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Old 08-29-2010, 11:28 AM   #1
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"Higher Education: How Colleges are Wasting our Money"

There's an interesting new book out about the current state of affairs in higher education -- and yes, it's available on Kindle. The title is, "Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting our Money and Failing Our Kids -- ANd What We Can Do About It." There's a review of the book here.

Basically, the authors argue that while the cost of higher education has increased dramatically (no doubt on that one), the value it offers to students has not kept pace. THey blame professors who care more about their research than about teaching students, overspending on sports, dorm facilities and sports and the tenure system. In order to attend out-of-state schools, many students are taking out loans beyond their ability to repay. The authors want to see less vocational education and more liberal arts education (probably because they are liberal arts professors).

All of these issues are open to debate, of course; while I strongly agree with some points, I'm not so sure I agree with others. I definitely think the tenure system is irrational -- how many careers in private industry can you name that offer those who pursue them that kind of job security? Given that PhDs who want tenure-track positions outnumber the tenure-track positions available (especially in life sciences), it doesn't seem especially fair to others who would like the same jobs. Moreover, there are unquestionably colleges and professors who see undergraduates as an unavoidable nuisance that help sustain their research. Perhaps colleges should have "research professors" and "teaching professors" (and no, by the latter I don't mean short-term-hire adjuncts).

Another big point I would make: GE classes are a waste of time. Students ought to learn the information they need to be "well-rounded citizens" in high school. It doesn't make sense to require students to take GE classes unrelated to their major in college -- and I'll bet that if you were to eliminate the GE requirements and leave students free to take only classes related to their major, many could shave a year off time to graduation.

One thing that does puzzle me, however, is the authors' attitude towards liberal arts and vocational training. They don't seem fond of "practical" majors or vocational training and would rather students receive a liberal arts education. To my mind, however, that's counterintuitive. In today's world a liberal arts education is only indirectly useful at best, whereas the skills that you learn from a more practical field of study like, say, bioengineering, will unquestionably be more likely to find you a job. If you want to read classics, you don't need to major in English to do it.

I think colleges should de-emphasize liberal arts (which I don't feel is especially useful) in order to spend more time/money on teaching practical skills. Obviously, however, all of these are debatable points. If one thing is for certain, there's definitely a lot about our system of higher education that needs fixing -- and it's not entirely clear how to reform it.
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Old 08-29-2010, 12:10 PM   #2
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Interesting points. I remember when my grandmother was in her 20's, she went to university for an English degree and she was an anomaly for her time. Then my mother went to, and you could go to university and be guaranteed a good job. Now? University degrees are what high school degrees used to be. They seem to be expected for even minimal jobs, but you are by no means promised steady, well-paying work just for having them.

As far as 'well-rounded citizen' goes, I have seen high school reading lists posted to this board which have stuff I did not read until university. But a few years after I graduated, a new 'harder' curriculum came out and maybe it has more stuff. I did find my first year university courses helpful---most of them were chronological survey-type things and it really was very useful to have a whole chronological overview like that. But then again. I had a few high school courses that were like that too. One called 'Modern Western Civilizations' was exactly like a university course, with a teacher who lectured, college-style, and we took notes. Other courses like English were pretty much 'the 10 things we don't want you to miss just in case you never take English again' and moved far too slowly.

I like what I have heard about the Quebec system. They finish high school a year early and then some of them go into a 1-2 year college prep stream called CEGEP. If you do go to university later, you can get credit for these. I'd love to see all the 'well-rounded person' stuff go into a 'prep' year like this where you take the survey courses and get a grounding in the basics. Then I would like to see the colleges be more practical-based. A 'liberal arts education' is a luxury---an expensive one---in this economy. I would like to see things return to the days when a university degree meant that you would have a better job. If you are paying that much for it, it should get you something other than just being a 'well-rounded person.'
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Old 08-29-2010, 12:52 PM   #3
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Interesting points. I remember when my grandmother was in her 20's, she went to university for an English degree and she was an anomaly for her time. Then my mother went to, and you could go to university and be guaranteed a good job. Now? University degrees are what high school degrees used to be. They seem to be expected for even minimal jobs, but you are by no means promised steady, well-paying work just for having them.

As far as 'well-rounded citizen' goes, I have seen high school reading lists posted to this board which have stuff I did not read until university. But a few years after I graduated, a new 'harder' curriculum came out and maybe it has more stuff. I did find my first year university courses helpful---most of them were chronological survey-type things and it really was very useful to have a whole chronological overview like that. But then again. I had a few high school courses that were like that too. One called 'Modern Western Civilizations' was exactly like a university course, with a teacher who lectured, college-style, and we took notes. Other courses like English were pretty much 'the 10 things we don't want you to miss just in case you never take English again' and moved far too slowly.

