Monday, August 2, 2010

The Higher Education Bubble

Increasingly, people from both sides of the political spectrum are questioning the value of higher education. They have not been saying that people should forgo it altogether, but that it would be a good idea to do a cost/benefit analysis before committing to a school or a program.

Today I was reading a review of a new book on the topic. Co-authored by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, it is entitled: Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It

The review is linked here. My previous post on the topic is here.

Hacker and Dreifus offer  an objective, apolitical analysis of what is wrong with university education today. They show that most professors do not teach, that most of them rarely produce research that is of real consequence or value, and that most teaching is shouldered by underpaid adjuncts. As they observe, undergraduate education at Harvard has become something of a joke.

To be fair, they are really emphasizing what passes under the heading of the liberal arts. Science and engineering still have standards; they still have right and wrong answers. Students who attend these programs get a lot more of their money's worth than do students who study the liberal arts.

Of course, higher education has been anything but a free market. The prestige value of a Harvard degree is so high that most parents and students do not really care about whether it is providing the best value for their education dollars. They believe that the earning power of the degree as well worth its hefty price tag.

But now, the market is starting to have its say in this matter. Hiring officers have, as I noted last week, begun to take serious note of the fact that students coming out of the most prestigious schools do not really know very much. Where an Ivy League degree used to be the gold standard, nowadays it often seems like fool's gold.

Hacker and Dreifus have done an analysis of where you can get the best education and leave school with a minimum of debt. (As everyone should know by now, educational debt cannot be erased in bankruptcy.)

They arrive at a list that includes Ole Miss, Cooper Union, and Arizona State... among others. How many of us would have named those schools?

It feels very unlikely that college administrators are going to come to their senses and reform the system. Change will come when students refuse to take liberal arts courses, when alumni stop funding these educational monstrosities, and when people begin to grasp that the degree from Ole Miss makes you a better job candidate than does the degree from Harvard.

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