FIELDS: Pricking the academic bloat

Is a university degree still worth the trouble?

The last of the college applications have been rewritten, tweaked and polished and at last entrusted to the tender mercies of the U.S. mail or the Internet. Fretting over deadlines morphs into waiting, and yearning, wishing and praying for coveted letters of acceptance. This is the annual crisis in thousands of homes with ambitious high school seniors — the high school seniors and their parents who still believe that college is the route to the American Dream.

But wait. While they play the conventional game of aspiration, certain scholars, economists and hundreds of thousands of “concerned citizens” have initiated a different debate, and the debate is growing. They’re talking about the changes in university life and whether we should continue up the garden path worn bare over the decades. The debate is over the “higher education bubble,” a phrase popularized by Glenn Reynolds, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Tennessee, who compares what’s happening in higher education to what happened when housing became a feverish exercise in speculation.

“Bubbles form when too many people expect values to go up forever,” Mr. Reynolds says. “Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already where education is concerned.” With so much fat in the system, the knowledge protein may not be enough to produce the intellectual muscle needed for a prosperous life in the 21st century. Like fast food and high energy drinks, empty education calories offer only temporary highs.

“The college presidents with their $1 million-plus salaries, and bloated administrative staffs, the whole system of tenure has turned out to be as much a recipe for intellectual conformity as it is a fiscal nightmare,” observes the New Criterion, a magazine that closely follows the politicization of the university. In the decade after 2001, the number of administrators grew 50 times faster than the number of instructors, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A decline in the hours spent in teaching by tenured professors coincides with sharply increasing tuition fees to pay for luxury dorms, dining halls and gyms that have little to do with actual learning but everything to do with bulking up the academic bureaucracy.

With tightening family budgets, the high debt that accompanies students to college and an increasing public reckoning of diminishing value, college becomes a risky investment. Hundreds of parents are concluding that it may not be worth it. Moody’s Investors Service, the credit rating firm, finds that students are “increasingly attending more affordable community colleges, studying part time, or electing to enter the work force without the benefit of a college education.” Total student debt now approaches a trillion dollars.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that new technology offers less expensive access to information, providing quality goods at lower cost.

In prophesying the end of the university as we know it, Nathan Harden, author of “Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad,” finds a silver lining in the crisis, an innovative challenge that goes beyond avoiding the pitfalls in the long title of his book. Students seeking knowledge could pay a fraction of what they do now to get an education, often a better education, as streaming videos replace live lectures, and professors and students employ the Internet to exchange papers and exams, and join in conversations over the course work.

“If a faster, cheaper way of sharing information emerges, history shows us that it will quickly supplant what came before,” writes Mr. Harden in American Interest magazine.

Textbooks are already less expensive in the ebook edition. Students can read out-of-copyright books free on the Internet’s Project Gutenberg. If the best professors and universities participate, the virtual classroom can reach millions of students. When computer-guided learning is combined with traditional classroom discussion, students learn faster. High tech plus human contact forges a powerful union.

There are obstacles aplenty to improving higher education for less money, but the trends inspire optimism. One professor of computer science at Stanford discovered he could reach as many online students in one year as it would take to reach in 250 years in a college classroom. Harvard and MIT now offer a credentialed certificate for students who complete their online courses and can show a mastery of the material.

The monks who salvaged the classics, recording them with painful diligence on papyrus, nevertheless lost their jobs with Johann Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type. If there’s a phoenix to rise from the ashes of university excess, then bandwidth, RAM and gigabytes must assist its flight. When fleet-footed Hermes is reincarnated as a courier of fast-forward high tech, the university bubble may burst in many directions, accelerating the delivery of information.

There’s a caution (as there always is). The speed with which information is delivered has little to do with the achievement of wisdom. As the Bard would say, “Aye, there’s the rub.”

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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28 thoughts on “FIELDS: Pricking the academic bloat

  1. Hello everyone,

    I hope everyone is doing good!


    Love Teri and The Village kids

  2. There is a paradigm shift occuring in education caused by the availability of technology and an education system that is tired and overpriced. Much of the cost is not buying a better education but rather better “frills on campus”. What we need is a viable coexistence of classroom interface with online lectures from the best. Just as we each read or listen to books through different means, there is no longer a need for a one size fits all approach. Your classmates and instructors can be anywhere.

    The best banks are no long the ones with the best buildings and branches but those with the best and most secure banking systems and online help. I love the new Discover commercial which claims a live person will be there to help you when you call. Colleges are similar and will gradually redefine themselves. I hope they are up to the challenge.

  3. Normita I am lighting your virtual birthday cake with two virtual candles. Gotta stay young you know…

    Karel, thinking about you. I hope you are getting along okay.

    Yes, finally, Taylor, the college professor scam will finally break. These guys are the most pompous group of people I have ever met, and at UCLA PLATO Society I met plenty of the so-called retired ones. They can not let go of themselves, still trying to “teach” us all what they believe. As if some of us, if we had the desire to do so, could not have run circles around their lecture series.

