When will students/parents revolt against US universities?

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When will students/parents revolt against US universities?

#1  Postby Roger Cooke » Mar 14, 2010 2:11 pm

I ask this question because some commentators on this story, which exposes the questionable claims of trade schools, have (rightly, in my opinion) pointed out how much more questionable the claims of universities are. Obama has made "education" a big part of his political agenda and has often mouthed the standard formula that education will unlock the door to prosperity. It will not.

After six years of retirement, I'm taking a "sabbatical" from it this semester and teaching the history of mathematics to 51 students at the University of Vermont. First of all, that's too big a class, and I'm having difficulty getting the names and faces together (perhaps a function of my own age). But mainly, the University is collecting a standard fee of $1200 (one-tenth of the annual $12,000 tuition, exclusive of room, board, and other fees) from Vermont residents and over $3000 (again, one-tenth of the annual tuition, exclusive of room, board, and other fees) from non-residents. That means, since the class is evenly divided between in-state and out-of-state students, that the revenue generated by this course is close to $100,000. (Some students, of course, are on scholarship, but the University is not in a position to be generous with aid.)

So, I'm doing my best to be worth $100,000 (though, of course, my fee for teaching the course is a miniscule fraction of that amount). If I were teaching five students, I might actually be worth an average of $2,000 to each of them. Teaching 50, I'm necessarily diluted, and I find it difficult to believe they are getting their money's worth. I spend three hours preparing for each class and four or five hours marking their written work twice a week. That is the very least they have the right to expect of me. I'd like to believe that when they finish the course, they will have insight into why people have created mathematics and what that creation has meant for the human race. If I'm lucky and can get some mathematical philosophy (or rather philosophy of mathematics) across, they might even be a little better at applying the mathematics they have learned.

But will it have been worth the money? I've been troubled about this issue for a long time. (See this essay.) Does anyone share my concern? Or do you think I'm worrying about nothing?
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#2  Postby maiforpeace » Mar 14, 2010 2:32 pm

We have already had a number of demonstrations here in California against the UC's tuition hikes. All the concerns you raise are part of the protestor's (student's and teachers) platform.

The article specifically mentions culinary schools. I attended the California Culinary Academy and I will attest that you don't get your money's worth when it comes to instruction. Old wive's tales run rampant in the kitchen, and some of the stuff that was allowed as curriculum was just embarrassing.

You neither need English language proficiency or teaching credentials to teach at a Culinary school.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#3  Postby Ronja » Mar 16, 2010 8:41 am

Thanks, Roger - you raise an enormously important issue.

I have to rush to school now myself (group work time), but I wanted to say that you are definitely not worrying about nothing and this is a much wider concern - it's not "just" an American problem.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#4  Postby Roger Cooke » Mar 16, 2010 9:34 pm

Ronja wrote:Thanks, Roger - you raise an enormously important issue.

I have to rush to school now myself (group work time), but I wanted to say that you are definitely not worrying about nothing and this is a much wider concern - it's not "just" an American problem.


I must thank you. I hadn't realized the rest of the world was in quite the dire straits that I see around me in the US. I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#5  Postby Warren Dew » Mar 20, 2010 8:56 pm

The value of the money spent on higher education is that the degree will help one get a better job.

Any actual education is secondary, and in my experience minimal compared to the effort expended. I learned a heck of a lot more from my fellow students in college than from the professors.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#6  Postby Roger Cooke » Mar 20, 2010 10:09 pm

Warren Dew wrote:The value of the money spent on higher education is that the degree will help one get a better job.

Any actual education is secondary, and in my experience minimal compared to the effort expended. I learned a heck of a lot more from my fellow students in college than from the professors.


Yes, I know that's the general belief that causes people to send their children to universities. I'm wondering, though, how long it can remain true in a purely monetary sense. When I started at Northwestern University in 1960, tuition was $960 per year. Now, 50 years on, it is, I imagine, around $40,000. By comparison, a gallon of fuel for the car cost about $0.35 at that time. It now costs less than 10 times that amount and has never been more than 13 times it. Outside of medical care, nothing else has inflated so much as the cost of a university education.

The reason is that universities pursue the chimera of research.

Must run. Will edit and add more later on.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#7  Postby Meekychuppet » Mar 22, 2010 4:42 pm

In principe education does open the door to prosperity. The issue is not, however, principle. Education, certainly in the UK and seemingly America too, if the article is to be believed, has become about underwriting. The problem is that schools are dumping the risk of this particular bet on the students. The performance of the student now determines how well the money that paid for educating them was spent. In passing this risk on the schools have created a situation where they can say they did their job no matter how badly trained a graduate is. This allows teachers of poor standards to take employment in schools because their performance is not measured financially. There is no cost to the school for a bad teacher. The student carries the can for poor teaching now and therefore by association the taxpayer gets the burden long term because that graduate becomes a debt loaded on to a system that he or she cannot offer anything to.

