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Education United States

What's Wrong With the American University System 828

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-belushi dept.
ideonexus writes "The Atlantic has an excellent interview with Andrew Hacker — co-author with Claudia Dreifus of a book titled Higher Education? — covering everything that's wrong with the American university system. The discussion ranges from entrenched tenured professors more concerned with publishing and parking spaces than quality teaching; to 22-year-old students with unrealistic expectations that some company will put them in a management position after graduating with six-figures of debt; to football teams siphoning money away from academic programs so that student tuitions must increase to compensate. It really lays out the farce of university culture and reminds me of everything I absolutely despised about my college life. Dreifus is active in the comments section of the article as well, lending to a fantastic discussion on the subject."
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What's Wrong With the American University System

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  • And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:19PM (#33087326)
    it is likely the best university system in the world. Contrast that with K-12 (lower ed) and I find it hard to complain about what is seemingly a world class higher education model.
  • by sethstorm (512897) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#33087338) Homepage

    Fix that first.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#33087340)

    In all fairness, most football programs MAKE money for the University. The ticket sales and merchandising are a HUGE boon for most universities, with little in the way of player salaries to cut into all that phat cash.

    And, even if they didn't make money directly, popular sports programs are often a huge draw for the local donors and alumni supporters that keep most universities going. Like it or not, wealthy alumni and locals are a helluva lot more interested in how the football/basketball teams are doing than how many papers Professor Dipschitz published this year, or how much you've improved your graduation rate.

    And before a bunch of you non-Americans kick in with snide "handegg" remarks, yes I'm aware that you're "football" is different from ours. But we *are* talking about American universities here.

  • Corporate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#33087342)
    Well, for starters they're operated like for-profit corporations, instead of education institutions
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:22PM (#33087356)

    because I know I'd feel safer if the guy who engineered the bridge I was driving on didn't go to an elitist "university".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:22PM (#33087364)

    As much as I hate to say it, that's one of the biggest problems. Everybody thinks they deserve to go to college. Everybody thinks that because they have a degree, they can command six figures. That's not the reality though. Somebody has to be a cart-pusher. Somebody has to work fast food.

    I'm a system administrator. I didn't go to college. I'm more competent than most of my peers that did go to college.

  • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:24PM (#33087394)

    The biggest problem with higher education in the USA is it is just a few ticks above what the high-school diploma used to be. IMHO that's because our high-school system is rather poor when it comes down to it. In the end experience is what gets you a job and diploma and degrees simply show that you aren't an absolute idiot. There a lot of jobs that require a degree when there is no need for it.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by easterberry (1826250) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:24PM (#33087400)

    it is likely the best university system in the world.

    [citation needed]

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by metiscus (1270822) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:25PM (#33087410)

    It never ceases to amaze me how smart people seem to achieve greatness in spite of the many failings of our education system.

  • by warrior_s (881715) <kindle3&gmail,com> on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:26PM (#33087422) Homepage Journal
    people stop trying to find faults with the american university system. It is the elementary/high schools in america that needs to be fixed. The higher education in USA is the best in the world. People yearn to come here to get quality higher education. Ask any international (undergraduate/graduate) student who is studying here.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:26PM (#33087426)
    What is wrong with the university system is because we've screwed up our high school system to pretty much let -everyone- graduate, a diploma now means nothing. Because of this, people who usually should go to a trade school, or just have on-site training from high school is now attending university to stand out in the job market. So because of this, universities are forced to hire sub par teachers to meet the demand and because no one wants to attend a university with a 60% flunk-out rate, universities lower standards. Of course this is just a cat and mouse game, eventually employers are going to require things beyond a bachelors degree for entry-level jobs, etc.

    Fix our high school system by actually -failing- kids who can't do the work. None of this "can I please have extra credit despite me doing nothing but talking in class?" crap that keeps high-profile athletes who are dumber than rocks with "passing" grades.
  • by Palestrina (715471) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:29PM (#33087472) Homepage

    Name one profession that is _not_ filled with petty politics, sucking up to superiors, back stabbing and arguing over parking spots?

    The difference is only academics write a thick book about it.

  • by tiptone (729456) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:29PM (#33087474)
    It's often the case that the football teams generate a lot of revenue, but that revenue goes to the athletics programs and not back to the university at large.
  • Almost had me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:29PM (#33087476)

    The summary started out good but:

    "They blame a system that favors research over teaching and vocational training over liberal arts".

    "The second reason to go to college is get a good liberal arts education."

    I'm not saying get rid of liberal arts. They're great. I loved taking them when I got my BSME. I'm probably going to sneak into a few when I go back for my masters. But there is no reason every decent sized school needs to be graduating even 20 theater majors a year. Hurray, you spent 4 years and $50k to learn to do theater. Now what? Most highschools require you to have a teaching degree too. So now you're limited to off broadway and the such. Something tells me that there isn't a huge demand (at least not enough to match supply).

    The most successful liberal arts major you'll ever meet was most likely one of your liberal arts professors.

    We NEED to be focusing more on vocational training. The world needs ditch diggers. The world also needs mechanics, electricians, welders. We need to quit making high schools force someone who would be an excellent mechanic into going to college 'just because'. Too many parents push their kids into college thinking either "I'm successful, they have to go to be successful too." or "I want my kid to go to college because I didn't to get rich".

    Personally I've liked what I read about other countries where they sort of guide you into a track early in high school. I'm sure it's not perfect and they get the track wrong, but it's a ton better than graduating 10,000 students a year from a decent sized education, 50% of which have a degree that is more or less 100% useless. WTF does an "Art Appreciation" major do?

