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Smart Ways to Make College Cheaper and Better

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Unread 05.15.19, 04:04 PM
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Smart Ways to Make College Cheaper and Better

On 05.14.19 09:01 PM posted by Walter E. Williams

Distinguished professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University Richard Vedder’s new book “Restoring the Promise,” published by the Independent Institute based in Oakland, California, is about the crisis in higher education.

He summarizes the three major problems faced by America’scolleges and universities.

First, our universities “are vastly too expensive,often costing twice as much per student compared with institutions in otherindustrialized democracies.”

Second, though there are some important exceptions, students“on average are learning relatively little, spend little time in academicpreparation and in some disciplines are indoctrinated by highly subjectiveideology.”

Third, “there is a mismatch between student occupational expectations after graduation and labor market realities.” College graduates often find themselves employed as baristas, retail clerks, and taxi drivers.

The extraordinary high college cost not only saddlesstudents with debt, it causes them to defer activities such as getting marriedand starting a family, buying a home, and saving for retirement.

Research done by the New York Federal Reserve Banks and the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that each dollar of federal aid to college leads to a tuition increase of 60 cents.

For the high cost of college, what do students learn?

A seminal study, “Academically Adrift,” by RichardArum and Josipa Roksa, after surveying 2,300 students at various colleges,argues that very little improvement in critical reasoning skills occurs incollege. Adult literacy is falling among college graduates. Large proportionsof college graduates do not know simple facts, such as the half-century inwhich the Civil War occurred.

There are some exceptions to this academic incompetency,most notably in technical areas such as engineering, nursing, architecture, andaccounting, where colleges teach vocationally useful material.

Vedder says that student ineptitude is not surprising sincethey spend little time in classrooms and studying. It’s even less surprisingwhen one considers student high school preparation. According to 2010 and 2013 NationalAssessment of Educational Progress test scores, only 37% of 12th-graders wereproficient in reading, 25% in math, 12% in history, 20% in geography, and 24%in civics.

What happens when many of these students graduate saddledwith debt?

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in an October 2018report, finds that many students are underemployed, filling jobs that can bedone with a high school education. More than one-third of currently workingcollege graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flightattendants, janitors, and salesmen.

In addition to this kind of resource misallocation, 40% ormore college students fail to graduate in six years. It is not unreasonable toask whether college attendance was a wise use of these students’ time and theresources of their parents and taxpayers.

Vedder has several important ideas for higher educationreform. First, we should put an end to the university monopoly on certifyingeducational and vocational competency. Non-college organizations could packageacademic courses and award degrees based upon external examinations.

Regarding financial aid, colleges should be forced to sharein covering loan defaults—namely, they need to have some skin in the game. Moreimportantly, Vedder says that we should end or revise the federal student aidprogram.

Vedder ends “Restoring the Promise” with a numberof proposals with which I agree:
  • College administrative staff often exceeds the teaching staff. Vedder says, “I doubt there is a major campus in America where you couldn’t eliminate very conservatively 10% of the administrative payroll (in dollar terms) without materially impacting academic performance.”
  • Reevaluate academic tenure. Tenure is an employment benefit that has costs, and faculty members should be forced to make trade-offs between it and other forms of university compensation.
  • Colleges of education, with their overall poor academic quality, are an embarrassment on most campuses and should be eliminated.
  • End speech codes on college campuses by using the University of Chicago principles on free speech.
  • Require a core curriculum that incorporates civic and cultural literacy.
  • The most important measure of academic reforms is to make university governing boards independent and meaningful. In my opinion, most academic governing boards are little more than yes men for the president and provost.
The post Smart Ways to Make College Cheaper and Better appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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