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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

3.9 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hacker, author of Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, and Dreifus, who teaches in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, scathingly discuss the current state of American colleges and universities and argue that tenure and sabbaticals are outdated institutions that cost too much and serve poorly. The authors also claim that the cost of some schools and programs (medicine; sports) far outweighs the gain; teaching is a low priority, they say, blaming administration, committees, and amenities for the spiraling costs of Bachelor's degrees. Though they fail to mention how employment trends might affects students' choices, they do provide some suggestions for cost-cutting: reduce sports and travel of teams, kill tenure and reduce sabbaticals and research, and make medical schools and research centers independent institutions. While some good ideas can be pulled from the polemic, readers will be left waiting for a cool-headed, logical examination of our major institutions of learning. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

No question the cost of college education is enormous. What is questionable is whether or not the education is worth the cost, according to sociologist Hacker and New York Times columnist Dreifus. Too many colleges have strayed from the mission to produce thinking adults and are instead focusing more on vocational education, they lament. After visiting colleges across the nation, prestigious and little known, the authors offer a thoughtful assessment. They criticize the “caste system” at many colleges and the power of the “professioriate,” which is used to make life easier for tenured professors, often by reducing their contact with and obligation to students. One result: while parents pay exorbitant tuition, many tenured professors are taking yearlong sabbaticals at full pay, leaving teaching assistants and visiting professors to do the actual teaching. Among other questionable practices: student-to-faculty ratios bloated by inclusion of administrative staff and diverting money from academics for the “amenities arms race.” The authors also identify schools that manage to put the solid ideals of liberal arts education first and give students and parents their money’s worth. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805087346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087345
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting, opinionated, anecdotal study of the current plight of our colleges and universities. I agree with about 80% of it, but disagree with some of its crucial elements. Education is indeed too expensive and far too much of its budget goes to `amenities' like luxury dorms, exercise facilities with rock climbing walls, professionalized athletics, and so on. The `top' institutions are not always providing value for dollar while many public, regional, and little-known institutions are.

The criticism, however, comes with a very broad brush. I would not, e.g., do away with tenure, because tenure is a form of compensation and salaries would probably be higher without it, so the efficiencies sought might not be recouped. I agree with the authors that tenure is largely unnecessary for protecting academic freedom; meanwhile, the contingent faculty's academic freedom is not being protected in that manner, since they're not on the tenure track. Tenure, however, helps protect faculty from their colleagues. For example, when I was deaning I once had a department chair try to force a senior colleague into early retirement. Why? Because he graded too rigorously and was (the chair claimed) hurting the feelings of his students. When two of us (another dean and I) looked at examples we were heartened to learn that the senior faculty member in question was grading accurately, fairly and in a helpful (i.e. an honest) manner. The department wanted somebody more soft, more politically correct, more touchy/feely. The presence of tenure also protects disciplines from corporatist deans and senior administrators. In the current, commercialized university (which I deplore along with the authors) there are many administrators who would quickly dissolve Classics departments, e.g.
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Format: Hardcover
What struck me most about this book was the authors' faith that almost all students might learn to crave intellectual stimulation and that they have the right to receive it in their college classes. It is an utopian ideal: that we should be teaching everyone in institutions of higher learning, at a low tuition, and that all these students should spend their college years not in vocational training but in developing the life of the mind. This proposition is put forward along with a lot of data and facts about higher education and an acknowledgment that about 64 percent of undergrads are enrolled in vocational majors. "We wish this weren't so," declare the authors. "We would like to persuade them that supposedly impractical studies are a wiser use of college years and ultimately a better investment. ... The undergraduate years are an interlude that will never come again, a time to liberate the imagination and stretch one's intellect without worrying about a possible payoff. We'd like this for everyone, not just the offspring of professional parents."

I am a retired college teacher. Most of my fellow teachers also wished that their students were in college for intellectual development per se; however, we taught those who walked into our classes. Many students whom I taught not only wanted a bachelor's degree mainly as a credential for employment; they were also working close to a forty hour week to pay for both tuition and room and board, even at a state college. I have heard from my days at Cornell that Professor Andrew Hacker, who taught there, was a legendary teacher, making introductory courses in political science come alive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A bit of context. I've just retired after 40 years of college and university teaching (including years spent at Williams College, a frequent illustration in your book). And for some years, I used Hacker's TWO NATIONS in a course on ethics and social responsibility.

So.... to HIGHER EDUCATION. I cannot find a false word or statment in the book. [It's rare for me to agree with much of anything.] Regarding the dumbing down of the curriculum; the careerism of so-called academic stars; the absurdities of the tenure process -- this book is on the mark. My gripes center on the often unexamined trend towards interdisciplinary studies. Nothing inherently dubious about looking at problems from many perspectives (e.g., neuroscience), but to expect undergraduates,who haven't read any Shakespeare, aside from high school assignments of Hamlet and Julius Caesar, to evaluate the concept of "leadership" from, say, the political, psychological, and ethical perspectives. Well, as they say, give me a break.

The tone of the book -- which ranges from acerbic to occasionally cynical, does not disturb me. But I do think it may gloss [ab bit] over those rare but real faculty members whose old-fashioned commitment to rigor remains a vestige. As for dumping the business school, my most recent employer just completed a new B-school building which rivals any Hyatt hotel in its grossly sumptuous features. And once that pile opens, there's no closing it.

Though I would not expect Presidents and Deans to grasp the reality captured in this book, one can always hope that such a wise and reflective text will reach a wide audience.
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