10.01.2008 0

Higher Education: Boon or Boondoggle?

  • On: 10/06/2008 10:48:21
  • In: California News
  • “We are living in 1937, and our universities, I suggest, are not half-way out of the fifteenth century. We have made hardly any changes in our conception of university organization, education, graduation, for a century- for several centuries.” – H.G. Wells

    As the State of California teeters on the brink of a budget crisis, the educrats with the California State University system are up in arms over Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed $1.3 billion in budget cuts for the state’s higher education system.

    “I really believe California is at a crossroads—a political, educational, cultural, economic crossroads. Is the state going to dedicate it’s resources to invest in young people’s futures, invest in California’s wherewithal, or disinvest?”

    While it is no doubt a noble cause to invest in “young people’s futures”, perhaps the Chancellor should re-examine the behemoth that is America’s four year college system before crying foul over Mr. Schwarzenegger’s planned budget cuts for the boondoggle that is the California State University system.

    A quick glance at a standard course catalog from any institute of higher education in America today reveals a myriad of courses that one could only classify as…well, somewhat extraneous, to say the least. For example:

    • The University of California- Los Angeles offers a course entitled “Feminist Geography”, where one can learn about “…gender as spatial process, analysis of feminist geographic theory and methods, landscapes of gender, challenges of representing gender. Spaces of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality.”

    • At Centre College in Kentucky, freshman can take a course entitled “Art of Walking”, which focuses on the relationship between descriptions of the sublime and the ancient habit of walking, hiking and pilgrimage.

    • St. Joseph’s College in Indiana offers the classic “Basket Weaving 101”, which studies weaving and fiber manipulation using various loom and non-loom techniques.

    • Loyola College in New Orleans offers a course on one of America’s great heroes—no not George Washington or General Patton but Harrison Ford— In English 144: Screen Power- Harrison Ford, the Making of an American Hero.

    • At the University of Wisconsin, students can forget having to schedule their classes around their favorite daytime soap operas when they take “Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles”, where they will analyze the themes and characters that populate television’s daytime serials.

    The question then has to be asked: If today’s colleges and universities have time to waste teaching such absurd courses—couldn’t that time be better spent focusing on fundamental courses that are more pertinent in today’s society? In fact, are the electives that take up the vast majority of students’ time- and parents’ money- really necessary after all?

    Years ago, there was no “world wide web” or widespread mass media the way there is today. With the dawn of the Information Age, technologies such as cable TV and the internet have given the average young person today more information at the click of a mouse or the changing of a channel than Albert Einstein ever had access to in all his scholarly years.

    Taking that into account, perhaps it is time that today’s colleges and universities begin reevaluating what knowledge and technical skills are demanded of individuals by real world institutions, and adjust their curricula accordingly—as well as their required credit units.

    According to UCLA’s Undergraduate Course Catalog, students must take total of 180 credit hours, 45 of which must be from their field of study, in order to graduate. If a student at UCLA takes an average of 15 credits a semester (five courses) it would take them six years to graduate, assuming they only took classes in the fall and spring semesters.

    Now, at $44,158 a year—including room, board, tuition and fees— that comes out to $264,948. Consider this: If a student were only required to take courses pertinent to their field of study- sorry, but that means no Feminist Geography- it would only take them three semesters and only cost $66,327—a 75 percent savings.

    And the savings don’t end there. According to UCLA’s campus paper The Daily Bruin, students at UCLA only pay 30 percent of the cost of education at the university- meaning the taxpayers of California subsidize the other $103,035 it costs to educate one student per year at UCLA. Therefore, if the above curricula reform were enacted just at UCLA alone, it would save California taxpayers on average $1.5 billion a year.

    The bottom line: If California—and taxpayer-supported institutions of higher learning nationwide—are at Mr. Reed’s “crossroads,” perhaps it is high time to allow students (and their parents who often foot the bill) to find a shorter, cheaper route to the end of the line.

    ALG Perspective: Some may call the idea of eliminating most of today’s college course electives and moving towards full two-year degrees “heresy”. But, those, most likely will be tenured professors who like the four-year ride. In short, it’s time to take a serious look at the cost—and effectiveness—of today’s university culture.

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