The authors of a new book, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It, hope to bring attention to the problems of the American university system. Andrew Hacker is a professor emeritus at Queens College and Claudia Dreifus is a New York Times writer. They argue that too many top universities choose to focus on prestigious research, rather than high quality teaching.
“Schools get status by bringing on professors who are star researchers, star scholars. That’s all we really know about Caltech or MIT or Stanford,” Hacker told The Atlantic. “We don’t really know about the quality of undergraduate teaching at any of these places, and it’s the students who suffer.” The book argues that top professors spend a disproportionate amout of time working on research projects and teach few classes. “We argue that you can get a better education at second or third tier colleges. Have you ever heard of Linfield? It’s in a little town called McMinnville, Oregon. We were very impressed with the campus. The professors care. They spend time with the students. The same is true in a place called Hendrix College in Arkansas, or Earlham College in Indiana. They provide a good education because they don’t expect professors to do research.”
Hacker and Dreifus also critique the over-professionalization of the college curriculum. The book advocates a strong liberal arts education for all students, and that undergraduates can learn vocational skills later. “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?” said Hacker. “Besides, young people today are going to live to be 90. 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.”