I like what I have heard about the Quebec system. They finish high school a year early and then some of them go into a 1-2 year college prep stream called CEGEP. If you do go to university later, you can get credit for these. I'd love to see all the 'well-rounded person' stuff go into a 'prep' year like this where you take the survey courses and get a grounding in the basics. Then I would like to see the colleges be more practical-based. A 'liberal arts education' is a luxury---an expensive one---in this economy. I would like to see things return to the days when a university degree meant that you would have a better job. If you are paying that much for it, it should get you something other than just being a 'well-rounded person.'
When I started college back in '67, a degree in anything guaranteed a better job in anything (the degree didn't have to be related to the job) but by the time I got out in '71, it flipflopped completely. Jobs were scarce and unless your degree matched the field you were job searching in, it was worthless. Or worse; often, employers wouldn't touch you if you had a college degree for fear you would move on when the job market loosened up. The only way I was able to get a job anywhere (a gas station) was to "forget" to mention I had a college degree when I applied. The owner of the franchise found out later I had a degree and told me he never would have hired me if he had known I had a degree. I told him, "I know, that's why I didn't tell you." He didn't let me go because I was already trained and he would have had to do that all over with a new employee.
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Old 08-29-2010, 03:43 PM   #4
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The job market now is just terrible. For everyone. That's why grads are flocking to organizations like Teach for America or going straight to grad school, even if they aren't entirely committed to their chosen path of study. College grads are just trying to keep the real world at bay until the economy gets better. I graduated in May, and nearly every one of my friends is either working in i-banking or for TFA/Google. If you refuse to accept the crazy i-banking hours or you weren't able to make it through TFA's and Google's rigorous hiring processes, then what's left to do? Grad school. There isn't really much else. Even regular office jobs are a challenge to get.

Of course, this is speaking from a liberal arts point of view. Students in "practical" concentrations certainly fare better, but only to a point. My brother is an electrical engineer, and he is the only one among his five engineer friends to have found a steady, well-paying job in engineering in the four years since they graduated.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that perhaps the problem has more to do with the state of the economy than the state of education. That's not to say higher education doesn't need reform; it absolutely does. I suppose there are just a lot of areas to place blame. (As a sidenote, my brother has told me on numerous occasions that his engineering degree is only essential to his job insomuch as it made him attractive to his current employer. He insists that I, a student of Islam and the West, would be able to perform his job with no problem, since they provide all the necessary training when you are hired. Obviously, this isn't universal, but it is an interesting point.)

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Old 08-29-2010, 04:52 PM   #5
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Well I earned my degree and then went to get a job as a teacher here in Israel. After a year of fighting with the Ministry of Education, I gave up because they kept claiming that the degree I had wasn't good enough, even though I'd taught back in the States for eight years. Yup. Now I work as a freelance content writer. Something I didn't need to waste thousands of dollars on my college degree for, but the piece of paper looks nice hanging on my wall anyway.
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Old 08-29-2010, 05:51 PM   #6
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Well, I can't comment on the US college system (what does GE stand for, by the way?), but I teach chemistry at university level, so I have some understanding of higher education in the sciences ...

What I see is that students who graduate with degrees in practical, professional, fields (science, engineering, IT, accounting, law) typically get jobs (at least in this part of the world), but the jobs may not pay that well, given the cost of the degree. Students with degrees in the arts and social sciences really struggle to get jobs - there is an old joke: "What does an arts graduate learn to say in their first job? 'Would you like fries with that!'" Now I agree, that's a bit mean (and generally comes from science majors) but sadly also has a bit of truth in it.

In my first weeks as an undergraduate, an employer came to speak to a group of us about what our degrees really meant. He said "I view someone with a bachelors degree as having 'a license to start learning'", which I think is the important point. A degree shows an employer that you can think, not that you know it all, which is something many graduates don't understand.
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Old 08-29-2010, 06:15 PM   #7
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I agree. It does indeed show you know how to think. I also hold rabbinic ordination and when I graduated from rabbinical school, we were joking that for the first time we really understood how to ask a question about Jewish law. Oh and I think GE stands for General Education (i.e. core curriculum subjects). I've never seen that acronym used either. . .