    I wish I could go back to my high school and give a swift cock punch to my guidance counselor that told me I couldn't take welding because I was college bound. There is so much stuff I'd love to make. Thankfully my dad taught me wood working and home repair and I learned to solder in an internship.

  • by arth1 (260657) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:29PM (#33087480) Homepage Journal

    ... and being prohibitively expensive for a large part of the population?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:29PM (#33087486)

    one of these "22-year-old students with unrealistic expectations that some company will put them in a management position"? I never have personally though they are a common complaint. No one I knew expected to even have a job upon graduating, just offers and maybes and that seemed normal.

  • by TrisexualPuppy (976893) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:31PM (#33087524)
    Uhm, that kind of thing is generally taught in second grade which essentially means that he doesn't have a complete second-grade education.
  • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:31PM (#33087526)
    Blanket statements will get you in trouble.

    While it's true that some come out of college with a nasty sense of entitlement for an awesome, high-paying job, not all do. The majority of people that I graduated with surely didn't share that sentiment (probably because they saw how much more I knew than them due to my actual real work experience, vs their school-only experience).
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:32PM (#33087538)

    People yearn to come here to get quality higher education. Ask any international (undergraduate/graduate) student who is studying here.

    Sorry, but you are making a sweeping and entirely false generalization there. From what I have seen, most of the international students in my engineering program came here because a degree from an American university was perceived as more valuable than a degree from their own country. I saw far more cheating and far less competence among the international students, even those that spoke English fluently, than I did among the American students; they were not going to school because they were seeking a better education than what they could get back home.

  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:32PM (#33087548)

    As a college instructor, I hope I know something that my students don't. Isn't that the point of having professors?

  • by easterberry (1826250) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:37PM (#33087632)
    Most first world nations have tons of internationals. Up here in Canada at least half my program is international. It's not "America is awesome" it's "My country is not awesome."
  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:37PM (#33087644)
    Completely agree, despite not wanting to... I did my grad work at Texas A&M (Big 12) and despite how much they continually pay their football coaches and the near deification of the players, the program brought money and prestige to the university. I'd blame 6 and 7 figure incomes of useless administrators more than sports for the astronomical rise in tuition.
  • Re:Corporate (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:38PM (#33087664)

    The professors are the heart and soul of the university. They do the research and the teaching. Yet, the administrators run the show.

  • Orange County (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jgtg32a (1173373) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:39PM (#33087692)

    Shaun: I have to go to college.
    Cindy: Why?
    Shaun: Because it's what you do after high school.

    Just remembered this quote

  • Re:And yet- (Score:4, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:40PM (#33087700) Journal

    Depends on the school. Mine makes money from football, but the money then gets sucked-up by all the other less popular sports like soccer, field hockey, gymnastics, and so on.

    Where sports is REALLY a waste is at the High School level. Yeah I know people need exercise, but that's what gym is for. You don't need all those extra afterschool (and expensive) sports teams.

  • Investments... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:41PM (#33087740) Homepage Journal

    Most any college team I know of (SEC ones in my experience) MAKE the universities money by the barrel full.

    Well, you have to beware of creative accounting and bad investments/contracts.

    Basically it can sometimes become a 'school pride' issue, because the sports teams 'make' the college money they press for additional benefits - more pay for the coach, more money for recruiting efforts, new stadium, etc...

    Of course, all this is justified as 'payoff in X years', the problem is that you never reach X...

    On the creative accounting side you end up with sports expenses not being counted as part of the sports programs, things like ticket sales being counted as income even as they count stadium expenses as 'infrastructure' like actual classrooms.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:41PM (#33087742)

    Liberal Arts is not about Theatre, Liberal Arts at the core is about thinking. This country needs more people who can think before they do, not more doers whose educations become obsolete before the ink on their diploma is dry.

    there are many good essays on exactly what Liberal Arts is, you should try reading a few of them before penning ignorant rants.

    This is one of them, http://www2.fiu.edu/~hauptli/MyViewofTheNatureofALiberalArtsEducation.html
    This is a page that describes the expectations of a student that has graduated with a degree in Liberal Arts (please note that I did not say Theatre or Art Appreciation, those are part of Liberal Arts, but They are not all of Liberal Arts [if you don't understand why this is so, then you should review your logic]).
    http://www.evergreen.edu/about/expectations.htm

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:42PM (#33087756)
    You know, the schools people come to attend from across the globe? Or perhaps you had a different country in mind?
    Harvard University Cambridge, MA, Princeton University Princeton, NJ, Yale University New Haven, CT, California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA, Stanford University Stanford, CA, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA, Columbia University New York, NY, University of Chicago Chicago, IL, Duke University Durham, Dartmouth College Hanover, NH, Northwestern University Evanston, IL, Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO, Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD, Cornell University Ithaca, NY, Brown University Providence, RI, Emory University Atlanta, GA, Rice University Houston, TX, Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN, University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN, University of California--Berkeley Berkeley, CA, Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA, Georgetown University Washington, DC, University of California--Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA, University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
  • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:44PM (#33087778)

    they all acted like they know something we don't.

    If you're literally sitting there paying them to teach you something they damn well better know something you don't, otherwise your wasting your money. Also, you've got a bit of a paradox here unless you want someone in the situation to bow down and act like they don't have anymore knowledge than the other party. Someone has to have more knowledge than the other and one would certainly hope it's the person standing at the front of the class being paid to give it out.

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:48PM (#33087862)

    Software design, scientific computing, algorithmic analysis, etc.

    A university education is very important if you want to do much more than configure routers and hack code together.

  • by pslam (97660) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:49PM (#33087870) Homepage Journal

    Programming, Technical work, Networking, DBA, Whatever you want to do with computers, education doesn't really matter.

