Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It

by ;
  • ISBN13:


  • ISBN10:


  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-08-03
  • Publisher: Times Books

Note: Supplemental materials are not guaranteed with Rental or Used book purchases.

Purchase Benefits

  • Free Shipping On Orders Over $35!
    Your order must be $35 or more to qualify for free economy shipping. Bulk sales, PO's, Marketplace items, eBooks and apparel do not qualify for this offer.
  • Get Rewarded for Ordering Your Textbooks! Enroll Now
List Price: $26.00 Save up to $13.51
  • Rent Book $16.90
    Add to Cart Free Shipping


Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

  • The Used and Rental copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.


What's gone wrong at our colleges and universities and how to get American higher education back on track

A quarter of a million dollars. It's the going tab for four years at most top tier universities. Why does it cost so much and is it worth it?

Renowned sociologist Andrew Hacker and New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus make an incisive case that the American way of higher education, now a $420 billion per year business, has lost sight of its primary mission: the education of young adults. Going behind the myths and mantras, they probe the true performance of the Ivy League, the baleful influence of tenure, an unhealthy reliance on part-time teachers, and the supersized bureaucracies which now have a life of their own.

As Hacker and Dreifus call for a thorough overhaul of a self indulgent system, they take readers on a road trip from Princeton to Evergreen State to Florida Gulf Coast University, revealing those faculties and institutions that are getting it right and proving that teaching and learning can be achieved and at a much more reasonable price.

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus are sure to stir a badly needed uproar in the world of higher education. They make their argument so gracefully, with so much mischievous delight and understated humor, and undergirded by so broad a base of data and compelling reportage, that even the most furious defenders of the status quo will not be able to ignore this book and the outrage it most certainly will stir.-Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities and Letters to a Young Teacher

A timely and provocative book about a subject that affects all of us. Higher Education? is a thoroughly researched and welcome addition to the debate.-Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics

Higher Education? stands out with facts, figures, and probing analysis. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus clearly lay out why so many colleges and universities are helping to support a de facto American class system while failing their primary mission of preparing not only skilled labor but also producing educated, knowledgeable citizens who can play a role advancing our national life and strengthening our democracy. This is a thought-provoking book that I hope will generate serious national debate.-Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Higher Education? raises piercing questions about how a respected sector of our society is failing our young people. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus unsparingly show where our colleges and universities have lost their principles and purpose. This book will spark a national debate that has been lacking, but is nonetheless essential.-The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Author Biography

Andrew Hacker is the author of the bestselling book Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, and writes regularly for the New York Review of Books and other publications. He is a professor at Queens College. Claudia Dreifus writes for the “Science Times” section of the New York Times and teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. They live in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Higher Education?p. 1
What Went Wrong?
The World of the Professoriatep. 13
Administrative Overloadp. 29
Contingent Educationp. 46
Ideals and Illusions
The Golden Dozenp. 63
Teaching: Good, Great, Abysmalp. 77
The Triumph of Trainingp. 95
Some Immodest Proposals
Why College Costs So Muchp. 113
Fireproof: The Tangled Issue of Tenurep. 132
The Athletics Incubusp. 155
Student Bodiesp. 175
Facing the Future
Visiting the Future in Floridap. 193
The College Crucible: Add Students and Stirp. 205
Schools We Like-Our Top Ten Listp. 218
Codap. 237
Sourcesp. 245
Notesp. 247
Acknowledgmentsp. 255
Indexp. 259
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



Every year, in the closing days of summer, a large swath of middle- class Americans engage in a ritual unique to their culture. In driveways from Brookline to Bakersfield, they fill their vehicles with newly purchased goods, ranging from laptops to designer jeans, high- end sneakers, and coffeemakers. In the back sits Jennifer or Jeremy, sending off last- minute text messages to friends. Mom and Dad MapQuest for the best route to towns with names like Chapel Hill, Northfield, and Pomona.

