Higher Education

who's your college campus?

OK, I swear this will be my last post on the Florida book, but I am a little curious to think about how the demographic shifts we’re witnessing play out in higher education. At the C’s Derek displayed some preliminary maps that pointed out where authors in CCC worked and also where they received their PhD’s. There’s not a lot of data there yet, but one can already begin to see the dominance of Big 10 schools (plus a couple Big 8, Texas ones) one would expect in rhet/comp.

In any case, I imagine a spiky map of higher education density would closely shadow the spiky mega-region maps in Florida’s book regardless of how you did it: numbers of institutions, numbers of students, rankings of institutions, citations of faculty, etc. Clearly land grant institutions provided regional access to education, so every region has some institutions. However I wonder if the growing spikiness of the world will make it more difficult for institutions outside growing mega-regions to compete. It’s one of those interesting conundrums where you might expect that the Internet would mean that it mattered less where you were as a student or academic. If you doubt this, consider this article in the Cornell Sun where even that Ivy League school reports struggles in recruiting and retaining top faculty.

Then I think about Cortland, located in the center of the poorest county in NY. The students of Cortland represent a great potential human capital for the county. It’s hard to get people to come to Cortland I imagine. It’s probably easier to keep the ones that are there. If Cortland where the kind of place that was welcoming to students and recent grads, they might be tempted to stay, assuming of course there were jobs. It’s always the chicken and the egg thing there. But you might think about creating businesses that could draw on Cortland grads as young professionals.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that when you start to think about who your campus is, you also have to think about your city or immediate environs. Struggling relations with local communities go back at least as for as Oxford and the founding of Cambridge. I imagine that it would be very difficult to make the argument to local townsfolk that the future of their city might rely upon their welcoming college students. Obviously college grads are only one part of the equation. But any serious enterprise is going to require a bevy of entry-level, educated professionals.

The problem expands though. One of the issues with Cortland is that it is so heavily an education college. Unarguably, training the next generation of teachers is important work, but those graduates are not good candidates for participation in the creative economy. I believe the college puts some effort into creating some diversity on campus, but it’s hard to convince a non-white student population that Cortland is the right place for them. It’s not just about dragging the NYC students into the cow pastures either. There are sizable non-white populations in many upstate cities, like Syracuse. What Cortland requires is the positive energy that a diverse student population could bring–differing ideas, practices, cultures, ideologies. etc.  It’s not simply about providing access to education for underrepresented students.

It’s a multifaceted problem to say the least. Looking at this issue from my own area of concern, I wonder how social media might function to build and/or reinforce creative communities among students and perhaps serve to communicate with others in the Cortland community. Counter to the old argument about how the Internet breaks down local relations, we can now see that mobile social media primarily work to strengthen FTF bonds and perhaps maintain the weak bonds of looser associations which are still often local.

After years of really focusing on the potential of more distant networks and relations, I am now thinking more about these local networks. Not instead of distant networks, of course, but rather thinking how strengthening the local might resonate with building relations between more distant local nodes.

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