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#3: Higher Education 101: How Universities Came to Be and How They Work – Dr. Liam Atchison

The better we understand higher education, the better we can navigate the university years well and flourish in both heart and mind. My guest today is a historian who understands the forces that caused and continue to shape higher education. He also has a wide range of experience working in higher education, giving him unusual insights into how universities work today, and how students can avoid the pitfalls as well as capitalize on the opportunities universities offer.

Liam J. Atchison, Ph.D. has a Th.M. in Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in History from Kansas State University. For many years he was a university and seminary professor and dean.  He was also the founding editor of the literary journal Mars Hill Review, co-editor of Civil Religion and American Christianity (Newport: Stone Tower Press, 2020), and is the author of two other books and numerous articles. His research has been in the history of ideas with a particular interest in politics, education, and how people understand and use written texts. He was also the founder and co-director of Emmanuel House, a seminary in Manhattan, Kansas. Liam now serves as the Senior Vice-President of Global Scholars. He is married and has two children and three grandchildren.

In this podcast we discuss: 

  • How universities first began
  • How universities changed in the 19th century into what they are today
  • How the goal of higher education shifted from developing character to developing skills
  • How these factors shaped U.S. higher education
  • Why state universities were established
  • The pros and cons of higher education’s shift in emphasis to “practical” fields
  • Why we shouldn’t be too impressed by a university’s ranking
  • The reasons professors are often not good teachers (especially at larger universities)
  • Why smaller schools should be considered for undergraduate degrees
  • The value of the ACT/SAT in today’s higher education, and why they are often not the best indicators of academic ability or success
  • When, why, and how universities shifted how they understand their role related to students and parents
  • Why higher education in the 20th century moved away from more traditional views and values
  • The idea of a university, and how best to prepare so as to receive the greatest benefits from a university education
  • The pros and cons of a “Great Books” curriculum at universities
  • The difference between a college and a university, and why universities contain some colleges
  • The hierarchy of a university, and where to go for help

Resources mentioned during our conversation:


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