Welcome to the Annual Migration, when some 2.6 million freshmen take their first steps toward adulthood at the nation's 4,352 colleges and universities. For most families, it's an emotional moment. If their destination is one of whatBarron's Guidecalls the "most competitive" institutions— say, Stanford or Emory or Kenyon— the parents feel they've secured a first- class education for their children, plus a reserved place at the table of the nation's elite. If this family is departing for a state- supported institution— perhaps Florida Atlantic or Michigan State— the journey may be another milestone in their quest for upward mobility, a chance for the next generation to move up a rung or two, or even to the top. In either case, this trip will cost far more than the fuel and tolls.

In fact, for those who have to pay the whole tab, a bachelor's degree from a prestigious private college will set a family back more than a quarter of a million dollars. At this writing, a year's tuition, room, and board at the aforementioned Kenyon College comes to $49,290. (True, some families negotiate discounts on the tuition. But at schools like Kenyon a majority of students are or are close to being full payers.) And this doesn't count books, clothes, off- campus snacks, or a summer course at the University of Perugia, which could add another $10,000.

By comparison, the sticker prices at public colleges seem a bargain. Tuitions for in- state residents range from $4,187 at Florida Atlantic to $11,434 at Michigan State. But room and board and other costs are essentially what they are at private schools. Not to mention a car, sorority dues, and football tickets. Thus four years at Boca Raton or East Lansing can easily top $100,000. Moreover, charges at both public and private colleges have more than doubled— in real dollars— compared with a generation ago. Does this signal that the education being provided is twice as good?

This is serious money, by any standard. For most Americans, educating their offspring will be the second- largest outlay they'll ever make. Only the home mortgage will cost more, and you may live forty years in the house. And if parents can't or won't pay, youngsters can find themselves burdened with a staggering load of loans. Graduating with six figures' worth of debts isn't a high- end horror story— it's becoming increasingly common.

So are colleges and universities giving good value for these investments? And what are families buying? Is it training for high- status professions? Or exposure to new ideas, stimulating teachers, and a chance to flex their intellects? Then there's John Dewey's notion of education as preparation for democratic citizenship. And for those attending a sleepaway school, a safe space where the kids can move toward adulthood. Higher education is a $420 billion industry. What are individuals— and our society as a whole— gaining from it?

The question mark—"?"—in our title is the key to this book, and it will be doing double- duty. As we consider our country's colleges and universities, two questions will recur on every page. The first is how much of what the schools are offering can reasonably be callededucation? For example, we will show that over half of all undergraduates now enroll in vocationaltrainingprograms, which range from standbys like nursing and engineering to new arrivals like resort management and fashion merchandising. While we're sure something is imparted in these classes, we're not comfortable calling iteducation.For us, that designation has to mean more than any instruction coming after the twelfth grade. So enter our second question: even if not vocational, how far can what is being taught and learned reasonably be calledhigher? In our view, college should be a cultural journey, an intellectual expedition, a voyage confronting new ideas and information, together expanding and deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world. Even on academic tracks, we're not persuaded this is happening. For this reason, we'll be taking a close look at fields commonly called the liberal arts. Higher education should set a high bar for itself. It can be done. We've seen it being done.

Moreover, higher education should be open to every young person, and this is an option we can well afford. We confess to being born- again Jeffersonians: we believe everyone has a mind, the capacity to use it, and is entitled to encouragement. Of course, students have to do their share. But the adults who have chosen higher education as their profession have even greater obligations, which we're not convinced they're fulfilling.

Even after acknowledging the difference between education and training, colleges have embraced enterprises that are neither of the two. Universities have become multiversities, staffed by casts of thousands and dedicated to everything from esoteric research to semi-professional athletics. The result has been a significant bloating of the university's original mission and intentions.

In all this, higher education has much in common with the nation's medical system— or, more truthfully, the absence of anything systemic. In both, the costs keep escalating, as a portion of gross domestic product and individual house hold bud gets. (Just as medical bills are the chief cause of bankruptcies, student loans rank high on personal indebtedness.) In neither sphere does it seem possible for anyone to shoutStop!—whether it's installing another MRI or when a college decides to shift an athletic team to a more costly division. Fear of too- intrusive government and other overblown anxieties prevent anyone in authority from saying either leviathan is not delivering on its promises. Perhaps this is just the American way: part- anarchic, part- chaotic, pasted together and responsible to no one. Still, on the educational side, we think there's much that can be improved and we can do a whole lot better.

