Trendy vs. truth: Can the university survive?

If universities aren’t going to teach truth, beauty, knowledge or reasoning — and they can’t guarantee liberal arts graduates will earn enough to pay their debts — something’s got to give, writes Victor Davis Hanson on PJ Media.

A fourth of liberal arts courses are trendy time wasters, writes Hanson, a classics and military history fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and an emeritus classics professor at Fresno State. Students don’t learn a body of knowledge. They don’t master inductive reasoning and empirical objectivity. They don’t learn to write clearly.

(Trendy classes) tend to foster the two most regrettable traits in a young mind — ignorance of the uninformed combined with the arrogance of the zealot. All too often students in these courses become revved up over a particular writ — solar power, gay marriage, the war on women, multiculturalism — without the skills to present their views logically and persuasively in response to criticism. Heat, not light, is the objective of these classes.

. . .  college is intended as a sort of boot camp for the progressive army, where recruits are trained and do not question their commissars.

Vocational and technical colleges “are upfront about their nuts-and-bolts, get-a-job education,” he writes. They don’t pretend to teach humanities.

 Yes, I am worried that the University of Phoenix graduate has not read Dante, but more worried that the CSU Fresno graduate has not either, and the former is far more intellectually honest about that lapse than the latter.

Federal aid allows colleges to keep hiking tuition, leaving students deeper in debt. Professors complain that “grade-grubbing” students won’t take their esoteric courses. Why should they? Hanson asks.

. . .  does the computer programming major at DeVry take an elective like the Poetics of Masculinity to enrich his approach to programing? Does the two-year JC course on nursing include an enhanced class like “Constructing the Doctor: the hierarchies of male privilege”?

As a young professor, I used to believe in the value of a universal BA that would teach truth and beauty to the masses. I still do, but mostly as instruction apart from the university that now has very little to do with either beauty or truth.

Meanwhile, the economic value of a humanities degree is questionable. Most studies say a liberal arts bachelor’s degree is worth the investment, but how long will that be true? “I am reluctant to make the argument for the humanities on the basis of financial planning, but then the humanities are not quite the humanities of 50 years ago.”

Hansen suggests a national test in math and verbal skills and knowledge for a bachelor’s degree like the bar exams for law graduates. Someone who’d skipped college could take a longer version of the bachelor’s exam.

Most college students pick what they think are practical majors. Business administration is the most popular college major, according to the Princeton Review. Also in the top 10 are psychology, nursing, biology, education, English, economics, communications, political science and computer and information science.

4 more years: What’s ahead for higher ed?

What’s ahead for higher ed in the next four years? President Obama pledged to link federal aid to colleges’ willingness to cut the rate of tuition growth, but was that just campaign rhetoric?

California community colleges will use new tax revenue to add classes and reduce wait lists.

Florida may raise tuition for non-STEM majors

Florida wants more engineers and scientists. Would-be poets, actors and anthropologists? Not so much. A state task force has recommended lowering university tuition for STEM majors while charging more in humanities and social sciences, reports the Sun Sentinel.

It usually costs more to offer science and engineering classes, but it’s worth it, says Dale Brill, who chaired the task force for Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida used to pay 75 percent of the cost of educating students in public colleges and universities, but that’s dropped to less than 50 percent in recent years because of the weak economy, reports the Sun Sentinel.

Catholic schools learn to compete with charters

Tuition-free charter schools now enroll more students than Catholic schools, writes Sean Kennedy in City Journal. But Catholic schools are learning to compete in order to survive.

These days, expenditures on lay teacher salaries and repair of dilapidated buildings have blown up the price tag at Catholic schools to three times the rate of inflation. In nominal dollars, per-pupil costs nearly doubled between 1998 and 2010, from $5,600 to $10,800; average tuition for incoming ninth-graders at Catholic schools more than doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800.

Innovative educators and philanthropists are “developing a path forward for Catholic education . . . by borrowing ideas from the best charters, just as charters once borrowed from Catholic schools,” Kennedy writes.

In San Francisco, innovators launched Mission Dolores Academy, which uses “blended learning”— a mix of classroom and online instruction — to individualize instruction while controlling costs.

Students’ specific skills are assessed every day as they do their schoolwork on interactive computers, and lessons are tailored to fit their progress. . . .  the curriculum is mastery-based—students only move on when they master the material. Teachers spend more time in direct interaction with each student or in small group lessons. Online tools collect real-time data on student performance and allow teachers to intervene with students or accelerate the pace of instruction.

The Seattle Archdiocese’s Fulcrum Foundation has opened St. Therese Academy, an elementary with an overwhelmingly African-American student body, using the blended learning model.

