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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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