When Matthew Reed was dean of The County College of Morris, he started an anonymous blog -- "Confessions of a Community College Dean" -- where he blended wonkish observations on education policy with a playful take on his life in the North Jersey suburbs: "Foucault, plus lawn care," as he puts it.
"It started as a way to think out loud about some of the dilemmas I was facing," says Reed. "But as a community developed around it, it became a way to address larger issues in higher education."
By 2007, "Confessions" was picked up by Inside Higher Ed -- one of the most popular websites in the field. It soon developed a loyal nationwide following and, now, a book deal: "Confessions of a Community College Administrator" was released this month by Jossey-Bass.
Reed cut down on the snarky humor for the print version -- mostly. This "Confessions" is a scholarly diagnosis of a system in peril.
"It's taken me years to finally see an underlying structural problem with our higher education system," he says. "Economists define productivity as the amount of stuff you can produce in a given amount of time, and our economy has steadily increased productivity. But in education the time is fixed: We denominate learning in units of time -- semesters, credit hours, years. So we can never increase productivity like the rest of the economy. We wind up becoming more and more expensive by definition, which means higher tuition, more adjunct professors, etc."
Reed admits that finding alternatives to credit hours is no easy process, but he's willing to suggest some adjustments for the time being:
"We define the point of a course as the student being able to do X by the end of it, for example. Well, if the student is able to do X in six weeks instead of 16, shouldn't they go on to the next thing?" he says. "Right now we make them do the full 16, during which we're paying people."