There is also the mantra that America's medicine and higher education arethe best in the world.And in some ways, that's accurate. But in both cases this refers to advanced research and specialization, not for a night- shift waitress just diagnosed with cancer or a freshman in the twenty- ninth row in Government 101. In our view, to lead the world has to mean doing your best to make your best accessible to everyone.

Here's our vision for higher education. Our concern, both in this book and for the world at large, is with the undergraduate years. We regard this as a span when young people are sufficiently mature yet still not fully formed, when they can begin to discover themselves and take on the universe. But before we go into particulars, we'd like to specify what we donotregard as higher education's obligations.

  • As we've noted, we want to distinguish education fromtraining.Today's young people are likely to live to be ninety. So there is no need for them to start preparing themselves for careers while they are in their teens. We join Diane Ravitch, who laments that "American higher education has remade itself into a vast job- training program." Indeed, since the mid- 1960s, English majors have dropped 51 percent in relation to all degrees, history has experienced a 55 percent decline, and students opting for mathematics are down a whopping 74 percent, despite a putative demand for high- tech experts.

  • Nor do we feel undergraduate years should be an apprenticeship for a PhD, let alone a first step toward an academic career. We feel obliged to say this because too many college courses center on topics of interest only to professors. But professors don't have a monopoly on erudition. We believe that the arts and sciences, properly understood, must have a broader and deeper base.

  • Perhaps the best way to get support for higher education, or so it is thought, is to warn that the United States is falling behind other nations in skills needed in a competitive world. But the alarms so resoundingly sounded don't decry that we are lagging in philosophy or the humanities. Rather, it's that in countries like China, India, and Korea more students are specializing in the sciences and engineering. The worry is that our workforce— including college graduates— isn't ready for a high- tech age. At this point, we'd only ask, if our economy needs more scientists and engineers, why students aren't enrolling?

  • Please give us a hearing while we suggest that a purpose of college isnotto make students into better citizens. Of course, we'd like everyone to be committed to their communities. But we aren't convinced that we should look to colleges to instill "the knowledge needed to be a reasonably informed citizen in a democracy," as Harvard's Derek Bok puts it. The unstated assumption here is that people who have attended college will end up beingbettercitizens than those who have not. For our part, we're not that sure that the kinds of insights and information imparted in college classrooms lead to a higher quality of civic engagement. Nor should we forget highly educated cadres described as "the best and the brightest" have plunged us into unwinnable wars and onto economic shoals. For our own part, we haven't found that ballots cast by college graduates express more cogent thinking than the votes of other citizens. Even now, as a nation, are we more thoughtful than the Illinois farmers who stood for three hours as they pondered the Lincoln- Douglas debates?

  • Or listen to Shirley Tilghman, Prince ton's president, speaking at its 2009 commencement: "Prince on invests its considerable resources in its students in the belief that we are preparing young men and women to become leaders and change the world for the better." Had we been there, we're sure we would have applauded. Still, to our mind,leadershiprefers to a willingness and ability to rouse people to a party, a purpose, a cause. Here, too, we're not convinced that what happens in classrooms or on campuses nurtures leaders more than other settings— than, for example, back roads of the Mississippi Delta or lettuce fields in California. We will agree that college graduates are more likely to attainpositionswhere they rank ahead of others. Yet if Prince ton and other colleges boast strong contingents of such people, most of them got to their corner offices by being appointed or promoted. If that's all Shirley Tilghman meant, we can agree.

What do we thinkshouldhappen at college? We want young people to use their minds as they never have before, thinking hard about realities and issues that strain their mental powers. They should be urged to be imaginative and inquiring, to take risks without having to worry about their transcripts or alienating their teachers. To quote a friend, colleges should be making their undergraduates moreinterestingpeople. Higher education is an ongoing conversation, created for students poised at adulthood, which can and will continue throughout their lives.

