Monday, August 02, 2010

Higher Education?

That's the title of a new book -- yes, the question mark at the end is there for a reason -- by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, and the working title reads, "How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids – And what we can do about it." The book will be launched tomorrow in the US, and its website is here.

Going by the authors' Chronicle of Higher Education article -- Are Colelges Worth the Price of Admission? -- the book appears to raise controversial questions [there has already been some serious push back]. Hacker and Dreifus have strong views about what the universities should really be doing: get their focus back to teaching and education. And some of their recommendations are quite radical: replace tenure with contractual appointments, allow fewer sabbaticals, and spin off medical schools and research centers.

Here's an excerpt (from the Chronicle piece) about one of their controversial ideas: college education is meant for the sciences and liberal arts, and not (really) for vocational courses.

Make students use their minds. What should happen to students at college? They should become more thoughtful and interesting people. But some 64 percent of undergraduate students are enrolled in vocational majors, instead of choosing fields like philosophy, literature, or the physical sciences. We'd like to persuade them that supposedly impractical studies are a wiser use of college and ultimately a better investment. The undergraduate years are an interlude that will never come again, a time to liberate the imagination and stretch one's intellect without worrying about a possible payoff. We want that opportunity for everyone, not just the offspring of professional parents.

In a Washington Post story on their book, Hacker is even more blunt in making this point about vocational courses:

And, [Andrew Hacker] said, many undergraduate degrees are vocational -- from resort management to fashion merchandising ...

"Bachelor's level vocational education is, I don't want to say a fraud, but close to it," Hacker said.

"Undergraduate business classes ... are just a charade; 19-year-olds play as if they are chief executives of General Electric. It is a waste of time and money." [...]

Among the examples of unnecessarily vocational degrees listed in the book ... are ornamental horticulture, poultry science and ceramic engineering.

"All undergraduate education should be a liberal arts education where you think about the enduring ideas and issues of the human condition," Hacker said.

[That stuff about Ceramic Engineering tickled the hell out of me!]


  1. Khalil Sawant said...

    I think we are becoming too ends(read economics) driven when it comes to college education. Yes I want to persue what I am good at, but I need to make sure that I can feed myself. The idea is too difficult to sell especially to risk-averse people like us.

  2. Nappinnai NC said...

    Even a small country like Holland has generated more Nobel Laureates than our country. Very few go for Physical Sciences these days. We need to overhaul the educational system and burn lot of text books which are useless as they don't make a person 'think'. For atleast Math,Physics, Chemistry and Biology we don't have great text books written by indian authors. Students just cram and vomit, and Teachers/Professors in most colleges with the exception of IITs,IIScs,TIFR, teach monotonous with no scope for 'bold/daring' thinking.

    In US, its a different story. At high school level, the kids are into drugs and other crap that only 50% of the kids graduate from high school. Personally I feel Nobel Laureates should give guest lectures in Universities to stimulate the undergrads. This is one way to jump start the brain power. Here, this can be done very easily as there are plenty of Science Nobel Laureates.

  3. Mark Vijay said...

    I dont see the point. If 19-year olds can be entrepreneurs why cant they act and behave like one. After all, even the CEO of GE was 19 years old at one point in time.

    When getting a bachelors degree itself is difficult to most, I cant imagine how a statement such as "All undergraduate education should be a liberal arts education".. can hold water. Come on, be practical. Being practical is still a virtue!

    "The aim of education is not knowledge, but action" -- Mark Twain