Jennifer Lee begins Items’ set of reflections on A Portrait of LA County—a new report from the SSRC’s Measure of America program—by building on its data for educational outcomes by ethnicity. In particular, she complicates the myth surrounding the educational success of Asian Americans, and the frequent reference to culture as its principal cause, by disaggregating the category of “Asian.” By exploring class and geographic differences in outcomes, Lee uncovers key socioeconomic dimensions to variations within the “Asian” category as well as between it and other ethnicities in Los Angeles.
The United Nations has included higher education as relevant to its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this Items essay, Joan Dassin considers the role that scholarships for underrepresented citizens of developing countries can play in deepening the ways in which universities contribute to the public good. Drawing on the example of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), Dassin argues for both rigorous modes of evaluating the impact of scholarship programs and for an expansive notion of impact that extends beyond technical training and narrow economic goals and addresses inequalities within and across countries.
Based on a recent talk given to our Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa fellows at a July workshop in Nairobi, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o provides a wide-ranging and personal reflection on the importance of conducting basic research in East Africa under daunting circumstances. Anyang’ Nyong’o, both a leading African social scientist and a current member of the Kenyan Parliament, makes the case for scholarly independence at a time when demands for relevance can impede critical analysis.
Richard Shweder digs deeper into Kenneth Prewitt’s call for justifying scholarly autonomy based on the USBAR principle—Unintended Social Benefits Appreciated Retroactively. Shweder compares the USBAR rationale to principles that underlie a vision of the university as a “temple for critical reasoning” which is neither directly nor indirectly in the service of broader moral, political, or practical ends.
Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, calls attention to a central tension in contemporary higher education. On the one hand, universities around the world seek more and more international students and greater international collaboration for a range of academic and pragmatic reasons. On the other, Goodman notes the recent rise of a kind of “educational nationalism,” in the United States and around the world, that places limits on the flows of people and ideas, and on the forging of partnerships. He calls for a constructive form of nationalism that competes to “globalize curricula, professors, and the student body.”
Jennifer Hochschild’s contribution is the first of several essays in our “What Is Inequality?” series that reflect on how university-based programs and institutes promote research and training on inequality. Hochschild outlines how the program she leads at Harvard provides both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives for the study of social policies that shape or address inequality. She then discusses three understudied substantive dimensions of inequality that demand further attention from students of social policy: deeper knowledge of those at top of the socioeconomic ladder, the relationship between economic and political inequalities, and better understanding of the trade-offs involved when inequality increases within historically marginalized groups.
The SSRC’s Measuring College Learning (MCL) project has concluded its first phase in developing faculty-derived learning outcomes for a diverse set of undergraduate majors. In this essay, Richard Arum and Eleanor Blair discuss the intention and scope of the project, as well as detailing how they arrived at the result of their work, Improving Quality in American Higher Education. Faculty panels convened across six disciplines found, despite their diversity, that learning in majors should cohere principally around concepts and competencies, rather than content knowledge in and of itself.