Beyond Free College: A Book Review

Dr. Mary Bruck
Former Registry Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management
State University of New York at Oneonta (Oneonta, New York)



Beyond Free College: Making Higher Education Work for 21st Century Students, 2021, by Dr. Eileen Strempel and Dr. Stephen Handel


Beyond Free College is a detailed look at the aspects of higher education that impact enrollment and admission for the 21st century.

This work is rich with history and research to provide food for thought and rationale to select processes that can work for students and for institutions of higher education. The role of K-12 is also highlighted as to the pros and cons of preparing students for higher education as well as the impact of free education and the commitment of the student to a degree. Accepted practices in higher education admissions and transfers are delineated and extensively explored. An analysis into transfer students, admission policies, competency-based education, and online learning in the twenty-first century, among other subjects are discussed in this book.

Operationalizing the book’s concepts leads the reader to re-think and re-define processes. For example, as referenced in this book, have we created a situation where no admissions requirements will allow students to think that they do not have to work hard in high school to earn a degree? Is hard work equal to degree achievement or will these students feel over placed in the college classroom?    

Prior Learning Credit (PLC) is an additional concept under review in this text. This chapter is particularly interesting as the basis for PLC is discussed in detail. The role that The American Council on Education (ACE) and The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) play in adult learning experiences are vital to understanding the foundations for credit from the workplace.  Institutions now have an understanding of how awarding this prior learning credit can benefit the student as well as the institution.

Establishing a standard of evaluation for such credit has been demonstrated by the state of Tennessee. PLC standards such as those developed in Tennessee will likely inform how private colleges and universities establish standards for admissions/acceptance as well.

One should not ignore the chapter “Online Learning in the Twenty First Century”. Institutions of higher education must be willing to understand the importance of online learning and its growth in the future. After reading this book, this reviewer is left to ponder the survival rate of the traditional brick and mortar institute in a post-pandemic world. Re-thinking, re-framing, and understanding how online learning is evolving is of utmost importance for university leaders at all levels. As online learning becomes more sophisticated, the incorporation of artificial intelligence will continue to evolve creating greater opportunities as well as challenges.

Beyond Free College is a must read for leaders within higher education.



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