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Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It Hardcover – August 3, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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- Publisher : Times Books; 1st edition (August 3, 2010)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0805087346
- ISBN-13 : 978-0805087345
- Item Weight : 1.4 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.14 x 0.69 x 9.21 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #390,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This book is the ultimate antidote to the US News rankings mania. If you can send your child to a top-rated school debt-free, without taking a massive dip into your life savings, go for it, if it's the right place for them. But if you can't, you won't feel guilty about it after putting this book down. You'll feel smart.
This is an especially good book for those of us who won't get need-based aid and would foot the quarter million dollar bill out-of-pocket at an elite school, or pay a discount price (oh, just $100K or so) for a less highly rated school. Instead of feeding this mania, money can be better put towards helping a kid with grad school, buy a home, or donating to any of the many charities desperately needing funds. These things will help your kid (or the world) far more than a fancy BA degree that financially stresses them, you, or both. Some kids with passions for research or nonprofit work are chasing high salaries instead, because of their debt loads for fancy degrees. And when you read what those funds really paid for at those schools, it's all the more sad.
Mr. Hacker could have paid more attention to those fine small colleges that still care about teaching undergraduate students. Colleges such as Reed, Wooster, Swarthmore and Lafayette offer first-year college students a high level of education, with just twenty or twenty-five students in a typical class, and even the highest ranking faculty members devote the majority of their time to teaching undergraduate students.
Law school faculty and medical school faculty report that many of the "Honors" graduates of "Big Name" universities lack even basic writing and thinking skills. That is NOT a complaint made about graduates of Reed or Swarthmore. The question is: why do taxpayers pour billions of dollars a year into "Football Factories" when that same investment could be used to actually provide a first-rate education to America's college students?
Top reviews from other countries
The authors also lament that America's most prestigious universities generally offer substandard undergraduate teaching. If my experience is anything to go by, they have a point. In the 1960s I attended the University of Michigan, generally regarded as being the equivalent of a Russell Group university in the UK. The quality of teaching was patchy, even in the Honors courses. After flunking out, I spent a term at Wayne State University, which was perhaps the equivalent of Aston Polytechnic back in the old days: sound but not a place where you'd see many old school ties. The teaching there was incomparably better than at the U of Michigan.
Alas, the authors don't seem to realise that the vast majority of students are only there to improve their employment prospects. Although they rightly observe that what you learn in college is seldom of any use in subsequent employment, they don't seem to understand that working-class kids have to make some hard choices in life, and they wouldn't dream of going to college if they didn't believe it was going to pay off later. Alas, it's a big gamble: my own research has demonstrated that most kids who start a degree course in the UK are worse off financially for the experience. Half either drop out or fail to get a job requiring a degree. And this doesn't even take into consideration that some jobs that require degrees pay less than average. When you consider that the winners in this lottery are most often children of parents with good connections who have got into good universities, the odds for working-class kids going to mediocre universities are almost certainly very poor.
However, the authors reserve most of their indignation for tenured professors. It comes as no surprise to find that they teach in universities, but are out of the loop for tenure. And many American university professors are a lazy lot: most of the undergraduate teaching is done by graduate students and untenured instructors like themselves. It has always been that way--I was amazed when I finally got around to taking a degree in English History at the University of East Anglia in 1993, and found that my seminars were taught by the department's most senior personnel, including the our incomparable chair, Professor Colin Davies. All that is changed now--British universities have relentlessly expanded, regrettably we have followed the American modular system in order to keep costs down.
Nonetheless, this might be an agreeable romp through the follies of the American college scene--if you share the authors' politically-correct outlook. They rightly depore the consequences of Senator Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt for commies in the 1950s--even though there were in fact a lot of real commies bent on destroying liberal democracy, you can't maintain freedom with totalitarian tactics. But they see no problem with our latter day witch-hunts against those who offend the canons of political correctness, such as Lawrence Summers, the Harvard president who dared to muse publicly on the scarcity of women in the highest ranks of scientific research. Nonetheless, they offer a useful tip for visiting British dons--the correct term for 'Native Americans' has reverted to 'American Indians', just as it was when I was growing up.