    This isn't entirely true. Both outside HR and internal HR departments filter the masses of resumes they receive by education. The simple, brain-dead way to filter the vast majority of candidates, and select (on average) better ones is to require either a Masters or a PhD. I wrote quite a diatribe about the stupidity of this practice a month or so ago when this turned up on Slashdot.

    So while you still can get a job without a having 4-8 years of higher education in Computer fields, you're going to have to battering-ram through stupid HR screening before you'll get noticed. The 'big' companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and such even lean towards PhD as a minimum bar for entry. That's even more stupid, and you'll find you have trouble even getting a phone interview without a PhD even if you have, say, 10+ years experience in exactly the field they want.

    The root cause? Escalation. Everyone who wants to get a programming job is getting a Masters, not even a Bachelors, because employers want that because everyone in the previous generation has a Bachelors. Now employers want a PhD because, well, everyone got a Masters because employers wanted that. What happens when everyone's spent 10 years in education just to get a job? Perhaps, I dunno, people could be recruited on a basis of their quality rather than a piece of paper saying they're as good as a few million other people.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:49PM (#33087880) Journal
    EU citizens don't come here. They've got better education at home (or so they claim).
  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:55PM (#33088004) Journal

    Every single redistributionist that excludes himself from the group having "excessive" wealth is simply a thief trying justify stealing.

    If someone truly believes in the principal that one person's production should be forcibly taken and given to someone that an arbitrary authority has decided needs it more then that person should lead by example.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:56PM (#33088020) Journal

    >>>I'm in Canada and I pay $900/semester + book costs

    False. You are right you are paying $900/semester now, but then you will get a job and you will pay the remaining $80,000 or so in the form of weekly taxation. So in the end, you're paying the same amount as I did in the States...... just spread out over the next 60 years.

    It's just the same as I got "free" K-12 education, but now I have to pay ~$6000 a year in school taxes. I am paying-off the education I received several decades ago. It was never free - just a deferred charge. Like buying a sofa at a store with deferred payment. It's free now; but I pay next year.

    BTW: Were you really so naive as to not realize this? (Education is not free; it's simply paid later)
    If so maybe your education was not that great after all.

  • by radtea (464814) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:59PM (#33088078)

    Liberal Arts at the core is about thinking.

    No, Liberal Arts is about thinking the way pre-scientific people did it.

    Read CP Snow's "Two Cultures", which laments the divide between the sciences and the liberal arts, and justly so.

    So long as the liberal arts fail to adapt to the scientific world-view, including accepting the importance of mathematical reasoning alongside poetry etc, they have ceased to be what they once were, which is the living voice of Western culture. Instead they are just a cozy backwater for the scientifically illiterate.

    The sciences, at the same time, become a cozy backwater for the poetically illiterate.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eudial (590661) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:02PM (#33088140)

    But then there's typically a good 30-40 year delay between actual achievement and Nobel prize. Add to that some 10 years worth of doing unnoticed stuff, and then 10- years worth of education, and we can conclude that American universities were awesome in the '50s-'70s.

  • Re:Corporate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by More Trouble (211162) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:02PM (#33088144)

    The secretaries are analogous to the administrative staff of the university. The partners are analogous to the professors. In both cases the point of the institution has been lost.

  • Re:Education (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flattop100 (624647) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:03PM (#33088180)

    Wait, are you saying we haven't rebuilt New Orleans because we *don't know how*?

    That is patently false. New Orleans isn't getting rebuilt because no one wants to live there. Likewise, new home sales have crashed not because we lack a knowledgeable workforce, but because *no one is buying.*

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:04PM (#33088192)

    Right, instead we should require your parents to pay for your K-12 education up front, and if they can't afford it, well, "the world needs ditch-diggers, too!" Shoulda picked better parents.

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:04PM (#33088198)

    If someone truly believes in the principal that one person's production should be forcibly taken and given to someone that an arbitrary authority has decided needs it more then that person should lead by example.

    You're arguing from a faulty premise: that of the myth of one person's production.

    Anything a person who dwells in civilization produces is the result of a partnership between that person and the society in which they live, without which their production (to some small or large degree) would be either impossible or less. Therefore, logically, the fruits of that production also logically belong in part to that person and in part to society.

    It's not about redistributing what's yours; it's about your partner in a venture getting their cut.

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:06PM (#33088236) Journal

    That sounds like an issue with employers then, not universities.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:08PM (#33088296) Journal

    Oh and also America's K-12 system could be fixed it, like Europe, the students were free to attend ANY public school they wished instead of being stuck in a one-choice monopoly.

    i.e. If a student is attending an inner-city school that is crumbling, he/she could go attend the better public suburban school located ~10 miles down the road. I will never understand current policy that forces poor people to be trapped in a shitty school, instead of allowing them the freedom of choice to attend a better public school at zero cost. What? Is our school system now run by the Comcast Monopoly??? ("No choice for you!")

  • by Tailhook (98486) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:09PM (#33088312)

    most employment...

    ...has been shipped to China.

    Thanks for playing, USA.

    Your decline won't end in a nice environmentally sustainable hippydom either. Alchys and neglect are your future. Detroit, writ large.

    Happy Friday.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interval1066 (668936) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:10PM (#33088320) Homepage Journal

    "It never ceases to amaze me how smart people seem to achieve greatness in spite of the many failings of our education system."

    The reason for this is quite simple: a diploma gets you in the door, but your particular qualities, if any, pave the way to greatness.

