Sunday, August 15, 2010

Academic Bankruptcy

From the NYT:

Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, is the author of the forthcoming “Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities.

With the academic year about to begin, colleges and universities, as well as students and their parents, are facing an unprecedented financial crisis.

Yet most faculty and administrators refuse to acknowledge this crisis. Consider what is taking place here in New York City. Rather than learning to live within their means, Columbia University, where I teach, and New York University are engaged in a fierce competition to expand as widely and quickly as possible.

There is a similarity between the debt crisis on Wall Street and what threatens higher education. Just as investors borrowed more and increased their leverage in volatile markets, many colleges and universities are borrowing more and betting on an expanding market in higher education at the precise moment their product is becoming affordable for fewer people

Financial aid is drying up and government support is not keeping pace with the rising cost of college, so students and parents are being forced to borrow more heavily. Students and their parents are carrying unsustainable levels of debt, which is likely to lead to a crisis that will mirror the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. To make matters worse, student debt is even more toxic than a soured mortgage, because it is nearly impossible for a person to legally walk away from student loans the way a homeowner can walk away from a mortgage.

The competition between Columbia and N.Y.U. is an example of what educational institutions should not be doing. Universities should be looking for new ways to provide high-quality education to more students at a lower price.

Capital can be intellectual and cultural as well as financial; it is vital that American higher education remains the reserve currency of the global educational system. No less than Wall Street, our colleges and universities are in dire need of reform.
I agree with everything Professor Taylor has said in this excerpt - but this is an edited version of his full remarks which should be consulted by interested readers.

Taylor has an ax to grind and I strongly disagree with some of his proposals for turning things around in American higher ed. I am sure that there will be a lot of discussion once his book comes out.

But the first step in solving a problem is to explain to people that we have one. He has done an excellent job of it.


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