Tuesday August 21, 2012
This is my column which ran this past Sunday in two Texas newspapers. All the current 'solutions' to college costs are merely re-arranging the Titanic's deck chairs. The time and expense of college. must be cut to cut the debt.
The concept of what college is or should be is undergoing re-examination. It’s time for a re-think of just what we want a college degree to be, and what we as a society want to spend in support of that notion.
Texas will cut is Higher Education Budget 7.6% for 2012-2013, still spending $21.1 billion dollars. In 2012, the latest year I can find on the THECB website, there were 1,505,449 students enrolled in community colleges and universities in Texas. As employers still report they cannot find adequate technical or university graduates for many positions, we might well ask, exactly what outcome are we getting for $21.1 Billion? By the way that is simply what the State of Texas sends to Higher Ed. The overall Higher Ed budget for all school includes tuition, fees, grants, you name it, pushes the total expenditure well over $100 Billion. Private schools push the number even higher.
Let me provide a totally non-scientific anecdotal example in answer to my question. One of my students recently began an essay with the rather famous quote, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ I quickly interjected, in two of my junior level classes, who wrote that, what was the subject, and the title of the publication? Only one person had the right answer. The guesses, such as Shakespeare, were even worse. This is the opening quote from A Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens concerning the French Revolution.
Everyone in those classes presumably completed English Literature in both high school and at least two semesters, if not four, in college prior to my class. Yet 98% could not score on the simplest of Jeopardy questions. I am going somewhere with this….
One fellow in my senior high school English class declared that he enjoyed Julius Caesar much better than MacBeth, because he had finished with Caesar in the eleventh grade. In a related sense, I am, yes, suggesting that there is little point in requiring students to ‘learn material’ (which they don’t) that is not directly relevant to their desired outcome. And frankly it is a complete waste of time for the teacher and those that are interested, in this case, in British Literature.
High schools are now experimenting with various programs enabling students to simultaneously complete junior-senior high school requirements as well as freshman-sophomore requirements. At the end of high school they are junior class ready. Most students have complained that the first two years of University studies pretty well re-hash high school anyway.
Another problem is the extremely high drop out rate. Even at the best of our state universities, the completion rate for six years is about 65%. The numbers drop from there, to usually below 45%.
And the community colleges still struggle to gain broader acceptance of the Associates Degree. Worse, only a small fraction of students attain that outcome.
My sense is that with colleges on every corner, both state, private, and on-line, there is growing skepticism of the final product. As a result, there are more and more certifications in virtually every field. Examples in my field of accounting include the traditional Certified Public Accountant as well as Certified Internal Auditor. More and more employers are now demanding a certification either prior to or soon after as a condition of continuing employment.
I propose creation of a series of Chartered Community Colleges. Admission standards would include timed exams in that field of study. A majority of instructors would be full time and drawn from the fields in which a student would be certified. The college would only grant degrees that would result in one obtaining a specific certification. Like classes in the military, student could fail. The Vision would be a college system specifically geared to an employable certification. The Mission would be the creation of an affordable college tied to the work place. The Outcome Measure would be the success rate of the graduates on said certified exams.
Handily such a model already exists in the community college system-nursing. Let’s add plumbing, accounting, pharmacy tech, and a host of others to the list. Colleges have given up offering an education but instead claim higher lifetime earnings, regardless of the degree one receives. This is simply not true. The field of study matters. And they will all matter at the Chartered Community College.
Dennis Elam Phd CPA completed his Doctorate at the UT Community College Leadership Program and has taught in four different universities. He blogs at www.professorelam.typepad.com