    /* soapbox */ in spite of our horrible primary education system. So we have to breed high achievers, American's aren't willing to teach greatness to children any more.. Having spent many of my formative years in Asia I know first hand that the situation exactly is. The issues we have with our primary schools are our real problems. K through 12 aged children come of age in and must excel despite a primary system that frankly teaches them shit about the reality of life and learning in the modern age. Children are indoctrinated into thinking about being accepting of other cultures, "valuing" and fostering their own fragile egos and at the same time that winning isn't really the right thing to strive for and how global warming is a hideous result of modern civilization and all manner of politically correct nonsense, none of which is taught in any other country that I've ever lived in.

    Japanese school children on the other hand are given the basic tools of rational and critical thought, drilled constantly to master both mathematical and lexical (language) skills, and everything is done to prepare them for secondary education. Japan has many 2ndary schools, but any Japanese person will tell you that only 3 count; Tokyo, Todai, and a third whose name escapes me. If you are a Japanese citizen of means and you can't get your child into one of those three, that's when you consider sending your child to Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc. And fortunately for those foreign students there's plenty of room because American children are off doing anything but achieving. Foreigners send their children to western schools because they don't have enough room in their own schools.

    Meanwhile we're teaching our children to hug trees which they can presumably use to ultimately flip burgers with their liberal arts degrees. Are we really casting a critical enough eye at our primary education system?

  • by couch_warrior (718752) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:16PM (#33088446)
    A modern liberal arts degree is a mostly worthless piece of paper. The degree is chock full of courses in dead literature and useless philosophy. All of which are a holdover form the days of royalty and privilege. The upper classes didn't have to work, so they spent their leisure time filling their heads with literature and philosophical trivia. This made them appear more intelligent than the working-class slobs whose days were filled by 16-hour shifts in the coal mines. And this in turn was used to rationalize a mythical genetic basis for the wealth and leisure of the upper class. It's time to bring colleges and universities into the 21st century. Instead of trying to recreate the old European culture of wealth and privilege, let's trash the whole university system, and create a whole new, publicly funded set of technical degree generating institutions that don't bother with dead and arcane subjects like English or Art. It would be well worth the investment of public funds to have a populace that can compete on a global scale in technical fields. Of course the useless f-tards from wealthy families can still waste their lives on "private sector" liberal arts degrees, the difference being that their lack of technical focus will label them as useless idle slugs instead of the erudite and effete members of the upper crust.
  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:17PM (#33088474) Journal

    Oh and also America's K-12 system could be fixed it, like Europe, the students were free to attend ANY public school they wished instead of being stuck in a one-choice monopoly.

    A lot of states already have that, it's called schools of choice, and the public schools hate it.

  • Tuition increases! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:17PM (#33088480) Homepage

    From the article -- "Tuitions now are twice what they were 25 years ago".

    Hmm, I started at the University of Texas almost 25 years ago. Tuition has gone up by a factor of *10* since then.

    (Seriously -- it was about $400 per semester back then, and now it's over $4000/semester now.)

    Back then, I put myself through college. No loans. Not sure that kids could do that now ...

  • by Xelios (822510) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:18PM (#33088498)
    I've spent semesters at both a Canadian and German university and for the most part they were pretty similar. Most of the professors spent the entire lecture copying the notes posted on the course website onto the blackboard, and in most courses your final grade was entirely dependent on a single exam (and an optional, harder re-exam a few weeks later). Don't expect big differences in that department.

    But in the end I enjoyed the German university far more. For one, tuition was free*. Dealing with the bullshit that comes with a higher education is so much easier when you know you're not digging yourself into five figure debt for the privilege. Aside from that there were lots of perks on the side. The cafeteria served a choice 6 complete meals at lunch time, all between 2 to 4 euros for students including some salad, dessert, soup and a main dish. Students were able to ride all in-state public transportation for free, and it was good public transport. Single dorms were about 250 euros a month. Student loans were provided by the government with 0% interest, 50% to be paid back with payments starting 5 years after graduation. Good marks and early payment could lower that amount even further.

    Last but not least, I was able to get a part time job at the university helping with research projects in my field. I probably learned more about programming through this work with the professor and his staff than I did in any of the lectures, and I was paid for it at the same time. These sorts of jobs were available in almost every department if you cared to ask.

    I still had plenty of gripes, but I'm sure it could have been far worse.

    *Before I get the inevitable "But it's not free you pay for it with taxes" reply yes, you're right. The point is the cost of your education is spread over your entire working life, instead of being dropped on you all at once. And I still had to pay a 120 euro/semester "fee" for administration, student union and so on.
  • by Yold (473518) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:20PM (#33088536)

    From TFA:

    One of your more controversial points is the idea that every student should major in liberal arts...

    ..liberal arts, properly conceived, means wrestling with issues and ideas, putting the mind to work in a way these young people will only be able to do for these four years. And we'd like this for everyone. They can always learn vocational things later, on the job. They can even get an engineering degree later--by the way, in two years rather than four.

    Disagree. Engineering classes also allow people to communicate and explore new ideas, the subject matter is simply more practical and concrete (i.e. the correct answer is more narrowly defined). Also, many quality engineering programs have liberal-education requirements for this reason. People pay a lot of money for college, and forcing them to take non-practical classes won't solve any problems, it will just further burden them with debt when they go back to "engineering school", or whatever the author is suggesting.

    ...you even suggest that graduates should work at Old Navy for a year and ruminate on their lives.

    In our economy, they're not really ready for you until you're 28 or so. They want you to have a number of years behind you. So when somebody comes out of college at 22 with a bachelor's degree, what can that person really offer Goldman Sachs or General Electric or the Department of the Interior? ... There's no rush. That's why I say they should take a year to work at Costco, at Barnes & Noble, whatever, a year away from studying, and think about what they really want to do.

