09 November 2011

Footnotes on the Higher Education Bubble's Many Failures

The following excerpts are taken from a NYBooks.com article by Anthony Grafton. Grafton tries to take a wide angle view of the performance of US universities, using several recent books on higher education as springboards. His conclusions are not encouraging.
The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years. And a look at their academic experience helps to explain why. Students reported spending twelve hours a week, on average, studying—down from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 and twenty in 1981. Half the students in the sample had not taken a course that required more than twenty pages of writing in the previous semester, while a third had not even taken a course that required as much as forty pages a week of reading.

...Second, and more depressing: vast numbers of students come to university with no particular interest in their courses and no sense of how these might prepare them for future careers. The desire they cherish, Arum and Roksa write, is to act out “cultural scripts of college life depicted in popular movies such as Animal House (1978) and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002).” Academic studies don’t loom large on their mental maps of the university. Even at the elite University of California, students report that on average they spend “twelve hours [a week] socializing with friends, eleven hours using computers for fun, six hours watching television, six hours exercising, five hours on hobbies”—and thirteen hours a week studying.

...Fewer than 70 percent of high school students graduate. Just over 70 percent of those graduates will enter some form of postsecondary education. But barely more than half of those who start BA programs will finish them in six years, and only 30 percent of those who start community college will win an associate degree in three years. After that point, most people don’t manage to graduate.

...Americans, as Malcolm Harris recently pointed out, now owe almost a trillion dollars in student loans, more than they owe in credit card debt. Student debt, he explained, “is an exceptionally punishing kind to have. Not only is it inescapable through bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, social security payments, and even unemployment benefits.”

...All this to pay for an education that—as we have already seen—means little, intellectually, to many of those who are courting debtors’ prison to pay for it. The unkindest cut of all, of course, is that those who drop out must still carry the full burden of the loans that so many of them have taken out—even though they will, in all probability, earn less and fare worse in hard times than graduates. Yet even unemployment among graduates has been rising—as have rates of student loan default.

... Students drink too much alcohol, smoke too much marijuana, play too many computer games, wreck cars, become pregnant, get overwhelmed trying to help anorexic roommates, and too often lose the modest but vital support previously provided by a parent who has been laid off.

...the dark hordes of forgotten students who leave the university as Napoleon’s army left Russia, uninspired by their courses, wounded in many cases by what they experience as their own failures, weighed down by their debts, need to be seen and heard.
_NYBooks.com Anthony Grafton
We are likely to see and hear them in news coverage from their crime-ridden "Occupy" camps -- perhaps in your hometown. Or maybe they can get jobs as professional activists, community organisers, union enforcers or get-out-the-vote strong armers.

Never prepared for genuine responsibility by their parents or "the system", they learned to put off growing up until the last possible moment. And "surprise!" they never did accomplish the feat.

This is one piece of the puzzle, which in toto reveals the collapse of human capital across a society. Someone will need to come along and pick up the pieces of former wholes which a massive -- in some cases, designed -- neglect by responsible parties has fractured to shards.

Anthony Grafton, the author of the above review, suggests that the answer may lie in the public dissection of the university by skilled writers -- including fiction writers. He feels that if readers were to see the reality in all its poignant destructiveness, that changes might then be forced upon the university. But honestly, who reads anymore? Not the power brokers who would have to be swayed in order to effect the necessary changes. And even if they did read, their vested interests in the current system penetrate so deeply, that nothing short of a nuclear explosion under their chairs would do the trick.

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Blogger PRCalDude said...

I think that fundamentally, to fix the American education system would require fixing the American people. I don't see that in the offing.

Friday, 11 November, 2011  
Blogger opit said...

The American people have been 'fixed' already.

Monday, 08 October, 2012  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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