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Wherein I Surprisingly Find Myself In (Some) Agreement With Bill Bennett

June 20, 2013

InsiderHigherEd’s Libby Nelson filed this report on Bill Bennett’s new book about the predicament of higher education today. I found myself nodding in agreement, surprisingly to me, at a number of Bennett’s points. Thanks to FB friend Eric Caplan for prompting me to be explicit, I constructed a list of agreements and disagreements.
——————————————————–
Points with which I agree:

(a) I do think the Bennett hypothesis has some merit—but not perhaps for the ideological reasons he does. I think that when less scrupulous colleges know that financial aid is increasing, their incentives to be efficient decrease. As non-profit higher edu institutions act like for-profits, they seek to maximize income while decreasing costs. This has been aided and abetted by a climate of deregulation, which allows less meritorious institutions to take advantage of students by increasing prices. In this environment, students are FORCED into making decisions based on economics rather than intellectual merit. And when society has fewer creative thinkers—fewer members of the creative class—then it suffers economically in the long-term. It makes going to college less attractive, and the the Bill Gates DIY route more attractive.

(b) Colleges can do more to serve low-income students. Not necessarily via aid, but by specialized support to help them overcome learning deficiencies.

(c) Colleges are doing too much competing with each other via offering too many amenities, concentrating too hard on marketing via Big Time college sports programs, etc.

(d) We do, in fact, have a generation of disillusioned, overly indebted graduates.

(e) Colleges do need to do a better job of inculcating critical thinking. But my solution is (c) below.

Points with which I disagree:

(a) We don’t simply want “better informed consumers.” We want better products, which probably means fewer colleges with more efficient delivery of in-person education. I confess that I need to develop further my “fewer colleges” thesis.

(b) We shouldn’t care about college students’ post-graduation salaries. Not a wink. We should care about lowering the cost of in-person higher edu.

(c) The humanities haven’t necessarily been “debased, narrowed, professionalized and hermeneuticized,” but rather UNDERutilized. We need a higher percentage of faculty and majors and enrollments. Why? Because this.

That’s it for now. – TL

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