Jul 30, 2010

Political science major Paul Fabsik wears a price ...
Spending as much as $250,000 on a bachelors degree from world-renowned U.S. universities such as Harvard University and Yale is a waste of money, a new book asserts.

"Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids - And What We Can Do About It," urges parents and students to consider colleges that spend on teaching instead of sports and which encourage faculty to interact with students instead of doing research, taking sabbaticals and sitting on campus committees.

"Undergraduates are being neglected," author Andrew Hacker, who co-wrote the book with Claudia Dreifus, told Reuters in an interview.

"Higher education has become the preserve of professors ... (who) really have lost contact with the main purpose of higher education, which is the education of students."

Hacker and Dreifus are critical of many U.S. universities, noting the cost of a 4-year degree has doubled in real dollars compared to a generation ago. But education, they say, has not become twice as good as many colleges lost their focus.

Many Ivy League professors don't teach undergraduates at all and at many colleges teaching is largely farmed out to low-cost adjunct teachers, Hacker said.

And, he said, many undergraduate degrees are vocational -- from resort management to fashion merchandising -- and vast sums of money have been spent on deluxe dining and dorm facilities and state-of-the-art sports centers. As the number of administrative staff has risen, he said, $1 million annual salaries for college presidents have become common place.

"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 -- due to be published on August 3 -- 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. "After that, go on to law school or study dentistry -- you have plenty of time."

Hacker said the high price of tuition often has little to do with teaching.

"Prices got to where they are because both universities and administrators spent like drunken sailors," Hacker said, noting Ivy League graduates often have average careers.

As well as drawing on their experience -- both teach in New York, Hacker at Queens College and Dreifus at Columbia University -- the pair, who are also domestic partners, traveled across America to find the best and worst colleges.

They list 10 colleges they like, where teaching is the priority and where students get value for money. No Ivy League college makes their list.

They recommend Arizona State University for its vibrancy and Kentucky's Berea College for its free tuition and 10-1 student-faculty ratio. They praise Notre Dame for promoting concern for the common good and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for treating part-time teaching staff well.

The book recommends colleges focus on education and strip away sports programs, trim bloated administrative budgets and spin off research and medical facilities. The authors say tenure should be abolished, that there should be fewer sabbaticals and that more attention should be paid to getting students intellectually engaged.

Hacker said the tragedy of U.S. universities is how many graduates now have six-figure loans, doled out with little regard to the students' ability to repay them.

"This is not only unique to the United States but it is new. Ten years ago students were not taking out loans this way," Hacker said, predicting a high rate of default among student loans in the coming years.

Hacker said that to keep costs down, many Americans should consider attending a college close to home to avoid paying as much as $30,000 annually for out-of-state living expenses.



  1. I am about to finish up my undergraduate degree. It took me a year and half to find a suitable school to enroll into. I can atest to the fact that there are a lot of universities that have crappy courses of study with amazing price tags.

    I finally ended up selecting a home town univeristy that I had not considered. The cost is reasonable at the degree work makes sense.

  2. $250.000 for an education is ridiculous and i hope that was a mistake in the article. I'm not saying higher education should be very cheap nor free but the number in the article is ridiculous.I can't believe they didn't include any Ivy Leagues as a place where you get the value for your money and where teaching was a priority. Wow.

    Some people wouldn't care if it costs a million dollars to attend some schools because they would want to be able to say "I went to Haavard dahlin" or (insert any elitist school you want).

    If teaching isn't a priority what are they doing? I've never met anyone who has went to college and said they weren't taught anything by the professors nor have they said college was a cake walk and these people didn't even attend an Ivy League university. The article stated that the high cost of school has little to do with teaching but i thought teaching was the reason why it cost so much to go to college.When people talk about the teaching field they never include college professors complaining about their salaries because they get paid the big bucks. There is nothing wrong with that though because these people are more educated than those who teach public school but if they aren't teaching students anything they shouldn't be paid high salaries.

    What was said about undergraduate business students? Lol.