"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reform Public Higher Education–No Taxpayer Money For Nonsense Courses

American Public higher education has been increasingly scandalous.  Academic standards have been lowered to increase enrollment and university coffers, irrelevant courses which have nothing to do either with economic productivity or civic education are increasingly the rule, and graduation rates are falling.  When Governors like Rick Perry of Texas had the audacity to insist that his state’s university system was broken, that taxpayer’s money was being wasted, and that public education should serve the public, he was pilloried by the ‘progressive’ Left.

What will happen to Queer Studies, Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction Theories of Slave Journals, and Women Authors of Herzegovina?

If you want these courses, said Perry, you will have to pay full freight at Duke or Brown for them.

Perry’s was a completely sensible argument and fit well within other proposed reforms suggested by Education Secretary Arne Duncan – increase graduation rates, spend less on glitzy stadiums and conference centers and more on teaching, and increase the academic offerings in publicly-relevant courses like economics, international finance, American and world history, and political philosophy; and increase specialized technical education courses aimed at the current job market.  What good is it, asked both men, if our public universities turn out students who are ill-prepared for work and ill-prepared to vote?

It turns out that we are not alone.  In an article in the Guardian (11.18.12) Kevin McKenna talks about the same issues that are surfacing in Scotland:
What the Education Secretary should be [saying] is that Scotland has got far too many [higher] education colleges and that many of them require to be pared down. He should also propose that colleges be annually rated on their usefulness to society and have their funding set accordingly. That means all those outfits that offer HNDs in tattoos and tarot cards or landscape herbology would have their funding cut until they started behaving themselves and began offering courses for human beings again.
McKenna continues pulling no punches and calling out both students and school administrators as welfare queens:
[Real reform] won't happen because, let's be frank about this, these colleges are a methadone substitute for the dole queue and help Scotland delude itself that it's great having 50% of its young people in further education. And we also have the pension pots, early retirement packages and sick payments to find for an entire regiment of chairmen and principals, their deputies and all their HR, legal and financial departments. It's a massive job creation scheme for Scotland's vast flotilla of career civil servants, a species, it seems, that must be constantly fed, topped up and employed at all costs.
It is time in America to do the same cleaning of the Augean Stables – get rid of tenure and seniority systems which inhibit change, discourage politically incorrect ideas, and lock students in the Nineteen-Sixties.  Eliminate courses of study that have little relevance to the commonweal.  Those universities who wish to offer esoteric and marginally useful courses should start charging significantly more money for them.

Yet progressives disagree. A university education is all Americans’ birthright.  It is part of the annealing glue that strengthens our democratic union.  Not whatsoever. A university education is an opportunity, not a right.  To expand this opportunity while being responsible to taxpayers, American higher education should be reformed as follows:
1. In public universities progressively eliminate courses that do not prepare students for productive, market-relevant employment; and/or do not prepare them to be informed, intelligent voters.
2. In public universities increase courses on American history, economics, political science and political philosophy
3. Eliminate affirmative action programs, but at the same time upgrade the lower-tier schools (e.g. two-year and community colleges) so that educational opportunity is matched with ability
4. Revamp the federal grant and loan programs for both universities and individual students, favoring students who are selecting courses of study which will be, as above, economically productive and civics-oriented; and institutions which provide them
5. Create a strong vocational school system which will offer a more inexpensive way to learning technical skills that have value in the market
Scotland is considering strengthening the vocational education system and assuring that it conforms to high standards:
Instead of shoehorning our young people into college courses to meet the fatuous 50% target, we should be encouraging the growth of Scotland's small to medium enterprises. The nation's SME sector holds the key to cutting down youth unemployment by developing their capacity to offer real modern apprenticeships to school-leavers, which may also involve some vocational training at properly funded and stringently inspected colleges.
Bravo Scotland! May the United States follow your example.

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