    ARE YOU SERIOUS!? I quit reading the article at this point. I worked my ass off in shitty IT jobs over the last 7 years, double majored in 5 years, and this guy want me to go fold shirts or flip burgers?! I didn't expect (and don't have) a fat salary, but I do well enough to be comfortably middle-class at age 24, doing work that I somewhat enjoy. Also, there is a "rush", its called interest on my student loans.

    I agree that there is a lot of stuff wrong with American Universities. Rich kids have an inherent advantage because they don't have to work during college. They socialize in Greek organizations, making connections to their future rich buddies, while lower and middle class kids like me bust our asses.

  • by easterberry (1826250) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:20PM (#33088554)
    Yes yes and when my lung collapsed I didn't actual get "free healthcare" because my taxes are slightly higher than yours. I would rather have higher taxes and the services whenever I need them then not be able to attend a good university because my family lives on one civil servant's income. You disagree, whatever. I'm not having a socialism/libertarianism debate.
  • by Alaska Jack (679307) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:21PM (#33088572) Journal

    Football (and athletics in general) are not causing tuition to skyrocket. As much as I wish it were so, the numbers just don't add up. For example, tuition has also skyrocketed at schools (like mine) that don't even have football teams.

    I think the cause is even simpler. The problem is, no one wants to talk about it because there is no easy, feel-good solution.

    Thesis: The raise in tuition rates over the last 40 years or so is largely due to the easy availability of *cheap student loans.*

    I don't think this should be particularly controversial: It is a logical outcome completely consistent with classical supply/demand economics.

    Let's say the government prints money and starts giving it away. Everyone is richer, right? Wrong, of course -- that money is now worth less, so prices all go up. That's inflation. This is the same scenario, except that the money can only be used for one specific purpose: education. It should logically follow that the price of that education will simply go up correspondingly.

    I'm not going to propose any solutions, because I don't want to start some stupid partisan flamewar. I just want to suggest that the widely perceived *solution* to high education costs is actually the *driver* of those costs.

        - AJ

    EDIT: Just found this:

    "The simple economics of student loan crises"
    http://dmarron.com/2009/09/15/the-simple-economics-of-student-loan-crises/ [dmarron.com]

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:26PM (#33088656) Journal

    You could say that, but I say they are searching in the wrong places.

    If I had to choose between a mechanic who has worked on cars for 8 years or a mechanic who just got out of 8 years of schooling - I am going to pick the one I know can do it.

    If you exclude people based on educational institutes and not education period - you deserve what you get. You only help the political and broken system stay exactly in place.

    Your criteria in a job search should be "Can they do the job" - something that universities were great at filtering before the advent of the internet. Almost any career can now be self taught - but at least with computers you already have the tools necessary to develop experience without working in the field or going to school. I mean with accounting, how are you going to get experience with handling corporate finances without working corporately? However you can take any ratty old desktop and set up a web server at home - all for relatively cheap.

  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:26PM (#33088666) Journal

    Education is only important to things you don't like. If you are truly interested in a field you'll learn these things on your own; often better than can be taught. Otherwise you are just forcing an education due to it feeling required.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:27PM (#33088682) Journal

    I see. My opinion on that is, professors--like everybody else in the entire world--are human. Some are good, some are bad. Some were once good and now bad, some once cared and now don't, and some have worked hard every day of their careers to make the best classroom environment. Etc ad infinitum. I never understood why people would take classes with obviously bad professors or professors who they didnt get, etc. Do universities protect bad professors? Yes, to some extent. I had a class once with one of the preeminent Byzantine scholars around. The guy was wellpast his prime, rambled, gave confusing assignments, and had he been judged in his current state, never would have been hired. I still got a ton out of the class.

    The other thing I really hate to say is, if you go to bottom of the barrel schools, what do you expect? Almost always when I've seen people on slashdot talking about how much they hated college, they went to large, generally not top of the line state schools (and yes, of course there are exceptions to this).

    If you're one out of 40,000 freshman wanting to take chemistry at a generic State U, don't expect it to be much different from your chemistry class in highschool, because let's face it, you and your highschool peers are now in college. A lot of the people in those intro classes probably struggle, while for you it may be easy. Likewise for community college--community colleges are aimed at students who probably weren't ready for a traditional 4 year education. You can't expect a random county community college to pick from the same calibre professor of Harvard...and yet, the irony is, I've met a lot of community college profs who are AMAZING teachers and who work so hard to help their students.

    So in short, perhaps the most important thing is, with college (again, as in everything else in life) -- you can make out of it what you will. You can coast by and take nothing but huge lecture classes where the professor doesn't know you from Adam...but I would think at almost every single 4-year college in the country there are some fantastic teachers and fantastic courses.

    I had my share of courses that I loved, that I felt really opened up my eyes and I got to learn some really cool stuff. I've seen plenty of people in the exact same course do nothing but complain and put in a half-assed effort. So who's right about the reality of course?

    All-in-all, I would say that in 6 years of college/grad school I can think of maybe 2 classes that I thought were horrible and got little out of (and one of those I dropped...the other I should have). 2 out of ~60 ain't too shabby imho.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:44PM (#33088984)

    What is wrong with the university system is because we've screwed up our high school system to pretty much let -everyone- graduate, a diploma now means nothing.

    Well, except that the US highschool graduation rate peaked in 1969 at 77%, and is now below 70%. So, not only does your complaint not accurately reflect the current state of our high school system (without a ridiculously loose definition of "everyone"), it doesn't even reflect the direction of the current trend.

    But don't let facts get in the way of your rant.

  • The real reason (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hdparm (575302) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:51PM (#33089114) Homepage
    The discussion ranges from entrenched tenured professors more concerned with publishing and parking spaces than quality teaching

    My daughter yesterday received her Masters Degree from the Auckland University of Technology (NZ). Guest speaker at the event was eminent New Zealand scientist Dr Ray Avery. One of those brilliant scientists who actually did some great things and provided for underprivileged around the world.

