14.9.10

THE LAND GRANTS, THE MID-MAJORS, AND THE COMMUNITY COLLEGES.

The dean at Anonymous Community reads more silly navel-gazing at the New York Times, and offers the Trenchant Observation of the Day.
Here’s a thought. Instead of wringing our hands over the poor lost souls who miss out on Dartmouth and have to settle for Bucknell -- oh, the humanity! -- let’s send some fraction of that money and time and money and focus and money to the institutions that actually educate most Americans: the non-elite publics. That would mean community colleges, and it would also mean most of the four-year state colleges. You know, the backbone of the middle f*****g class. Those schools. The ones that actually compete with the for-profits, and that provide the best hope for most people. The ones that have taken draconian cuts even while their enrollments have risen. Those.
Yes, the ones that Charlie Sykes describes in Profscam (page 261) as where "the middle class is stuck in academic gulags created by the professors' culture." The academic gulags are more properly the product of access-assessment-remediation-retention and the Diversity Boondoggle, and treating the for-profits as the competition, let alone as the model, is a mistake.

The dean, however, is on to something.
I’m tired of watching mysteriously-annointed experts solve the wrong problem. Times, if you’re the least bit serious about higher education -- a colossal ‘if,’ I’ll admit -- would it actually, physically kill you to acknowledge the colleges to which most Americans go? And when you do, could it please be in the same section of the paper as the stories about safety schools and selective admissions? The blind, smug elitism is really getting to be a bit much, even for you. Community colleges are news fit to print, too. Honestly.
A bull session of prodigious length has ensued. The issue, however, is precisely that the U.S. News rankings exist because at the margin, many parents and students seek an experience more like Harvard (or Wisconsin before it went sports-mad) and less like a diploma mill. Institutions of higher education that fail to grasp this point may be reinforcing social stratification.

A participant in Dean Dad's bull session recommended a Historiann post that sees the social stratification at work.
All I can conclude is that the people writing these “high cost of higher ed” articles is that they 1) never looked at a state university themselves, nor did they ever consider sending their children to one, and 2) in spite of attending the nation’s top schools, they managed to avoid any courses in economics, where they might have learned about the concepts of supply and demand, or a seller’s market. Some universities have very expensive tuition, room and board charges, yes–because they can. There are enough upper middle-class and wealthy parents who are desperate to have these institutions cash their checks. And the bonus is that they get to brag to people about how ridiculously expensive it is to send their children to college, some of them in the pages of America’s top newspapers.
What have I been saying about excess demand for prestige degrees? It's not quite "Somebody in Authority Sees It the Same Way": all the same I sense we're out of the wilderness and sidling to the left. There is a bull session on an entirely different topic over there; by all means, take it in.

Minding the Campus presents an unsparing Peter Sacks review of several recent books that also makes the social stratification point.
The real elephant in the room that these books largely ignore, instead making glancing blows at some of the symptoms of decline and damage, is the growing class divide in American higher education and the consequences of this growing divide. American colleges and universities are working exceedingly well for some families and their children -- those near or at the top of the social, cultural and economic hierarchy. The system is not working well for students and families who lack the social, economic and cultural capital that the higher education system rewards in terms of access, the opportunity to learn and stay in school, and ultimately, completing a college degree.
Thus, when Chicago State is a dropout factory with a corrupt administration, when Valdosta State sells itself as "endless possibilities for outdoor fun" while sanctioning a student for protesting a parking lot, when Palm Beach State is a dropout factory with thought police, it is these academic gulags that deserve special attention, for operating academic gulags that promise but fail to deliver upward advancement, it matters. To repeat: students at Dartmouth or Berkeley or Northern Illinois know how to stand up for themselves.

