The cost of an undergraduate college degree has risen much more than inflation and much has been written to explain why. Even Forbes magazine wrote a scathing editorial about the cost of prestigious universities. When government subsidies and other scholarship funding insulate the end-user student from the total cost and increase his ability to pay, that enables colleges to charge more. For those who have to pay a lot through cash or (especially unsubsidized) loans, the cost in part comes from having to make up for need-based grants/scholarships given to those who cannot pay, an arguably worthy social goal. Also, many courses that have dubious market value in the social sciences or humanities or expensive engineering or lab classes are subsidized by very popular current events or faddish courses in large classes offered by popular professors. As law professor and national public policy radio host, Hugh Hewitt commented: colleges get away with illegal bundling. They may have a top-rated engineering or nursing college but to get what you want, you have to go through their mediocre general education classes. Why can't you take the best or less costly general education courses elsewhere if you can find better, without your college making the acceptance of transfer credits so unreasonably difficult? (We can provide evidence that this really is a problem that is off the radar screen of most students).
Cost and quality control, and consumer disclosure problems exist frequently in higher education and are discussed in detail in books such as:
"Higher Education?" by Hacker and Dreifus, "The Student Loan Scam" by Collinge, "Sex and the University" by Reimold, "Crisis on Campus - A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges" by Prof. Mark C. Taylor, "The Five Year Party" by Brandon, "The Politically Correct University" by Redding, Hess and Moranto, and "Reforming The University: The Campaign For An Academic Bill of Rights" by D. Horowitz, all of these being promoted in 2010 alone. Studies at www.goacta.org have shown frequent problems in universities with profligate spending with inadequate oversight from independent auditors and boards of trustees. The point here is that while college is a uniquely life-changing opportunity, the student should not feel bashful about negotiating (with or without our help) the best financial arrangement with the priority college. Thus it is still buyer beware, once you receive an Award Letter, and negotiations can begin in many (though not all) cases.
In computing the true cost of college, one should include the amount of earnings the student could have earned in the first 4 years of a new non-college career. This varies a lot by the unique opportunities a given high school or other soon-to-maybe-be-entering-college person would have. This could involve an apprenticeship as a carpenter or plumber, perhaps after going to a vocational school. Value of college comparisons should be between smart college qualified people, who could do better without college than those who know college is beyond them. Second, if you are a good citizen, you do not want the government or other third-party funds ill-used, so you should include the full cost, not just the cost incurred by the student. Third, a factor that might UNDERestimate the value of college is that the value of some majors taken by above-average students is a different evaluation than mediocre students in easy majors who would save themselves and taxpayers money by choosing other career options or going to college when they are mature and really ready. Studies of the earnings history of the latter group doesn't show so much that college itself is dubious but that some students at a particular time in their life should not go to college. The problem is that college counselors are not doing their job to be more frank with these latter students about their future. Failure to do so amounts to some form of consumer deception.
Many studies have shown that students do not retain enough of what they have learned. This problem worsens when students take evermore numbers of years to graduate. Studies at www.americancivicliteracy.org as well as at https://www.goacta.org/publications/downloads/LosingAmerica'sMemory.pdf show that students do not remember basic facts in history, economics, and political science. Many professors do not make the poignant case that the class they are teaching is extremely important, with memorable examples as to why. At MIT, one class on how to teach mathematics stresses that students need to know the sometimes tragic or frustrating personal history behind how equations and concepts were developed by classic math researchers, etc. Tension must be created as to why inconsistencies have existed in some equations. Why is a particular coefficient not double what it is? By way of graphics and art, quadratic equations should be pictured to explain equations' components. (See MIT under video links from the home page).
Similarly, controversy in history, English, and social sciences fosters retention. If you are outraged or exhilarated about the position taken by an author or debater - speaker you will have a personal interest in remembering. The famous education researcher E. D. Hirsch conducted a study where a group of average-IQ young students who played baseball read an essay about baseball and took a test to assess their remembering of what the essay contained. Another group of high-IQ students who did not participate in baseball read the same essay but did not test as well as the first group.
