College Academics

Overview

College Academics

What is actually being taught in college classrooms? What should be taught?

The academic instruction of students – arguably the main activity of a college – is a crucial area of coverage for journalists since it touches on some of society’s most fundamental questions. Many of the controversies that generate headlines emerge from two enduring and intertwining debates: What is the purpose of college? And what cultures should be at the center of the curriculum: Western European traditions, or the experiences of historically marginalized people? 

What is actually being taught in college classrooms? What should be taught?

The academic instruction of students – arguably the main activity of a college – is a crucial area of coverage for journalists since it touches on some of society’s most fundamental questions. Many of the controversies that generate headlines emerge from two enduring and intertwining debates: What is the purpose of college? And what cultures should be at the center of the curriculum: Western European traditions, or the experiences of historically marginalized people? 

In addition, despite the stereotype of colleges as ivory towers separate from the quotidian world, politics has influenced what students learn for thousands of years – with world-changing impacts. Such controversies go all the way back at least to 399 BCE, when Socrates was tried and executed for “impiety” in the lessons he gave his students, who were generally the age of today’s undergraduates. In the U.S., politics has affected the teaching of subjects as seemingly trivial as the differences between butter and margarine, as well as important constitutional issues, such as the right to bear arms, and scientific discoveries, such as climate change

In the early 2020s, academics took center stage once again in many communities as disputes erupted over the way history and issues of race were being taught, and conservatives attacked the until-recently obscure academic framework of “critical race theory.” 

Explore this section for a quick history of college academics and some useful reporting resources.

Posted January 18, 2022

Highlight

History and Background: College Academics

Higher education began as a way to train privileged men to be religious, military, intellectual or civic leaders. But as access to higher education has broadened, and jobs become more specialized, colleges have had to provide a broader spectrum of academic offerings.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Examining HBCUs During Black History Month
From Jan. 1 to Feb. 22 this year, Nexis listed a total of 89 articles that included “HBCU” and “bomb threats.” Only 29 articles mentioned “HBCU” and “enrollment” during the same time period.

Nearly a century since Black History Week was created, and more than 50 years since February was first recognized as Black History Month, many states and school districts are trying to suppress or control what the public learns about the history of Black people in America.

photo of two Critical Race Theory students
EWA Radio

Inside a Critical Race Theory Class
What are University of Mississippi law school students really learning in the state's only dedicated class on CRT? (EWA Radio Episode 288)

Conservatives around the country are protesting what they claim is the teaching of a formerly obscure legal theory – Critical Race Theory – to America’s schoolchildren and undergraduates.  While of course CRT isn’t in the formal second or even eleventh grade curriculum, reporter Molly Minta of Mississippi Today and Open Campus asked herself: what are they afraid of?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Most-Read EWA Blogs of 2021
Journalist members wrote practical resources to help their fellow reporters all year long.

Supporting our talented journalist members is one of the best parts of my job here at the Education Writers Association.

Many of them have written insightful, well-researched and, yes, educational blog posts over the course of the year. And several took time from full-time reporting jobs to write these resources – all with the purpose of helping their fellow journalists do their jobs.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

From Pandemic Impact to School Board Battlegrounds: 21’s Top EWA Radio Episodes
2021’s Most Popular EWA Radio Episodes

For those traveling this holiday season, the right playlist is essential to helping those hum-drum miles slip away. And even if you’re staying home, there’s no better time to catch up on the top EWA Radio episodes of 2021. 

From teachers’ unions to school board battles to tracking what really happened to students amid the pandemic, this year’s podcast guests covered just about all the bases. Some of the nation’s top education reporters explain how they got the big stories, and also provide tips for other journalists looking to follow their leads. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

These New Education Books Make Perfect Gifts. (Trust Us.)
What we’re giving the education reporters (and education enthusiasts) on our list this year

Shopping for the education writer in your life this holiday season? Any reporter can tell you which is the best seat in the school board meeting room: It’s the one near the only working wall outlet. While this popular version of a portable battery pack will set you back about $50, it’s reliable, durable, and speedy. (No, EWA does not do paid product endorsements. I actually use this.) It also has the benefit of being cable free if your gift recipient uses a compatible smartphone.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Are Regional Educational Labs? Tips for Accessing Research and Story Ideas From an Overlooked Source
Find studies, subject matter experts, insight into educators’ concerns and more from a federal network of labs.

Reporters hunting for useful research can try a federal source that many overlook – Regional Educational Laboratories across the country.

The U.S. Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), allocates roughly $57 million a year to this network of 10 laboratories. Each lab’s researchers team up with educators and policymakers to try to figure out what works and what doesn’t in their districts. 

