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“Fail U: The False Promise of Higher Education,” by Charles J. Sykes, St. Martins Press, NY, 2016. This 278-page hardback is Sykes most recent update to the problems of higher education. Previously he published “ProfScam” in 1988, “Dumbing Down Our Kids” in 1996, and more.

The basic premise is that rising costs are making college unaffordable. Too many choose the wrong majors making good jobs hard to land and incomes too low to repay massive student loans. Costs continue to rise, but poor outcomes makes for a bubble likely to burst.

Part of the problem is reduced interest in teaching undergraduates. As described earlier in ProfScam, the focus is on faculty doing research, publish or perish, and seeking grants for outside funding. Ironically, too many publish or perish papers are of little merit and rarely read. In an age of numerous online publications, hoax research papers generated by computer have been accepted for publication by peer reviewed journals.

Undergraduates are not a priority. Many professors teach only six hours a week. More and more undergraduate courses are taught by underpaid adjunct professors, essentially temps. As noted previously, teaching assistants are often foreigners. Many speak English only with difficulty.

Changes in the job market cause more and more students to head to college. But many are not qualified and under prepared. More require remedial courses. “College for all” is a failure. Too many run up student debts but fail to graduate. The quality of education is declining. Fewer classes require reading and writing. In one study, 43% of students now are graded A.

In their quest for educational excellence, prestige, and influence, modern universities raise all the money they can and spend all they can raise. Too often this leads to bloat. More money gets spent on non-educational items like fitness palaces, climbing walls, water parks, and massages. Spending on non-teaching bureaucrats continues to increase. College presidents often earn over $1MM.

The excesses of college sports are described. A typical new sports stadium might cost $370MM. Schools now must have top training facilities for their athletes. Athletes often are enrolled in sham classes to keep them eligible. The education they receive can be of little value.

A chapter describes the trend toward political correctness resulting in effective censorship. Speaker invitations have been withdrawn due to student protests about the speaker’s point of view. Political correctness takes precedence over free discussion of ideas.

Date rape is another subject of recent controversy. Schools now require clear consent at each stage of the relationship. Schools are increasing their efforts to deal effectively with sexual assaults. Some maintain more cases should be referred to the police rather than handling them through campus disciplinary procedures.

Politicians have raised the idea of free tuition for all. Sykes believes this policy would flood the system with many under qualified students. Bailouts of student debt have also been proposed. Skyes sees the problem not as underfunding of academia, but as academia being under-accountable and under productive.

A final chapter looks at modern online education such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). These have potential to educate large numbers of students inexpensively. Can they help reduce the cost of education? Few students complete the courses successfully. Some have noted that similar arguments were offered when college courses first appeared on film, videotape, or overnight TV. Some progress has been made, but will employers and schools accept the credits as equivalent?

Education is as basic as apple pie and motherhood. A massive bureaucracy protects traditional methods. Sykes calls on all participants including faculty, parents, legislators, alumni, and donors to recognize the problems and work for improved results while trimming excesses.

This is a useful summary of current concerns in higher education. References. Index.
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