    Like I have said before, the whole teaching paradigm is changing, and changing fast. Online classes a thousand times better than most run of the mill professors could offer. Online degrees from accredited universities. I hope they do away with the pot-smoking dormitories. This will allow the serious ones to get serious degrees. It will take stamina and dedication to get degrees online. No silly games with the college roommates. Most of our college students will be dropping out like fleas.

    One young lady I know who attends Stanford on a scholarship told me it is worth $58,000, and worth every penny she said, and she would gladly get a loan if she did not have the scholarship. Does she know what it takes to pay off a $58,000 loan? She is a communications major, with no real job opportunities. What do communications majors do? I asked her if she would work in an embassy or something. She said she did not know, but was planning her thesis around the topic of Palestinian/Israeli relations. In a one minute discussion, I knew everything about that topic, and she knew nothing. And all I did to acquire my knowledge was run a two hour discussion on the topic at PLATO. She should have run circles around what I knew. So what do they study? At least with the science majors, I knew what kind of rigor their classes required.

  4. I had great professors when I went to college and I value the education I received. But half of the courses could have been taken remotely with the same or better results. Normita, what do you think now that you completed your program? Our daughter earned her Master through BU with half the courses on campus and the rest online. Some of my best friends I met in a classroom but look how we have become friends through this media.

    One change I notice at all levels of school is the overuse of “group” projects or assignments. It would have diven me nuts since you spend more time arranging times, etc. than tackling the material. When I had big projects, I would dedicate a full Saturday to getting it started, hole up in a secluded spot and get the framework done and from there I could tweak later knowing I had a solid foundation. Much of the work I assigned as a manager involved teamwork but it only works when everyone is coming to the table as a independent and confident individual contributor.

    Off topic, I want to share a small family project I started this year. I had three Mason jars that had decorative tops that my sister had cross-stitched as a memento for a long ago family gathering but they were gathering dust in a closet. So this year we are using them to collect loose change. At the end of the year we will decide upon a charity to donate the money. It will be interesting to see what charity we mutally select.

    Have a great day.

  5. Good Morning, Villagers…nippy start to the day, highs in the mid 50’s, looking at mostly clear skies!

    Feeling better this morning…thanks for all the well wishes…I’m going to head out to run, well, walk, some errands that are much needed. Trying to catch up will be a chore…but, I’m looking forward to it…slowly but surely!!

    This is a great blog thread…until our society places more value on those that chose other options rather than college….we will continue to have problems. Since we’re emphasizing the “collective” rather than the individual now…who knows when things will shift. Also, is it in the Progressives interest to give up the college experience…where they can mold the minds of future generations to their idealogy? Of course, doing it remotely, with our media exspousing their idealogy has worked wonders. It’s going to be interesting to see how things change.

    Enjoy your day…

  6. Good morning. Karel, great to hear from you. You are so correct about emphasizing accreditation other than college degrees. But you ask what would that be? I guess auto shop is still in, and so in apprenticeship to trades, such as building or plumbing. Those fields have changed, requiring much more computer savvy. I was reading yesterday that robotics is eliminating a tremendous amount of jobs, with few replacement jobs. What will our grandchildren do? Is the traditional job going out the window? What will all these people do?

  7. Hello Everyone,

    karel … Im so glad your feeling some better!

    I just had to come and say something about BHO , i heard what was said today ‘That he is a great shooter and shoots all the time skeet! OMG RIGHT I GUESS THAT MAKES HIM ANNIE OAKLEY NOW! WHAT A FREAKIN JOKE HE IS. YUCK!
    Sorry just had to throw that in i just it and it reminded me of his statements in 2008 primary!

    We are all fighting the flu the kids are all still down and out of school with fevers and pretty sick for almost 2 weeks now after the flu shots. The 2 older kids are going back to school today but the 2 little ones are very sick.

    Love you all


  8. Karel, we so glad you are feeling better. I’m sure it will be baby steps for awhile. And Teri, there is something just miserasble when az whole household is sick. My parent have been sick with either from the flu or a cold for almost a month. I think they keep passing it back and forth to each other. They haven’t been horribly sick but just enough to keep them in and away from others. I learneds the other day that not all hand santizers work for the prevention of nurovirus which was news to me.

    During this time of the year we see an indirect benefit for online learning. No spreading of germs.

  9. Thanks for all the birthday wishes! Bob and Shirley treated me to brunch at a seafood restaurant in the town of Benicia, formerly the state capital of California. Love the food and service was excellent.
    We then took a walk along the main street where many antique stores are and had a lot of fun looking and touching.
    Karel, so glad to see that you’re better. I sent you an email to meetup one of these days.
    In August, Bob and I will be in Florida for a week, then will go to New York City to meetup with some of the hillaryvillagers. Hope I can meet with Tanya and Kathy again. If we take the train to DC, we will certainly let Taylor know, should be fun!