Many students are given research or essay projects where they can choose the topic while they are learning to write well. If they choose a trivial topic they just happen to like, they may remember the content but to what important end? But if they choose a controversial topic from a list they choose from dealing with the most important issues of the day, they may really "get into" the issue and will learn and retain more important information. Be sure to study the defense of "both" major sides of crucial controversial issues much like we hear from the best attorneys for the defense and prosecution before feeling we can get to the truth. But beware of the prosecution saying that because the defense attorney called in sick, the prosecution would be glad to give the defense's argument because professional ethics would compel them to be objective. The great political philosopher John Stuart Mill is quoted by Prof. Ellis of the National Association of Scholars in testimony before the California legislature on improving higher education:
" 'He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.' What Mill is saying here is that you don’t really understand the case for the left until you also thoroughly grasp the case for the right, because the one is an answer to the other and so each is a necessary part of understanding the other. If leftist professors think they can simply present the other side’s case themselves, Mill had this devastating response: 'Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post as soon as there is no enemy in the field.' "
Here is a list of important controversial issues we or those we work with have battle-tested in discussions or debates which you can use as groundbreaking term paper topics. Let us defend why these topics are extremely important. You will remember such work more than if topics were non-controversial:
In 1997 a researcher retired from Yale University after a 40-year career of doing one key task: annotating and cataloging SOME of the Benjamin Franklin manuscript collection. Some researchers have spent their careers assembling and translating some of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, near Israel. In your lifetime you will not have time to study 1% of worthy works available. If your profession is highly technical, what will you still spend your valuable and limited time studying, at college and throughout your life in General Education topics, to be well rounded? The internet contains lists of "The Most Important non-Fiction Books of the Last Century" from a National Review board of scholars. The 50 worst and best books of the last century is an Intercollegiate Review classic article. C. S. Lewis listed the 10 books that changed his life. Phrases we use in our life come from classic texts that might be worth reading because of their impact on our culture. What works are referenced by leaders of history? Pick a great hero and find out what books the hero says are the very best. Even non or anti-religious scholars like Stanford's Prof. Sam Harris or Harold Bloom in the Harvard Business Review say informed citizens would have to know the timeless themes in the Bible to really understand what America is. (See http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/2360.html).
Knowing the greatest literature whose themes have become metaphors in our life gives the student a highly efficient and deep way of understanding and communicating. You can read the dictionary definition of "quixotic" but to have read the timeless classic "Don Quixote" would provide a whole different dimension of understanding. Lewis Mumford is an expert on urban planning whose works are texts in college. Knowing Greek mythology, and that coal-like coke was used in steel manufacturing would help the student get much more out of this quote as Mumford discusses the development of suburbs as one way of escaping the necessary employment in the dirty (esp. steel) manufacturing jobs in the big city, from his book "The Culture of Cities":
"For the belligerent, (escaping took the form of) war and piracy, for the ambitious, there was colonizing in new lands, for the powerful, the planning of parks and landscapes, for the reflective, rambling, musing, botanizing in rural retreats. For the rising middle classes of the nineteenth century, the romantic retreat took the form of building
National Gallery, Londonvillas, and suburbs, where the spreading agglomeration of Coketown could be temporarily kept at bay. In the city, Mars and Vulcan had become friends. Venus, neglected, sought the consolations of domesticity in a distant suburb."
The 1835 first edition of Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" was on display at the National Archives not far from the originals of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It is cited as prophetic by countless leaders. What could be more important to at least read parts of this work? Classic texts or major excerpts from them can be shown to give us prophetic wisdom in approaching the most vexing issues we face today. A good professor should explain why the works you are assigned are better than countless others you could have used your limited time with. This assessment should of course be done before investing in the class.
Children of Martin Anton Heckscher
Within a given college, courses that look similar in the course catalog could be very different depending upon the text and professor. Even in technical classes the professor could be highly demanding with complex, difficult questions on the tests, but may not clearly explain concepts to students because, being brilliant, he is impatient with students trying to learn and may assume students pick up overly subtle concepts as easily as he does.
In "values-oriented" classes a professor could be objective in thoroughly showcasing the major sides of controversial issues (see Prof. Ellis quote in D.5. above) or he may be biased. Google the background of professors and review texts in advance to see how they handle controversial subjects. Comprehensive US history texts include the "People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn and "A Patriot's History of the United States" by Michael Allen/Larry Schweikert. The former reflects a leftist worldview and the second a conservative view. At Princeton, you could take a bioethics course from either of two prominent scholars, Robert George, a pro-life Catholic, or Peter Singer, a pro-abortion atheist. The above pairs of courses may look similar in a course catalog but would be very different because of the starkly different worldviews of the professors. Another standard of comparison for General Education (history, English, philosophy, political science, economics, etc.) would be to go the www.yorktownuniversity.com where the resumes of professors and course content are more detailed than other universities. Your prospective university should be able to justify why you should take an economics class with huge numbers of students from a grad student teacher when Yorktown offers a smaller, higher quality class with a full professor at maybe the same tuition rate. The point is to know what you are getting for the hundreds of dollars and 150 hours of lecture and study invested in a 3 credit hour class.
Part of the reason for this wide difference in course content is because of tenure and academic freedom (TAF) enjoyed by many professors. TAF protects a professor from being fired because of unjust college politics or because a key donor or investor in the college has a son who did not like the tough but fair grading of the professor. However, the dark side of TAF is that there is little quality control in especially values-oriented classes that do not have objective measures of quality. The professors can teach with extreme bias and it would be nearly impossible to do anything about it. Or they could be the most brilliant, honest scholar possible. So it is buyer beware.