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US college degrees: Still the best among world's top universities?

A US college degree has been the gold standard. But global economics and a crisis of confidence may be pushing the US down in rankings among top universities.

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Biosciences Prof. Alison Wallace works with prospective elementary school teachers at a Minnesota State University lab. She and other faculty members are participating in a pilot project of consultation with employers about what skills college degrees should include for employment. The consultation is part of US higher education's overall self-examination as it slips in rankings of top universities.

Chris Franz/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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Ross Forman is one of American higher education's best and brightest. He may also be a canary in its coal mine.

Three years ago, he was looking for a university teaching job. He had stellar credentials – an undergraduate degree in history and literature from Harvard and a Stanford doctorate in comparative literature; he'd published in academic journals, coedited an anthology, and organized conferences.

A temporary teaching job in the English department at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was coming to an end, and he was looking to take the next step in his professorial journey. He sent out applications "mainly in the US," he says, but it was two applications that he sent farther afield that yielded the results: "I got both jobs in Asia: one in Hong Kong and one in Singapore."

Professor Forman is among a growing number of top-notch American academics teaching at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and other institutions in Asia and the Middle East, part of a trend that is helping Asian universities rise in international university rankings and fueling a crisis of confidence in American higher education.

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