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Higher Education: Why Pay More?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

So you think that if you plunk down $200,000 for Junior’s education at an Ivy League school, rated in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report or the Princeton Review, he’ll become a well-educated, well-rounded man ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s “global society”?

Do you think he’ll be better off than at a state university?

Not according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a group that works to ensure that a college education really means an education, and not indoctrination or trivial pursuit. They try to shine the light on schools and get information to trustees, alumni, donors, and parents.

They’ve expanded on their 2009 survey of schools “What Will They Learn?” to 714 four-year institutions representing over 6 million students across the United States. They’re announcing the release of the report at the Press Club in Washington on Monday, August 16, but you can read the report here.

David Azerrad, senior researcher, emphasizes that the report does not rank, but evaluates for various schools’ requirements.

The results are horrible. It’s not as if ACTA had been looking for schools that require the ancient languages or philosophy, although Azerrad, a philosophy major himself, said he personally would like to see such requirements (as would I).

ACTA limited themselves to the basics: reading (literature), writing (composition), and arithmetic (math); as well as economics, U.S. government or history, and an intermediate foreign language.

Over 60 percent of the surveyed institutions receive a “C” or worse for requiring three or fewer of these subjects. But the situation is worse among private schools. Over half received a “D” or “F” for requiring two or fewer of these subjects. There are no math or composition requirements at roughly half of the private institutions.

Perhaps our economic downward spiral can be explained in part by the fact that less than five percent of all the schools require a class in economics, and less than 20 percent require a broad survey class in U.S. government or history. Only a third required an intermediate-level foreign language.

I think there is a correlation between our dire political situation and the composition of all the “experts” in the White House, including the one who thinks that “Austrian” is a foreign language. Today, most college students take classes that teach a variant of “community organizing,” which assumes that the federal government is a magical fount of money and that “social justice” requires getting your fair share. So no wonder the mush heads shout, “Yes, we can!” on the way to the polling booth.

Surveys of employers show the most common complaints concern new employees’ deficiencies in writing and math.

Many faculty members don’t want to teach the basics and would prefer to teach their specialties, which in the humanities increasingly focuses on the bizarre and trivial. Students are left on their own to choose and build what ACTA president Anne Neal calls a “do-it-yourself” education. Education becomes the proverbial box of chocolates. You may get the latest romantic intrigue of today’s most popular vampire, but such knowledge is hardly sustenance for a free citizenry. After all, who cares about Barnabas Collins? The eighteen-year-old thinks it would be cool to take a class on vampires or Oprah. But it’s up to the adults to make sure that she doesn’t waste class time on such nonsense. Unfortunately, too many administrators and professors are refusing to be the adults; this report helps to fill that gap.

And consider: the average tuition and fees at the “F” schools came to $28,200, but at the “A” schools came to $13,200 (in 2009 figures).

I would add another note of caution to parents: Most colleges allow their faculty incredible leeway in choosing their reading lists and then in directing the discussion and assignments. Check out what’s on the syllabus. For example, if your child’s history professor lists Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, as the major text for the course, beware. If you’re not familiar with this book that has become a best seller due to teachers forcing it on students, read Paul Kengor’s recent article and then his soon-to-be-released book, Dupes.

Education will not change until we refuse to pay for the product that is being put out. This report is a good consumers guide.

To learn more about ACTA go to www.goacta.org .

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