Required reading: Ten books to read about higher education

Prof. Michael Harris recommends 10 books for better understanding the world of higher education.

Michael S Harris

DALLAS (SMU) – As a Southern Methodist University professor who studies and teaches about higher education, Michael Harris is preparing for the new year like a faculty member prepares for a new class – by creating a syllabus of required reading about higher education. With topics ranging from teaching, to learning, to college athletics, to job creation, Harris' list offers insightful recommendations for those interested in higher education:

  1. Life on the Tenure Track:  Lessons from the First Year
    by James Lang

    "I often use this book when teaching faculty and academic governance.  I’ve found no better book at pulling the curtain back on the life of a faculty member. An engaging and quick read, Lang’s book narrates his first year on the tenure track and shows the highs and lows of faculty life."

  2. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with your BrainThe New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with your Brain
    by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek

    "In an accessible way, this book addresses the growing body of research on how people learn.  Both students and faculty will find useful and concrete suggestions for how to improve teaching and learning."

  3. Big-Time Sports in American Universities
    by Charles T. Clotfelter

    "Big-time sports are a significant yet often problematic aspect of higher education. Clotfelter’s book on the subject is among the most well-researched and definitive treatments of intercollegiate athletics."

  4. Degrees of Inequality:  How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream
    by Suzanne Mettler

    "Unlike most books that call for higher education reform, Mettler rightly argues to return to the days when higher education was supported and successful. Her books explains what went wrong and calls for using higher education to reduce socioeconomic inequality."

  5. Deep Work:  Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
    by Cal Newport

    "I am increasingly convinced that the successful productivity is focusing on deep work, the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. In this book, Newport argues for focusing on deep work and eschewing shallow work, such as answering e-mails and other less significant activities."

  6. The Coming Jobs War
    by Jim Clifton

    "Clifton, chairman of Gallup Polling, argues that encouraging job creation and entrepreneurship is the world’s most pressing challenge.  He suggests that big cities, great universities and powerful local leaders will create the next big breakthrough.  I find his argument quite compelling and it is driving some of my own research on cities and higher education this year."

  7. College (Un)Bound:  The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students
    by Jeffrey Selingo

    "Different than many books in the reform genre, Selingo takes a critical stance on higher education, but backs up his argument well.  He argues that MOOCs, hybrid classes, and unbundling of higher education will increase access to higher education.  While I disagreed significantly with much of his argument, I appreciated the care and thought behind the work."

  8. Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education:  A Guide for Trustees, Leaders, and Aspiring Leaders of Two- and Four-Year Institutions
    by Robert Hendrickson, Jason Lane, James Harris, Richard Dorman, and Stan Ikenberry

    "This is another book I use often when teaching higher education governance. As the title suggests, this book is a useful guide for understanding how higher education works for everyone from new department chairs to trustees."

  9. How to Write A Lot
    by Paul Silvia

    "I spend a great deal of time thinking about how to improve writing and writing skills.  Silvia’s book is a great accessible read that emphasizes specific steps to improve one’s writing."

  10. Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success
    by Claire Major, Michael Harris, and Todd Zakrajsek

    "Self-promotion alert… if you haven’t read Teaching for Learning yet and you teach college students, I recommend you get a copy. It is an easy-to-use guide with specific activities that you can immediately use in your classroom."

About Michael Harris

Michael S HarrisMichael S. Harris is an associate professor of higher education at SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and director of the University's Center for Teaching Excellence. His work has been published in the Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, Innovative Higher Education, Planning for Higher Education, Community College Journal of Research and Practice and Trusteeship. Harris has a B.A. in American history from the University of North Carolina and an M.Ed. and Ed.D. in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania.