From cost to employment prospects, the state of American higher education is dismal for students.
Modern American universities used to assume four goals.
First, their general education core taught students how to reason inductively and imparted an aesthetic sense through acquiring knowledge of Michelangelo, the Battle of Gettysburg, “Medea” and “King Lear,” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and astronomy and Euclidean geometry.
Second, campuses encouraged edgy speech and raucous expression — and exposure to all sorts of weird ideas and mostly unpopular thoughts. College talk was never envisioned as boring, politically correct megaphones echoing orthodox pieties.
Third, four years of college trained students for productive careers. Implicit was the university’s assurance that its degree was a wise career investment.
Finally, universities were not monopolistic price gougers. They sought affordability to allow access to a broad middle class that had neither federal subsidies nor lots of money.
The American undergraduate university is now failing on all four counts.
A bachelor’s degree is no longer proof that any graduate can read critically or write effectively. National college-entrance-test scores have generally declined the last few years, and grading standards have as well.
Too often, universities emulate greenhouses where fragile adults are coddled as if they were hothouse orchids. Hypersensitive students are warned about “micro-aggressions” that in the real world would be imperceptible.
Apprehensive professors are sometimes supposed to offer “trigger warnings” that assume students are delicate Victorians who cannot handle landmark authors such as Joseph Conrad or Mark Twain.
“Safe spaces” are designated areas where traumatized students can be shielded from supposedly hurtful or unwelcome language that should not exist in a just and fair world.
One might have concluded from all this doting that 21st-century American youth culture — rap lyrics, rough language, spring break indulgences, sexual promiscuity, epidemic drug usage — is not savage. Hip culture seems to assume that its 18-year old participants are jaded sophisticated adults. Yet the university treats them as if they are preteens in need of vicarious chaperones.
Universities entice potential students with all sorts of easy loan packages, hip orientations, and perks like high-tech recreation centers and upscale dorms. On the backside of graduation, such bait-and-switch attention vanishes when it is time to help departing students find jobs.
College often turns into a six-year experience. The unemployment rate of college graduates is at near-record levels. Universities have either failed to convince employers that English or history majors make ideal job candidates, or they have failed to ensure that such bedrock majors can, in fact, speak, write, and reason well.
The collective debt of college students and graduates is more than $1 trillion. Such loans result from astronomical tuition costs that for decades have spiked more rapidly than the rate of inflation.
Today’s campuses have a higher administrator-to-student ratio than ever before. Those who actually teach are now a minority of university employees. Various expensive “centers” address student problems that once were considered either private matters or well beyond the limited resources of the campus.
Is it too late for solutions?
For many youths, vocational school is preferable to college. Americans need to appreciate that training to become a master auto mechanic, paramedic, or skilled electrician is as valuable to society as a cultural-anthropology or feminist-studies curriculum.
There are far too many special studies courses and trendy majors — and far too few liberal-arts surveys of literature, history, art, music, math, and science that for centuries were the sole hallowed methods of instilling knowledge.
Administrators should decide whether they see students as mature, independent adults who handle life’s vicissitudes with courage and without need for restrictions on free expression. Or should students remain perennial weepy adolescents, requiring constant sheltering, solicitousness, and self-esteem building?
Diversity might be better redefined in its most ancient and idealistic sense as differences in opinion and thought rather than just variety in appearance, race, gender, or religion.
The now-predictable ideology of college graduation speakers should instead be a mystery. Students should not be able to guess the politics of their college president. Ideally, they might encounter as many Christians as atheists, as many reactionaries as socialists, or as many tea partyers as Occupy Wall Street protestors, reflecting the normal divisions of society at large.
Colleges need to publicize the employment rates of recent graduates and the percentage of students who complete their degrees so that strapped parents can do cost-benefit analyses like they do with any other major cash investment.
A national standardized exit test should be required of all graduates. If colleges predicate admissions in part on performance on the SAT or ACT, they certainly should be assessed on how well — or not so well — students score on similar tests after years of expensive study.
Finally, the federal government should hold universities fiscally accountable. The availability of federal grants should be pegged to a college’s ability to hold annual tuition increases to the rate of inflation.
At this late date, only classically liberal solutions can address what have become illiberal problems.
© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
21 thoughts on “The Modern University Is Failing Students in Every Respect”
If your children fear going into unrecoverable debt by attending a US college or university, I highly recommend they consider moving to Germany and studying here.
While admission to German universities are competitive, it is somewhat easier to be admitted into a German university due to policies favoring international students to some extent. State regulations dictate that around 8% of university places are to be reserved for non-EU citizens,
General tuition fees at German Universities are capped at €500 per semester, which means you spend only €1000 yearly on tuition fees irrespective of your course of study and only applies to certain states. There are still many other states with strong universities which do not charge a single cent for tuition fees! This is in large part due to the German belief that education ought to be prioritized as means of social mobility and progress, explaining the generous funding for various research programs at the university level – so who says you can’t get anything good for close to nothing, or even free?
The cost of living is still moderately affordable, with most students getting by on around €600-800 a month (including rent), or €950-1100 in big cities with higher costs of living. After doing the math, this means that you can effectively complete your entire undergraduate degree at the same cost a year of tuition in the USA.
According to the latest THE rankings, 12 German universities – most belonging to the German equivalent of the Ivy League universities – belong to the top 200 universities globally, testifying to the high quality of education in Germany. Universities such as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology are ranked 7th in Europe for citation impact, while the Free University of Berlin ranks 6th in Europe for the Arts and Humanities.
Other universities such as the University of Munich (LMU München), the Technical University of Munich and the University of Heidelberg are also amongst some of the most reputable and well-regarded universities in the world according to various surveys and rankings, including those by prospective employers.
Best of all, your children will be able to enjoy life in Europe, pick up a second language and enter their new profession without being broke or deeply in debt on their first day at the job.
true enough. but, the modern university serves the purposes of the left quite nicely, but inculcating “values.” the university no longer educates in order to help create a worthwhile autonomous thinker, but to recruit cadres into the progressive agenda.
and, it does that well enough, thank you.
milton freewater, oregon
p.s. i graduated whitman college in 1970. in those days, it was a pretty conservative school. it is no longer. i do not contribute financial support to the school any more. if i contribute any money to a college, i make sure it goes to liberty college. i would encourage others to follow suit, if they so desire.
Was Whitman college founded by the same Whitman family who were massacred by Indians in 1847?
We’ve all heard of Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, but I wonder if the Whitman massacre is remembered with equal vigor?
Unfortunately, it begins long before they reach the college campus. There is no doubt our elementary, secondary (and, likely) pre-school effort is approaching worthless status.
The level of ignorance displayed by the so-called “tech-savvy” post WW II generations simply boggles the mind.
The “so-called ‘tech-savvy’ post WW II generations” are ignorant, no doubt.
However, let’s not forget all of the horrible things that the sanctified WW II generation did. Sure, they fought well and were victorious in WW II, but I suggest that war contributions aside, that generation did more lasting harm to the Republic than any that preceded it.
Let us not forget that this was the generation that fought civil rights legislation tooth and nail, approved LBJ’s “the great society” and war on poverty, started our country on the path that will eventually bankrupt social security, etc.
Great idea to have colleges publish graduating students’ employment rates, especially those hired in their respective fields rather than counting something like an engineering student hired as a clerk at Target. Publicizing those rates might actually shut down some schools. Also a great idea to have students unable to glean the political bent of their teachers as it broadens the range and depth of thought for students who might otherwise trend toward idolizing or demonizing their instructors. More emphasis on history would be helpful in enlightening students on recognizing those times when it is repeating itself so they won’t expect different outcomes and will also be assured that human nature is a constant.
I’d say we certainly are in quite a different time when it comes to ‘learning’. Especially ‘classical’ learning in the sense of uncovering our past to help elucidate the present and use each to look to the future. We of course build on went before as we solve the problems.inherent in the day to day activity of civilizations.
I’m not too sure students today get ‘breadth’ of subject at university. Just seems a prescription for ‘narrow-mindedness’ and limitation when it comes to thinking. .
One would have to think that after spending tons and tons of money on getting a ‘university education’ it would be disheartening to see graduates hindered in their ability to contribute to the problems of our day.
The university may also check in on that as they may rue the day where they could see a position where they have to ask themselves whether they need to exhort their graduates to make sure they use their heads for something else besides a rigid hat rack. As an old advert said, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’.
We can either shut them down or burn them down. Coin flip.
Change is coming from the unsolvable big picture—– Entrenched power/money/corruption has a date with resource shortages/ over-population/ financial shortfall’s. The moon was promised,cannot be delivered. War’s between the have’s and the have not’s. Incorruptibility is the test— the wise are golden.
Your article sparks a commentary episode as I constantly see or experience critically deficient communications skills, both written and oral. At my age (72) I rarely discourse with those in their 20’s. However, when I do it often leaves me with a sense of pity, the more so if they incurred massive debt for such a poor result. I do not sorrow for their existential selves. Its more like “what a waste of potential!”
My nephew who barely graduated high school (without a living father) had a chance to enter the electricians trade as an apprentice. Know what his state of affairs is? He is now a full “journeyman” after 8 years. No debt, a paid for 5 acres in the country with a large barn as his tinkering playground, a paid for 4 year old well built double wide, a two year car and a ten year old truck he can strip to its bones and put back together with no “extra” parts.
He listens to every conversation attentively and never opens his mouth unless his contribution is “hard on point”. He does not opinionate. He is non-political. He is not “sensitive or socially aware; yet, he houses a struggling young couple from Mexico. He asks nothing of anyone. No one or government owes him anything. His world is diverse. Work hard, camp out with friends, be kind to relatives and those less fortunate. His world is “facts”. Electricity can kill you. What a shame so many college grads have so much less for their $100-$200 thousand debt. It seems to me things will only get worse as “diversity” now seems to be the objective – rather than a marketable skill.
If I am reincarnated I’m coming back as a plumber, machinist, mechanic, electrician or mason. – at least for a while. I enjoyed your article tremendously.
a. “The collective debt of college students and graduates is more than $1 trillion. Such loans result from astronomical tuition costs that for decades have spiked more rapidly than the rate of inflation.”
b. “Today’s campuses have a higher administrator-to-student ratio than ever before.”
a pays for b.
and every b has to prove himself by creating new and exciting ways to spend a.
Admin weinnies sucking the life out of everything.
They charge lots of money for brainwashing bullets, don’t they. Our distant ancestors all came form 3rd Worldview Tribal Control. Then our distant American ancestors leaped over the damn 2nd Worldview Euro-Control-Meisters who control by all means other than Tribal, to make a 1st Worldview of liberty which makes man flourish and solves problems humanely and quickly.
Now education and Journalism idiots lock humanity into filthy rotten 2nd World Control.
Little new here for those who’ve read your book, Who Killed Homer: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (2001). In it you commented that college is not trade school: I taught my daughter that fact long before I’d learned of your books — and she reminded me of it years later. It has stood us both in good stead. If one knows how to learn, one can accomplish much.
Americans have been sold a bill of goods regarding college education. Education and obtaining a degree are not necessarily synonymous, although the former will take a life-time if approached properly! This confusion helps sell egregious tuition costs as a necessary investment while neglecting to mention that it is often money poorly spent. One does not need a college degree to be an important contributor to our shared society. But one must be educated!
Society needs – and needs to value — electricians and plumbers, more dress makers and master auto mechanics, more K-12 teachers. These people must be educated so they understand where we come from; what’s important and worthy. Absent this education one cannot judge what is of true value, what is important.
Of greater concern is the state of primary and secondary education in this country. But, that must be the topic of another essay.
Finally after all these years, I found one part of a sentence where I disagree with what Professor Hansen wrote.
“Americans need to appreciate that training to become a master auto mechanic, paramedic, or skilled electrician is as valuable to society as a cultural-anthropology or feminist-studies curriculum.”
Auto mechanics, paramedics and electricians are a billion times more valuable to society than the gender study freaks and “cultural anthropologists” that are puked out by the college system these days.
So one line out of tens of thousands, I finally disagree with Dr. Hanson.
