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Booktalking "Higher Education?" by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus


All of the talk these days is about the rising cost of tertiary education. Is it really necessary for so many people to go to college? There is such an expectation for people to go to college that many go, but then they obtain jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree. Ever wonder why exactly college costs are so astronomically high? Try the amazing amount of money that colleges spend on sports teams, rock-climbing walls, etc. that do not earn the college much money. Many universities seem more like resorts than places of esteemed learning. Professors earn six-figure salaries and may have light teaching loads and sabbaticals.

Luckily, the authors have proposed some sensible solutions to our growing societal problems of rising student debt, etc. Put the focus on education, not on research or sports. Student loans cripple graduates and hamper their lifestyles. Colleges should insist on good teaching, and the authors propose abolishing tenure in order to pursue that goal. One professor was heard to have told his students that since he has tenure, they will not have a good semester. They also want to end the mistreatment of adjunct instructors (low pay and not even office space to meet with students). Presidents should not have ridiculously high salaries (eg, $1 million). Techno-teaching, including computerized lectures and online degrees may be the wave of the future.

Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—And What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, 2010

While I agree that there should not be relentless pressure to publish articles and books simply to meet quotas, research does advance our knowledge and consequently our society, so I do not believe that research activities should be given short shrift in the colleges, where it is traditionally performed. I went to the Columbia University Libraries Annual Symposium and one of the professors said that there was such pressure to publish, publish, publish in order to get tenure and that the tenure board did not seem to even be interested in what the professors were publishing articles on, and that the board did not even read the articles.

There are so many staff members at universities whose job does not include instruction: all of the facilities staff, dining staff, sports staff, etc. That is partially what tuition dollars are going to pay for. Colleges were much cheaper to attend in the 1960s, and some colleges who employ fewer non-instructional staff serve their students' educational needs adequately. One adjunct who did not have an office inquired about this subject to an administrator; she was given the option of meeting with her students in the lounge area outside of the ladies' restroom. Adjuncts often have master's degrees and are well-qualified to teach; however, they are paid peanuts compared to what full professors with light teaching loads and sabbaticals (1 year off after every six years worked) earn. 

College of the City of New York., Digital ID 836449, New York Public LibraryIvy league schools' undergraduate teaching may consist of impersonal lectures and tutorials taught by graduate assistants, and in some cases by junior and senior students who are still undergraduates themselves. They are paid a little bit of money for their efforts. Smaller colleges provide more personal attention and a better education at a much lower price. In addition, living on campus sharing one room costs so much more than living in an apartment and paying for food. 

Women are more likely to graduate college than men, and white students are more likely to graduate than African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.

Though many of the colleges and universities available are unreasonably pricey, there are more than a few gems of undergraduate education out there. I had a scholarship, but I loved the personal atmosphere and skilled professors that I encountered at Le Moyne College. Borea College requires students to contribute ten hours of work per week in exchange for their education. Cooper Union is a free university for those lucky enough to gain admission. Evergreen State College does not distribute grades to students, which works for those students independent enough to set and follow their own intellectual goals.


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Thank you.

Thank you, Ms. McDermott for your sensitive review of our book. We are gratified to see how many subsequent books have come out with similar observations, though the trends we noted in 2010 have continued and (unfortunately) have escalated. Andrew Hacker has a book coming in the Spring of 2016 "The Math Myth" which will take some of our analysis forward. The publisher is the New Press.

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