Of course the irony is that in my current line of work, even though I have around 10 years of higher education behind me (six years of rabbinical school and four years of college), I don't use either degree. However, I do admit that I learned quite a bit from both schools and that it helps me as a writer. Though I imagine I could have simply read books and gotten the same thing without the need for expensive college courses.

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Old 08-29-2010, 06:17 PM   #8
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He said "I view someone with a bachelors degree as having 'a license to start learning'", which I think is the important point. A degree shows an employer that you can think, not that you know it all, which is something many graduates don't understand.
Dumbest thing I ever heard. Someone I know told me that a friend of hers went to a University which basically spoon fed everything to them. They didn't really need to think to 2:2 minimum. Someone else I know is doing a Computer Science degree and has no idea how to fix a computer....

I didn't want to go to University at all. I wanted to work and continue to learn that way (I learn much easier this way). After a year of trying to do this, I just could not find a job. I kept applying for junior position, and they all said, they want a University degree. For this reason alone, I went to University. I got a 2:1 and I am still having trouble due to the economy, I did find a few contract jobs which have been good.

The current problem with Universities, is that everyone went. It stopped becoming uncommon to find someone who passed University to very common, which is why employers want people with Masters and/or experience as well.

The other problem is this: It's not what you know, but who you know. Someone else I know (They go to a top University) told me about a friend he knows who just did drugs and drank alcohol the entire year they were at University and then left and went to work with their dad. (His father owns a company)

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Old 08-29-2010, 06:31 PM   #9
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The other problem is this: It's not what you know, but who you know. Someone else I know (They go to a top University) told me about a friend he knows who just did drugs and drank alcohol the entire year they were at University and then left and went to work with their dad. (His father owns a company)
Oh, that is DEFINITELY true. More often than not, when a position is posted, the company already has a person in mind. I suppose it makes sense in a way; when you have 100+ resumes on your desk, someone with a personal or professional connection is going to have a clear advantage. The only exception I can think of is a government position -- they are legally obligated to hire the most qualified candidate. That's not to say it always happens that way, but it is pretty well regulated.
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Old 08-29-2010, 06:59 PM   #10
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Oh, that is DEFINITELY true. More often than not, when a position is posted, the company already has a person in mind. I suppose it makes sense in a way; when you have 100+ resumes on your desk, someone with a personal or professional connection is going to have a clear advantage. The only exception I can think of is a government position -- they are legally obligated to hire the most qualified candidate. That's not to say it always happens that way, but it is pretty well regulated.
More than a clear advantage. They more or less get the job. Because
A) The friend will tell them what sort of questions will be asked.
B) Will sale their skills.
C) This is the main one, sometimes the friend will say. That position is open I know a friend of mine who does that and is good, you should talk to him first, will save you time and money.

This is from experience, I had a friend, the only reason he got his job was because a relative of his worked there, so they hired him. They didn't even look for anyone else.
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Old 08-30-2010, 09:08 AM   #11
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In my first weeks as an undergraduate, an employer came to speak to a group of us about what our degrees really meant. He said "I view someone with a bachelors degree as having 'a license to start learning'", which I think is the important point. A degree shows an employer that you can think, not that you know it all, which is something many graduates don't understand.
Dumbest thing I ever heard.
Actually, it's not dumb. You should read up on Knowledge Workers. There is so much information in today's business world, that it's not about WHAT you know, it's about whether or not you can figure it out and know how to find answers. Of course, this is not an absolute for all fields of work.
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Someone I know told me that a friend of hers went to a University which basically spoon fed everything to them. They didn't really need to think to 2:2 minimum. Someone else I know is doing a Computer Science degree and has no idea how to fix a computer....
Yes, there are always exceptions. Especially when it's something you heard from a friend of a friend about a friend.

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The other problem is this: It's not what you know, but who you know.
Well yeah, that's always been true. That's why networking is so important, and why many Master's programs (at least in the States) concentrate on networking functions.

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Someone else I know (They go to a top University) told me about a friend he knows who just did drugs and drank alcohol the entire year they were at University and then left and went to work with their dad. (His father owns a company)
Don't we all know someone who did that? You sound very bitter.
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Old 08-30-2010, 09:14 AM   #12
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I think colleges should de-emphasize liberal arts (which I don't feel is especially useful) in order to spend more time/money on teaching practical skills.
Are you and engineer by any chance?
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Old 08-30-2010, 09:17 AM   #13
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A couple of days ago I read an article in a UK newspaper that said that in the UK 25 % of lap dancers have degrees.
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Old 08-30-2010, 09:36 AM   #14
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Of course the irony is that in my current line of work, even though I have around 10 years of higher education behind me (six years of rabbinical school and four years of college), I don't use either degree. However, I do admit that I learned quite a bit from both schools and that it helps me as a writer. Though I imagine I could have simply read books and gotten the same thing without the need for expensive college courses.

