Glenn Harlan Reynolds on Our Outmoded Educational Systems
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds (a.k.a. “Instapundit”) has a new book out entitled The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.
In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the book, which is filled with sharp insights about the roots of our K–12 and higher-ed systems and the causes of their inefficiency. (Hint: the fact that they were imported here from Germany by people who admired regimentation and thought Americans needed more of that has much to do with it.) Reynolds is optimistic that the information age, which is the antithesis of regimentation and cannot be controlled by special interest groups, will bring much-needed change and efficiency, and probably blur the old notion that K–12 and higher education need to be distinct endeavors.
Mitch Daniels Points Way to Higher-Ed Reform
Given the sorry state of much of higher ed today, it’s always nice to be able to write about some good news. This week, that news came from Purdue University’s president, Mitch Daniels. He recently penned an open letter to the Purdue University community discussing the first year of his presidency and outlining his vision for the future. That vision includes a tuition freeze, streamlining, performance measures, and innovation.
Over at ACTA, we couldn’t be more pleased with Daniels’ goals, and we say as much in our latest press release.
Mitch Daniels has been a bold and effective leader, and we hope he can continue pointing the way toward higher-ed reform.
They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?
I have another post on the UNC sports scandal at See Thru Edu. Mostly about how the school’s administration is attempting to discredit the whistleblower whose research suggested that the school has been admitting football and basketball players who read at an elementary school level.
Higher education faces a crisis stemming from outrageous tuition, disastrous student debt, the diploma’s declining value in the marketplace, and the loss of any conceivable core curriculum. So what does the U.S. president do? He has a “feel-good summit.” That’s what Inside Higher Ed called it.
The nominal topic was how to increase low-income students’ access to college and help them achieve academic success. In order to be allowed to attend the summit, college presidents had to pledge new commitments to these goals. For example, to get her invitation, Carol Folt, chancellor of UNC–Chapel Hill, promised an additional $8 million ($4 million to increase the
Chancellor’s Science Scholars” and $4 million in more student advising). Once that was done, everyone was friendly — even though the president has earned the ire of college presidents for threatening to rate schools on a list of his preferred measurements. As the Chronicle of Higher Education said, “The summit was structured around a series of panels and small-group discussions in which attendees touted their own efforts to expand access and praised one another’s.”
I don’t know what bothers me the most about this summit but here are a few things: First, the federal government shouldn’t be in this business, anyway. Nor should the president be pushing the agenda of increasing attendance in college, when there are too many students now who shouldn’t be there. He shouldn’t use threats to get his way — as with his college-rating system –and he shouldn’t use “nudges” (such as this pay-to-play invitation). And the college presidents look ridiculous as they pander to the president, to the public, and to one another.
Is There Any Justification for Women’s-Studies Courses?
In today’s Pope Center piece, Jane Shaw examines one women’s-studies course (at North Carolina State) and finds it to be pretty woeful. Lots of opinion mongering, little serious intellectual analysis.
In the smorgasbord of university courses, it seems that women’s studies are like Jell-O with a dollop of whipped cream — no academic nutrition.
UNC-Chapel Hill’s B.S. Degree in Eligibility
The latest revelation in the UNC–Chapel Hill sports scandal sort of ties lots of elements all together in a big, filthy bow. Despite the school’s insistence that the scandal was completely academic, with a rogue professor and department head and his assistant providing no-show (and no-work) classes that anyone, not just athletes, could take, two pieces of evidence have appeared recently putting that lie to rest. The first was an academic counselor’s study published last week that showed UNC was admitting football and basketball players who were several years of intensive remedial education away from being able to pass a rigorous college course.
The second is an admission by a former football player that counselors in UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes deliberately steered himself and other players into the corrupt no-show courses and other classes that offered easy grades in order to keep their averages high enough for eligibility.
Michael McAdoo, who now plays professional football in Canada after being cut from an NFL team, said he didn’t mind at the time that he was getting good grades for almost no effort at a highly competitive university. But now, he says of UNC’s recruiters, “they said academics is the first thing they were going to push — ‘You are going to do academics and then play sports.’ But come to find out it just felt like it was all a scam.”
So now it has been established that there were corrupt classes that gave good grades for almost no work, that the school was admitting players who were reading at elementary and junior-high levels, and that academic advisors directed the academically unprepared players to those bogus classes, all to keep them eligible and to make the school’s Academic Progress Report look good. The UNC–Chapel Hill administration, UNC system, and NCAA continue to run for cover instead of facing up to this problem, which is probably the modus operandi for many Division I schools.