And when (to scroll through University Diaries) Louisville or North Carolina or Kentucky or Mississippi State or Tennessee put beer-'n-circus and seat licenses ahead of academics, it matters. Back to Peter Sacks.
At the same time, the least selective institutions -- the "party schools" that [Craig The Five-Year Party] Brandon denigrates -- are turning into educational reservations for the poor and working-class -- people who are being trained to serve the leadership class. Indeed, the higher education system over the past generation has become more deeply stratified between colleges that primarily serve low-income and minority students and selective institutions that serve affluent students. In 1972, for instance, about a quarter of the students at community colleges were from low-income families. By 2002, 43 percent of community college students were from low-income households.
Thus, when [Andrew] Hacker and [Claudia] Driefus complain in Higher Education? about the "triumph of training," disdainful that students at many colleges are permitted to earn bachelor's degrees in such fields as photojournalism, landscape architecture, adult development and aging, ceramic engineering, and so on, while praising the liberal arts and sciences as genuinely worthy of a college education, they fail to fully appreciate the class distinctions.
In fact, given how our society has chosen to allocate educational resources, training -- provided by institutions of lower rank -- has become a necessity for those born unlucky. Education, by contrast, is fast becoming a privilege of the rich, who can study the liberal arts to their hearts' content, travel to Europe for a summer abroad, acquire a most desirable internship at a New York publishing house, and cap it all off with a first job with Teach for America before quitting to go back to grad school or law school and landing their first real job on Wall Street.
Read that review carefully; Mr Sacks raises a number of points worthy of further study. I choose to focus on two things. First, the failure of K-12 to equip students, particularly students from poorer neighborhoods -- for whatever reason -- with the reasoning skills to handle calculus and laboratory science and logic and the social skills of the upper middle class is no way to create photojournalists or landscape architects, let alone entry-level engineers and accountants.

I disagree with some of Mr Sacks's analysis. He suggests states have broken the social compact with higher education, inducing social stratification based on ability to pay. I submit that higher education has broken the social compact with the citizenry, by substituting a misguided inclusiveness and access-assessment-remediation-retention for common standards, in such a way as to antagonize precisely the well-to-do people who in previous years would have sent their kids to the local state university.

Second, the distinction between the liberal arts and vocational training isn't always clear. I submit a recent Wall Street Journal ranking (via Tax Prof) of universities by corporate recruiters. The sub-headline of the article tells the tale. "Companies Favor Big State Schools With One-Stop Shopping for Graduates With Necessary Skills." The top nine are large state universities, many with engineering and undergraduate business colleges, with three of the top five and six of the top twenty from the Big Ten. There are undoubted economies of sending a recruiting team to a university or college-wide job fair. The correlation with big time football might not be an accident.
Recruiters say graduates of top public universities are often among the most prepared and well-rounded academically, and companies have found they fit well into their corporate cultures and over time have the best track record in their firms.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is fiction, and The Organization Man material for a History of the Sixties course, or perhaps as supplemental reading in Mad Men Studies. Corporate America, however, can be as obsessed with "fit" as the most recondite English department, and desirous of hires that can be stationed in whatever Reloville is home to the entry-level technician or middle manager or executive vice president without causing trouble.
[Author Peter Kilborn] suggests that most of the residents of Reloville have degrees from "public universities of the Great Plains and the Midwest" (see page 217), or, more accurately, from the land-grant football factories of the old Big Eight and Big Ten (but he doesn't specifically mention Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, which feed workers to Chicago and the Twin Cities in the same way the Ivies supply the Northeast Corridor, and his Illinois examples might be outliers) located in states without major cities or major corporate headquarters. And the principal interest of many of the Relos he interviews, male or female, appear to be running and playing tennis and watching football. Perhaps we're seeing a new form of Babbitts, no longer confined to Gopher Prairie, but with no reason to take an interest in the quality of life of whatever Upscale Prairie they are inhabiting for the next two years. Perhaps, also, those land-grants do not have to fret either about a comprehensive academic mission (entry-level job preparation is sufficient) or about a brain drain as long as the football programs are successful. That's clearly a topic for future research.
The corporate recruiters, if the Journal is to be believed, are revealing a preference for the graduates of the land grants, and I was wrong about the University of Illinois. Still open for research is whether holders of entry-level degrees in engineering or business are more likely to ascend to executive vice president or chairman than are holders of liberal arts degrees.

Again, however, the students from poorer neighborhoods aren't getting the educational fundamentals or the life-management skills to enroll at the land-grants, let alone to make an impression at the job fair.

No comments: