Welcome to the website and blog of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It.”

The book asks what students and families receive for the approximately quarter of a million dollars which four years at a top-tier American university will cost them.

With tuition hikes increasing, we ask, “How did a college degree become the second most expensive purchase people make in their lifetimes?”

Plus: “Are families getting good value for such an enormous investment?”

Frankly, we don’t think they are.

And we have the facts and figures to show that colleges and universities, like our health care system, is in urgent need of reform.  Respected by the public, often exempt from taxes and the moderation of market forces, higher education is a multi-billion dollar economic sector with little transparency.

We hope that our book, different from any other on this topic, will trigger a national discussion. We raise many questions. With a system this large and complex, we certainly don’t have all the answers. But we hope to toss a few pertinent—and impertinent–questions out into the public square and we hope to engage readers in a two-way process.

Here’s what our publisher Times Books/Holt’s catalog says about “Higher Education?”

“Renowned sociologist Andrew Hacker and New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus make an incisive case that the American way of higher education, now a 420 billion-per-year business, has lost sight of its primary mission: the education of young adults. Going behind the myths and mantras, they probe the true performance of the Ivy League, the baleful influence of tenure, an unhealthy reliance on part-time teachers and the super-sized bureaucracies which now have a life of their own.”

And here’s what the reviewer for the New York Times, Steven Knapp, the President of George Washington University, wrote:

“Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have written a lucid, passionate and wide-ranging book on the state of American higher education and what they perceive as its increasing betrayal of its primary mission — for them, the teaching of undergraduates.

The reviews, have been gratifying.  The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, USA Today, Worth, the American Prospect, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, have all written enthusiastically about “Higher Education?”

And the responses from readers have been moving.   We have received communications from students, parents, graduate students and professors all around the country.”

In the coming months, we will be using this website to tell you more about our continuing research, to comment on breaking news  and to hear from you about your own campus experiences. As the national economic crisis continues, many private schools are ordering tuition rises, while some public ones—e.g. the University of California’s public system—appear to be using the turndown to strip away public higher education.  How are these changes impacting your life, your work?

That’s our question.

Andrew and Claudia: Writer/Teachers…Teacher/Writers

Almost every time Andrew Hacker walks down a New York City street, people approach him and say some variant of, “Dr. Hacker, Dr. Hacker, I had you for Government 101 and you changed my life.”

This happens almost every day, certainly once a week.  That’s because political scientist Hacker, in 110 consecutive semesters has taught basic political theory, to thousands of students.  He did this for sixteen years at Cornell University and more recently at the Queens College of the City of New York, a public institution.

Many of his former students—Federal judges, cab-drivers, physicians, law school deans, State Senators, pharmaceutical saleswomen–claim him as the most memorable and interesting teacher they’ve studied with.  In fact, he often receives e-mails like this recent one:

Dear Professor Hacker: I was a student of yours in the honors program of Cornell’s Government Dept in 1965 and 1966. I went on to law school and a 35 year career in the law. Now retired, I have had the time recently to read some of the notebooks I kept during my various government courses at Cornell. I have been impressed with (a) how much I have forgotten and (b) how deep and rich my courses were. A department faculty that included, inter alia, yourself and Messrs. Bloom, Einaudi, Rossiter, Kahin and Berns was a real treat for the students. Very often you don’t know how good a situation is until its time has passed you by; the government department at Cornell was an exception – many of us knew how exciting it was while we were still undergrads.

Beyond his teaching, Andrew Hacker is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, where he often writes about issues in higher education. He has also authored numerous textbooks and nine trade books including the 1992 best-seller, “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal” widely hailed as one of the best American works about race.   “Few people writing today for a general audience can make more sense of numbers,” wrote the reviewer for the Wall Street Journal of that work. “…Hacker has long wielded figures as old masters wield red,yellow and blue…to create a telling portrait of American life.”

More than a decade ago, Hacker resigned his tenured full-professorship so that his department could hire two young professors with his senior salary.   He continues to teach however as an adjunct.

Dr. Hacker’s literary and life partner, Claudia Dreifus’ is best known as a journalist/interviewer, the producer of the “Conversation with…” feature that appears in the Tuesday Science Section of the New York Times. When, in 2006, Sigma Xi, the research honor society, awarded her an honorary membership,  their American Scientist magazine wrote of her:

As a journalist, educator and lecturer, Claudia Dreifus is widely recognized for her abilities in interviewing scientists and communicating the complexities of their work to the public. Before coming to the “Science Times” section of The New York Times, Dreifus was known for her incisive interviews with international political figures and cultural icons. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Playboy, Ms., The Progressive, AARP-The Magazine.  In her book, Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science from The New York Times, she delves into the thoughts and lives of some of the most intriguing minds in science. From Nobel laureates to virtually unknown innovators, across a multitude of scientific disciplines, she introduces and explains the personalities behind the great accomplishments. .. Dreifus has been a pioneering and original force in making science more accessible.

