Several days ago, I briefly mentioned the book Higher Education? in a post about the college scam. With more information being revealed each day, I honestly cannot wait to get my hands on this book. I looked up the statistic and came across an interview with one of the Higher Education? authors, Claudia Dreifus, at More Magazine. This is a fascinating interview worth reading in its entirety, but I couldn't resist pasting some of the highlights below.
Why do you think a Harvard education may not be worth it?
First, it’s overpriced. Harvard has just raised its fee to over $50,000 a year, and that will trigger a cycle of increases throughout the system because Harvard sets the trend. Harvard says it’s raising the number of scholarships, and that’s well and good, but the overall effect of the tuition hikes on the rest of the system is thoroughly immoral—most schools are not nearly as well endowed and can’t award as much financial aid. I believe that the elite universities we call the Golden Dozen—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Stanford, Duke, Amherst, Williams—are, for the most part, overpriced prestige items.
But they have great faculty.
Over 70 percent of college teachers—even at top schools like Yale, Harvard and Stanford—are graduate students or adjuncts or gypsy visiting professors. That’s up from 43 percent in 1975. There are 181,000 teaching assistants at work in 280 research universities around the country. And it’s not just the elite colleges. Florida Keys Community College, for instance, has 24 full-time faculty and about 90 adjuncts per term. Using a contingent workforce costs the schools much less money. At Yale, for example, teaching assistants earn roughly $20,000 a year.
So the students are not taught by the stars?
Rarely. And this bothers me, because you’re cheating the young people.
Where are the adjuncts coming from?
Universities are overproducing PhDs way beyond levels anyone can use in this country. From 2005 to 2007, they awarded 101,000 doctoral degrees—but there were only 16,000 new assistant professorships created.
You criticize what you call “vocational training” at many colleges: Resort management. Equine science and management. Apparel and accessories marketing. Why does this bother you? Doesn’t it help kids get jobs?
I think 18-year-olds are too young to know what they’re going to do with their lives. We’re a rich enough society that we can give people four years to find themselves—to expose them for one brief moment to ideas and thinking, to take a hiatus from the world of commerce. We can afford an educated populace.
Even in these tough economic times?
Yes. It’s not a luxury to be educated.
What should colleges be concentrating on?
They should be exposing young people to the great ideas of the past and present, and they should be giving them a chance to stretch their minds. A return to the liberal arts: history, philosophy, English, physics. Science as a whole needs to be valued more on the undergraduate level. Too often science classes are taught by people who speak English too poorly to communicate clearly—all to save money.
What’s the solution?
De-emphasize professors’ need to publish and promote those who are good teachers. Abolish tenure. Pay adjuncts something like parity per course. Force professors, no matter what their ranking, to teach undergrads. Cap presidential salaries. And end sabbaticals: They’re a total waste of money—a raid on parents’ and students’ resources. If a professor wants to advance her career by writing a book, she should do it on her own time.
What can parents do?
The first value should be not starting your youngster off with five-figure debt. Consider alternatives to the most expensive schools. It’s not so important to be able to say, “My child is at Princeton.” What’s more important is to say, “My child has a good future,” which partly means a future without crippling debt.
Can any college deliver “a good future”?
A large number of CEOs of major corporations didn’t come from the Ivies but from second-tier schools. There are good things to be found anywhere; the system is big enough so there is something for anyone. The trick is to find the right match.