I Suppose They Think They’re Helping Poorer Kids, But...
As we read in this Inside Higher Ed piece, the White House is pulling out all the stops to get more students from lower-income families into college.
This has that warm and fuzzy feeling, but what if many of those students who will be lured into college with these pledges would have been better off not going to college and instead learning a trade? America is graduating large numbers of students (plus many students who drop out) who find themselves unable to obtain employment that calls for anything beyond basic trainability. Whether a student comes from a wealthy background or a poor one doesn’t matter in the labor market. Even if college were entirely free to the poor students, it is still four years of time that might have been spent more productively in learning and working in the areas of the market where demand for labor is strong. It’s possible that a few of these students will benefit — those who study something that truly enhances their human capital — but for many others college will be a dead end.
Prager U: Why Rent Control Hurts Renters
Prager University kicks off the new year with a redesigned site (well done!) and a new course on rent control. In the course, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute shows why price ceilings on apartments hurt those it intends to help, but also why rent control is here to stay.
Brandeis Board Reconsiders Presidential Pay Practices
Last month, I wrote here about the ways exorbitant executive compensation ends up hurting students. At the time, Brandeis University was being highlighted in the news as one school that had offered its ex-president a particularly excessive retirement package.
Well, it seems the Brandeis board of trustees is finally stepping up to the plate and pledging to consider changes to executive compensation practices. The Brandeis student paper has the story, and ACTA weighs in over at our blog as well.
Why People Are Losing Trust in Higher Education
Higher education has been badly tarnished with many scandals — some involving athletics, some involving top people who took advantage of their positions for personal gain, some involving the eagerness to take student money in exchange for little but a college experience.
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, former Harvard dean Harry Lewis addresses that problem. His springboard is the recent book by former Harvard president (twice) Derek Bok. Lewis recommends the book, but even more recommends that college and university leaders stay focused on educational quality, as Bok has.
More College Presidents Join the Millionaire’s Club
These days, it really pays to lead a “nonprofit” university:
An unprecedented 42 private-university presidents made more than $1 million in 2011.
Topping the list is Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, who raked in a whopping $3.36 million that year.
Even in the middle of a recession, with colleges slashing workers and cutting budgets all over the country, pay for college presidents continues to rise. For instance, in 2009 and 2010, former Yale president Richard Levin laid off hundreds of low-paid workers, including dining-hall and maintenance staff, while pulling in annual compensation of $1.6 million.
These seven-figure salaries look obscene — approved, as they very often are, by people the president himself has appointed to the university’s board of trustees.
Because nonprofit universities receive enormous financial benefits as tax-free, “nonprofit” institutions, not to mention untold federal grants and loan subsidies, the sound of jingling gold in a college president’s pocket hurts my ears.
Here’s my advice to university trustees out there: You want to pay your president like a corporate CEO? Then play by the rules of the corporate world — pay your taxes.
Otherwise, pay your leader a more moderate sum.
Higher Ed is Too Big and Too Important to Fail!
So argues UCLA chancellor Gene Block in this Huffington Post piece.
This is a pitiful effort at convincing people that we face imminent danger unless we reverse the trend of declining government spending on higher ed and get more young people through college to their degrees. It reminds me of the arguments we’ve heard about the auto industry — that some disaster will befall the country unless we “save” it with government help. What Block overlooks is that, just like the auto industry, the parts of our higher-ed system that are good are not in trouble. Students who want to learn useful things can easily do so. Moreover, there is still plenty of room for cost cutting in the many parts of higher ed that produce little if any value. As for his argument that we need to keep up with other countries in output of college grads, or else we’ll suffer, that assumes two false ideas. First, it assumes that there is a direct link between educational attainment and national prosperity. There is no such link. Lots of people who have advanced degrees produce little, while many others who have no degrees produce much. Second, it assumes that college grads are pretty much the same here as in other countries. I doubt that. In Korea, for example, education is taken much more seriously than it is here. You don’t find hordes of semi-literate college (or high-school) grads there. It might make sense for the Koreans to try to put more people through college (although I don’t know), but it certainly does not make sense for us to do so. We already have large numbers of badly educated college grads scrounging for a living in low-skill jobs.
Is ‘Undermatching’ a Problem?
When a student enrolls at a college that is regarded as less prestigious (and thus educationally inferior) than another, more prestigious institution he or she could have chosen, that is “undermatching.” Is it a problem? Some say so, but I fail to see much of a case that it is, and explain why in my latest SeeThru.Edu post.
