Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ditch College for All

 The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it's now doing more harm than good. It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education's expansion also ranks as one of America's great postwar triumphs.

Consider. In 1940, fewer than 5 percent of Americans had a college degree. Going to college was "a privilege reserved for the brightest or the most affluent" high-school graduates, wrote Diane Ravitch in her history of U.S. education, "The Troubled Crusade." No more. At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor's degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.

Starting with the GI Bill in 1944, governments at all levels promoted college. From 1947 to 1980, enrollments jumped from 2.3 million to 12.1 million. In the 1940s, private colleges and universities accounted for about half. By the 1980s, state schools -- offering heavily subsidized tuitions -- represented nearly four-fifths. Aside from a democratic impulse, the surge reflected "the shift in the occupational structure to professional, technical, clerical, and managerial work," noted Ravitch. The economy demanded higher skills; college led to better-paying jobs.

College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn't go to college, you'd failed. Improving "access" -- having more students go to college -- drove public policy.

We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.  For starters, we've dumbed down college. The easiest way to enroll and retain more students is to lower requirements. Even so, dropout rates are high; at four-year schools, fewer than 60 percent of freshmen graduate within six years. Many others aren't learning much.

In a recent book, "Academically Adrift," sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that 45 percent of college students hadn't significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills after two years; after four years, the proportion was still 36 percent. Their study was based on a test taken by 2,400 students at 24 schools requiring them to synthesize and evaluate a block of facts. The authors blame the poor results on lax academic standards. Surveyed, one-third of the same students said that they studied alone five or fewer hours a week; half said they had no course the prior semester requiring 20 pages of writing.

Still, most of these students finished college, though many are debt-ridden. Persistence counts. The larger -- and overlooked -- consequence of the college obsession is to undermine high schools. The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it's disconnected from "real life" and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they're not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers' time and energy. The climate for learning is poisoned.

That's why college-for-all has been a major blunder. One size doesn't fit all, as sociologist James Rosenbaum of Northwestern University has argued. The need is to motivate the unmotivated. One way is to forge closer ties between high school and jobs. Yet, vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training -- programs successful in Europe -- are sparse. In 2008, about 480,000 workers were apprentices, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. labor force, reports economist Robert Lerman of American University. Though not for everyone, more apprenticeships could help some students.

The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs -- or no job. Learning styles differ. "Apprenticeship in other countries does a better job of engaging students," says Lerman. "We want to diversify the routes to rewarding careers." Downplaying these programs denies some students the pride and self-confidence of mastering difficult technical skills, while also fostering labor shortages.

There's much worrying these days that some countries (examples: South Korea, Norway, Japan) have higher college-attendance rates, including post-secondary school technical training, than we do. This anxiety is misplaced. Most jobs -- 69 percent in 2010, estimates the Labor Department -- don't require a post-high school degree. They're truck drivers, store clerks, some technicians. On paper, we're turning out enough college graduates to meet our needs.

The real concern is the quality of graduates at all levels. The fixation on college-going, justified in the early postwar decades, stigmatizes those who don't go to college and minimizes their needs for more vocational skills. It cheapens the value of a college degree and spawns the delusion that only the degree -- not the skills and knowledge behind it -- matters. We need to rethink.


Why don't you want our children to have as good an education as you, Nick?

Nick Clegg is leader of the British Liberal party.  He was educated at a prestigious private school and furthered his studies at Cambridge University.  He is personable but is as shallow as a birdbath

In a horrible, ignorant speech last week, the Deputy Prime Minister revealed himself as a limited, conformist slave to conventional wisdom. He  is also a wretched, skulking hypocrite, as I shall explain later. He ought to know better.

Thinking people of Left and Right have at last begun to see that comprehensive state schools have failed the country, and, above all, have failed the children of the poor.

Even veteran radical commentators such as Nick Cohen and Mary Ann Sieghart see the sense in selection by ability.

But Mr Clegg is demanding that our great universities should be ruined by the same egalitarian dogma that has wrecked secondary schooling.

Put simply, he wants the best colleges to lower their entry requirements. This will, of course, increase the number of state school pupils who get in. And it will reduce the numbers from private schools.

It is easy to sympathise with this, if you forget that it will also mean that university standards will fall, irrecoverably. It should not be possible to buy privilege in education. It is obvious that ability and merit alone should be our guide.

But that is exactly where we were heading in this country until the Left-liberal levellers got to work. Mr Clegg thinks that ‘little has changed’ in the past 50 years. Oh yes it has. It has got much worse, thanks to people like him.

In 1965, just before most grammar schools and Scottish academies were abolished, 57 per cent of places at Oxford University were taken by pupils from state grammar schools or direct grant schools (independent schools that gave large numbers of free places on merit, a fine system done away with in 1975 in another wave of vindictive Leftist spite).

What is more important, the number of state school entrants was rising rapidly, and had done ever since 1945, when the grammar schools were opened to all who could qualify.

No special concessions were made in those days. The grammar school boys and girls were there by absolute right. These brilliant people still hold high positions in every profession and activity.

But after 1965, the flow dried up, and instead of having a proper, qualified elite, we had to make do with privileged ninnies such as Mr Clegg instead.

Either they had gone to hugely expensive private schools, as he did, or they arrived at the top via the rich, well-connected socialist’s route to privilege, a semi-secret network of excellent state schools, some religious, some with tiny catchment areas where most people cannot afford to live, some with other elaborate arrangements to keep out the masses.

These schools – the Roman Catholic London Oratory that atheist Mr Clegg has visited as a prospective parent is an example – are officially comprehensive. But, in fact, they are comprehensive in the same way that 10 Downing Street is an inner-city terrace house.

What does Mr Clegg plan to do for his children? Does he plan to toss them into a bog-standard comp, where they will have to struggle to learn from demoralised supply teachers amid the shouting, the mobile phone calls and the fights?

Will he then feel his parental duty has been done if, despite the fact that they know very little, they are given privileged access to Oxbridge, but are unable to benefit from its rigour? I doubt it.

He won’t talk about it. He thinks it’s none of our business. Well, he is wrong. He has made it our business by supporting and defending a system that slams the gates of good schools in the faces of all those who are not rich.


Chancellor slams Australia's university fee system as 'communist'

AUSTRALIA'S higher education system is akin to communism, one of the country's leading academics said yesterday.

Monash University chancellor Alan Finkel told the National Press Club the "centralised" system, in which the federal government sets course fees, was hampering Australia's research and innovation promise.

"What's happened in the last few years is they've freed up student demand so we've gone from a controlled sector … [that sets student numbers] but they've maintained central control, what I like to think of as a communist system in terms of how the universities are controlled from the federal government, which means we can't set fees," Dr Finkel said.
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"And if you can't set fees you can't increase the fees in order to have more money to invest in higher quality.

"So we need to allow diversification across the sector in terms of quality of research, quality of education."

Dr Finkel's comments come as Times Higher Education magazine published its inaugural "100 under 50" list.

The list is designed to showcase the "best" global universities aged 50 years or less. Australia performed strongly on the list, with 14 universities in the top 100.

Editor Phil Baty said the list was "brilliant news". "Only the UK has more representatives in the top 100 list than Australia, which beats the US, France, Germany and Canada," he said.

Australia's entries include Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong (tied at 33), and the Queensland University of Technology (40).


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