Andrew Hacker & Claudia Dreifus
HIGHER EDUCATION? The question mark in the title is the key to the book. Does this edifice and enterprise, so central to American aspirations, deserve to be called higher? And how much of it is honestly education? We point to the many strange – and disturbing – things being done in its name.
PART 1: WHAT WENT WRONG?
1. THE WORLD OF THE PROFESSORIATE.
Overpaid and underworked, the senior professors with tenure have made our campuses their personal playgrounds. Some barely teach at all, instead choosing to advance their careers. And of those who do, many inflict their arcane specialties on hapless undergraduates.
2. ADMINISTRATIVE OVERLOAD.
Deans, directors, and coordinators have been producing like rabbits, and are deft at justifying what they do as absolutely necessary. At the summit are college presidents, who avidly seek the job, but often have no coherent ideas about what to do once they get there. Like U.S. Senators their main task is raising money, being everything to everybody; they make their reputations by creating institutional growth, whether it’s needed or not.
3. CONTINGENT EDUCATION.
Each year finds more and more students being taught by adjuncts and graduate assistants, who are higher education’s outsourced labor, some have even said peonage. Of course, they’re cheap. They’re also needed to take on classes regular faculty refuse to teach. Contingents barely earn the minimum wage at most schools and have no guarantees of academic freedom.
PART 2: IDEALS AND ILLUSIONS
4. THE GOLDEN DOZEN.
A yawning chasm divides the twelve eyes-light-up colleges – Eight Ivies, Amherst, Williams, Stanford, Duke – from all the others.
For many parents, anything less will put their child’s future in doubt. We show how far a Dozen degree delivers, after graduation and into adulthood. And we ask if an Ivy education is as valuable as most parents think it is.
5. TEACHING: GOOD, GREAT, ABYSMAL.
Ideally, college classes should be a exhilarating experience. (“The best minds,” for a starter.) Sadly, all too many faculty don’t like teaching and don’t do it well, nor do their colleagues hold them to account. We show how those who are good do it. Plus how a college called Harvard tried to address its teaching problem.
6. THE TRIUMPH OF TRAINING.
All told, more undergraduates now major in fields like furniture design than philosophy or history. In fact, these programs spend more time spinning out a syllabus, since real training takes place on a job.
We urge vocational majors to switch to the liberal arts, which despite professors’ penchants are still the best that higher education offers.
PART 3: SOME IMMODEST PROPOSALS
7. WHY COLLEGE COSTS SO MUCH.
From inflated senior faculty salaries to money-losing athletics to amenities like saunas and climbing walls, colleges have been spending like there’s no tomorrow. So tuitions continue to rise, even in a recession. Students ultimately foot these bills, largely by paying with loans, which many will be carrying for a generation.
8. FIREPROOF: THE TANGLED ISSUE OF TENURE.
With federal judges, only professors get assured lifetime employment. We show how this guarantee serves little useful purpose and actually undermines education. Even the goal of academic freedom can be better protected in other ways. We, reluctantly, recommend it be ended.
9. THE ATHLETIC INCUBUS.
It’s not just the University of Texas’ $100 million budget. We also ask why tiny Birmingham-Southern feels it needs a 122-man football squad, and why Vermont flies a softball team 2,533 miles to play against Stanford. It costs $112,200 to keep a Yale rower on the water for four years.
10. STUDENT BODIES.
A dissection of the 18,205,474 students attending our nation’s colleges and universities. For instance, how many in fact got there through affirmative action, and how many because their parents could afford to spend tens of thousands for essay coaching and SAT preparations. We also show why women now outnumber men within the student bodies, but not in the senior professoriate, and why some schools may be maintaining secret quotas for Asian students.
PART 4: FACING THE FUTURE
11. VISITING THE FUTURE IN FLORIDA.
We look in on a college wide course called The Visual and Performing Arts, which has no physical classrooms or on-campus professors, and is entirely conducted via computer screens and emails to distant tutors. (Plans are afoot to have essays graded by machines.) Whether it is higher or education, this format will figure in the future, so let’s be ready for it.
12. THE COLLEGE CRUCIBLE: ADD STUDENTS AND STIR.
College is an investment intended to bring a return. Well, what actually happens to young people while they are there? We look at attempts to see if those years change how students use their minds and see the world; indeed, how they differ from cohorts who stop at high school. Much of what we found will be surprising.
13. SCHOOLS WE LIKE: OUR TOP TEN LIST.
After pointing to so much that has gone wrong in higher education, we cite some colleges are that doing things right. They include a community college in New Jersey and a mega-campus in Arizona, a Catholic university with principles and two innovative schools in the Pacific Northwest. Better endowed institutions could learn a lot from them.
As in so many areas, serious change will not come easily. Still, in a brief conclusion, we list proposals showing how both higher and education can be actual hallmarks of higher education.