Post Academic

What’s up with the anti-college screeds? Part 2

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on August 17, 2010
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So we might have gotten into a little kerfuffle with our previous anti-college screed, which involved the author of the article we were snarking on, James Altucher, finding our little blog and responding in the comments thread.  But, hey, if he’s fair game, so are we.  This time around, we’re asking for even bigger trouble, because I’m going to comment on an author whose book I haven’t even read–don’t tell me that, as an academic, you didn’t refer to or engage a text that you never cracked open, whether as an undergrad, grad, or prof!  Anyhow, I’m going to deal with Claudia Dreifus’s anti-college screed based on a Q+A she did with More magazine, so I’m basically going to launch into a polemic based on this.  I guess I could play it safe and just say that I’m responding to this interview, and not the book she’s promoting, called Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–and What We Can Do About It, co-written with Andrew Hacker.

It wouldn’t quite be fair to say that Dreifus is as extreme as Altucher, because she doesn’t suggest *not* attending college, advocating, instead, cuts to make college more affordable and suggesting that parents find good fits for their kids.  Couldn’t argue with that, right?  But that doesn’t really make contrarian headlines, either.  The interview, titled “Is College Worth the Cash?”, begins with a provocative quote from Dreifus:

Don’t send your kids to a status symbol. That’s what an Ivy League undergraduate education often is. At Yale and Harvard, undergraduate teaching is too often an afterthought; at the University of Pennsylvania, the classes can be as large as at many public universities. You’re really paying for the name.

Egad–say it ain’t so that UPenn might be in any way like a “public university”!  So, from the get-go, we might want to bracket the question of “Is college worth the cash?” with one asking if a “status symbol” Ivy League or equivalent worth the dough?  We should preface these questions by noting that Dreifus should know, seeing as she is herself an adjunct prof at Columbia, and probably not the poor kind of exploited, can’t-find-a-tenure-track adjunct, methinks.

But like James Altucher’s gadfly-esque piece, Dreifus’s interview begins with the same faulty premise: That the most expensive education at an elite Ivy League institution is the best measure of the worth and value of a college education, when that’s actually a possibility applicable to a very small constituency of students.

More below the jump…