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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

To control college costs: Work harder, dump gen-ed, fire DEI staff

College costs keep rising, even as more young people question a degree's value. The James Martin Center for Academic Renewal asked for ideas on how to control college costs.


Work harder, suggests Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Great School Rethink. "Fewer than two-in-three students complete four-year degrees in six years, he writes. "If students worked harder, they’d finish faster" and spend less. "If faculty taught more frequently, we wouldn’t need as many instructors."


British students race at Cambridge's Trinity College in the 1981 movie "Chariots of Fire."

In a survey last winter, 64 percent of four-year college students said they put “a lot of effort” into school, yet less than a third of self-described hard workers devoted even 10 hours a week to studying. "We’ve normalized a college culture where 12 hours of class and another 10 to 12 hours of studying constitute a full week's work," Hess writes.


In Great Britain, Cambridge expects students to spend 42 to 46 hours a week on academics and finish a bachelor's degree in three years, he writes.


At the nation’s most expensive colleges, professors don't work very hard either, Hess writes. They teach just "one or two in the fall and the same in the spring," which "amounts to three or six hours a week of teaching for 24 weeks a year and the occasional office hour, with most time devoted to bureaucratic work, research of uneven provenance, or griping about campus parking."


At community colleges and regional state universities, which cost much less, "faculty routinely teach four courses each semester or more."


Photo: cottonbro studios/Pexels

General education" classes are a waste of students' time and money, argues Phillip W. Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research. "While a case remains for restoring a classical liberal-arts component to the bachelor’s degree, the unfortunate reality is that many course offerings in this area amount to little more than low-rigor ideological activism. In effect, many modern Gen-Ed requirements exist to provide job security for faculty in bloated and hyper-politicized departments with declining enrollment."


At many European universities, Magness notes, "students choose a major at the outset and finish their degree in three years."


Even as more American students earn Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment credits, they seem to take longer to finish what used to be a four-year degree.


Only one in five high school graduates in the class of '23 was prepared to earn a B or C in entry-level college classes, reports ACT. Scores hit a 32-year low this year. "More than 40 percent of new graduates didn’t meet ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks in any subject, and only 21 percent met benchmarks in all four."


The Martin Center's Part 2 adds more ideas.


Ezra Meyer, a recent George Washington University graduate, calls for end to student debt cancelation. If students think they won't have to pay their loans, they'll have no incentive to be thrifty in their college choices, he writes. Universities will keep jacking up tuition.


"If colleges want to save a few million bucks without cutting vital services, while at the same time preserving their academic integrity, they should eliminate DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) programs and their accompanying bureaucracies," writes Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English at Georgia State University-Perimeter College.


Jenna A. Robinson, president of the Martin Center, makes a pitch for performance-based funding to incentivize good management.

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7 Comments


Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Oct 13, 2023

One aspect of our One World High College of Mathematics & Sciences proposal is the idea of embedding community college in the last two years of high school, for students qualified for such early admission (for example, by hitting the ACT benchmarks), followed, for those successfully qualifying at the end of such two-year college programmes (like those in Quebec), by state-subsidized four-year bachelor's degrees, with three-fourths of the credits assuring competence in the student's major course via annual final exams (like those in Oxbridge), accompanied by some classical liberal arts general ed (of the sort the best American university colleges specialize in), and of course no DEI at all.

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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
Oct 12, 2023

Community colleges can provide a basic college education for a FAR lower cost than the 4 year universities. One advantage is that they heavily rely on "adjunct" professors -- part-time teachers who are paid by the number of classes taught. There often are no benefits, no pension, and no seniority. Sometimes such educators teach at more than one CC -- hence the derisive label "freeway flyers." These teachers are not expecting to gain tenure, nor do they have to publish arcane gobbledygook papers. A big advantage is that they can be fired or (to a degree) rewarded for their performance. Tenured professors become fat, lazy and -- too often -- insufferable boors. Plus, frequently-incompetent TA's actually teach the tenured professors' classes.

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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
Oct 12, 2023

In the 60's, many public colleges had to accept most applicants. So the tough major departments designed freshman "washout" classes in the more demanding majors -- designed to wean out the ill-prepared and ill-suited freshman who would seldom graduate in a non-liberal arts major. It MAY still be true today -- I'm out of touch in that regard. This "washout' policy was quite effective -- and humane. Many such students then dropped out of college, while many more shifted majors to the less demanding liberal arts majors.

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Guest
Oct 12, 2023
Replying to

In my day (60s), freshman weeder classes (typically math, sciences and English lit/comp) applied to all freshman; regardless of major. It worked, too; the number of freshmen dropped significantly during/after the first semester. The tough majors added their own weed-out classes after that. I agree that it was humane; the unprepared and/or unmotivated were gone; saving money and time.


When my kids were in college, the tough majors had both admission standards higher than the university as a whole and freshman weeder classes. In the highly-ranked business school, aspiring finance, econ and accounting majors had to get at least a B in intro finance, accounting AND micro/macro econ to continue in any of those majors; with NO retaking the courses…

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Guest
Oct 12, 2023

There could also be standardization across universities such as calculus I covers an agreed set of concepts. Universities could all be like Cal Poly and just admit students to a certain program and if the students wants to change major, the student changes universities. Universities could also use more firewalls to keep low probability of success students out of the harder majors. Universities could also become brutal in advising so that students do not waste years pursuing a major that they will never finish.


Once again, if one wants everyone who gets a degree to finish in four years then one has to accept higher failure rates and more drop out of those who do not get degrees.

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Guest
Oct 12, 2023

DE often doesn't apply towards the college degree. 11th grade PreCalc is still 11th grade math, whether its for dual credit or just high school credit. Families here know it, and opt out of paying for the college credit. Want to save college costs -- bring back honors with enough seats for all those able. That will mean less tutoring, less math center help and less writing center help.

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