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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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  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:30PM (#33087510)
    I take it you haven't taken any university level classes in the US in the past decade. The classes are worse than high school, the professors are generally unmotivated, the tests are pure regurgitation, there is little free discussion, etc.

    Perhaps once the American University system was world-class, but now its nothing but regurgitation in front of brain-dead professors.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:37PM (#33087642)

    No, they don't. The ONLY thing they do is raise enrollment. The year after a team wins a championship or does well, they've seen enrollment rise.

    UConn lost roughly $280,000 in football, according to the numbers. Only three BCS programs lost more — Syracuse, which lost $835,000, Wake Forest ($3.07 million) and Duke ($6.72 million). Rutgers, which spent $19.07 million on its football program, was the only other school to fail to make a profit, although the Big East school broke even. [courant.com]

    Basketball doesn't make money either. [csmonitor.com]
    "Let's just take a look at two schools, my own Holy Cross and big-time power North Carolina to highlight the flaws. According to the article, the Holy Cross basketball team racked up $1,549,329 in expenses while generating an identical amount in revenue and therefore exactly broke even.".

    And as a whole, only 19 D1 Football schools were in the black. [sectalk.com]

  • by hibiki_r (649814) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:41PM (#33087734)

    I wonder which school you were talking about, and which major. I came to the US precisely because the education that I could get would beat the pants of what I'd find back home, and found plenty of other international students in the same boat: People from a bunch of countries that claimed that their home universities were all about ancient theory, with antiquated labs and no chance of applying anything that they learned in school outside of academia.

    In CS, Biology, and most kinds of engineering, the difference in quality is quite noticeable, at least if you are looking at good US schools that still put effort in undergrad work.

  • by $hecky (445344) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:44PM (#33087772)

    I'm a member of a college athletics committee, and I can tell you with all confidence that while is the common perception of college and university football programs, it simply isn't true. Even in Division I institutions football teams are, as a rule, largely funded by state dollars, student fees, and creative tax exemptions rather than by ticket sales, television contracts, etc. And this has been shown in study after study -- it's even a line that the NCAA toes.

    You can check NCAA financial disclosures to verify this at http://www2.indystar.com/NCAA_financial_reports/ [indystar.com] thanks to a study completed by Mark Alesia in 2006, but a quick Google should point you to a bunch of other studies that give this position the lie. If you'd rather not click through and see the reports yourself, this is a nice summary statement:

    "First off, he [Alesia] found that athletic departments at taxpayer-funded universities nationwide receive more than $1 billion in student fees and general school funds and services, and that without such outside funding, fewer than 10 percent of athletic departments would have been able to support themselves with ticket sales, television contracts and other revenue-generating sports sources. In fact, most would have lost more than $5 million."

    While this is a statement about athletics programs in general rather than football programs specifically, the NCAA financial reports make it clear that even among popular sports like basketball and football, the overwhelming majority of programs are perennial money losers.

  • by Carik (205890) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:45PM (#33087798)

    Well... except that according to the article, you're wrong. Straight from the article:

    "And then you look at the so-called big-revenue teams--football and basketball. Those are the powerhouses where there's a lot of recruiting, a lot of it underhanded. Yet if you look at all those powerhouse programs across the country, only seven or eight actually rake in money. All the rest of them lose money."

    I don't know who's right here, but I'd be inclined to trust the researchers writing a book. Also, I can certainly say that of the two or three Universities I've been involved with one way or another, the sports teams lost money for the university. Granted, the teams of those places sucked, so it may be different in places where the teams are actually good, but still...

  • by dcollins (135727) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:45PM (#33087800) Homepage

    "In all fairness, most football programs MAKE money for the University."

    Not for the university, no. Football funds generally go to the athletic department, which still runs at an overall loss to the university. This is according to the NCAA.

    Those funds are typically used to support the rest of a university's athletic department budget. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most departments operate at a yearly multimillion-dollar deficit. [PBS Nightly Business Report: The Business of College Football, Part 1]

    http://www.pbs.org/nbr/site/onair/transcripts/071112c/ [pbs.org]

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Informative)

    by danbert8 (1024253) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:45PM (#33087812)

    From what I have read, very few schools make money on sports. They may make money on a football or basketball program, but they sure don't on soccer, volleyball, hockey, crew, etc.