It's the perfect storm for the schools and banks and it has to stop. The winners here are lending institutions and schools,the two types of organisations who have been, over the last decade or so, rewarded for poor performance. It is a pretty simple solution on paper, to make them account for their product and conduct. The difficulty is now that it is difficult to trust them with more money and forcing them in to line is also difficult in the extreme.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#8  Postby Warren Dew » Mar 22, 2010 6:14 pm

Perhaps a return to funding primarily based on contributions by successful alum is in order.
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#9  Postby Ronja » Mar 24, 2010 7:22 pm

Here is a description of how to first build (to some extent) and then nearly ruin university teaching , from the viewpoint of a student and ex-staff of the largest technical university of Finland, a small North-European country.

Make a national policy, encoded in law, that
a) all universities (and to a high degree also colleges) are autonomous - they sovereignly govern themselves
b) all college and university education is tuition-free and most of the funding for colleges and universities comes from the government (via the Ministry of Education)
c) universities are allowed to seek and receive funding from elsewhere, too
d) all students who qualify for degree studies can get a (smallish) government monthly allowance + (larger) subsidized loan, subsidized housing, health-care, tickets for busses, trains etc. etc.
e) also students' children are entitled to low-cost full-time day care

So far so good.

Next, as a Ministry of Education manger/chief sit back and observe how universities, especially tenured professors, fairly freely choose what they want to study, what they value in student selection, and what they think is important to teach. Observe also a non-trivial amount of between-disciplines competition for resources inside each university, especially between old, well established disciplines / research fields and new, upcoming ones. Observe how some universities and some disciplines are enormously better at getting outside funding than other universities and disciplines. Observe also how the business world streamlines their processes, sets goals and measures results, and grow frustrated that the output of the universities is so amorphous and difficult to measure. Grow fiercely determined that there must be a system to measure how much funding each university "deserves", based on calculable business results, and vow to motivate all universities and disciplines to raise outside funding efficiently.

Set a national standard, encoded in a Ministry of Education decree, where the following are counted as results that universities earn money with:

a) degrees
* Master's degrees
* Licentiate degrees (1 Licentiate is worth 5 Masters)
* Doctoral degrees (1 PhD is worth 2 Licentiates)

b) publications by paid staff only (student as first author = no result & no money)
* journal papers, national (number only, no quality control)
* journal papers, international (number only, no quality control; 1 international journal paper is worth 2 national ones)
* conference papers, national (number only, no quality control)
* conference papers, international (number only, no quality control; 1 international conference paper is worth 2 national ones)
* textbooks, textbook chapters, miscellaneous (fairly low sums for these)

c) teaching (credits taught)
* credits from courses for students from outside one's own department are worth twice what own students' credits are

d) funding raised (make this a really heavy result point for each professor personally)

Now then - where in the above do we find any economic incentive for
* teaching bachelor level (undergraduate) students at all
* teaching scientific/scholarly research, writing or presenting skills to any other than PhD students
* encouraging (under)graduate participation in research
* publishing in good journals / participating in good conferences

Also - where in the above do we find anything that discourages, by economic means
* pressuring students to work, uncredited or too meagerly credited, for papers to be published
* optimizing database structures for university publications records so that it is possible to enter a "first author" separately from the list of all authors (and making sure there is no check between the contents of these two fields)
* striving for the minimum publishable unit of new information per publication
* striving for the lowest publishable quality per publication
* pressuring post-graduates to take the Licentiate degree first and not go straight for a PhD
* stealing half-way ready PhD students from other professors
* preventing half-way ready PhD students from moving, if their mentoring professor moves

Deep sigh. Well, at least they apparently are now, after five years, adding the Bachelor's degree as a result. But I haven't heard that they would reconsider the relative values of the different degrees - PhDs are just so very much more worth than anyone else :roll:

The stupidest thing is that universities could have created internal result criteria for how to divide the money "earned" from the Ministry. After all, they are still autonomous. If only the professors of different disciplines could have agreed on such criteria... :(
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Re: When will students/parents revolt against US universitie

#10  Postby King David » Mar 29, 2010 10:05 pm

maiforpeace wrote:You neither need English language proficiency or teaching credentials to teach at a Culinary school.


Apparently you don't need any of those things to teach in any major university either. I can't count how many teachers I've had who couldn't speak English well enough for students to be able to understand their lectures. In my chem labs alone all the GTAs were foreign- usually Chinese or Indian who were nice people but no help at all in understanding the assignments. A few times I listened to their instructions and followed them only to find out I had misunderstood them and then had to repeat the experiment. It was extremely frustrating.
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