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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Education and Prosperity

The mix of jobs, and the skills required, in the U.S. economy is now such that most high school graduates - let alone those who drop out - can no longer aspire to a comfortable middle class income.

As a result, higher (college/university) education has become a necessary precondition for most well paying careers - and for many modestly paid ones as well. Unfortunately, higher education is both overpriced and not very responsive to student needs. For the list price of an undergraduate education at Harvard University, for example, to be $50,000 per year is extraordinary. That most of the teaching is delivered by ill paid graduate teaching assistants is outrageous.

While teaching should be the primary mission, it is a low status activity. Faculty members, with a few honorable exceptions, focus on research and regard teaching as beneath their dignity.

Nothing much has changed since Adam Smith penned these words more than 200 years ago:

"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of masters."

Another quote worth considering comes from John Ciardi:

"A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students."

It will take years to change the culture but change is critical.

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