The Slow Rot of Higher Education: A Response to Jeremy

Jeremy takes issue with my rant.

Actually, I take his contribution as confirmation of what I wrote. Jeremy is an economics student at California State University, Chico. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to have him in the classroom, although I recently had a very good discussion with him.

I mentioned in my rant about the shenanigans of the University of California system, because the lack of transparency in the state college system makes an exposé, such as Meister’s, virtually impossible.

Jeremy suggests that most of the money is being used to create classrooms, but here in Chico, I cannot see much expansion of classrooms. I agree that building more classroom space for students is important. In fact, one of the greatest legacies of the G.I. Bill after World War II was to flood the university system with students, creating an urgent need for expansion. This new capacity, once built, made facilities available for generations of students. This expansion was a major factor in creating the golden age of higher education, which is coming to an inglorious end.

Jeremy suggests that students who really want an education can find a way. Since I began teaching in 1971, the greatest change has been the number of hours that students work in order to pay for their education. This pressure drags down education because so many students cannot put in the necessary study time. It also creates stress levels that interfere with education. Grade inflation is a partial response to this situation.

In addition, the financialization of higher education, together with budgetary stringency, forces programs to compete for students to sustain their funding. For example, prerequisites in economics discourage students who may choose majors that seem easier. Economics departments have to lower the barrier to entry in order to compete. Other departments will respond by making their programs easier.

Jeremy correctly describes one aspect of higher education; namely, that the college has become extended day care for many. He is both right and wrong. I become critical of my day care students until I remember that I was a day care student when I first came to University of Michigan. Over time, I became hooked.

In conclusion, Jeremy’s message is that we are still able to do something right in order to get an intelligent response, such as his.


7 comments so far

  1. Jeremy Lammerding on

    We both have a similar central thesis: the discounting of our education is systemic. However, we have different approaches. Professor Perelman believes the lack of transparency and accountability at the top has trickled down to the classroom; I believe the problem starts on campus, not in a board room.

    I agree with many of prof. Perelman’s astute observations. The lack of transparency regarding bond measures is concerning, it all smells very fishy. I do not feel they are being very good stewards right now, but until those feeling can be substantiated I must suspend judgment.

    I suspect Prof. Perelman would see eye-to-eye on much of the issues concerning the Regents. My comment was a reaction to Bob Meister’s letter. While reading the letter, it was clear what the author wanted you to think: The Regents are selling bonds on the hush to fund unnecessary construction projects. The letter was very presumptuous and drew lines between scraps of information to paint the picture as he sees it. Unfortunately, this is all the can be done when there is so little information coming from the top.

    I do feel for working students, I was one myself for more than two years. It is difficult to juggle work and books at the same time, but it can be done. I believe my GPA suffered as a result, but I blame only myself. There are many individuals who are able to balance work and school while maintaining a 3.5+ GPA. I would never say this is an easy accomplish, but it can be achieved, by the truly committed.

    Another issue I wish to revisit is the lack of drive amongst many of my peers to achieve academic excellence. I realize is not much of a scholarly survey source; but it is very telling of the sentiment amongst CSU Chico students. The most engaging, challenging, and rewarding professors I have had expected nothing but the best from me and they reciprocated. But if you read the reviews of these professors your would think they are masochistic, walking brains that enjoy nothing more than failing students en masse. On the contrary, these are typically the professors take students to their limits and push them beyond (for those who are willing to go).

    Many do not like venturing outside their comfort-zones and to that I wonder why they chose to come to college in the first place. I found these courses terribly rewarding while many in the class conspired to have the professors tenure revoked. A mantra I hear throughout Glenn Hall is “2.0 and go!”. I find it very disheartening that these are the individuals for which our classes are being tailored. Lastly, let me specify that this attitude is in no way limited to underclassmen, I see this behavior in many of my 400 level courses.

    I suppose the issues concerning our campus feel more real to me because I have had to see it every day for the last four and a half years. The issues concerning bond measures and the Regents can (and most likely will) be decided in Sacramento, the only ones who can fix Chico is us. This is why I feel it warrants the most concern (especially when considering Chico is ranked in the top three for CSUs).

    PS. a quick anecdote: Last week in a 400 level course a group presented their marketing plan they spent the entire semester on. A girl said, in front of the class, that their country is “ranked 56th, and when you consider there are around 300 countries in the world, that’s really good”. And no one in the class batted an eye.

  2. Kasey on

    While $10K may not seem like a lot for UC fees to some, what is concerning is the rate at which college tuition costs are inflating, hyperinflating in fact. As Professor Perelman points out, the number of hours one must work to pay for college is probably the greatest change in the last 40 years.

    The current solution seems to be just gather more money to pay for it. The government, in my opinion, supports this hyperinflation by continuing to lend more and grant more. Students are having a bidding war, with practically unlimited amounts of money form the government.

    While aiding students paying for college is certainly noble (I took advantage of it at CSU Chico and was grateful) I wonder if giving money to virtually any student who wants it allows students who don’t really want to be there to take a seat as well as contribute to the inflation of tuition.

    • mperelman on

      As I alluded to in my mentioning of the G.I. Bill, creating a demand for education leads to an expansion of facilities, which, in the long run, can actually lower the cost of tuition, in part, because of economies of scale.

      I become frustrated by the students to whom you refer — students who really don’t want to be in the university, but, as I mentioned before, I began my education is one of those students. In addition, by educating a mass of students, a number of them will be able to make incredible contributions to society. The history of the G.I. Bill is full of examples of people who would never otherwise have had an opportunity, but who use their education to play very positive roles in society.

  3. mperelman on

    Regarding Jeremy’s second comment, most students (I was no exception) are unable to make substantive evaluations of professors until after they leave university.

    Jeremy’s second regarding the responsibility for conditions in University calls for a brief comment. Some decisions are made in Sacramento, especially the degree of funding, but the executives in Long Beach who run the whole university system have an enormous amount of discretion, with virtually no oversight.

  4. Seth Sandronsky on

    Follow the money. That’s harder to do since the governor vetoed SB 218, the bill authored by state Senator Leland Yee (D-SF). SB 218 would have improved accountability and transparency in the non-profit foundations linked to UC, CSU and the state’s community colleges:

  5. mvanriper on

    It looks like CA has some higher ed issues rooted in politics. Is there a process of social conscience formation in CA higher ed? This became a big issue in many universities in Spanish speaking countries, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Are students in California only interested in getting the degree that pays the highest paycheck? That is one of the sources of the alienation of an entire society.

  6. mperelman on

    Marc, What I pick up from my students is fear, alienation, confusion. It is hard to get a social conscience when you live in a society that is designed to create paranoia rather than a sense of community.

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