Friday, March 17, 2006

Fixing Higher Ed

In the last post I made the case for school choice in K-12 education enabled by universal vouchers. Caroline Hoxby of Harvard found that wherever public schools face serious competition for students and education dollars they improve. School choice is the tide that lifts all boats. The poor hunger for the choice that is now only available to richer folks who can choose where to live. Teachers ought to favor a system where substantially more of the dollars makes its way to the classroom and working conditions are substantially better.

One other element of choice would also help. Sandra Stotsky of the National Association of Scholars has proposed that incoming high school students be given a choice of a traditional college preparation curriculum or a technical apprenticeship program. Accept the fact that not all kids are the same. All would be required to complete a core curriculum of four years of English and three years of math, science and history. All graduates would be prepared for higher education, either in traditional colleges or in trade schools.

Higher education will benefit from K-12 reform since more incoming freshmen will be prepared for college level courses. Furthermore, there is already an element of choice for students and parents. There are better schools and better courses and professors within any school. It is mainly a matter of consumer information. One good source for high quality institutions is a list of the best colleges based on the guide
Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth About America's Top Schools. The guide lists a diverse group of excellent universities and colleges including the University of Chicago, Hillsdale College, Baylor University, Wheaton College, Washington and Lee and Saint Thomas Aquinas. (see Beware Liberal Colleges, 10/25/05)

The chief issue in university education was described by Roger Kimball in his book Tenured Radicals (1998). Should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens -- or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture of the intellectuals." The goal was less reflection than rejection, centered in the “studies” programs: Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies. These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism.

As consumers, students and parents can shut down these harmful and useless programs by choice, just don’t sign up. Another choice available to liberal arts majors is related to career objectives. Our local Palos Verdes Peninsula News recently published an opinion piece by a student intern. In “What’s a girl to do with a BA in bs?” Kimberly Vuoso complains that after graduating with a degree in English she was faced with the harsh truth that she did not possess any skills a potential employer finds valuable. Her solution, pursue a masters in humanities, having no idea what she will do with that. What a waste of time and money?

Then there is the question of efficiency. The cost of college education is already outrageous and is rising much faster than the rate of inflation. Like any other government funded program, it has no incentive to be efficient. I’d cut all federal funding to higher education and eliminate the Department of Education. That would help. For the state funding, Friedman’s voucher system could also be used here. Have all government schools charge fees covering the full cost of the educational services they provide. Then decide how many students you wish to fund and how much money each will be provided, depending on family income or whatever criteria we wish. Give the money to the students in the form of vouchers that can be used at any college, public or private. It’s the same system that was used successfully in the GI Bills for veterans.

Like Friedman, I believe that the growing role of government in financing and administering schooling has led to enormous waste and poorer education. All we need to do is say NO.

3 Comments:

Blogger Roseville Conservative said...

Bill like the Minimum Security Prison system (High Schools) needs a voucher fix... Colleges need to have their faculties weined off of the Kool-Aid and real scolarship and collegiality needs to reign once again.

Will that ever happen? Nope. Liberals need to brainwash / Recruit.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,

Thanks for your postings on education. They have been fun to read and I am total agreement with your assessments and suggestions for improvements. Frankly, that was one reason that I had hoped to serve on the School Board. I have always felt that our District could serve as excellent testing ground for some significant changes in the way that you deliver education. The majority demographics of the hill would support some philosophical changes and I would love to be part of a group that served up some new ways to manage schools. But just as you said, working with the labor unions provides some huge obstacles....

Erin

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Kimberly Vuoso said...

Bill,

I’m glad to see that you can read and that you took an interest in my column, but I am disappointed that you never learned to read carefully. Our educational system has indeed failed us. Did you miss where I discuss “knowledge for its own sake” as the reason for my pursuit of a masters degree? And if you really believe that I consider my education “a waste of time and money,” I feel deeply sorry for you. A good education is never a waste of time and money—regardless of whether or not you “use” it once the diploma is in your hand. Furthermore, at the time I wrote that column I was more than just a student intern. I was working as a reporter, temporary as it may have been. Since then, I have been offered a full-time position with the News, but I had to decline the offer as I had already accepted a teaching position. I may not have found my dream job immediately after my graduation, but I can assure you my education will not go to waste.

Respectfully,
Kimberly Vuoso

12:05 PM  

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