In my numerous (innumerable?) jottings on the sorry state of higher education these days I have tended to focus most of my attention on the undue emphasis on athletics in “higher” education along with the seemingly endless athletic scandals that have been a part of the collegiate climate. To be sure there have been many and they continue to be revealed at an alarming rate. But there is more.
The remarkable group in Washington D.C. that keeps an eye on the level of education in America today, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, shares with us other information that is almost as alarming as the scandals above mentioned. For example,
• Clemson University is spending $55 million on an athletics complex that will feature a mini-golf course, sand volleyball courts, laser tag, a movie theater, bowling lanes, and a barber shop. This recreation palace is not open to all Clemson students or even to all Clemson athletes. It is reserved for the exclusive use of the Clemson Tiger football team!
• The University of Michigan added 77 new full-time positions to its athletics department between 2004 and 2014 adding $13 million to its payroll. That included the hiring of a longtime NBA marketing executive as “chief marketing officer” for Michigan’s athletics — a position that didn’t exist prior to his hire!
• The University of Mississippi college football program had a payroll that grew from $212,702 to $2,170,676 over the course of a decade.
And these are all public universities and the athletes are the ones who claim they are exploited and insist they should be paid to play. While there’s some truth in their claim, at least at Clemson their case would be a hard sell. But, wait, there’s more!
• Last year rapper “Big Scan” headlined at the University of Minnesota’s homecoming concert. His booking fee was a staggering$75,000. To add insult to injury, the University charged its own students $20.00 each to attend the concert.
• California State University at Fullerton is set to spend almost $400,000 on this year’s “spring concert.” It hasn’t yet even announced who’s performing.
• The University of Michigan built a dorm featuring a luxury dining hall where students can enjoy salmon fillets, lamb, and shark.
• The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a dining hall with a pub, saunas, and ten racquetball courts.
All of this is occurring at a time when the quality of higher education is on a downward slide. Incoming students, even at “select” colleges and universities, are often required to take remedial courses; grade inflation is rampant — to the point where Columbia University medical school won’t take Harvard graduates because they all have a 4.0 grade — the “A” grade has become meaningless; “entitled” students demand that courses be easy and they be given high grades, just as they will do when they graduate and seek employment with little work and high salaries; core academic requirements have been all but gutted at even the most prestigious universities despite the fact that students are generally less well prepared for college work than they were a decade ago and the average college student has little knowledge of history or political science, reads and writes at a grammar-school level, and cannot calculate the tip in a restaurant.
To make natters worse, colleges are introducing courses and majors that have little or no academic merit and will leave the student unprepared for a changing and complex future. For example:
• Plymouth State University offers a B.S. in “Adventure Education” to “teach you how to use the Great Outdoors to expose children, adults, and at-risk populations to challenging adventures, personal growth, and self-discovery.”
• Bowling Green State University offers a B.A. in Popular Culture. Students can earn a minor in Folklore.
• The University of Connecticut offers a B.F.A. in Puppet Arts.
It would appear that the problems in higher education at a time when costs are skyrocketing do not attach themselves only to athletics scandals. There is something rotten in the state of higher education and there appear to be very few who are either aware there is a problem or willing and/or able to do anything about it. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni continues to work to raise awareness in the hope that alumni, at least, will bring pressure to bear on the colleges and universities that take large amounts of student’s money without offering them much in return. But, as you can imagine it is an uphill battle at a time when competition for bodies in the classroom is ferocious and “entitled” students are led to expect that they will be provided a quality education in a country-club atmosphere where the football game and the party on the weekend are the main concern. Education be damned! Where’s the beer?