Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Much College

    Walter E. Williams

In President Barack Obama's 2012 State of the Union address, he said that "higher education can't be a luxury. It is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford." Such talk makes for political points, but there's no evidence that a college education is an economic imperative. A good part of our higher education problem, explaining its spiraling cost, is that a large percentage of students currently attending college are ill-equipped and incapable of doing real college work. They shouldn't be there wasting their own resources and those of their families and taxpayers. Let's look at it.

Robert Samuelson, in his Washington Post article "It's time to drop the college-for-all crusade" (5/27/2012), said that "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." Richard Vedder -- professor of economics at Ohio University, adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of The Center for College Affordability & Productivity, or CCAP -- in his article "Ditch ... the College-for-All Crusade," published on The Chronicle of Higher Education's blog, "Innovations" (6/7/2012), points out that the "U.S. Labor Department says the majority of new American jobs over the next decade do not need a college degree. We have a six-digit number of college-educated janitors in the U.S." Another CCAP essay by Vedder and his colleagues, titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, taxi drivers and salesmen. Was college attendance a wise use of these students' time and the resources of their parents and taxpayers?

There's a recent study published by the Raleigh, N.C.-based Pope Center titled "Pell Grants: Where Does All the Money Go?" Authors Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston report that about 60 percent of undergraduate students in the country are Pell Grant recipients, and at some schools, upward of 80 percent are. Pell Grants are the biggest expenditure of the Department of Education, totaling nearly $42 billion in 2012.

The original focus of Pell Grants was to facilitate college access for low-income students. Since 1972, when the program began, the number of students from the lowest income quartile going to college has increased by more than 50 percent. However, Robinson and Cheston report that the percentage of low-income students who completed college by age 24 decreased from 21.9 percent in 1972 to 19.9 percent today.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (2011), report on their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at 24 institutions. Forty-five percent of these students demonstrated no significant improvement in a range of skills -- including critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing -- during their first two years of college.

Citing the research of AEI scholar Charles Murray's book "Real Education" (2008), Professor Vedder says: "The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do." Up to 45 percent of incoming freshmen require remedial courses in math, writing or reading. That's despite the fact that colleges have dumbed down courses so that the students they admit can pass them. Let's face it; as Murray argues, only a modest proportion of our population has the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity and integrity to master truly higher education.

Primary and secondary school education is in shambles. Colleges are increasingly in academic decline as they endeavor to make comfortable environments for the educationally incompetent. Colleges should refuse admission to students who are unprepared to do real college work. That would not only help reveal shoddy primary and secondary education but also reduce the number of young people making unwise career choices. Sadly, that won't happen. College administrators want warm bodies to bring in money.


Will “the Blade” Pop the Higher Education Bubble?

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced that he will become the president of Purdue University when he leaves office in January. While fans of the cost-cutting governor had hoped he would set his eyes on a different president, the announcement should be welcome news to students and taxpayers alike. One of the nation’s most successful, reform-minded executive can now play a role in reinventing higher education.

Few sectors of the economy are in greater need of reform and have such promising solutions lurking just around the corner.

The United States spends approximately $460 billion annually on postsecondary education, or about 3.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. The federal government spends tens of billions annually to support college students and their colleges and universities, while state and local governments kick in another $71 billion. Families and students shoulder the rest of the burden, with many taking our gigantic loans or liquidating their life savings to pay the steep costs of college, in hopes that a degree will unlock a brighter future.

Sadly, a growing body of evidence suggests that much of this investment is a waste. A 2011 report, based on survey data of college students around the country, found that 45 percent of all students show no significant gains in learning after two years in school. Even more discouraging, 33 percent effectively learned nothing after four years. Statistics like this are forcing many American families to question whether four years of tuition and costs, which now top $40,000 and $20,000 at private and public colleges respectively, are worth it.

And those who might think the perhaps the value of having the credential itself somehow justifies these costs, even absent actual learning, keep in mind that reports show that more than half of recent college grads are either unemployed or underemployed (that means in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree). Surely the parents of those twenty-somethings who have moved back in must be wondering why they invested so much money and effort in pursuit of a college diploma for junior, and have a long list of ways they wish they had used that money instead.

In his new book, law professor Glenn Reynolds, host of the Instapundit blog, argues that higher education is the new bubble. Like the housing bubble, the higher education bubble has been driven by subsidized loans and overly optimistic expectations about the future value of that investment. The housing bubble’s collapse left a shattered financial system and wiped out trillions from American families’ net worth. The higher education bubble’s explosion will leave millions of young Americans holding a degree that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on and a gigantic debt burden which will discourage entrepreneurism and family formation, both of which are critical to their—and our country’s—long-term financial health.

Our current college and university system, donned with decades worth of new high-tech labs, posh dorms, and cutting edge lecture halls, will also be rocked as new questions are raised about what, exactly, students—and taxpayers—are buying when they send these institutions so much money.

Enter Governor Daniels. Followers of education reform may know that his tenure in Indiana included the enactment of one of the nation’s largest school choice programs. But less appreciated has been Governor Daniels’s role in improving access to educational opportunities through Indiana’s partnership with the Western Governors University (WGU), a private, low-cost online university. More than 33,000 students across the country take classes online through WGU, where students are charged a flat-fee of $2,890 for a 6-month term.

By taking the helm at Purdue, Governor Daniels now has the opportunity to change higher education from within by implementing similar reforms to improve quality, drive-down cost, and expand access.

Just over the past year, schools like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard have begun offering free online courses that students anywhere can take, earning a grade and certificate of mastery, if they successfully complete the work. A MIT course on Circuits and Electronics attracted 120,000 students. Stanford’s free online class on Artificial Intelligence attracted 58,000 students.

Given Daniels’ track record in government, it would be surprising if he does not pursue similar cost-changing and quality-enhancing reforms at Purdue. Such reforms could make Purdue a leader in the new postsecondary education paradigm and serve as a model for other institutions.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the man who earned the nickname “the Blade” as OMB Director to help pop the higher education bubble?


Unconventional British school which lets children call teachers by first name forced to consider uniform code as parents reject relaxed rules

Its free and easy ethos was once seen as the way forward in secondary education.

But nearly 40 years after Stantonbury Campus opened, parents now seem to be less than enthused about its ‘liberal’ approach to teaching.

The comprehensive school, which has no uniform and lets pupils call teachers by their first names, is facing a boycott from families who would prefer to send their children to traditional schools.

And in an effort to win them back, governors have decided  to scrap the relaxed clothing policy and introduce a uniform from September.

The decision comes amid nationwide concern about the lack of discipline in today’s schools.

Once a successful school, Stantonbury was given a notice to improve from Ofsted last year amid concerns about underachievement and behaviour.

In a statement issued by governors, principal Chris Williams admitted parents were now sending their children elsewhere because of the lack of uniform.

He said: ‘Most primary and secondary children wear uniform for school and take pride in this – personal presentation is a part of education.

‘Heads of our partner primary schools tell us that parents are often concerned that the Campus does not have a uniform and that some choose to send their children to other secondary schools because of this.’

The school, in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was dubbed a pioneer of the educational revolution when it opened its doors in 1974 with ‘relaxed’ rules.

But governors admit this is no longer what parents want following 500 responses to a consultation about whether to introduce a dress code for children aged 11 to 14.  The uniform will consist of a white polo shirt and jumper, with new rules for older pupils banning short skirts and offensive logos.  Pupils will also be banned from wearing anything that might be regarded as ‘party’ clothes.

The school, which has around 2,000 pupils, is split into four Halls which function independently as mini schools.  In 2006 it was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted but was downgraded to ‘inadequate’ last year.


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