“The people running America’s colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that’s wrong.”
Some might suggest this quote from National Review Online is politically motivated. The real problem is, Bill Barone’s article, The Higher Education Bubble, is chock full of food for worry.
Among Barone’s citations is WhatWillTheyLearn.com: A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you. Operated by ACTA (The American Council of Alumni and Trustees), this rating site evaluates schools on whether they require students to take courses in seven core subject areas. (ACTA also defines what success in these core subjects means.)
- Foreign Language
- U.S. Government or History
- Natural or Physical Science
But here’s the catch, says ACTA:
“The fact that a college has requirements called Literature or Mathematics does not necessarily mean that students will actually study those subjects.”
ACTA points out that schools might recommend certain core courses, but they let students slide by meeting “distribution requirements” that get them around those core courses.
“If a core course were one of several options that also included unqualified courses, the institution did not receive credit for that subject; credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends.”
ACTA lines up the schools and busts their balls. Does Stanford University really rate a C? Harvard a D? Amherst an F? It seems a student doesn’t really have to master the core subjects at those schools.
Barone closes his article with this:
“As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education; yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable.”
I don’t know anything about Barone or about the referenced website. But I’m interested in what you know about this topic and in your comments. Should we be worried that the conventional wisdom about going to college is far more wrong than it’s right? And if you think all kids should go to college, What are they learning?
(Thanks to Jason Johnson on the Phi Beta Kappa Group/LinkedIn for the heads-up on Barone’s article.)
PS — After I posted this column, I found a sort of poetic economic justice right below it, where I let Google publish its ads. While the ad periodically changes, it’s sometimes an ad from a certain for-profit college… They’re everywhere.