AGORA: U.S. Education’s Failing Grades

When it comes to America’s failed education system, Dan Georgakas and Constantinos Scaros are in total agreement. Their only differences are which part of the problem they focus on – as illustrated herein.

GEORGAKAS PRESENTS HIS POINT OF VIEW

Dino, Attaining higher education has been a cornerstone of Greek-American prosperity. Our percentage of college graduates, male and female, is consistently among the highest of all ethnic groups. This reality makes the soaring costs of higher education an immediate concern for our community.

As recently as the 1980s, college costs could be met with part-time and summer jobs coupled with modest family support. Today, most college graduates are burdened by educational loans of tens of thousands of dollars.

The cause of skyrocketing costs is not wage-based. The percentage of classes taught by part-time faculty and graduate-assistants has risen to approximately 80%. These instructors are paid by the course as independent contractors, meaning no benefits and severance at the end of the course. Pay ranges from a little over $2,000 to some $5,000 per course.

Part-timers can only teach two courses per semester. In a tri-semester schedule, if a part-timer could somehow manage to land two courses per term, the total income would be $12,000-$30,000 per year. We are referring here to persons who often have MA and even PhD degrees. The City University of New York, for one, has aggravated the situation by granting no faculty raises for the past six years. Given a 2% inflation rate, this is a de facto pay cut of 12%.

The rise of part-time instruction has been paralleled by a rise in the number of administrators. The ratio of faculty to administrators has changed from 70%-30% to approximately 50-50% , meaning one administrator for each faculty member!

At New York University, which has the highest tuition in the nation, the top twenty-five administrators recently got a 26% pay increase or roughly $200,000 per person per annum. The raise in faculty pay was 2.5%. Meanwhile, many NYU divisions still have the lowest national wages for part-timers.

NYU has 95 members on its board of trustees: mainly bankers, hedge fund managers, and real estate tycoons. Perhaps not coincidently, NYU has invested billions on real estate purchases and offers low-interest million dollar “loans” for the vacation homes of its top administrators.

Another aspect of the mix of commerce and academia involves incredibly steep guest speaker fees. An egregious example involves the Clinton Foundation which received a half million dollar donation from Arizona State U as compensation for an event featuring the Clinton family. How that event served the needs of ASU students is not clear. California State U got off cheaper paying Hillary a mere $300,000, her discount rate for public non-profits.

Even more sinister is the role of the arch-conservative Charles Koch Foundation that funds two of Florida State U’s political and economic programs. The “condition” for the loan was that the Koch Foundation was allowed to influence faculty hires and the curriculums. This follows a $4 million donation to the FSU economics department, also given with “conditions.”

My examples only open the window on the corporatization of academia. A woeful bottom line is that on comparable achievement tests, American college students are markedly inferior to students in other advanced nations. We still have some of the best grad schools in the world, but generally, we are paying more yet getting less for our investment. This trend is ominous for the future not only of Greek America but for the entire nation. Some of the current presidential hopefuls have spoken of debt relief for students, but none is addressing why costs are increasingly making higher education unaffordable for many otherwise fully qualified. I think anyone campaigning to be president should be compelled to deal with this issue.

SCAROS RESPONDS

Dan, as I agree with just about everything you wrote, please indulge my going on a rant about education in America as a whole, which nowadays is a disgrace on so many levels. To say that we have the best schools in the world may be technically accurate, but if a small percentage of our top schools are the best, but the system as a whole is not, then it’s not really anything to brag about.

Our schools have failed us in the worst possible ways. The fundamentals of education – “readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic” – have been cast aside. Too many people – oh, I don’t just mean students, I mean their teachers – can’t spell the word cat if you spot them the c and the t. Many students graduate high school – if not college – without having read a single book from cover to cover during their entire time there. And if the check for dinner is $85 and someone needs a calculator in order to figure out what a 20% tip would be – well, that’s just sad.

Students are being pushed through the system when they’re not ready because no one wants to be the heavy – to tell them that they need to repeat the course, or the grade. Being “left back” as opposed to finishing “on time” damage inflicted upon our students by those entrusted to educate them. Consider the unemployable 45-year-old who walks around saying “supposably” and who writes “I should of gone their, to”: heck, it doesn’t matter, because he graduated high school “on time” in 1988 – he didn’t have to get “left back” and graduate in 1989.

It doesn’t get any better when we get to college. Amid some truly fine, wonderfully level-headed students, there are a bunch of sniveling brats looking for a cause. Sure, every young generation is idealistic: students in the Sixties saw no point of view except their own as being right, but they disagreed with the view, not the right for such view to be conveyed. Today’s students at the so-called top-level universities would lock you up for dressing up as Hacidic Jew or Shia Muslim for Halloween (but dressing up as an Evangelical minister would be perfectly acceptable).

These institutions of political correctness embrace very type of diversity except the one that matters most: diversity of point of view. They’d love to have a student and faculty body comprised of every non-European nationality and non-Christian religion, with as many transgender Americans as possible (because being gay is so passé – being transgender is where it’s at nowadays). And if this group is 99% leftist, oh, well that’s perfectly fine, no need for diversity in that respect.

And those are the colleges where the students and faculty actually can read, write, add, and spell. Students at the other schools are too pragmatic to obsess over faux-causes, because they’re too busy actually juggling two jobs amid their classes to try to put food on the table for their children. And they are the ones being short-changed, because they were admitted under dubious circumstances, underprepared for a college education, but that’s no problem, as the curriculum will be tailored to their need to graduate on time, remain unemployed or stuck in a dead-end job, and default on their astronomical loan based on outrageously high tuition.

As for the presidential hopefuls, Hillary has rehashed her husband’s first big empty promise from the Nineties: the “civilian GI bill,” which would allow graduates to work two years in civilian jobs wherever they were needed in exchange for student loan forgiveness. I’m still waiting for that to kick in, Bill, as are so many of my law school classmates who actually believed you’d make good on that promise.
As for the Republicans, they’re fighting for the lion’s share of the party’s new base, a voting bloc that glorifies undereducation. You gain their votes by saying buzzwords like “freedom” “Constitution,” “guns,” and “Jesus.” “Education” is not an acceptable word of choice, and would cause a GOP candidate to sink in the polls faster than Gary Hart after chartering a yacht – named “Monkey Business,” no less – with his mistress. “Education? You want to improve education? Why don’t you keep your big government ideas to yourself, and let us enjoy our God-given right to be ignorant!”

That’s where we are, Dan, quite sadly. But I haven’t given up hope yet! Happy New Year to you, to our readers, and may God take pity on our broken system of education – because our elected officials sure won’t.