Higher Education
  • DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
  • Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality
  • Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
  • The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University
  • The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters
  • We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education
  • Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life
  • The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
  • The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal
  • The Idea of a University
  • What the Best College Students Do
  • Hacking Your Education: Escape Lectures, Save Thousands, and Hustle Your Way to a Brighter Future
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...
Melville: His World and Work The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil Required Reading: Why Our American Classics Matter Now Stories for Young People: Edgar Allan Poe

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