I agree that there is a problem when students are overmatched — that is to say, lured to enroll in a school where the academic work is too hard, which happens a lot with affirmative action. There could, similarly be undermatching in the sense that the academic requirements are insufficiently challenging for bright and motivated students. In fact, that probably happens rather often, since the environment at many institutions is less than optimal for such students. But that isn’t what the undermatch people are worried about. One reason why we have such a serious matching problem in higher education is that going to college is today a bundle purchase.
How Many More Masters of Fine Arts in Film Do We Need?
In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron takes a look at a current dispute in North Carolina, where there are two proposals for new Master of Fine Arts in film programs — at campuses just 30 miles away from each other. Is this the optimal use for limited resources, or even a sensible one?
Post-Literate College Students
In this piece, Tom Bertonneau writes about his post-literate students, many of whom struggle with and abhor reading.
Tom mentions Neil Postman’s claim that literacy peaked in the U.S. around 1950 and has been declining since. That sounds about right to me.
Going to an Elite University Doesn’t Mean Getting an Elite Education
So argues UCLA graduate Eric Ha in today’s Pope Center piece. He found that his high-standards high school was superior to his UCLA experience.
The assumption behind racial preferences in college admissions is that it’s a big favor to “underrepresented” students to let into “prestige” schools where they’ll get a better education. But that ain’t necessarily so.
The Elementary School of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill athletic scandals are the gifts that keep on giving for anybody interested in cleaning up corruption in college sports. Mary Willingham, an academic advisor who has worked with many athletes over the years, recently produced a study showing that many of the school’s athletes in the revenue-producing sports of football and men’s basketball read at an elementary school level.
There has been a steady stream of evidence that this was the case. In one incident, a former UNC football player got caught plagiarizing—from a web site for 11-year-olds. Now, Willingham has pretty much made it certain with her empirical report.
CNN has followed suit with a more general study of 21 schools that corroborates her findings. The studies completely sweep away the grand façade built to maintain the lie that all of the players on the collegiate playing fields or courts are actual students. Many of them cannot possibly benefit from instruction above the elementary or junior high school levels without years of intensive remediation. Their proper status is as professional athletes.
Roy Williams, UNC-Chapel Hill’s championship-winning basketball coach, has mounted a passionate defense of his players’ academic prowess. Nobody is falling for it, however. The studies present very powerful arguments against him in the form of facts.
How the College Bubble Will Pop
That’s the title of an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal by Rich Vedder and Christopher Denhart. The central argument of the piece is that we have oversold college to the point where very large percentages of those who go to college can find only rather low-skill jobs. As people realize that college has guaranteed high costs but no guarantee at all of that supposed “college-earnings premium,” they will increasingly turn to other options.
It’s impossible to say everything that supports your case in a short article. One important point they omit is that the phenomenon of college grads having to take low-skill “high school” jobs is not just a recent development. It has been building for at least 20 years. One of the first books I read on higher-ed policy when I got involved in it was Who’s Not Working and Why, a 1999 book by Frederic Pryor and David Schaffer. They discussed that problem, which they had observed in data going back to the 70s. They blamed it on the declining standards spreading across the higher-ed landscape: “The low functional literacy of many university graduates represents a serious indictment against the standards of the U.S. higher educational system.”
Bubbles pop once a significant number of people realize that the purported value of something they’re thinking of buying is really less than previous buyers had thought and not warranted by the current price. That is definitely happening in higher ed.
On the Ignorance of College Students
In this Forbes piece, professors Burt Folsom of Hillsdale College and Blaine McCormick of Baylor University discuss the depressing ignorance of many college students. They leave high school knowing little, and much of what they think they know is wrong.
The reason for this lamentable state of affairs has a lot to do with the books used in high school to teach about economics, business, and history. They have mostly been written by “progressives” with a view toward imbuing students with what Ludwig von Mises called the anti-capitalist mentality. The statist notions that students absorb in high school and college make them easy marks for crusading leftist politicians.
Think Twice Before Entering Law School
The Pope Center’s Jesse Saffron, a graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, writes here about his journey into legal education, his experiences, and offers some cautionary words for those who are thinking about going to law school.
Ten years ago, most Americans thought that earning a J.D. (from any law school) was a good use of time and money, even if the student did not wind up with a job in the legal profession. That perception has changed a lot and many schools are downsizing. In truth, there is no reason to require prospective lawyers to endure three years of law school before they can be allowed to attempt the bar exam. The standard model of legal education, approved by the American Bar Association as a barrier to entry into their guild, wastes a lot of resources and ought to be jettisoned in favor of a free market in legal training.