Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Simple Way to Improve College

I appeared today on NPR's The Takeaway with John Hockenberry and Farai Chideya discussing America's most overrated product: higher education. HERE's the clip.

I wish I would have had the opportunity to say more. This is what I would have said:

Colleges really are a most unexamined icon. They should be required to provide a Student's Bill of Rights, a key plank of which would be that every college would be required to post a Report Card reporting key statistics about the college:
  • 4- and 5-year graduation rates for A students, B students, and C students. Nationwide, we admit to so-called four-year colleges 200,000 students from the bottom 40% of their high school class, yet 2/3 of them don't graduate even if given 8 1/2 years.
  • The amount of freshman-to-senior growth in thinking skills, math reasoning, etc. for students with similar high school record.
  • The true cost (cash and loan) that that student will likely have incurred over the four (or more years they're in college, based on their family's income and assets. Today, colleges too often use what I call The Drug Dealer Scam, in which they give freshmen a big discount but once they have the student hooked (attending the college,) they jack up the tuition in years two through four and then after year four, take away all institutional aid.
Tire manufacturers are required to mold into each tire's sidewall its tread life, traction, and temperature rating. Yet colleges, in selling what may be the largest purchase of a person's life and one that can greatly affect their life, are allowed to sell their product with no disclosures, only Madison-Avenue-inspired brochures and websites, and highly sales-trained tour guides and admission "counselors." (Their "counselors" rarely counsel any admissible student to go to any other college.) Requiring colleges to prominently post a Report Card on itself with items like those above will both allow the the prospective college student to make a fully informed choice AND put pressure on colleges to improve the quality of what they provide. Now, all colleges' incentives are to provide cheap-quality education so they can divert student funds to the esoteric, rarely useful research that excites academics but few others.

To date, we have been subjecting college students to a Tuskegee Experiment--a highly risky treatment without disclosing the risks, side-effects, and opportunity costs. We need to let the sunshine in.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you continue to take a skeptical look at college. As you said, it's become a cultural icon that is rarely examined closely.

I also liked how you mentioned on one of your recent radio shows that student loans are not dischargeable -- even through bankruptcy. I noticed that one caller seemed a little surprised to hear this.

Many students who take out large debt for college don't understand the full implications of doing so -- I certainly didn't in my early 20's. Some students will never be able to pay back the full amount of their loans, but will be in debt for the rest of their lives, since there is NO escaping student loan debt.

I hope you continue to mention this when discussing the cost of college. A lot of parents happily let their kids sign up for loans, not realizing that they might be encouraging financial suicide, especially for many humanities degrees.

As college tuition has increased, the amount of debt students leave with is higher. There are also horrible penalties for late payments, interest, etc. It really is a better financial option for many kids to just forget traditional 4 year college and learn a skill instead.

collegeloanconsultant said...

Requiring colleges and universities to assume responsibility for their product would be a good way for Congress to reassert some authority over federal funding.

Right now, in order for students to get federal direct student loans (and FFELP loans for as long as they last) their schools must certify them. As near as I can see, this means that they have a pulse. Congress has the ability to require it to mean more than that.

Fan said...

The link is broken for this show.
5/10 Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What?


Marty Nemko said...

Thanks. I had a substitute engineer on the show Sunday and he didn't load it properly. I've now requested my regular engineer to do it.

LuLu G said...

Mr. Nemko, you are quite correct in your evaluation. You make explicit what I have been thinking for twenty years concerning the "Emperor's New Clothes" quality of higher ed since the 1980s.
As a college prof at a state university, I can attest to how these students in the bottom 40% also lower the overall experience (in classroom discussions, for example) for the motivated students.
I wind up giving F's to people who never bother to even drop the courses before midterm. They are wasting the money of the state, the feds, and of course, their parents!!

Dead weight, butts in a chair, they expect B's, and, when the evaluations of faculty roll around, guess who gives US bad grades and writes horrid comments on "Rate a Prof," entertainment for the MTV generation at our expense? Many of these students have been around 7, 8 years, without a degree and lots of C's, D's and F's, changing of majors from Art to Creative Writing, etc.

I just had a student plagiarize TWO papers in an intro to Humanities course. She gets an F in the course and a permanent mark on her record. She also lied in an e-mail and reported that she had "only plagiarized this one time."
The student judicial office made certain that when she retakes the course she will not "replace" it entirely with a new grade and the F will remain.
She should be expelled, but I'm sure the university needs the money. She will continue her studies in the Psychology Department; I told her to work on modifying her own cheating, lying, disrespectful behavior.

My last book was on the legacies of the 1960s and the backlash against universities who taught classic subjects. Now, it's all race, class, and gender (in theory). Little do parents know that they are spending big bucks to have their offspring indoctrinated into pseudo-Marxism that is quickly abandoned when tenure-track professors fight over the merit pool.
How can profs be Lefties in universities that charge students 45K/year in tuition? Go figure.
Students who are ready for four year colleges should boycott all these inflationary private schools and shop around for places that won't put them into debt.
Otherwise, all we will have is more people in debt with no way to pay rent, buy a house, or support their own children.
So many students I meet might be qualified to learn a trade, but they will never give a fig about Plato, compose a readable essay not plagiarized from the web, or comprehend evolution.
They wander aimlessly, returning, year after year.....

Why do we allow colleges to get away with "bait and switch" tactics? I disagree with Pres. Obama giving away MORE federal aid; it simply makes the colleges justify charging exorbitant tuition!

Marty Nemko said...

I so agree with the most recent commenter. Alas, the media, so dominated by liberals, refuse (despite my prodigious efforts to try to get them to) take a hard look at the rot that's behind the ivy walls.


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