Higher Education in America

Derek Bok, Author
Derek Bok. Princeton Univ., $35 (488p) ISBN 978-0-691-15914-0
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It's hard to imagine anyone better equipped to write this book than two-time Harvard president Bok (The Shape of the River), whose experience, professional knowledge, and scrupulous research pervade every page of this eminently readable study of American higher education. Keenly establishing the diversity of higher learning institutions in the early chapters, then addressing professional schools, Bok's comprehensive approach covers an array of rising concerns, including: "our stagnating [college] graduation rates"; attrition in graduate school; the increased importance of research in the sciences; and "the hazards of commercialization." His purview extends from the historic roots of the American college to the impact of technology and expansion to overseas locations. Practical suggestions abound, such as steps colleges can take to improve graduation rates. No aspect of academic professional life is neglected; Bok takes notice that writing letters of recommendation is "a burden on the faculty out of all proportion to any real value served" and of "the emergence of China as a rising powerhouse in science and engineering research." Broad as Bok's scope is, its coherent structure, lucid style, and  balanced tone ensure that this important scholarship is also a pleasure to read. It is a book of tremendous long-lasting value. (Sept.)
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