Sponsor Webinar: Data Tool Explores If Colleges Boost Alumni Paychecks
Webinar

Sponsor Webinar: Data Tool Explores If Colleges Boost Alumni Paychecks

What makes a college “good”?

Providing stellar educations and career opportunities to a select few? Or creating lots of opportunities for all kinds of people, and helping disadvantaged students get into careers that can sustain families?

Reporters who want answers can use a new free data tool that helps identify whether colleges are opening the doors of socioeconomic mobility and promoting equity in education.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How to Cover the Fight Against COVID-19 on Campus
Tips and story ideas for reporters covering mask and vaccine minefields on campus

Universities are a “microcosm” of society, so the same fraught debates happening in society over mask and vaccine mandates are happening on college campuses, too, according to Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick.

Frederick shared this insight during a virtual panel at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 Higher Education Seminar on Oct. 19. Moderated by Francie Diep with The Chronicle of Higher Education, three university officials discussed the legal, political and health care forces at work in the fight against COVID-19 on campus.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

5 Tips for Reporting on Student Loan Debt After the Pandemic Pause
Get advice and ideas to localize stories that go beyond covering federal student loans.

The planned early 2022 restart of federal student loan payments will renew the nation’s attention to the approximately 42 million Americans who owe an estimated $1.6 trillion in education debt.

Reporters can find fresh angles and new information to help borrowers by pursuing accountability stories, and by paying particular attention to debt repayment, forgiveness and collections of overdue balances, three veteran reporters said at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 Higher Education Seminar.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How to Put the HBCU Story in Context
Journalists share strategies for reporting on the chronic underfunding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

If the disparity in underfunding Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) could be told through two schools, consider Texas Southern University (TSU) and the University of Houston (UH). Both started around the same time with similar missions, serving populations with similar economic backgrounds. The colleges were even located across the street from each other.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Navigating Politicized Arguments Over Academic Freedom? Lessons for Reporters
Journalists offer tips on tackling challenges to academic freedom while weighing facts and misinformation

Topics like “viewpoint diversity” and “critical race theory” have become controversial touchstones in higher education, primarily stemming from a September 2020 Trump administration executive order banning “divisive concepts” in diversity training.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The Top Higher Education Stories Reporters Should Cover in 2022
The pandemic’s effects will continue to shape future coverage, policies and institutions.

From COVID-19 relief funding to massive endowments, money – which institutions have it, which don’t and how it is spent – will be key themes in higher education stories over the next year.

That’s the prediction Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott Jaschik gave during his session on “The Top 10 Higher Education Stories You’ll Be Covering This Year” at the Education Writers Association’s Higher Education Seminar in October.           

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Reporting on Biden’s Higher Education Policies in a Divisive Era
Tips for covering state and federal policies, enrollment declines, campus challenges and more

University leaders hope to take advantage of a potentially historic influx of federal funding, re-engage students who left during the pandemic and stave off longer-term enrollment drops. 

They face these challenges amid bitter fights over mask and vaccine mandates, and political polarization over affirmative action, freedom of speech and allegations of “cancel culture.” 

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Academic Freedom: The Basics

What is academic freedom?

Generally, it’s the concept that professors, in the pursuit of knowledge, should be free to take their inquiries wherever they deem necessary without fearing retaliation, and that the success and health of the academy rests on that freedom.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering Critical Race Theory: Resources and Tips to Debunk Misinformation
How reporters can arm themselves with knowledge to prevent the spread of intentional and unintentional incorrect information.

This story was updated on Sept. 23, 2021. 

After a more than 40-year-old graduate-level, academic research framework became the center of a national culture war that began last year, misinformation and disinformation infiltrated the public sphere, and internet searches increased.

In 2019, Nexis listed a total of 635 news articles mentioning “critical race theory.” Today, the phrase is cited in more than 5,000 pieces a month. And the vast majority of those stories focus on how history and race are taught in schools.

EWA Radio

Home Ec’s ‘Secret History’
New book explores how home economics influenced American life and public education beyond 'stitching and stirring' (EWA Radio Episode 276)

Often overlooked and misunderstood, home economics is about far more than learning to bake cakes or sew lopsided oven mitts, argues education journalist Danielle Dreilinger. She discusses her new book, “The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live.” 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

8 Questions to Ask About College Enrollment Numbers
COVID-19 sparked enrollment declines at universities, especially among low-income students.

As students and higher learning institutions prepare for the fall semester, lagging vaccination rates and the rise of the delta variant present unanticipated challenges.

For reporters looking to tell stories about how the ongoing public health crisis is affecting higher education access, enrollment numbers are a good place to start.