Book says many U.S. universities are waste of money


Reuters | Fri Jul 30, 2010 | 1:34am IST

Spending as much as $250,000 on a bachelor’s degree from world-renowned U.S. universities such as Harvard University and Yale is a waste of money, a new book asserts. “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do about it,” urges parents and students to consider colleges that spend on teaching instead of sports and which encourage faculty to interact with students instead of doing research, taking sabbaticals and sitting on campus committees. “Undergraduates are being neglected,” author Andrew Hacker, who co-wrote the book with Claudia Dreifus, told Reuters in an interview. “Higher education has become the preserve of professors … (who) really have lost contact with the main purpose of higher education, which is the education of students.” Hacker and Dreifus are critical of many U.S. universities, noting the cost of a 4-year degree has doubled in real dollars compared to a generation ago. But education, they say, has not become twice as good as many colleges lost their focus.

Many Ivy League professors don’t teach undergraduates at all and at many colleges teaching is largely farmed out to low-cost adjunct teachers, Hacker said. And, he said, many undergraduate degrees are vocational — from resort management to fashion merchandising — and vast sums of money have been spent on deluxe dining and dorm facilities and state-of-the-art sports centers. As the number of administrative staff has risen, he said, $1 million annual salaries for college presidents have become common place. “Bachelor’s level vocational education is, I don’t want to say a fraud, but close to it,” Hacker said. “Undergraduate business classes … are just a charade; 19-year-olds play as if they are chief executives of General Electric. It is a waste of time and money.”

POULTRY AND CERAMICS

Among the examples of unnecessarily vocational degrees listed in the book — due to be published on August 3 — are ornamental horticulture, poultry science and ceramic engineering. “All undergraduate education should be a liberal arts education where you think about the enduring ideas and issues of the human condition,” Hacker said. “After that, go on to law school or study dentistry — you have plenty of time.” Hacker said the high price of tuition often has little to do with teaching. “Prices got to where they are because both universities and administrators spent like drunken sailors,” Hacker said, noting Ivy League graduates often have average careers. As well as drawing on their experience — both teach in New York, Hacker at Queens College and Dreifus at Columbia University — the pair, who are also domestic partners, traveled across America to find the best and worst colleges. They list 10 colleges they like, where teaching is the priority and where students get value for money. No Ivy League college makes their list. They recommend Arizona State University for its vibrancy and Kentucky’s Berea College for its free tuition and 10-1 student-faculty ratio. They praise Notre Dame for promoting concern for the common good and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for treating part-time teaching staff well.

The book recommends colleges focus on education and strip away sports programs, trim bloated administrative budgets and spin off research and medical facilities. The authors say tenure should be abolished, that there should be fewer sabbaticals and that more attention should be paid to getting students intellectually engaged. Hacker said the tragedy of U.S. universities is how many graduates now have six-figure loans, doled out with little regard to the students’ ability to repay them. “This is not only unique to the United States but it is new. Ten years ago students were not taking out loans this way,” Hacker said, predicting a high rate of default among student loans in the coming years. Hacker said that to keep costs down, many Americans should consider attending a college close to home to avoid paying as much as $30,000 annually for out-of-state living expenses.

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