Opinion: College: Just a six-figure day care?

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A recent Op-Ed by NYU professor Jonanthan Zimmerman asked: ‘Are college students learning?’ He wrote that ‘the big open secret in American higher education: Most institutions have no meaningful way to measure the quality of their instruction.’ Zimmerman’s commentary was a response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in which he called on colleges to do ‘better’ and proposed measures to lower tuition. But, Zimmerman asks, what did Obama mean by ‘better’?

[I] have a modest proposal for Obama: In addition to asking universities to lower tuition, ask them also to figure out what their students are learning. Some schools are already doing that. At Carleton College in Minnesota, for example, students are required to submit a set of papers that they wrote during their first two years at the school. Carleton then assesses each student according to a set of faculty-developed standards, and also provides assistance to the students who do not meet them.

On the occasion of Zimmerman’s piece, readers have been commenting all week, mostly that attending college is a gigantic and costly waste of time. At least it is in our country, where students tend to favor liberal arts over math, science or anything that will keep our country competitive. (Their words, not mine.) Here’s a sampling of their comments from our discussion board.

Stop subsidizing an easy-going culture


Those pursuing engineering, hard sciences, and other math-based degrees are learning.

The rest of the brats with ______ Studies majors are just burning through their parents’ money while watching Jon Stewart and learning nothing beyond how to prepare for a life of professional victimhood and perpetual grievances. Call it six-figure day care.

Here’s a thought: end all aid for fake majors. I don’t agree with taxpayers being forced to subsidize anyone’s schooling, but if we must, at least limit it to B.S. degrees so we’ll get some output from it.


Don’t support ‘soft’ degrees

American colleges/universities in general DWELL too much on progressive ideology. They neglect the STEM disciplines...because all the Asian (overseas, not Asian Americans), E Indian, and the few ‘nerdy’ American students...who can handle them, pursue them. Watch what happens in 5, 10 or 20 years. America ain’t gonna have headlines like, ‘first man to land on moon; breakthrough in cancer treatment; blind are given second chance to see again because of American researchers...’

Keep on dwelling on the soft degrees that got no pragmatism.


Get rid of general education

I obtained a BS degree in Engineering from a British university 30 years ago. From day one until finals we studied nothing but subjects that were essential to an understanding and practice of engineering. We didn’t study anything that would be considered ‘general education’. We graduated after 3 years, not 4.

It takes 3 years to get a BS in engineering (or pretty much anything else) if you leave out the fluff that is GE. If you want to broaden your studies, read a book. GE is by definition irrelevant to the major.

I am now paying for my 2 kids to attend college (UCLA). Most of what they study in the first year, and some of the second, in my opinion isn’t worth my money or their time. They don’t care, but I do as I’m paying for it.

So my suggestion is that US colleges could not only cut student costs but reduce time taken to get a BS degree by taking a huge ax to the GE requirements they currently require.


Stop fostering a party

The real problem lies with the students. You can feel the frustration of teaching if you liken the teacher to a faucet of information, trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. The student must be motivated to learn in order to learn. You can invest in the most expensive new technology from smart boards to computer classrooms. You can recruit the brightest and best teachers. It will not make one wit of difference if the students are not motivated to learn the material being taught. So how does one create a culture on campus where the student feels compelled to learn? That is the key question. Unfortunately, most colleges focus on recruiting and retaining tuition-paying seat fillers by making campus ‘fun’, filling the day with delightful distractions; cable TV, games, events, Greek houses, all sorts of extracurricular activities which many students take more seriously than their studies ... no wonder the student sees their studies as the distraction.

--A thousand clowns

Hold colleges accountable

Want to stop the ‘Great American College Rip-Off’? Maybe parents (and/or the students) should sue the colleges for not teaching them marketable skills and getting employment when they graduate college. If a student doesn’t have a meaningful well-paying job by at least 3-5 years out of college, then the college failed by defrauding the student out of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. It is theft by deception. The college(s) should be on the hook legally if they are forcing students to expend hundreds of thousands in student loans and then provide no avenue to pay back those loans. The parents and/or students would then have a right to sue for false advertising, fraud and the like.


*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


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