  10. I love this thread because it shows how higher education has evolved. According to a recent article, more four-year college graduates are finding jobs than in previous years, but their pay and job positions are lower than expected. That is sure sign of the times that people are willing to take less pay just to be in the workplace.

  11. I never heard of Benicia so I never knew it was the previous state capitol. We are so glad you hd a nice birthday and you are brave to head to Floridsa in August. Just be sure to bring cool clothes. Do let me know your travel plans as they evolve.

    We had 70 degree weather today with clouds and a nice 2 inches of rain. We just had April weatherin January but February is scheduled to start cold.

    Obama is going to Minneapolis on Monday to speak about gun control and was in Las Vegas to speak about immigration. He does like to select his audiences.

  12. Hello Everyone,

    Just stopping in to say hi and we are still hanging in here the kids are getting better but still in thier rooms, and today was the 1st day i even went out to the store in almost 2 weeks.

    Shandy has been back to she didnt get it very bad, thank God.

    RIP to the astronants!

    I hope everyone is doing ok.

    It seems weird but good Hillary is not in a role yet, i hope she gets some much needed rest as she looks so tired.

    Love you all

    Teri and The Village Kids

  13. Good morning. Not much to add to anything. Been working outside lately. We had some very cold weather here that caused a lot of us to lose shrubbery, plants. All my flower plants around my tree circles were dead. I had to clean up and replant. Looks better now.

    It seems lika long time ago, and yet it is not, when our astronauts were the heroes of the world. I am taking a class in astronomy this time around. I have an excellent woman teacher who can explain things easily. I am in love with my universe again. She is hilarious. She gets really excited about her topic, and wears kooky star earrings, or planet hair clips, or Saturn ring bracelets. I smile on my way to her class.

  14. When the class ends you must tell her that you smile on your way to class. This is a great compliment. I just heard that my first grade teacher died last week. She had 52 students and no aide but we did great. Sister Conall was 85 and lived a full life.. Here is the obituary that I found online.

    It is cold here but we have enjoyed the flock of birds around the feedeers.

  15. Good Morning, Villagers…lots of clouds, it’s a gray day, highs on the cool side, about 58 degrees!

    Taylor…that Jello spot is full of fun and a great idea on someone’s part….hopefully, it will put a smile on many faces today. The emphasis on the middle class is much needed in my opinion…we’re falling futher and further behind as a group than either one of the other groups. The poor have many programs to keep them afloat and this administration has grown that class through food stamps, etc., the rich, well, they’ll always manage to survive…the middle class, the bulk of the working class, is in trouble, everything is more and more expensive, wages are stagnant and jobs are few and far between…they’re the trapped class in many ways. Addressing their concerns has been all window dressing and I believe they’re going to be tapped for more and more taxes to support our ever growing government…sheer numbers of the middle class suggest they’re the only way out of the mess we’re in. Obama has been pitting each group against each other to mask what he’s doing…I think that can only go on short term…we’ll see.

    I still haven’t gotten my two house calendars for this year…it’s February already. I miss the big book stores nearby…so I need to go hunting now.

    Normita…tough loss for the Niner’s, I think they’ve only just begun their resurgence though!

    Mary…studying the universe must be a treat, especially with someone so infectious teaching it…do you like science fiction as well?

    Enjoy your day…

    • Karel, upload photos that you like, go to Shutterfly and make your own. It is really quite easy. I make a calendar for the family every year and it is actually fun to do

      How did jello distribute the free pudding?

  16. We quietly spent superbowl Sunday at home and skipped the annual party with GE co-workers. Our team lost, but we’re excited once again.

  17. Tomorrow we are driving to West Virginia for the day. Everytime we cross the Shenadoah River I immediately feel sad thinking of the Civil War conflict and losses. We live surrounded by areas where major battle were fought. We have visited Antietam several times and it is hard to imagine the loss. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with 22,717 dead, wounded and missing on both sides combined. They commemorated 150 years last September. Gettysburg honors the 150 years since its battle this July.

  18. Hello Everyone.

    Ive missed you all so much!

    I came to sing to Marypuma

    I hope you have a great and may all of you wishes come true.

    I have missed everyone else also , but we are still in a fight for thgese sweet kids.
    we thought we had some goodthing happening she was out running on a felony warrent and they caught her so we were so happy but the senetence her to 8 months in jail and if you can belive how bad CA, jail systems are they let her out within 8 hours and said its because of over crowding so shes back out giving us more threats “” we thought with her lock up we were going to feel at peace in the when the kids played and swim in the backyard. But we are just warning the kids to stay away and not to be tricked by her, But with Gods help will make through this.

    Well i hope each and everyone have a blessed and happy Easter

    Love you
    Teri and The Village Kids

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