Posts tagged with: higher education

In the July 14-15 Italian edition article of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Luca M. Possati examines the crisis of the Italian university system. Where most secular intellectuals blame the Church for its suppression of “academic freedom,” it turns out the real culprit is the vast education and research bureaucracy propagated by the national government.

Possati notes how the different governments have tried to reform public administration in different sectors, but have failed miserably, only creating more public debt, inefficiency, and confusion. The recent university reform, known as the “Moratti reform,” began in the year 2000 and set out to improve Italy’s academic system with the two-cycle degree system of three years each also known as “3+2″. Alas, it only resulted in more obstacles for students and professors, especially those involved in post-graduate and scientific research.

While the article addresses the cause of the problem, it does not seem to offer any practical solutions, besides ending with a meek call for a more flexible labor market in the university. This is a shame, because Possati could have sought guidance from Catholic social teaching, especially the principle of subsidiarity, which would allow for greater decentralization, if not privatization, of the education system. Simply making it easier for the bureaucracy to grow will not solve anything; cutting the bureaucracy and reducing its incentives to grow get closer to the core issue.

To recognize just how big a mess the system is in, take as an example the University La Sapienza in Rome. With 147,000 students, the university is the largest in Europe and one of the oldest, founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 (it’s no longer run by the Church but by the State, as readers will recall). It is also known for its high drop-out rates and endless wait lists and lines. A student can spend months trying to collect all the forms necessary to enroll. Others have to get up at 6am to get a seat for a 10am lesson. Some medical students even get their degrees without sitting through one anatomy lessons because they prefer to study at home.

As a result, the percentage of the Italian population with a university degree is quite low, just 11% of 25-44 year-olds have one. This kind of inefficiency also affects those with higher degrees, frustrating young researchers and forcing them to go abroad to continue their projects. This exodus obviously depresses Italian productivity and results in “brain drain” among the most talented and educated.

It should be no surprise that Catholic and private universities such as LUMSA and LUISS are better off because they govern themselves as small firms with a concern for the quality of their services. These universities have much lower drop-out rates and much more satisfied, education students as a result.

Greater decentralization and privatization of the Italian education system would disproportionately affect the very administrators who have created all the problems in the first place. It may not be a panacea, but it will be a first step in allowing teachers to teach, researchers to research, and students to learn without the ridiculous interference of power-hungry government officials.

“Is American higher education doing its duty to prepare the next generation to keep America free?” Apparently not, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy (UConnDPP), in a study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) National Civic Literacy Program.

In a survey of 14,000 freshman and seniors at 50 colleges and universities across the country, every school scored poorly. Also, college seniors, sadly, scored little better than freshman. The average senior score was a failing 53.2%; the average freshman score was 51.7%. In fact, no school scored higher than a D+. The top ten school are listed below:

1. Harvard University 69.56%
2. Grove City College (PA) 67.26
3. Washington & Lee University (VA) 66.98
4. Yale University 65.85
5. Brown University 65.64
6. University of Virginia 65.28
7. Wheaton College (IL) 64.98
8. University of Pennsylvania 63.49
9. Duke University 63.41
10. Bowdoin College (ME) 62.86

A link to the rankings of the fifty schools in the survey are found here. My alma mater, Ole Miss, scored 36th, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI ranked 21st.

Some shocking or not so shocking analysis is quoted below, directly taken from the American Civic Literacy Website. You can also examine the entire website for a treasure trove of facts, findings, and analysis.

Students were asked 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy. The disappointing results were published in the fall of 2006 in The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions.

The website declares, “This report is not designed to tear down American higher education, but to hold it accountable.” After taking the quiz myself, I scored a 93.33 %, which is 56 out of 60. You can take the quiz here, and see how you measure up against American college students.

In an appropriate quote also taken from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website, John Quincy Adams, then a state senator, praised the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock:

Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers and of love for our posterity. They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions,” he said. “Respect for his ancestors excites in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare.

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 12, 2007

Most of our talk at Acton about educational choice addresses K-12 programs, i.e., the public schools. There already exists a great deal of choice at the levels of higher ed, and so they are not of the most immediate concern.

But the issues I raised earlier this month about the integration of faith and learning are just as relevant in the realm of higher ed as they are in secondary education. Here’s what David Claerbaut, author of Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education, has to say:

There is a distinctly Christian view of what life is all about, about the nature of humankind, about what our purposes ought to be, and about where we are headed eternally. To dance away from these distinctives is to marginalize faith as an element in the learning process.

Today’s Zondervan>To the Point features this quote as well as a link to this piece from Inside Higher Ed, “Spiritual Accountability.”

Rick Ritchie has a thought-provoking post over at Old Solar, deconstructing a rather shrill WorldNetDaily article. In a piece titled, “What!? Caesar’s Money Has Strings Attached?,” Ritchie soberly observes, “When you do accept state funding, the state does have an interest in how its money is used.”

The WND piece and Ritchie’s post refer to this bit of California legislation, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which requires any educational institution that receives government support in any form, including through student financial aid, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

According to the WND article, the Capitol Resource Institute’s “analysis of the legislation concluded it will prevent parochial schools such as private, Christian and other religious institutions from getting financial assistance for students if they maintain a code of conduct that does not endorse such behavior.”

As Ritchie rightly observes, the legislation doesn’t seem to say anything about condoning, promoting, or endorsing particular behavior, but simply about not discriminating on such a basis.

Ritchie writes, “This issue, when you tease it out, really has to do with the nature of the state’s involvement in education in a broader sense. That these groups are suddenly bothered now as if a really new element had entered into the equation strikes me as disingenuous. Either that, or these people are really stupid.”

The reality of the strings attached to government money have led some schools, like Hillsdale College, for instance, to refuse to accept any federal funding. This legislation comes on the heels of recent cases in California where students have been expelled from a Christian school for so-called “lesbian behavior,” in addition to a school which expelled a student “because her mother is gay.”

More news on the campus that may disturb those who are already hyperventilating about corporate involvement in higher education: university newspapers are receiving increasing corporate attention.

In an article in today’s WSJ, Emily Steel writes, “Hip, local, relevant and generated by students themselves, college newspapers have held steady readership in recent years while newspapers in general have seen theirs shrink. Big advertisers are going on campus to reach these young readers. Ford Motor Co., Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have all placed recent ads in college newspapers.”

In addition, “Last week, Gannett Co.’s Tallahassee Democrat acquired Florida State University’s FSView & Florida Flambeau, one of the nation’s few for-profit college newspapers. The same day, Viacom Inc.’s MTV, which already runs a network targeted at college campuses called mtvU, agreed to buy Y2M: Youth Media & Marketing Networks, a company that hosts the Web sites for 450 campus papers. MTV executives hope the deal will give mtvU credibility in the college community, providing its advertisers with easy access to college students.”

As a former columnist for Michigan State University’s student newspaper, The State News (I’m also married to a SN alum), let me just say that big corporations may be on to something…student newspapers have the market cornered and have the edge in providing locally relevant content to a uniquely situated and identifiable (perhaps even captive) audience.

HT: Poynter Online – Romanesko

Tom Friedman asks in today’s NYT, “Why doesn’t every college make it a goal to become carbon-neutral — that is, reduce its net CO2 emissions to zero?” (TimesSelect subscription required)

I’ll give an initial possible answer: they already have enough to worry about with double-digit tuition increases practically every year without adding such costs.

More about tuition inflation here, such as this, “On average, tuition tends to increase about 8% per year. An 8% college inflation rate means that the cost of college doubles every nine years.”