“Neva happen”! In a perfect world people might take stock and reverse course as Dr. Hanson suggests. But the children’s hour has arrived and they’re having too much fun. Actually, I believe that all of the “partying” is meant to hide the pain of all of the lies and emptiness of a shallow lifestyle filled with unrestricted sex, drugs, and all the trimmings that go with that. It’s so painful to observe. Unfortunately, I believe that I was there at the beginning of the slide downward. I graduated from UCLA in ’68, and I don’t recognize that school anymore. I’m planning to send my BA back to them. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a worthless reminder of what can happen when irresponsible adults choose to behave as children.
“For many youths, vocational school is preferable to college. Americans need to appreciate that training to become a master auto mechanic, paramedic, or skilled electrician is as valuable to society as a cultural-anthropology or feminist-studies curriculum.”
Not for much longer. A huge story that has gone under the radar is the Obama administration’s attempted destruction of the nation’s even most reputable for-profit vocational schools, so that grants and student loan money can be directed into his “a free community college education for everyone” scheme i.e. government schools in which the curriculum and staff can be controlled.
This week 152-year-old Heald College of Northern California (with a Fresno branch, Dr. Hanson) faces permanent closure because it’s current parent company was sued by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a friend of Obama running for Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat. The national DeVry College is facing a California lawsuit, and various Democrats in Congress are on the anti-for-profit schools warpath. All Voc-Ed schools are wondering who is next on the hit list.
“” national drought mitigation center”. Scroll down for the drought monitor forum in reno,NV april 14-16. Barrack is now on the 13th hole searching for answers, nothing yet…..
It seems our disintegrating culture is determined to keep recent generations adolescent, dependent on someone or something. These people have been so nursed and mollycoddled far away from the harsh light of reality that when they graduate into the real world, many with worthless degrees, they have trouble getting work and find themselves back with their parents.
Going off to college used to be treated as a right of passage allowing for the transition away from childhood. For most, it is usually the first extended time away from home without direct parental supervision. It is, again, usually an individual’s first taste of the freedoms and privileges afforded adults. More importantly, this transition was used as an abject lesson in responsibility; that one’s decisions and actions have direct consequences–sometimes with negative repercussions.
You are absolutely correct, Mr. Hansen. College is not for everyone. College is too expensive. College no longer seems to teach critical thinking and “diversity” means only physical or sexual attributes and, in fact, seems to shun the diversity of thought.
As to fiscal accountability of colleges and graduate studies, there seems to be none. I recall our daughter’s U. of A. Rogers Law School graduation ceremony 3 years ago. The Dean, in his closing remarks, said to the graduates that they should, perhaps, try to get jobs in other fields since demand for Law Graduates has all but dried up. This after 3 years of hard work and $80k in debt.
Anyway, we very much admire you and your writings. Thank you!
Hank and Lacy Goede
The failure of our university system has become a hot topic as of late, with columnists and magazines (see the recent special report by “The Economist”, “Universities: Excellence v equity” [http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21646985-american-model-higher-education-spreading-it-good-producing-excellence]) finally addressing what many in alternative education have been rallying against for years: high cost, no proof of end value, viable alternatives dismissed, traditional systems failing to meet students’ needs, and so on. For further reading, I suggest Wes Beach’s book, “Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling: (http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/ghf-press/forging-paths-beyond-traditional-schooling/). His next book will be available in May 2015, “Self-Directed Learning: Documentation and Life Stories” (http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/ghf-press/).
Alternatives exist outside the traditional K-12 + 4 years of college framework. Students who take the path less traveled create more fulfilling, meaningful lives, without plodding through 16 years or more of mind-numbing classes, taking on suffocating debt, and waiting for their future to arrive.
The trouble is, faculty and administrators alike are all well aware of the harsh truths about academia set forth here by Victor Hanson. Their cynicism runs deep, they despise themselves for their utter uselessness, but hey, it’s a cushy life, the hours are few, and the money not bad, with lots of free time to turn out younger versions of themselves gifted in finding new fashions of groupthink and ways to bite the hands that feed them.
Exceptions are few and far between, and sadly, a dying breed.