Jeff Sandefer Opens Up on Higher Ed Debate

Jeff Sandefer, the author of the "seven breakthrough solutions" that have rocked the Texas higher education community, has broken his silence on the matter.

Jeff Sandefer, the architect of the "seven breakthrough solutions" that have rocked the Texas higher education community, is breaking his silence on the matter.

"It seems I've stirred a hornet's nest," he writes in an email to "friends," which links to his new blog on higher education reform. 

Much of the ongoing controversy is fueled by the perception that Sandefer and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that promotes Sandefer's approach, have taken an antagonistic approach to academic research.

"I'm a big fan of productive research," Sandefer notes in his email. "Anyone who says I'm 'anti-research' just isn't telling the truth."

Here's the full letter: 

Dear Friends,

It seems I've stirred a hornet's nest by daring to raise tough questions about our Texas universities. As such, I thought it important to write to clear up a few misconceptions. 

First, as a longtime teacher, I agree with many students, parents and taxpayers that our current higher education model is in need of an overhaul. College tuition has doubled in the last ten years at three times the rate of inflation.  This is unsustainable and threatens the future of graduates who leave school with crippling college debt and too few marketable skills.

Thankfully, Texans have always known how to turn problems into opportunities.  That's why I'm optimistic our universities will embrace the newest advances in learning and technology to build a 21st century model for higher education, one where the primary goal is to prepare graduates for productive and meaningful lives. 

Scientific research is important, and as a proud graduate of UT-Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering, I'm a big fan of productive research.  Anyone who says I'm "anti-research" just isn't telling the truth. 

But in these tough economic times, appeals to research cannot be used to hide waste and inefficiency. Nor can we allow insiders to frighten donors and alumni as a way of avoiding tough questions about faculty productivity and costs.  

I'd rather focus on building a new model for education in the 21st century, one that celebrates our best teachers and researchers, and uses the latest advances in learning and technology to deliver a superior education at a far lower cost.

If our universities make clear promises to students about what they'll deliver, measure progress in an open and honest way and reward our top teachers and researchers, I believe the best teachers and researchers from all around the world will flock to Texas. 

Attracting world class talent to Texas and building a model that leapfrogs more established universities is the greatest gift we could give to our next generation, and the best way to keep Texas the most prosperous state in the union, for decades to come.  

For those of you wanting to dig more deeply into these issues, here are:

  • A letter from an award winning teacher and top scholar in the area of financial fraud from one of our Texas flagships, who makes some troubling observations about the state of higher education. Click here to download. 
  • A letter summarizing some of the recent controversy. Click here to download. 
  • A blog I've started about educational innovation.  
  • A list of books on education reform, from all sides of the ideological spectrum.  
  • Academically Adrift by Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa
  • Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, coauthors: Michael B Horn & Curtis W. Johnson 
  • Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker & Claudia Dreifus 
  • DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz 
  • Imposters In The Temple by Martin Anderson 
  • Crisis On Campus:  A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities by Mark C. Taylor

Please send me any questions, comments or suggestions you might have.  I'd welcome your help in finding ways we can make our Texas universities the best in the world.

Sincerely,

Jeff Sandefer

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