Eric
Doesn't Rabbinical school give you practical experience in debate that you wouldn't get from just reading a book? I'd think that developing legal reasoning in depth and then having to defend that reasoning on the fly would be an especially valuable learning experience. I know that in traditional Islamic education you have to go through a similar process once you grasp the fundamentals (i.e. Grammar, Vocabulary, Basic Religious Law, etc.). Students are regularly assigned propositions to attack and defend and taught the application of formal logical and rhetorical principles. My understanding that a traditional Yeshiva education operates using similar methods. At any rate, I think a liberal arts education is invaluable in learning how to think and in forcing one to tackle the Big Issues and Great Questions. I don't regret the years I spent studying philosophy (although I wish I had also tried to do a double major or at least a minor in Middle Eastern studies while I was at it). As it is, it is difficult enough to avoid being infected by the rampant materialism and consumerism that has got its grips in the American soul. A liberal arts education gives you a fighting chance to free yourself from that grip. I don't see how an educational experience which is from start to finish entirely focused on obtaining a marketable skill or set of skills without consideration (and often with no time available) for the meaning of what one is doing will allow one to develop in the type of person qualified to exercise the power that a free and democratic society confers upon the individual. This is not to say that there are not thoughtful engineers and doctors, but this is something they come to 'on the side.' Frankly, I think if there were more engineers who deeply studied and pondered over ethics, there would be a dearth of those individuals willing to devote themselves to the art of developing better ways to kill humans. If there was a concerted movement among scientists to study social theory, perhaps we would not be awash in technological and pharmaceutical products which serve very little purpose other than to enrich patent holders while actually contributing to the degradation of the quality of life and of the fabric of our society.

Luqman

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Old 08-30-2010, 10:04 AM   #15
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Doesn't Rabbinical school give you practical experience in debate that you wouldn't get from just reading a book? I'd think that developing legal reasoning in depth and then having to defend that reasoning on the fly would be an especially valuable learning experience. I know that in traditional Islamic education you have to go through a similar process once you grasp the fundamentals (i.e. Grammar, Vocabulary, Basic Religious Law, etc.). Students are regularly assigned propositions to attack and defend and taught the application of formal logical and rhetorical principles. My understanding that a traditional Yeshiva education operates using similar methods. At any rate, I think a liberal arts education is invaluable in learning how to think and in forcing one to tackle the Big Issues and Great Questions. I don't regret the years I spent studying philosophy (although I wish I had also tried to do a double major or at least a minor in Middle Eastern studies while I was at it). As it is, it is difficult enough to avoid being infected by the rampant materialism and consumerism that has got its grips in the American soul. A liberal arts education gives you a fighting chance to free yourself from that grip. I don't see how an educational experience which is from start to finish entirely focused on obtaining a marketable skill or set of skills without consideration (and often with no time available) for the meaning of what one is doing will allow one to develop in the type of person qualified to exercise the power that a free and democratic society confers upon the individual. This is not to say that there are not thoughtful engineers and doctors, but this is something they come to 'on the side.' Frankly, I think if there were more engineers who deeply studied and pondered over ethics, there would be a dearth of those individuals willing to devote themselves to the art of developing better ways to kill humans. If there was a concerted movement among scientists to study social theory, perhaps we would not be awash technological and pharmaceutical products which serve very little purpose other than to enrich patent holders while actually contributing to the degradation of the quality of life and of the fabric of our society.

Luqman
It's not that I regret it. I did enjoy being in school. I enjoyed learning and I still do. However what I learned has very little to do with what I now do for a living and the pieces of paper I have mean exactly nothing to the clients I work for who only care if my writing is good and if I can get the job done on time. The irony of it all is that when I was 8 years old I knew I wanted to be a writer. It took going through 10 years of school and 19 different jobs before I got back to what I wanted to do when I was 8 and almost none of those 10 years of school or 19 jobs was particularly relevant since I was already getting praised for my writing when I was in high school. Actually, I still remember when I was in my first year of college I turned in a paper in my film class which my professor marked with a C+ and the following comment: "you deserve an F. You didn't write a single thing about what I asked you to write about. However, what you did write was so well written, I just couldn't flunk you." Anyway, bottom line, my higher education might have been enjoyable and might have given me lots of general knowledge, but it wasn't necessary for what I do for a living right now.
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