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/2008-05-16-financial-study_N.htm [usatoday.com]

  • by hibiki_r (649814) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:46PM (#33087828)

    Coming from a European high school, and having spend a decade in the US, it seems to me that the courses that everyone that graduated my high school had to take would be equivalent to what many Americans get if they take a whole lot of AP classes. My biggest gripe with the American University was that the entry level general courses had no material I had not covered in High school: Physics I and II, Chemistry I and II, Calculus I, II and III and College Algebra were all covered in HS. Everything higher level than that had better quality content than what I'd have seen in the local University back home.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomcircuit (938963) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:50PM (#33087892) Homepage



    You'll notice that the United States is disproportionately represented. (Effective troll though...)

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:53PM (#33087950)

    it is likely the best university system in the world.

    [citation needed]


  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Informative)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:01PM (#33088120)
    I never stated that the only places people go are in the US. But a quick search Google search will reveal that the top 50 universities are dominated by the US and UK. Try this link: World's best uni's [usnews.com]
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:10PM (#33088332)

    Those NE schools you are citing are just doing it wrong. There's plenty of money to be made in college sports:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/388387-texas-longhorns-how-the-athletic-department-keeps-the-money-flowing [bleacherreport.com]

  • Re:And yet- (Score:4, Informative)

    by easterberry (1826250) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:24PM (#33088622)
    For the reason I actually stated. it has the most well known schools therefore the most well peer reviewed schools therefore the highest score. It's like how Megan Fox/Christina Hendricks are not actually the most attractive women in the world but will always win the polls because the majority of the contestants aren't well known enough to compete. And either way it's the system as a whole that's under scrutiny, not the individual Schools. I'm not denying you have some very nice schools. It's the concept that your system as a whole is superior.
  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:25PM (#33088654) Homepage

    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.

    That's a commonly made claim that's not borne out by facts. There are several books, such as The Game of Life that have examined what data is public (a lot of football programs will guard their finances jealously, even from their universities) and for the most part, football teams are a net money loss for the university.

  • My biggest gripe with the American University was that the entry level general courses had no material I had not covered in High school: Physics I and II, Chemistry I and II, Calculus I, II and III and College Algebra were all covered in HS.

    That's largely true of my American public high school, too. My wife was highly annoyed that I only went to my college chemistry class on test days, literally never studied, only found out what was on the test when I sat down to take it, and still got an A in the class. It was the same stuff I'd gotten an A for in high school. Physics I and II covered the same HS curriculum but more rigorously.

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:00PM (#33089286) Homepage


    At my university [wm.edu], ~$1300 of undergraduate tuition/fees per year went toward (our hilariously awful) intercollegiate athletics program.

    On the other hand, our intramural sports and fitness programs cost each student about $130, and had nearly a 100% participation rate.

    Guess which one had its funding cut last year?

  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:17PM (#33089556) Journal
    Why bother with taxpayer-funded schools at all then? Why not just make all schools fee-paying? You'll have the same result (you can only go to the school that you pay for), but introduce a bit more choice. O course, it's possible that you've completely missed the point of public funding...
  • Re:And yet- (Score:3, Informative)

    by HuguesT (84078) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:37PM (#33089820)

    Actually the EU citizen do come to the US, but for the graduate programs (or more rarely on exchange programs for one year or so during undergrad years). The big reason is price, as grad studies can be relatively cheap (your advisor will pay you and your tuition costs, usually), another one is that a bachelor's degree is not really that impressive in Europe, a Masters' degree is much better regarded for some reason.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Informative)

    by Miletos (1289588) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:40PM (#33089866)

    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.

    Todai is short for Tokyo daigaku: Tokyo university. So it's the same as Tokyo. Also, Kyodai (Kyoto university) comes second.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:49PM (#33089998)

    That is one school. Who knows if that team even paid for their own stadium.

    The reality is a few big names in each region make money the rest lose it. Often those that do make money get tax money for stadiums or the uni pays to build it.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:1, Informative)

    by methano (519830) on Friday July 30, 2010 @04:50PM (#33090010)
    Actually, what you're saying is crap. Advanced degrees in the US, in the sciences at least, are for the most part, free. I graduated from an Ivy with a PhD in chemistry and don't know anyone in my class who graduated with any debt, except this one guy who also had a sports car and a boat and dressed fairly well for a grad student. You get TA's and RA's and your tuition is waved or covered under a grant or something. You are spreading bad information.
  • Not ready til 28? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:20PM (#33090334)

    Really? Slashdot readers ought to call that one like it is. I'm not quite 26 and I've been working for 3 years writing production software. Plenty of companies were ready for me and every other decent programmer that graduated with me.