    He also has a lot of experience teaching at some of the best known schools. The one thing he underlined in his speech yesterday was the fact that New Zealand students have a big advantage to the most of the places he visited in being taught by educators who not only are of the highest professional calibre but people who, almost across the board, have retained the most important attribute of any educator at any level - their humanism.

    Now, if indeed there is something wrong with the high education system in the USA, I'd suggest this would be the starting point in fixing it.

  • by SpeedyDX (1014595) <speedyphoenix@NOspAM.gmail.com> on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:52PM (#33089116)

    You know, before I went to university, I thought the exact same thing. What's in it for me? I'm a smart guy, have a high IQ, know a lot. I'm generally smarter than many people who've graduated university. So why do employers insist on a post-secondary degree or diploma to hire for certain positions?

    Then I went to university. Shortly after I got in, my world view got blown the fuck up. There are a lot of important lessons that I've learned in university.

    Humility, respect, and perspective were the first to come. Most of us here were probably at the top of our graduating classes in high school in practically every subject. But once you get into a good university that requires you to take different courses (mine requires at least one full year course or equivalent in each of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Sciences), while you may excel in your own particular field of study, you'll also start to realize that people in other fields of study are equally impressive in their reasoning and knowledge. You'll also start to realize that your interests and expertise do not encompass the world, and that the world is a lot bigger than we tend to give it credit for. People are more intellectually diverse, and that diversity does not mean that they are intellectually inferior. You gain a lot of perspective.

    Your social skills will also improve if you choose to engage in campus social life. Once you get past high school and into university, it seems like most people just press a social reset button. Gone are candies and nerds and other cliques, everyone's just a student. You'll quickly learn the benefits of networking, especially with those people with interests outside of your own, both as a social support mechanism as well as for professional purposes. If you're in the sciences, you'll often find yourself having to work with other people and improving your co-operation and leadership skills, two skills that are key to your professional success.

    Individual work ethics and research skills will also be developed. You learn that there's a lot more to research than Wikipedia (your ass will swiftly be kicked if you try to use it as anything other than a quick overview/starting point). Your post-secondary institution will grant you unlimited access to many research portals, where you can find papers on practically any field of human knowledge. If you do well in university, your employer will know that you've had experience doing a lot of individual research and with strict deadlines approaching. Having good time management skills, self-control, and generally good work ethics are also key to being a good employee.

    Then there's the actual knowledge. I can't personally speak to computer programming/science/engineering, but I do have a friend who graduated with a BSc in Software Engineering. He's told me over the years that he's really learned a lot about programming and software engineering from the school. Software engineering in particular requires you to be open minded and have different perspectives on possible solutions. He learned how to look at the problem from different angles, and different ways to attack similar problems. From my own view, there can really be no replacement for the knowledge I've gained in the past few years at this school. In fact, if I never attended this school, I wouldn't even have known that I was interested in what I'm doing right now, philosophy.

    That's only a few of the many things that I can easily put into words about my experience in university. I've experienced and learned so much more, but I wouldn't have the time, nor the words in many instances, to write about them here. The catch is that you have to be willing to learn. You have to open your mind and look at university as a whole life learning experience. I know many people who just come to school in order to get that piece of paper that will get them a better chance at a job. Some of those people end up realizing the social and educational potential of the university experience at-large, but most of them learn n

  • by Quirkz (1206400) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:53PM (#33089138) Homepage
    I'm all for practical education, but while I was working on my physics degree (not nearly as practical as I thought it would be), I have to say that the most entertaining, educational, eye-opening, and engaging classes I took in four year of college were my two art history courses. I liked them so much I'll tell any student who will listen they should take one. For me it was just one of those "see the world a completely different way" kind of experiences. Third and fourth favorite were two history courses I took. Fifth favorite was a philosophy class (basically "modern social issues") that did more for my critical thinking, discussion, and communication abilities than all my physics classes put together.

    A lot of the liberal arts classes that you dismiss as snobbery and fluff are geared at enhancing context (know history so you don't repeat it) and communication (get your point across effectively). They're also often kind of fun and very different kind of work -- a fantastic change of pace and a welcome relief when you're loaded up on math and physics, say.

    I'm 100% confident there's room for some of that in a college curriculum, in addition to practical, career-based stuff.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fjan11 (649654) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:55PM (#33089196) Homepage
    The top 20% of American universities are among the best in the world. The rest, not so much. (I hold Master's degrees both from a US and an EU university)
  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:01PM (#33089304)
    If I had to choose between a mechanic who has worked on cars for 8 years or a mechanic who just got out of 8 years of schooling - I am going to pick the one I know can do it.

    Here's the example of the number one thing wrong with the US higher education system: misunderstanding of the purpose of the "higher education system".

    Universities are supposed to be places where people get a well-rounded education in a wide array of topics. That's why the undergraduate degrees tend to have liberal arts and science and social studies components to them. The result is supposed to be people who can look at the world and have some understanding of where we are and where we are going.

    If you want a technical degree, go to a community college or trade school. You should not be looking to the Universities to provide well-trained mechanics.

    The fact that tenure was listed as a fault is another sign of that same misunderstanding. Universities are also intended to further the arts through research. Tenure is a means of allowing faculty to relax a bit from having to deal with the daily grind and let them explore areas that aren't necessarily the most productive now -- but may become so. "Ok, you've shown you can produce papers and teach, now be inventive."

