The College Bubble: A Higher Ed Round-Up

This begins a weekly[ish] piece presenting recent articles on college and higher education news and issues. 

Just in time for the return of ridiculously expensive trips to Broad Street, U.S. PIRG has put out a study revealing the adverse effects of high text book costs on students’ (especially low-income students’) course decisions, and subsequently, their grades. There’s no other way to say it – this is a f****ed up system.

What’s the value of a college degree? The current issue of The Baffler has a brilliant piece that ponders the ideals and economics of a college degree. Jordan Weissmann, writing for The Atlantic, argues that a college degree, even in the humanities/social sciences, is still important and that we should move beyond financial arguments. Then, two days later, Weissmann puts out another piece, revealing data from a Department of Education report on the demographics of ~27-year-olds, and seems to imply that all that higher education doesn’t really get you to a great place. Additionally the Obama Administration has begun a College Scorecard program to help prospective students and families compare colleges based on cost, graduation rate, median amount borrowed, and loan default rate.

College sexual assault continues to be an important and prevalent issue. The White House recently put out a report on college sexual assault and established a task force  to investigate how universities and colleges handle reports of sexual assault and to determine ways to deal with the current issues. At Columbia University, student pressure haspushed the school’s president to take action on the handling of sexual assault cases.

Do Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) really have an impact in expanding opportunities to higher education?  Thomas Friedman has certainly lauded their potential, but, well, that’s Thomas Friedman. A new study by The New Republic and a team at UPenn seems to direct some skepticism toward their effects by looking into who actually takes these online courses. Especially telling are the data on the educational backgrounds of MOOCs students.

An education system that creates discriminating graduation/drop-out rates has deep-seated issues that need to be addressed. David Kirp, a professor at UCBerkeley has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times on strategies for helping students to graduate, though focuses his piece primarily on community college programs.

And in lighter news, Fox News makes fun of Bates, our NESCAC buddy in Maine, for some of the courses they offer in place of standard American history/government (for example, “The Rhetoric of Alien Abduction”) , inspired by a study by the conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni on America’s Top-Ranked Liberal-Arts Colleges, according to U.S. News rankings (so that means they’re railing on us too).