Obama, Romney vie for Hispanic college students

In an appeal to Hispanic voters, President Obama’s new campaign ad says Romney would cut Pell Grants, costing Hispanic students $1,000. In an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language network, the Republican challenger called for letting the maximum grant rise with inflation, a larger increase than the president’s proposed 1.5 percent boost.

Both candidates are running Spanish-language ads attacking the rise in college costs. Obama’s ad promises to decrease the  tuition growth rate by 50 percent over 10 years.

At the Univision event at the University of Miami, Romney told students that what they need is “good jobs,” not more loans. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with debts. I want to make sure you can pay back the debts you’ve already got and that will happen with good jobs.”

Parents’ view of the start of college

Transition to College Infographic
Infographic by Sallie Mae College Answer

The best bang-for-the-buck colleges

The University of California at San Diego tops Washington Monthly‘s list of the top colleges for social mobility (enrolling and graduating low-income students at an affordable price), research and service. Next in line are Texas A&M, Stanford, University of North Carolina and Berkeley.

Only one of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthy’s top ten. Yale fails even to crack the top 40. New York University, which has floated to national prominence on a sea of student debt, is 77th. NYU does particularly poorly on the new “bang for the buck” measure.
Thirteen of the top 20 Washington Monthly universities are public, while all the top-ranked U.S. News colleges are “private institutions that spend more, charge more, and cater almost exclusively to the rich and upper-upper middle class.”
Also in the Washington Monthly, Stephen Burd calls for Getting Rid of the College Loan Repo Man who fails to distinguish between deadbeats and people who just can’t pay.

Think critically about college loans

“Dream big,” Maureen O’Brien told her daughter, urging her not to settle for a low-cost state college. O’Brien borrowed $54,000 to help pay for the first two years at the University of Vermont, which costs more than $49,000 a year for out-of-state students, reports NPR. But the mother, still paying for her undergraduate degree in 1996 and $60,000 for professional training, couldn’t afford it.

Daughter Emily has transferred to Northern Arizona, where in-state tuition is low. Her brother will start at Arizona State.  The family expects to borrow another $70,000 to pay for the daughter’s last two years and the son’s four years of higher education. O’Brien now earns $93,000 as a physician’s assistant, but spends more than a third of her take-home pay on student loan payments. She has no savings and may take a second job to pay off the debts.

For a woman who says she learned critical thinking as a French and international studies major, O’Brien didn’t think critically about paying for college, writes Grace at Cost of College. and she sees troubles ahead for Emily, who’s majoring in environmental studies.

“I can’t afford to go to college, but I’m taking out loans, I’m putting my foot forward and making sure I get an education so that I can get a really good job in the long run,” Emily says.

Grace suspects environmental studies won’t lead to a “really good job.” Environmental science would  be a better bet, but it would  require more math and science courses.

Even affluent parents are becoming more pragmatic about college choices, reports the Chicago Tribune. The  story features a young woman who wanted to major in equestrian therapy because she loves horses. Ally Lincoln’s mother told her to choose nursing.

“My mother told me not to confuse a hobby with an occupation,” she said. “I was upset.”

During a college trip to Bradley University in Peoria, her mom “made” her look at the nursing school, where a tour guide rattled off a barrage of statistics, including that the median salary for a nurse is $60,000 and unemployment rate is 2 percent.

A nurse at 24, Lincoln has “a robust paycheck, benefits and a well-marked path for career advancement.” And jealous friends. She is house hunting with her fiance. Going into nursing “was one of the smartest things I ever did,” she told the Trib.

Teacher ed goes online (and mostly for-profit)

Online teacher education is booming,reports USA Today, which has been crunching U.S. Education Department data.

Virtually unknown a decade ago, big online teacher education programs now dwarf their traditional competitors, outstripping even the largest state university teachers’ colleges.

. . .  four big universities, operating mostly online, have quickly become the largest education schools in the USA. Last year the four — three of which are for-profit — awarded one in 16 bachelor’s degrees and post-graduate awards and nearly one in 11 advanced education awards, including master’s degrees and doctorates.

A decade ago, in 2001, the for-profit University of Phoenix awarded 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel through its online program, according to federal data. Last year, it awarded nearly 6,000 degrees, more than any other university.

Most new teachers earn bachelor’s degrees in education at traditional colleges, such as Arizona State, the nation’s leader. “But online schools such as Phoenix and Walden University awarded thousands more master’s degrees than even the top traditional schools, all of which are pushing to offer online coursework.”

Of course, if districts stopped paying teachers more for master’s degrees, the master’s market would collapse.

For-profit colleges, hit hard by the Harkin report for high tuition and low graduation rates, do no worse than public colleges and universities that admit all applicants, a defender argues.

California considers two-tier tuition

A California Democrat wants to authorize community colleges to charge more for technical and job training classes that cost more to provide. If the public colleges don’t expand capacity, he argues, students will turn to even more expensive for-profit colleges.