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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How to fix higher ed: Make public college free

"Higher education is deeply screwed up," writes William Deresiewicz on Persuasion. The first step to fixing it, he argues, would be to make public colleges free. Then he'd require colleges to fire administrators, hire professors (not adjuncts) who are trained to teach and eliminate intercollegiate athletics.

College costs have soared, as quality as fallen, he writes.

College is way too expensive, costing twice as much, in real dollars, as it did in 1990, nearly three times as much as it did in 1970. Half of students—half!—fail to graduate within six years. Teaching sucks, and always has. Too much of it is done by adjuncts and other contingent instructors, who now make up three quarters of the faculty. There are far too many administrators — deans and deanlets and directors and diversocrats — peddling far too much administrative bullshit. Academic standards are abysmal. Between 1963 and 2013, average GPA rose from 2.5 to 3.15, even as the number of hours spent studying fell by half over roughly the same period.

Deresiewicz would pay for free college by raising taxes on the upper-middle class and the wealthy. He wants to cut frills -- including half of all administrators -- but also wants to hire professors to teach, which would cost more than easily exploited adjuncts. He would evaluate professors on their teaching, and leave research to the handful who can do useful research.

Of course, fixing higher ed would require fixing K-12 education. "If a high school diploma actually meant something, employers wouldn't feel the need to ask for quite so many bachelor's degrees, and fewer people would have to go to college in the first place," Deresiewicz writes. As it stands, about half of entering students need remediation.

He also dreams of rebuilding vocational education in high school and beyond to train young people for high-skilled, high-wage jobs.

A number of states have made community college tuition free, but it doesn't help if students aren't prepared to pass courses.

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