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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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13 Comments


Guest
Aug 08, 2023

Free high school has had 100 years to bring up quality in high school. Free high school has failed us.

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Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Aug 08, 2023

College should be free ... to taxpayers. That is, State governments should offer credit by exam for all courses required for graduation at the cost of grading exams. Credit by exam would drive the cost of a college degree down to the cost of books and of grading exams. Credit by exam would

bust the $300 billion per year post-secondary credential racket.

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Guest
Aug 07, 2023

Problem: Colleges aren't working well. Proposed solution: Make college free. Grade: D-

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Guest
Aug 04, 2023

In the early days of some of the lottery scholarships, they covered a substantial portion of college costs. In my current state, students can do free community college. What seemed to happen in both cases is that enrollment increased but more unprepared students went to college because there wasn't much financial risk.


It's also frustrating that the solutions always seem to imply that adjuncts are the problem. The fact that adjuncts are retained in part based on keeping students happy is a problem. The instability of adjunct jobs is often a problem for adjuncts. But, many people in those roles want to teach and do an excellent job of it. It would likely be a good thing to convert …

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Guest
Aug 03, 2023

The best thing about "education", more precisely higher schooling, is now nothing ever changes. We live in a totally different world than 1923, but the articles from that year's Schribner's Magazine on colleges and universities could almost be copied word for word, simply needing adjustment for years passed since Johns Hopkins brought the university system to the US.


The mingling of college and university has its disadvantages for the undergraduate college no less than for the graduate university to which it is bound. The most serious is the weakening of the college sense of responsibility for good teaching. A false notion of research in the conglomerate institution has gone far to discredit the good teacher and to weaken the appreciation…

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