In Claudia’s academic life, she is an adjunct associate professor of international affairs and media at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.   During the 1990s, a period when public higher education was under sustained political attack, she taught in the Graduate Department of English at the City University of New York.

An e-mail last semester from an international student in one of her classes tells some of her pedagogic philosophy:

“We didn’t get a chance to talk a lot yesterday, but I just wanna thank you again for the wonderful teaching this semester…I’ll keep in mind what you told me about being brave as a journalist, reaching out to the outside world and being persistent.  That’s something I took away from the final project and it has transformed my mentality in much more than journalism.”

Claudia is also a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, a foreign policy think-tank headquartered in New York City, the publisher of the World Policy Journal.  There she maintains a special interest in the growth of women’s political participation, worldwide.

“Higher Education?” is Claudia’s sixth book, her first published collaboration.

This new book, “Higher Education?” is, very much, the end-product of both Claudia and Andrew’s lifetime commitment to teaching and reporting

Quirky Factoids About The Authors of“Higher Education?”

  • There is a character in Alison Lurie’s novel about the culture wars at Cornell in the 1960s, “The War Between The Tates.” based on Andrew Hacker.
  • Claudia Dreifus failed geometry four times in high school, perhaps the New York State record.  Today she interviews some of the world’s most revered mathematicians, proving that under the right circumstances, all concepts are learnable.
  • Though they’ve been a couple since 1999, Andrew and Claudia actually met during the 1960s.  They were both speakers in 1967 at a conference at Wayne State University on the future of the urban university.  The other speaker was Clark Kerr.
  • One of Andrew’s former graduate students, Edward Jay Epstein, wrote his master’s degree thesis on the Warren Commission Report.  The thesis became the 1966 best-seller, “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.”
  • Like many Americans, Claudia is the first member of her family to graduate from college—New York University.
  • Andrew attended Amherst, St. Andrews College in Scotland, Oxford and Princeton.
  • ‘Higher Education?” was written in eight drafts, with Claudia and Andrew producing separate sections and then passing them back and forth for revision.  Both authors feel that they now have the skills to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation.

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The above image can be downloaded for use by news organizations, reviewers or community groups. Please credit the photographer, Tequila Minksy.

Other published works by the authors are available for sale.

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If you’d like to have Claudia and Andrew talk about the issues raised in “Higher Education?” please contact , Jodi Solomon at:

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KIRKUS REVIEWS ‘HIGHER EDUCATION?’

New York Review of Books contributor and former university professor Hacker (Mismatch, The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men, 2003, etc.) and New York Timescolumnist Dreifus (Interview, 2003 etc.,) present their combined “vision for higher education.”

The authors believe that many colleges are sacrificing purpose and priority in favor of “self-interested management,” misguided professors and a disrespect (by instructors themselves) for the precious art of teaching. They cite the tenure process as one of the reasons professors appear lackadaisical and disillusioned about the craft, along with slumping salaries (“higher education knows that low-cost labor is there”)and becoming engulfed by the “multiversity” (educational “behemoths” with a much wider, unrestrained focus.)

Fiscally influenced collegiate leadership is partially at fault for this, the authors write, along with a tiered, hierarchy class system of instructors, a problem that Dreifus, an adjunct journalism professor at Columbia University, experienced first hand when her prized office space was indifferently eliminated. The authors note that compared to a generation ago, tuition at both public and private schools have “more than doubled.”

They question whether the education is, therefore, twice as good, especially at more esteemed Ivy League universities.

At colleges around the country, Hacker and Dreifus expose poorly accessed teaching skills, a general deficiency in personal attentiveness to students and changing landscape of degree majors and student demographics and they offer damning commentary on the machinations of intercollegiate athletics. If their dense, comprehensive analysis has a weakness, it’s the overwhelming amount of factual information wedged into the narrative. Around those facts and figures, however, a valid argument takes shape about the problematic causes behind increasingly unaffordable college tuitions. Hacker and Dreifus effectively and wittily, present their contemporary dilemma and closing chapters focus on their choices for best colleges (MIT, Notre Dame, “Ole Miss” et. al) alongside intelligent, practical solutions to the college conundrum.

Plenty to ponder in this forceful, solid report on the shifting climate of American higher education.”

Thise review is available on Kirkusreviews.com

Please see website frontpage for a complete update of Claudia and Andrew’s appearances.