    It's no different than Google's "free friday", or whatever company it was that gave employees work-time to do personal projects.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by initdeep (1073290) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:02PM (#33089318)

    no, what's wrong here in the US is that people EXPECT that simply throwing some money at an institution and attending some classes and doing the old pump-and-dump method of test taking is a RIGHT for all those graduating from lower education levels.

    Living in a town with a major state university, it is appalling how basically stupid and ignorant of the real world most students at this university are.

    The american student has basically been conned into believing that attendance of higher education is mandatory, yet at the same time is basically just a way to postpone entering the working force for a minimum of four years (and more likely 5-6 for that 4 year degree) and continue to act as a child while amassing a huge debt load for which the government is happy to keep taking their interest payments for the next 20 years.

    it's pathetic actually.

  • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:25PM (#33089630)

    You know, you can buy on amazon for cheap excellent book on general relativity and quantum mechanics. My bet is that without a couple years in a good physics program you will no actually understand anything.

    Because (advanced) maths are not simple. Because the level of abstraction reached is mind-boggling. Because these books build on centuries of maths and physics knowledge.

    Now you can, perhaps, teach yourself to that level. It will take you probably more time than the college/university path. It is cute that you compare the level of education of Washington to today: basically, in his time, you could essentially know everything.

    Now go read some articles on Riemanian manifolds on wikipedia. That's modern geometry for you. Go ahead. Teach yourself that.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#33089880) Homepage Journal

    You know, the schools people come to attend from across the globe?

    Do you know how many foreign students end up getting their educations subsidized here?

    I sometimes wonder if those institutions are nearly as generous with American students. I met my wife twenty years ago when she was a grad student at my institution and I was a newly minted post-doc with an eye for foreign talent (these were in the days before I'd become a full-fledged geek and thus repellent to the opposite sex). Somehow, the school, a land-grant state university, was paying her tuition and a stipend and she had to work a few hours as a teaching asst. And, they took care of her visa for her (though I'm the one who finally made her a US citizen). Yes, I was, in the words of the great Gogol Bordello, a "green-card husband". I worked out well though, because she's held up pretty well and knows her way around the kitchen. Plus, her PhD in math has served us well financially. Certainly better than my doctorate in the humanities.

    But I guess things were different then. Back then, my beginning salary, though on the low side, was actually more than three times (4 times?) the cost of my last year at grad school. Today, with higher education having outpaced the Consumer Price Index by 5-10X every year for decades, a graduate's starting salary wouldn't even cover their last year at school. I remember thinking how hard I had it because I owed $2000 in student loans. Today, kids are graduating with a quarter million in loans to pay off for their Master's and PhD.

    Yeah, we've got some good schools, but there is absolutely no reason in the world they should be anywhere near as expensive as they are. The input costs for universities haven't gone up even a tiny fraction of the tuition increases. Their buildings are much more energy efficient. The profs aren't making that much more (except in the B-school), and they're certainly not spending the additional money on housing or food service (god knows). No, the universities have priced themselves so high just because they can get away with it, causing a generation of students to begin life saddled with outrageous debt that they'll be paying off for decades. I guess it's one way to create a slave mentality in new workers. And endowments? School endowments have increased many times in the past few decades. Harvard, just to name one, has gone from something like $200 million to $4 BILLION. The idea of the endowments was supposed to be to keep tuitions down. Instead, they become the private gambling stakes for development offices (those greedy cocksuckers).

    And the worst part is these institutions are always begging the alumni for dough. As much as I feel a certain affection for my alma mater, I feel like I'd just be enabling them if I gave them money. Maybe I'll buy a sweatshirt, but I'll be damned if I'm going to give them money when they're charging 12-14 times as much than they did when I graduated. What else has gone up that much in price over the past 20 years? We've got to find a way to bring those tuition costs way down for American students.

  • by Shados (741919) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:42PM (#33089896)

    Exactly. This isn't the only field where thats true either. There are places where the government tries to help people buy houses in similar ways. End result: house price skyrocketing (that happened pretty badly in places that started allowing people to use their retirement money to pay cashdowns on mortages. House price goes waaaay up instantly.)

  • by hoppo (254995) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:45PM (#33089938)

    Because so many people go to college, curricula are dumbed-down to appease the masses. Universities want to be seen as paragons of learning. However, so many kids go to college for no other reason than because they feel compelled to do so, in order to prepare them for the working world. The providers are pushing knowledge for the sake of gaining knowledge, but the consumers are looking for job training. This is a big dislocation -- the majority of students do not have any interest in the core competencies of the university system, and the university system is ill-equipped to provide what much of their market demands (how many CS or IS grads come and work in your companies and have to unlearn just about everything they've learned over the previous four years?).

    The notion that white-collar training should come from college should be obsolete. Reviving and expanding vocational training would have a positive effect on higher education. Take skill set programs, such as IS (not CS though), accounting, and (especially) management, just to name a few, out of the college system, and put them into a more vocation-oriented education system. You'd end up with happier students, more appropriately-focused universities, and a workforce whose younger members are more prepared to be productive.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitig (1056110) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:51PM (#33090022)
    And the UK has Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen and St Andrews, all within what would be a small US state, and all in the same division as the first few on the list.. France has La Sorbonne. And so on. Yes, the USA has world-class universities, but so do lots of other places. It doesn't make the USA system the "best". (I've only heard of about two-thirds of the universities on your list by the way. I could name quite a few universities in the UK that "people come to attend from across the globe" but that are not so famous on the world stage, too.
  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HuguesT (84078) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:52PM (#33090026)

    This "best universities" ranking is precisely what the FA authors are railing against: it's almost purely based on research output. There is no evaluation of the quality of the teaching.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:59PM (#33090120)

    Actually, that's a legitimate question - what is the point of public funding? One might think about indoctrinating children to pledge allegiance, or perhaps conditioning them to factory life...

