The sticker price at Princeton or Stanford, including room and board, is upward of fifty thousand dollars a year. Public colleges are much less expensive–the average tuition is $7,605–and there are also many less selective private colleges where you can get a good education, and a lot more faculty face time, without having to spend every minute of high school sucking up to your teachers and reformatting your résumé.
photo credit: JL Johnson | User47
Higher education is widely regarded as the route to a better life. It is sometimes pointed out that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were college dropouts. It is unnecessary to point out that most of us are not Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s possible, though, that the higher education system only looks as if it’s working. The process may be sorting, students may be getting access, and employers may be rewarding, but are people actually learning anything? Two recent books suggest that they are not. They suggest it pretty emphatically.
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[Richard Arum (N.Y.U.) and Josipa Roksa (University of Virginia) in “Academically Adrift“] argue that many students today perceive college as fundamentally a social experience. Students spend less time studying than they used to, for example. In 1961, students reported studying for an average of twenty-five hours a week; the average is now twelve to thirteen hours. More than a third of the students in Arum and Roksa’s study reported that they spent less than five hours a week studying. In a University of California survey, students reported spending thirteen hours a week on schoolwork and forty-three hours socializing and pursuing various forms of entertainment.
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Sixty per cent of American college students are not liberal-arts majors, though. The No. 1 major in America is, in fact, business. Twenty-two per cent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in that field. Ten per cent are awarded in education, seven per cent in the health professions. More than twice as many degrees are given out every year in parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies as in philosophy and religion. Since 1970, the more higher education has expanded, the more the liberal-arts sector has shrunk in proportion to the whole.
Neither Theory 1 nor Theory 2 really explains how the educational system works for these non-liberal-arts students. For them, college is basically a supplier of vocational preparation and a credentialling service. The theory that fits their situation—Theory 3—is that advanced economies demand specialized knowledge and skills, and, since high school is aimed at the general learner, college is where people can be taught what they need in order to enter a vocation. A college degree in a non-liberal field signifies competence in a specific line of work.
Theory 3 explains the growth of the non-liberal education sector. As work becomes more high-tech, employers demand more people with specialized training. It also explains the explosion in professional master’s programs. There are now well over a hundred master’s degrees available, in fields from Avian Medicine to Web Design and Homeland Security. Close to fourteen times as many master’s degrees are given out every year as doctorates.
“Why we have college,” by Louis Menand, The New Yorker, June 6, 2011
Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. We also need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT) and to prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.