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Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education

Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education


Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher EducationSince the 2008 recession, higher education “experts” have surfaced by the thousands. Some hold political office, some are entrepreneurs, some are writers, and some self-qualify simply because they graduated from college and believe their personal perspective is all that matters. Sadly, most of these so-called experts form their opinions based on a narrow view of higher education without examining the broader, more diverse landscape of institutions educating a wide spectrum of students.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the recently-published book, Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education. Edited by Stanford faculty members Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens, the book’s genesis is the convening of several education scholars in 2013. Its introduction should be mandatory reading for all of the self-anointed “experts” as it succinctly reviews the evolution of higher education from 1945 – present. My favorite portion is worth quoting:

First, inherited academic and policy wisdom assumes a proper and relatively bounded stage of the life course for college: a period just after high school but before career initiation, childbearing, and cohabitation. It imagines a student who enrolls in college full time, ideally resides on a physical campus, remains unmarried and childless while in school, engages in minimal paid work, and completes a degree within four to six years. But in contemporary America, students fitting this description are a shrinking minority of the overall college-going population. Academic research and policy discourse organized on the presumption of such students misrepresents reality. [Italics are mine.]

The rest of the book is organized as follows:

  • Understanding the Changing Ecology provides background on the changes in higher education. Richard Scott’s chapter on Multiple Field Perspectives identifies six types or populations of colleges and provides another memorable quote – “The top-tier universities are hardly representative of the thousands of colleges and universities in America-some forty-two hundred-that have emerged during the past half century and now account for most of the providers and enrollments in higher education.”
  • College and the Life Course describes the landscape of early adulthood and its implications for broad-access institutions, and also describes the smaller population of “traditional” students and its implications for diversity and access.
  • Assessment and Governance in the Changing Ecology is fairly critical of the slow pace of institutional change and accreditation and addresses measuring college performance and emerging policy changes in K-12 and higher education.
  • Lastly, A New Research Agenda discusses human resources in broad-access institutions, outcomes at broad-access institutions, and a proposed research framework for higher education. The research framework is a matrix of topical domains and analytic levels, including fields, markets, governance, learning, and careers and corresponding analytic levels for organizations, leaders/faculty/staff, and students. Any of these boxes on the matrix may already be familiar to researchers. However, the authors classify the chapters of this book in their relevant box, thus leaving a stake in the ground for anyone searching for thoughtful writing about the changing ecology and the policy and practical implications of working with the majority of today’s college students .

While Remaking College may have been written to reframe the direction of higher education research, I think it’s also relevant for both policymakers and leaders of institutions. Neither group is likely to read this book in its entirety; however, the introduction is a must-read for all and much of the balance would be a good source for their key staff members.

America can ill-afford to have memories of the experiences of policymakers and their staff at primarily elite institutions drive the changes needed to make our higher education institutions more affordable, accountable, and accommodating to a diverse student population. The dynamics of a global economy, combined with technology’s tendency to reduce the distance limitations of knowledge workers, make it imperative that the basis for changes needed to increase college completion rates is grounded in reality.


Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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