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Make college relevant, not a resort vacation (my column in the Greenville News)

A big thanks to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for the link!

This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  A topic I’m passionate about, in no small part thanks to hearing Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit.com, speak on it at Clemson University.  Visit his website:  www.instapundit.com.

Here’s a link to Glenn’s book:  http://www.amazon.com/Higher-Education-Bubble-Encounter-Broadside/dp/1594036659

Here’s the link to my column, with text to follow.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20121028/OPINION/310280008/Ed-Leap-Make-college-relevant-not-resort-vacation?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

My oldest son is now a high school senior.  Therefore, we have been looking at college options in South Carolina.  He is a born and bred South Carolinian who doesn’t really want to leave his home state.  He has a sense of family, and a sense of place.

I have made several observations while reading brochures, comparing prices and traveling to different locales in the search for the right school for him to attend . First, this is a beautiful state with some magnificent centers of learning.  I had no idea how many majors there are now, how many opportunities to study abroad, how many honors colleges and possible career paths!  When I was in school it was, you know, wheel making and Mammoth studies.  But I digress.

Whenever we have toured a center of learning (and I won’t name them specifically) my wife and I have heard great things about the way our son will mature, will be exposed to opportunities, will ‘develop as a human being.’  (Which I thought was kind of a given, being a human and all.)

We’ve been assured that kids who attend those schools make great progress, and become fully actualized, able to impact the world in a diverse, cutting edge, technologically savvy, multi-cultural, sustainable, tolerant and environmentally friendly manner that would be the envy of anyone in the world.

I had no idea that college was all of that!  You see, silly old person that I am, I thought that our colleges and universities were supposed to help students learn to think clearly, accumulate knowledge and enter useful graduate programs or find meaningful, gainful employment in the world.  I didn’t know it was all about ‘development.’

But since it is, let me tell you what I’ve developed.  I’ve developed a little bit of cynicism about the four-year university.  Why is that, with such magnificent institutions?   Well, a couple of things come to mind.  First, marketing.  My son is constantly introduced to images of lovely dorms and cable television embedded in every treadmill in the shiny gym. He is told about how the sushi bar is a great place to use some of his meal program money and how certain dorms allow opposite sex sleepovers during the week. He learns about the fun of the Greek system and the delights of the town.

And what his bitter, cynical, sometimes wise father knows is this:  college graduates currently have a 50-53% unemployment rate, and nationwide, the college drop-out rate is around 40%.  That student loan defaults are rising and retirees are having their Social Security checks docked for old student loans.  (Which cannot be erased in bankruptcy, by the way). What I know is that across the country, administrative burden is killing education (much as it is in medicine), that all too many fascinating majors lead to low-paying work in the food service industry and that the whole experience generally comes to around $20,000/year for a state run four-year university in SC.

What I have to ask our state educators is this:  have you read about the plight of students?  Are you concerned that many students can’t find work related to their degree, if they find work at all?  Are you at all troubled that without serious scholarships they may enter life with tremendous debt, or that their families will bear the debt?  (And that the ones going to graduate school or professional school will be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt?)

I challenge the higher education officials of South Carolina to do what Texas did and develop a 4 year degree for $10,000.  I want them to encourage more college-bound students to use technical and community colleges for part (or all) of their educations. And I dare the educators of this state to be honest about the realistic job prospects associated with some of their fascinating, but fiscally shaky, programs of study.

I love South Carolina.  My son does too.  He wants to go to school here.  And so do many of his friends with less material blessings than my family.  But our state, indeed our nation, had better pay attention to the plight of its students. We need to stop marketing college as a four year resort vacation and start having compassion for the kids we send off in the tired old belief that college guarantees a good future.

Because it doesn’t anymore. And educators have to either admit the truth, or make college relevant, and affordable, once again.

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41 Comments

Forrest

2012-11-02 22:16:11 Reply

But, but, my public school teachers and faculty told me that a college degree in liberal arts would be far, far better than doing any kind of nasty trade work…

Jeffersonian

2012-11-02 22:22:19 Reply

I couldn’t agree more. My oldest son just went off to Mizzou this year, and it’s exactly as the doctor said, a resort. The dorms are renovated to a high standard, the classrooms palatial and don’t even get me started on the Student Rec Center there.

Whenver I hear people decry the condition of the physical facilities of schools today, I regale them with stories of a school I know about that had leaky steam heat in the rooms, crowded lecture halls with creaking wooden desks, drafty windows and bowed wood floors. Then I tell them that delapidated hellhole was my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, one of the best schools in the country.

Facilities have little to do with our educational woes today, and upgrading them to resorts isn’t going to fix a thing.

MingoV

2012-11-02 22:56:12 Reply

The biggest problem with colleges and universities is not that they’ve become expensive resorts that pander to left-wing values. The biggest problem is that they have dumbed-down the content for most majors. Thus, most bachelor degrees have little value. That’s the main reason why a huge percentage of college grads cannot get college-level jobs. It also explains why some jobs that used to require bachelor degrees now require masters degrees.

If the dumbing-down trend is not reversed, then, for most students, college will be four (or five or six) nine-month long Club Med vacations followed by years of living with parents while working part-time stocking grocery shelves.

richardsson

2012-11-02 23:03:39 Reply

We need more Dads like you. Stick to your guns.

Chance

2012-11-02 23:28:50 Reply

Dumb down .. pointless … etc.
MIT is different. But for the majority …
It is a model based on leisure, the gentleman’s C, college. College should be night school oriented. Textbooks should be PDF/HTML. Cut costs!
And a universal accreditation and transfer system!
Can the government do anything right!!!??

iconoclast

2012-11-02 23:52:14 Reply

I asked a vice-Provost of a major public university just what was driving up costs so much. It certainly wasn’t the professors or grad students doing it. And many of the buildings at this institution were either paid for through fund-raising or from an endowment. So why were prices constantly rising? His response shocked me–over regulation. He said that the state regulations imposed tremendous costs on the university that could not be avoided. We didn’t go any farther in the discussion than that, but that was more than enough.

E. L. Erickson

2012-11-03 09:03:38 Reply

I took my junior daughter on campus visits in Colorado last spring. Five colleges, all public. On every tour, we were shown the new climbing wall in the new rec center. It became a joke between us and defined the moment when she lost all interest in the school–the reveal of the climbing wall. No tour took us to the library. On one campus, the library was closed on the Saturday of our visit. She chose the sixth college we visited. Public, but no climbing wall. I couldn’t be prouder.

MarkD

2012-11-03 10:18:08 Reply

Griggs vs Duke Power killed the aptitude test as a method of screening for technical jobs (except in the military, go figure.) Now you have a four year degree as the substitute. Now the schools have a seller’s market, and they have exploited it.

A lot of those in college don’t belong. A lot of what is taught is nonsense (grievance studies tops my list, but there are others.) It should be mandatory for every institution of higher education to publish graduation rates and the employment rate in their field of study by major.)

This isn’t new. My Marine Biology degree holding HS classmate is a drug company rep.

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