Monday, August 2, 2010

More Tidbits from the book, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids - And What We Can Do About It

A BIDER reader sent us an interesting statistic posted by author Sheril Kirshenbaum on twitter via the upcoming book "Higher Education?" which will be released tomorrow:
So where are the 85,000 PhDs without an assistant professorship? They are likely writing blogs about their lives on public assistance, working as adjuncts, serving you fries at your local fast food joint, or sending out resumes as overqualified candidates for entry-level positions meant for GED and college graduates. I'm glad that this book seems to at least briefly touch upon the victims of the graduate school scam along with the college tuition scam. Maybe someone will someday write a serious book about the law school scam. I'm not holding my breath.

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.


  1. Hardknocks! Where are my fish!?!?

  2. I placed them towards the bottom of the blog with the Daily Puppy. You can move them to the top if you want.

  3. Hmmm... Didn't see them before. :) This little story made me so sad for all of the people that are working so hard to be educated. I know you don't agree... but I wish that education over H.S. would be considered a luxury, because it is clearly obtained for the pursuit of happiness and not wealth.

  4. But on a serious note, ladies...

    Did you see the pics of Slinky the Dachshund? Cutest little dog in the whole wide world!! Even in tough economic times, it's nice to know that a puppy can always bring a smile to your face.

    P.S. Fed your fish

  5. I want him soooo bad! You have no idea. I will name him Ketchup.

  6. First, physics is not a liberal art, it's a science.

    But more importantly, while it's great that some people should get to spend four years dicking around with history and philosophy, other people don't have the luxury of spending $100k on their undergrad education just to graduate with no marketable skill.

    Vocational training is great for the people who go to college knowing what they want to do. Just because some of us don't have a clue doesn't mean we shouldn't offer classes for people who do. Besides, wouldn't it be better for someone to realize resort management isn't for them during their sophomore year of college rather than after they've entered the job market?

    College should be more than just a pre-grad school program.

  7. Spengler's Newly Unemployed Shop RatAugust 2, 2010 at 10:09 PM

    "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."

    Not true anymore. True thirty or forty years ago, perhaps - when the mirage of a better future was visible to most Americans. We crested the hill. The mirage disappeared.

  8. Thank you for getting rid of that godawful pink wallpaper.

  9. Newly Unemployed???? What happened?

  10. Spengler's Newly Unemployed Shop RatAugust 3, 2010 at 1:02 AM


    Not wholly unemployed, but my hours have been cut from a forty-hour work week to an eight-hour one (if I'm lucky). I've sort of been waiting for something like this, since the shop's latest big project is done (we restore old cars) and there's nothing else in the pipeline. No customers, and the ones we already have can't pay. The business is run on a stack of credit cards - and some of those have begun to decline further charges. I really don't know how the lights stay on.

    [Rant follows.]

    What I wasn't expecting was my boss to tell me that he's "had his eye on me" for the last month or so, and that he is dissatisfied with the quality of my work. I'm not sure how or what he's been observing, since he was on vacation last week - when most of the work was done on the last big project. Furthermore, he spends most of his three-hour workday in his air-conditioned office, playing Mahjong Tiles and feeding his FarmVille animals. None of the master mechanics who do actual work and supervise my idiot apprentice self nearly all the time have expressed any similar concern. Quite the opposite. Finally, most of what I do consists of cleaning various parts in various solvents, sandblasting, and entry-level bodywork. It's pretty hard to fuck up.

    My pet theory is that he wants to fire me or for me to quit so he won't have to worry about paying the unemployment claim. I'm also waiting for the day when I pick up the phone and hear "hey, we just got [expensive car from high-end customer] in, want to ride out and do some work?" I'll probably accept that offer, because I need the money, but not before deploying my argument, and my resentment. I did my job well, with a good work ethic and a pleasant demeanor - all thinking it would lead somewhere. What a crock of shit. After awhile I even began to identify myself by the nature of my employment. I won't make that mistake ever again.

    I'm a little angry tonight.

  11. I'm so sorry. :( Sounds like he's pushing you out as not to pay you unemployment. Just resist the urge to quit until you secure something else. That's how the temp agencies do it up in NYC too. They furlough you for so many days that you can't stand it, then fight you when you try to get unemployment. Bogus.

  12. bl1y said...
    First, physics is not a liberal art, it's a science.

    And someone with an undergraduate degree in physics is really no more practically employable than someone with an undergraduate degree in history. This is my main problem with the tiresome fetishization of "hard sciences" by the law scambloggers--it generally reflects their own persistent math and science anxiety, rather than any genuine insight into how the higher education industry is failing students. Because most people go to universities today not for education, but for training. And they end up with neither. But they do end up with plenty of debt.

  13. Hi "I Did Everything Right" blogger. Thanks for featuring "Higher Education?" Today is our pub date and we're excited about it.

    Yes, physics is a science--but we think it's horribly taught, torture for non-physicists. Both Andrew and I believe that all the sciences should be taught to undergraduates as if it were a liberal arts. And that's what we are doing our next book on.

    We'd love to hear from you and your readers on a website we've put together to discuss the issues we've raised in "Higher Education?" The Let us know how you like the book now that it is available.

    Best, Claudia Dreifus

  14. Spengler's Shop RatAugust 3, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Angel: thanks for the advice. I sort of figured my employer would treat me better than that, but we all must bow to economics.


    "And someone with an undergraduate degree in physics is really no more practically employable than someone with an undergraduate degree in history."

    This is absolutely true. I knew a number of people in college (I went to U of Michigan) who studied physics and math. All of them were quirky, interesting people who should be very successful. All of them are gearing up for grad school, as their degrees prepare them for little else.

    As an aside, the engineers I know are mostly in the same boat. Employers don't seem willing to hire engineers with anything less than a 3.0 GPA - and those grades are extremely difficult to maintain in such a tough program. The only people who seem to be having any luck at all are the business grads. It seems like every company needs a financial analyst these days.

  15. @Spengler's Shop Rat:
    My Michigan Engineering friends hated phsyics there. Even the astro kids seemed to hate taking physics. (I tested out, and didn't have to take it, so I only have hearsay to work from.) All of the astro and math majors went on for an additional degree and many are panicking about the lack of professorships. The engineers got hired (2005) but most said for the first two or three years, they assumed they'd be fired almost all the time, and they never felt like they knew what they were doing.

    I never really thought about it, but engineering professors spouted off the same "we're teaching you how to learn, not how to do the work" that law school professors and admissions officers are full of. We were always more employable immediately than math majors or physics majors, but right now, entry level work is surprisingly competitive, and even a 3.0 at Umich isn't enough to get an interview a lot of times.

  16. I will check this book out. Hopefully, the sales are solid - forcing the media to give this publication some added press.



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