Transformation of Higher Education

Friday, April 02, 2010

Staff writer for Fast Company Anya Kamenetz discusses her new book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.


Anya Kamenetz

Comments [29]

Damien Hall from York (England)

I'm in England, and British, but I have degrees from both sides of the Atlantic: undergrad from here and PhD from Penn. Nowadays, I'm a researcher at the University of York. A friend tweeted this interview, and I've just listened with much interest.

I was shocked, at the beginning, to hear Mr Lehrer describe both small student-teacher ratios and great sporting facilities as 'perks' (I think the word was); the implication was that neither of these things was strictly necessary for a University education, but both were things that you could reasonably expect to pay extra for as part of the very high student fees in the US. Surely these things are fundamentally different? One very important reason to go to University is to be educated; the quality of education will be fundamentally affected by class-size, but not by the quality of the gym. A great gym is nice, but what about students who don't use it? Why should their fees include it? Everyone benefits from smaller class-sizes, though.

I don't want to get into athletic scholarships here. Those people do need a gym, of course, but they're not a majority!

I said that _one very important reason_ for going to University was the education. Even as an educator, I think that possibly a more important reason for University on the whole is not the subject-specific knowledge you get, but the training in _how to think_ (about anything). Certainly, the people you meet and the experiences you have are at least as important for most people, and I wouldn't want to understate their importance - most of us don't end up in academia after our degrees - but let's not forget that higher-education institutions are founded as places of learning first and foremost, not as social clubs. People should derive more than just learning from their time in higher education, but the non-learning parts of it are not the institution's primary responsibility, and shouldn't be made to seem so when you look at their finances.

Apr. 05 2010 09:32 AM
Julian from Manhattan

Some of the comments indicate the ignorance that many have about community colleges and faculty pay. I am a professor at Queensborough Community College, and of course was tickled to hear the name of the institution mentioned by a caller, albeit in a negative way. Community Colleges are bearing the brunt of college education in this country. They are an excellent starting point for students who have neither the wherewithal, the grades, or the direction to attend or apply to a four-year school. They allow the student to find their feet after high school, or to make progress toward a degree as they work. Many students transfer from a community college to a four-year school with a much better concept of what they would like to do with their education. Our educational crisis would be infinitely worse without them. Incidentally, Queensborough also houses one of the most selective nursing programs in the area. As far as faculty pay goes, it exists in the midst of even higher salaries paid to adminstrators, and, as some have commented, is in many cases lower than the salaries paid to some public school teachers. There is also the hurdle of tenure to clear, which although much maligned, is a trial by fire which is a often a grueling process, and now typically takes 7 years or more to complete.

Apr. 02 2010 12:24 PM
Tom from Brooklyn

I'm so glad that this issue is being covered. Elite universities are a great asset to this country, but legions of second-rate colleges are selling a dream of a middle-class lifestyle that they can't possibly deliver on, since they don't teach skills that will be useful in the workplace. Meanwhile, they burden their students with enormous debts that fuel the colleges' unnecessary expansions of buildings and services. Your guest's comparison to the housing bubble is apt.

I think this issue has its root in our high school curricula. If, instead of the standard college-prep curriculum, we had widespread trade-school curricula at the high school level, ones that taught technical skills and encouraged internships with local businesses, many students would not feel obligated to attend these second-rate colleges. They could enter the workplace at age 18 with more skills and job experience, and much less debt, than they would have after graduating from college at age 22.

Apr. 02 2010 11:56 AM
david from riverdale

I'm a SUNY grad like Brian [we spoke briefly after the LLopate celebration l/w]. I've served on our foundation and alumni boards, and have followed this issue closely, especially since a NYTimes article 15+ years ago regarding Baumol's disease [also known as the Baumol Effect; ]. Essentially, it says that in a labor-intensive environment, e.g., face-to-face faculty-student lectures, there is only so much gain to be found in conventional productivity improvements, such as PCs in an office, or machinery in a manufacturing plant. Thus, strictly or heavily labor-based environments will, over time, have larger price increases than other sectors in an economy.
I wonder what the "technology improvements" are that the guest mentioned are in her book!

Apr. 02 2010 11:46 AM
John from Staten Island

Paying realistic salaries to College Basketball coaches might help in this regard. Recent news about a local University paying a few million for his salary. It's out of control.