This is a natural process, one for which young people are already fitted. After all, curiosity comes with being human. The problem today is that too much college teaching seeks to channel thinking into tight academic grooves. That is why we've deliberately avoided using terms likecognitiveandanalytic, or phrases likecritical thinkingandmoral reasoning. There's nothing inherently wrong with these rubrics, it's just that they've been recast to force freshmen to view the world through professorial prisms.

In fact, there are thousands of undergraduate teachers who regard education as a lively interchange. We have sat, admiringly, in many of their classes. Yet few of them are recognized beyond their campuses, since they haven't conducted the research their disciplinary peers demand. So we'll cite some better- known models. There is Prince ton's Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate, who makes economics explicable in theNew York Times.Or Jill Lepore of Harvard, who brings history to life for readers ofThe New Yorker.Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, who loves meeting with high school students and brings his Nobelist friends to chat with them. These professors do not set boundaries between how they address a general audience and what they do in their classrooms. For them— and for us— it's all higher education.

Since we acknowledge that higher education is so massive and sprawling, we had to decide how much we could responsibly cover in a single book. This is what we decided.

  • Our focus would be on undergraduates seeking bachelor's degrees. Even allowing for high attrition, which we'll be discussing, these candidates are the largest constellation in the higher education universe. So when we refer to community colleges, it will be to focus on how well they usher their students into four- year schools.

  • We decided, after some soul searching, not to separate out the country's fifty-two women's colleges and eighty-five historically black institutions. Or, for that matter, sectarian schools like Yeshiva University in New York, Brigham Young in Utah, or Regent University in Virginia. Plus a host of good colleges under religious auspices, like Augustana in South Dakota and Saint Anselm in New Hampshire. Or our military academies. We respect them all and the roles they play. We simply felt we couldn't do justice to so wide a swath.

  • For- profit colleges— notably Kaplan, Phoenix, and DeVry— are fast- growing newcomers to higher education. In just five years, 2003 to 2008, their numbers grew from 300 to close to 500. Because their students come and go, it's not easy to obtain reliable headcounts, and most are not pursuing degrees. Still, in the years cited, their bachelor's graduates more than doubled, from 31,155 to 70,765, the latter figure comprising 4.6 percent of all such awards. It remains to be seen how employers, graduate schools, and professional licensing bodies will view these degrees. We'll be watching.

This said, we do have a chapter where we will focus ondistance learning,where most or all of the work can be done at home or otherwise away from a campus classroom. So we will be reporting on what happens when laptop screens replace a sentient teacher, plus how student participation is affected and performance is assessed. We've tallied what is gained and what is lost. It's our hope that this book and the issues we discuss will encourage debate about this vital sector of our national life.

Our principal premise is that higher education has lost track of its original and enduring purpose: to challenge the minds and imaginations of this nation's young people, to expand their understanding of the world, and thus of themselves. At all too many of our colleges this mission no longer has priority. We will show how our campuses have become preserves for adult careers; how professors, administrators, and, yes, presidents, have used ostensible centers of learning to pursue their own interests and enjoyments.

We believe these turnings can and should be changed. In our view, the first step is to take an unsparing look at what has been happening in the name of an honored calling. That is just what we will do in the chapters that follow.

Rewards Program

Customer Reviews

Thoughtful reading. July 3, 2011
This textbook describes how post-high school education got sidetracked from its original goals and reshaped into a self-perpetuating group of institutions with little interest in students' actual learning. The authors show that its affordability, especially to lower income students, is diminishing rapidly. The authors present a variety of ideas for dealing with these issues. They offer effective, simple proposals for getting us back on track. That's the clear and simple message of this highly readable and very useful textbook.
Flag Review
Please provide a brief explanation for why you are flagging this review:
Your submission has been received. We will inspect this review as soon as possible. Thank you for your input!
Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It: 5 out of 5 stars based on 1 user reviews.

Write a Review