    Maybe in *some* fields they don't want you until you're older. But I don't believe that's the case in technical fields.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Informative)

    by mano.m (1587187) on Friday July 30, 2010 @05:32PM (#33090478)

    how global warming is a hideous result of modern civilization and all manner of politically correct nonsense

    I was taught that in an Indian high school sometime in the nineties.

    In most of the world, global warming is recognised as an existing, serious problem and a consequence of industrialisation. Evolution is taught as it ought to be, without creationism getting in the way. In a country that has often been dissatisfied with the United Nations, the organisation and other multilateral fora are portrayed positively. In a country that has been at on-and-off war with an Islamic state since 1947, the origins and fundamentals of the religion (indeed, all major religions) is taught as part of history without subjective commentary.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:12PM (#33091968)

    In all fairness, most football programs MAKE money for the University.

    Actually MOST college athletic programs do not make a penny. That particular fact is not exactly a secret. About 50 of the biggest athletic programs make a profit and a handsome one at that. The rest require funding. A successful athletic program does have a HUGE impact on alumni donations though which is where the justification for them sometimes comes. Seriously. It's astonishing to see the difference a good year or two on the playing field will have.

    Disclosure - I was a division 1 college athlete in a non-revenue sport. (yes we exist on slashdot) I also have almost zero respect for the NCAA. Bunch of hypocrites they are...

  • Re:And yet- (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @09:27PM (#33092404)

    Advanced degrees in the US, in the sciences at least

    Well, guess what, Mr. Ivy League? At U.S. universities there are many graduate programs outside of the sciences that do not provide assistantships or fellowships to their grad students. For example, business, law, medicine, and many humanities and engineering programs. While it's nice that you got a free ride, from what I've seen at my university most grad students have to take out loans.

  • Re:And yet- (Score:4, Informative)

    by BlitzTech (1386589) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @12:09AM (#33093216)
    Unfortunately, "better schools" are rated as such because their students score higher. That convolutes the data - the teachers may be equal at both schools, but one may be in a wealthier community and the students brought up by parents who emphasized education, while the other may be inner-city whose parents are less hands on and possibly not college graduates. Having gone to the former school, I can tell you that approximately half the school - the ones who were in district - scored very well on the SATs, ACTs and AP exams (no IB available), whereas the other half were bused in from nearby 'inner city' schools and did just as poorly at my school as they did at their district school.

    Of course, there were exceptions. I can name them, because there were only 7 out of the 1200 students who were bused in that took it upon themselves to take honors or AP-level classes. The rest were content to stay in the lowest level offered. Additionally, there was a 25% dropout rate for bused in students, compared to a 2% dropout rate for in-district students.

    A police history on crimes committed at school showed a disproportionate number of serious incidents (stabbing, drug dealing, gang fights, etc.) from the bussed in students, whereas the in-district population contributed less than 5% of these crimes.

    Clearly, your experience and mine differ significantly. I support allowing students who have proven interest in a better education being brought in at taxpayer cost to a better school so they can be surrounded by equally driven peers, but bringing in large numbers of underprivileged students does not improve their education. They are still surrounded by the same group of people, and nothing changes. There is sufficient data beyond my personal anecdote (and of course, now that I'm looking for it it's nowhere to be found) to back up my claims.

    Don't forget that schools are rated by student performance, and there is a LOT that goes into student performance beyond teacher quality. It mostly comes from the students. You can take a 'poor person' out of an inner city school, but if they're not inclined to an education, you can put them in any school you want and they still won't get one.
  • Re:And yet- (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lord of Hyphens (975895) <lordofhyphens&gmail,com> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:23AM (#33093650) Homepage
    It's an assistantship. At least at my (public state) university, an assistantship means that your tuition is waived (fees are not) and you're paid for work based on a % of hours you are expected to work. There are administrative variants, teaching (where the pool of grad assistants come from), and research--the difference is where the budget comes out of and what kind of work you're doing.

    Research assistants are funded by whoever's heading the research (so you're reviewing papers, doing applied work that's being paid for by someone else, etc). Administrative covers higher-level tasks that you don't want to pay a civil servant for, but don't want the people doing it to change every semester. Teaching assistantships are where you get the pool of grading-slaves.

    In my department, TAs and administrative work comes from the department funding. My university has a glut of foreign students (my lab is comprised of mostly Indians) who can't actually work anywhere else but on campus, so every position (even non-related ones) gets applied for by them. Which then frustrates the heck out of the people offering the job because they have to at least sift through the 50+ non-qualified students to get anyone on the position.

    IAAGS (I am a grad student)

A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator. -- Paul Valery