Why Johnny’s College Isn’t What It Used to Be

BY STEVEN KNAPP
PUBLISHED: AUGUST 18, 2010

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have written a lucid, passionate and wide-ranging book on the state of American higher education and what they perceive as its increasing betrayal of its primary mission — for them, the teaching of undergraduates. That both are academics — one a well-known professor (Mr. Hacker) and the other consigned to the adjunct, or what they call “contingent,” faculty (Ms. Dreifus, who is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times) — provides them with memorable, often acerbic anecdotes that neatly offset their citations of statistics and (it must be said) their sometimes rather sweeping generalizations.

These anecdotes take the edge off the polemical intensity a reader might expect from the book’s title, “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.” That may be because these anecdotes display insiders’ familiarity, and often an implied intimacy, with distinguished academics and the elite institutions in which they reside.

This is not a book for those seeking a social-scientific explanation of how American higher education, from its simple beginnings as a training ground for gentlemen clergy, has evolved into a diverse industry that, whatever one thinks of it, is unquestionably the envy of the world and an integral, arguably indispensable part of the United States economy. But in a series of well-structured and strongly argued chapters, the book does pose searching and sometimes troubling questions about the degree to which the social utility, personal benefits and philosophical ideals promoted by admissions and publicity offices are overstated, overpriced, subordinated to extraneous purposes or distorted by self-perpetuating bureaucracies.

As with many indictments, one must distinguish the crimes the prosecutors merely mention from those they really care about. Mr. Hacker and Ms. Dreifus list a host of crimes, or at least flaws in the system, some in the control of universities and others built into the external political, cultural or economic environment, or indeed into human nature. These include the narrow self-interestedness of academic departments; the greed of faculty members and administrators alike; the near-universal hypertrophy of “the athletics incubus”; unfunded government mandates; lifetime employment for pampered professors (thanks to the combination of tenure and Congressional abolition of mandatory retirement); and the demands of students and their parents for frivolous extras (driving what the authors call “the amenities arms race”).

But the target to which they most often and most radically return — radically in the sense that they regard it as the root of all the other evils and propose to root it out — is captured in a single word: research.

There was a time, in their telling, when universities saw their mission as education; now even small colleges compel their faculties to publish (at the expense of teaching) for the sake of an institutional stature that teaching alone cannot confer. The authors’ deepest scorn is reserved for the claim that good teaching depends on research, and their most extreme proposal is that universities drastically reduce the amount of research they support, by “spinning off” medical schools and research centers, discontinuing paid sabbaticals and abolishing the current system of promotion and tenure, a system that tends to reward research productivity more than effective teaching. (The authors raise interesting questions about tenure and its alternatives. Like many critics of tenure, though, they have a keen eye for abuses of power but are remarkably sanguine about the capacity of the First Amendment to shield scholars from pressure exerted by those with the power to fire them.)

The rest of their prescriptions are scarcely controversial. Who can quarrel with a call to reduce student debt, “engage all students,” “make students use their minds,” employ technology with care or “end exploitation of adjuncts”? I do not mean that what the authors have to say on those subjects is bland or uninformative; on the contrary, I hope their analyses and prescriptions will be widely read and pondered. But when it comes to the role of research in universities — and, yes, even in colleges — their insight and imagination appear to fail them.

Consider, for instance, the proposal that universities divest themselves of medical schools: they are, the authors think, too distracting and costly, if not in dollars, then in their demands on a president’s attention. A tempting suggestion, many a president will agree!

But what an odd suggestion from the pen of authors who lament the self-enclosure of traditional academic disciplines. This is an era, after all, in which some of the most searching inquiry — and most exciting teaching, including the teaching of undergraduates — is taking place precisely at the intersection of medicine and other fields, not just engineering and physics but also fields like anthropology and history. It is a time when some of our most engaged undergraduates are fascinated by fields like global health, which brings medicine and the social and human sciences together in ways more rich and subtle than students of my generation could have imagined. And where are the humanities more alive, right here and now, than in seminars in bioethics that expose undergraduates to searing and quite possibly unanswerable questions about the beginning and end of life?

A similar point could be made about the educational value of working at the frontier of discovery in one of the research centers that Mr. Hacker and Ms. Dreifus decry. Have they spoken with undergraduates who have enjoyed the privilege of assisting a top investigator in an active, federally financed laboratory? In my own anecdotal experience, the best of those students, far from shutting themselves away in a narrow specialization, are very likely spending their time outside the lab in life-expanding service activities that, again, were quite beyond the ken of undergraduates in earlier generations.

In short, the dichotomies on which Mr. Hacker and Ms. Dreifus rely — between teaching and research, liberal arts and “training,” humanistic reflection and advanced inquiry — do not quite match the reality they seek to describe, with the always salutary aim of reforming it.

Steven Knapp is president and professor of English at the George Washington University