Apr. 02 2010 11:33 AM
pat from atlanta

i agree that education costs too much & tuition increases have to do in art w/ outrageous salaries of administrators, but the author seems both hyper-elitist (only ivy league schools are worthwhile. really?) and to know very little about what education is...professors are not "content creators"; they engage w/ individuals and TEACH. the author seems to assume the banking model of education in which teachers "deposit" information and skills into students. But the critique of this banking model was articulated by Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed way back in 1970.

Apr. 02 2010 11:32 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

And, bingo, Rodger Kamenetz, father of Anya Kamenetz, did indeed go to Yale, making Anya a legacy.

Apr. 02 2010 11:32 AM
Lars from Queens

At smaller privates, the faculty are not always making what you think. I have a PhD and am tenured with over 10 years seniority but make less than 62K and have no "pension" (we have a 401k- good luck with that). The idea that we live in kings is overstated (I am sure they do better at NYU and Columbia). Students at privates pay alot although often significantly less than the sticker price every is tossing around. Students get a lot more service and attention at privates, smaller classes. I know, my undergrad degree is from a large state school.

Apr. 02 2010 11:28 AM

One reason that they can't measure post-academic success is because academia is really one of the last places where "lookism" is in check. If Anya and I were on both being interviewed for a job, she would have an advantage. IIf we were both on staff, she'd have better opportunities. At school, she wouldn't gett better grades.

And really, this seems to be a rant about the "lower" end of schools. So if you're not going to a top school, don't get into debt! Simple.

Apr. 02 2010 11:28 AM
Anon from Nassau County

Professors do not "live like kings." Most do not make as much as high school teachers.

Apr. 02 2010 11:27 AM
Ana from Summit, NJ

For college information and outcomes look at the institutional research pages of each college, some have comprehensive reports (Dickinson College where my daughter will be going next fall). Some don't offer much information at all.

Apr. 02 2010 11:26 AM
S. from East Village

You could also draw a distinction between schools that focus on undergrads vs. large universities. Prices may be high either way, but you can see if the resources and attention are going to you, or the grad students down the hall.

Apr. 02 2010 11:26 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Anya Kamenetz is also well outside the norm for college grads. Both of her parents are successful writers, so that would certainly have helped her in getting started as a writer. And probably also in getting her into Yale. Question for her: Was she a legacy -- that is, did one of her parents go to Yale.

Apr. 02 2010 11:26 AM
Sandy from nyc

The guests' thesis that college costs more and does not necessarily lead to a better education is well taken. HOWEVER, how does she then jump to the answer as being: let's let college aged people get their education from blogs, self-managed and designed education and non-traditional means. That is a jump that I don't understand. Does she honestly believe that her solution will lead to MORE affordable and higher quality schooling? In my opinion it is simply a way to privatize and commercialize education. The obvious answer is holding universities accountable and valuable, and this is where the energy should go in terms of motivating students to do something.

Apr. 02 2010 11:26 AM
Mike in Park Slope

I agree that college is far too expensive. But the idea that the all that pays for is content is part of the problem not the solution. A large part of a University goes beyond the dissemination of knowledge to the creation of knowledge. University Professors are constantly creating new understandings of their fields. Not just the sciences where there are concrete discoveries but new historical discoveries, literary analysis, artistic impressions etc. Every field contribute to this growth of knowledge and the students benefit from not just the results but from learning this process. That cannot be conveyed in textbooks or online classes. The "democratization" of knowledge on the internet and the "commercialization" of Universities through the proliferation of adjuncts and other classroom-only professors is what is destroying this essential element of the University process.

That said, the cost of University is out of control. This is a demand problem. University is not for everyone and the government and secondary schools need to place far more emphasis on trade schools.

Also in response to you callers. College is not about contacts or business. Professors do NOT live like kings.... administrators do like that crook John Sexton at NYU. College is about the process of creating knowledge in all fields. In this research is essential.

Apr. 02 2010 11:25 AM
Jenn from Upper East Side

The average starting salary for the top schools in the country is about 95K. At smaller schools, it's more like 60K. After earning a BS, a PhD, and doing a postdoc, i.e. >12 years of education, I think that faculty deserve at least that much!