    In any case, one of the big problems with the K-12 system is that there is never any failure, and with no consequences you simply cannot hope to motivate most people. Even a student flunking every grade from K-12 will move on to the next year, ready or not. They may screw the averages on state tests, but there is no individual accountability at all.

    Frankly, if public schools could kick kids out for failing to perform, they'd be much more useful - not every kid is going to take advantage of educational opportunities afforded to them, and simply warehousing them in classrooms is a detriment to those children that do want to work hard and learn.

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Friday July 30, 2010 @06:25PM (#33090390) Homepage

    http://www.disciplined-minds.com/ [disciplined-minds.com] "The hidden root of much career dissatisfaction, argues Schmidt, is the professional's lack of control over the political component of his or her creative work. Many professionals set out to make a contribution to society and add meaning to their lives. Yet our system of professional education and employment abusively inculcates an acceptance of politically subordinate roles in which professionals typically do not make a significant difference, undermining the creative potential of individuals, organizations and even democracy."

    See my other post in this thread, too:
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1738326&cid=33090340 [slashdot.org]

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday July 30, 2010 @07:07PM (#33090884)

    despite tenure meaning they can't be fired

    There are actually more ways of getting rid of a tenured professor than people realize. I know of cases such as:

    • forcibly retired due to encroaching senility
    • fired for trying to work a deal with a granting agency to keep the university from getting its cut
    • laid off when their entire department or college was closed down

    Also, though I'm not aware of any cases, most universities can declare a state analogous to bankruptcy, which lets them lay off anyone they please.

    I don't know whether there's a trick for getting rid of someone for "not working hard enough", but I encountered fewer slacker profs when I was in college than slacker managers or brown-nosers in the private sector, where people don't have anything like tenure to help them keep their jobs.

    And you make some other good observations. A prof who elects to slack after getting tenure:

    • won't ever get promoted to full professor or emeritus status
    • will get shorted during annual merit raises (which is usually a competitive process)
    • will live on nine month's salary rather than twelve

    I suspect there aren't many people willing to work themselves half to death for for pennies during 6-8 years of grad school, and then slave away for another 7 years while being evaluated for tenure, just for the chancy deferred gratification of getting to go slack thereafter.

  • by Totenglocke (1291680) on Friday July 30, 2010 @07:21PM (#33091042)

    Education is only important to things you don't like. If you are truly interested in a field you'll learn these things on your own; often better than can be taught.

    Partially true. However, some topics are very hard to find sufficient materials to learn from on your own - and some of the more complicated things even the brightest people need someone to help explain it to them so that they fully understand it.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday July 30, 2010 @07:24PM (#33091076)

    entrenched tenured professors more concerned with publishing and parking spaces than quality teaching

    It really doesn't take a leading researcher to teach undergraduate classes. They should hire people who are actually good at teaching for this job.

    You certainly have a good point, but one of the most commonly encountered whinges about the university system is that more classes should be taught by tenured professors.

    Of course, the same whinges usually complain about the mere existence of tenure. Seems to be some substantial cognitive dissonance invoved in the public attitude toward universities.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Friday July 30, 2010 @07:32PM (#33091178)

    And HR looks down on tech schools that are more about the job and don't have stuff like a football team and lots of filler class that get in the way.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yerxa (107176) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:19PM (#33091612)

    In Malaysia no less...

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quax (19371) on Friday July 30, 2010 @09:52PM (#33092190)

    Good for you. But now please explain to me how representative is this experience for the vast amount of US college graduates?

    How exactly does your claim square with news like this [canoe.ca]?

    What I am looking for are actual statistical valid comparisons. We can exchange anecdotal evidence until our fingertips turn blue from typing without learning a thing.

    Believe it or not, I am actually interested in a factual comparison. My kids have American and German citizenship and we live in Canada. At some they will have to pick a college and I want the best bang for the bucks.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oldspewey (1303305) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:07PM (#33092264)

    The child goes to the local school because that local school is supported by the taxes paid by the student's family and community.

    The child also goes to the local school because his feet would be bleeding by the time he walked to the good suburban school 10 miles down the road. Except of course for those mornings when his inner-city single mom working 3 minimum wage jobs hops in her Lexus to whisk him off to the 'burbs.

    Kids attending disadvantaged schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods tend to be ... well, disadvantaged.

  • by sparkeyjames (264526) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:08PM (#33092274)

    These Universities are awash in cash spending like crazy and still charging an arm and a leg for attending. Have you seen some of the figures for how much money large Universities have stashed in various different endowment funds. Some of the figures I read from wikipedia are that most large Universities have endowments in the billions of dollars. Some of which draw huge interest yet only a very small part of them are used for scholarships each year. I smell a rat. Not sure which breed yet but a rat none the less.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday July 30, 2010 @11:34PM (#33092772) Homepage

    Actually, what you're saying is crap. Advanced degrees in the US [...] are for the most part free.

    That's funny, because somehow the people graduating with these "free" degrees are ending up with over $20,000 in debt [nytimes.com]. Perhaps phrases like "most part" and "free" don't mean what one of us thinks they mean.

  • by Beetle B. (516615) <{moc.liame} {ta} {b_elteeb}> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @12:52AM (#33093162)

    So long as the liberal arts fail to adapt to the scientific world-view, including accepting the importance of mathematical reasoning alongside poetry etc

    And what liberal arts college encourages students to reject the scientific world view, might I ask?

    You (and I suspect others) are confusing liberal arts majors with liberal arts colleges. The article didn't advocate going to a university and majoring in something liberal arts. They're advocating going to a liberal arts college.

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