Apr. 02 2010 11:25 AM
Kerissa from Brooklyn

The guest is wrong regarding university cost cutting. NYU is currently in the middle of a major budget overhaul, where departments are told to do more with less, employees are getting laid off, and many administrators did not see a pay raise this academic year. Conversely, the trend has been to increase tuition despite financial harship.

Apr. 02 2010 11:25 AM
Mel from Savannah GA

I agree with you MH. I am about to go into teaching and just bracing myself for how much more in research I will have to add to my work load just to keep a job.

Apr. 02 2010 11:24 AM
Nico from Crown Heights

Kamenetz's forward-looking perspective on these issues is a breath of fresh air! I'm a social science PhD, lucky to have a f/t teaching job, tho it's only temporary. Recently, a group of colleagues and I started thinking about the revenues we bring to our employers (for doing actual teaching) and what we get back in pay. I heard recently about how more and more private corporations are buying up the charters of failing institutions, getting instant accreditation. I think we -- and many other educators in higher education -- could set up colleges that would bring much more value to both students and to us, the faculty. Get rid of the middleman!

Apr. 02 2010 11:23 AM
Mel from Savannah GA

Too much money goes towards activies and not enough goes toward aiding teachers/professors and programs. Especially in the visual arts.

Apr. 02 2010 11:21 AM

How do you propose to pay the faculty for this free educational material. It is their research that is driving some of the best courses.

Also, how do you propose the schools pay for distributing this material, i.e. bandwidth. We all know form the WNYC pledge drives that this itself costs money.

Apr. 02 2010 11:20 AM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

How Complicit are certain job markets in driving education costs up by requiring "standards" in a field. Specifically, the art world with the pervasive MFA. Usually required for teaching but now standard for interacting in the market for any artist. How does the market drive costs for a degree??

Apr. 02 2010 11:19 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

1. My undergraduate major has nearly nothing to do with what I do now (though it was key in getting me my first jobs after grad school).

2. Students are emphatically NOT getting what everybody thinks they're getting at Harvard or Stanford or MIT. I went to MIT and took courses at Harvard. I can attest to this with absolute confidence. The ultra-elite schools are revoltingly arrogant. Professors are overwhelmingly unavailable. (There are always exceptions, great ones.)

3. The ultra-elite about opening doors post-college. Look at our newest disastrous president. Obama ONLY appoints out of Harvard (with a few exceptions). Look at the Wall Street boondoggle. MOST of the con artists who robbed us of trillions went to Harvard (with some going to Chicago or MIT).

4. Cambridge, Oxford, the Sorbonne, Edinburgh, the University of London, Leiden, etc., are pretty much FREE. So worldwide there is ZERO correlation between expense and quality.

5. In my personal experience a DISPROPORTIONATELY LARGE percentage of the really outstanding thinkers I have met (and I've been lucky to meet many) dropped out of school, did not go to college at all, or went to a public school or a smaller school.

Apr. 02 2010 11:18 AM
Denise from Stony Brook, NY

I would love to hear if Anya knows about the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA) that is currently being advocated by SUNY administration, and what she thinks it means for the future of public education in New York. Thanks!

Apr. 02 2010 11:17 AM

As a Hofstra alum, I couldnt agree more with your speaker regarding the tuition of this school relative to the education the school provides. I am in a job that I could've gotten going to CUNY less the 40k student loans I've accumulated over the years.

Apr. 02 2010 11:17 AM
nkbah from harlem

college was a complete waste of time. after getting my degree and 40,000 dollars of student loan debt i realized i could have done without the whole experience. i mailed my diploma back to the president of my university asking for a refund. sadly, i didn't get one.

Apr. 02 2010 11:14 AM
Jenn from Upper East Side

How much does the cost of student health care increase the cost of tuition?

Apr. 02 2010 11:14 AM
i'd just like to say, "thanks, college!"

I'm sorry but the amount of sex I had in college well you just can't put a price on that.

Apr. 02 2010 11:13 AM

Can some enterprising listener setup an anon database that enables teachers @ nyu, icp and other respected and expensive institutions of higher learning to state exactly what their pay is?

It often comes out to less than 100 bucks a class...

Apr. 02 2010 11:07 AM

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