The Truth About College: A Book Proposal
By Marty NemkoCONCEPT: Like many teenagers, I was led to believe that college was one of our nation's most worthy icons. But over the next 35 years, I've come to see college in full dimension: as student, counselor to college bound students, career counselor, professor specializing in the evaluation of education, and consultant to college presidents. And I've come to the conclusion that a college/graduate school education may be America's most overrated product.
The Truth About College will prove that contention using my experiences over the 35 years plus research data and my clients' and colleagues' stories. As important, the book will offer recommendations for policymakers on how to reform, even reinvent higher education and offer recommendations to
students (including the many adult students) and parents on how to make the most of the system as it is.
Most readers of non-fiction have spent years and grand sums on college and graduate school, for themselves and/or for their children. I believe that
having invested so much in higher education, many people will enjoy reading an insider's account.
PART I: COLLEGE ADMISSION
CHAPTER 1: COLLEGE AS MEDIEVAL CHURCH. Colleges paint themselves as like the medieval Church, receiving thousands of eager supplicants but only able to offer dispensations to a fortunate few. Fact is, 95% of American colleges are more like car dealers: doing whatever it takes to get customers to take a test drive, and subtly overselling to get them to sign the loan documents.
Supported by interviews with admissions "counselors," this
chapter will demonstrate how colleges use marketing techniques that
would do Madison Avenue proud.
CHAPTER 2: REINVENTING COLLEGE ADMISSION. This chapter will urge colleges to use a more Consumer Reports-like approach to marketing themselves. The chapter will urge, for example, that colleges stop using notoriously misleading statistics, for example, the ubiquitous "Student/Faculty Ratio."
contain 20 students. Colleges concocted the student/faculty ratio statistic so they can include faculty who teach courses like "Advanced Indo-European Linguistics" which may have an enrollment of five, even though almost no students, let alone undergraduates, take that course. Worse, the student/faculty ratio often includes faculty who don't teach at all--who just do research. A more appropriate statistic would look at the class size for popular introductory and advanced undergraduate courses.
CHAPTER 3: MAKING THE MOST OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM. This chapter will describe strategies that enable a college-bound student or parent to get the straight scoop about a college. For example, request a copy of the college's most recent student satisfaction survey. If the college sends it, you learn a lot about the college. If the college refuses to or says it doesn't bother to conduct student satisfaction surveys, you've also learned a lot.
PART II LEARNING IN COLLEGE
CHAPTER 4: SELECTIVE MEMORY. On their website and brochures, colleges forward romantic notions of the joys of learning. Indeed, many of us, looking back recall the good classes. But when one examines ALL the hours spent in the classroom and on studying and papers--and identifies the amount of valuable learning retained, the story is usually quite different. So much time is spent listening to interminable lectures, reading voluminous arcana-filled texts, and in discussions and tests in which students must parrot back the professor's odd world view or risk a lower grade. This chapter will vividly document the problem. Some of it would be humorous, if it weren't true.
CHAPTER 5: REINVENTING UNDERGRADUATE ACADEMICS. The core of the problem lies in who's doing the teaching. People who choose careers in the professoriate, on average, are deeply intellectual, enjoy delving into esoterica, and usually lack charisma. These are hardly the people best suited to teaching undergraduates.
Worse, their doctoral training trains them to ever narrow their professional interests, fills them with mounds of trivia little of which an undergraduate
needs, yet provides little training in the art of pedagogy. Not exactly the best training for the teachers of undergraduates.
From this crop, who gets hired to be a professor? Usually the candidates with the best potential for publishing in abstruse journals. Teaching, even
at many colleges that are supposedly undergraduate-oriented, still emphasize research expertise over teaching ability.
Tenure puts the final nail into the teaching coffin. As Ernest Boyer, the late Vice President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching said, only half-joking, "Winning the Campus Distinguished Teaching Award is the kiss of death for tenure." To get tenure, you usually must spend most discretionary time on research, not teaching.
In short, professors, as a group, are remarkably ill-suited to the task of teaching undergraduates.
This chapter will propose a new university position: the Teaching Professor,--people specifically hired to teach undergraduates. The chapter will also advocate a post-hoc solution for existing professors: a teaching boot camp.
CHAPTER 6: MAKING THE MOST OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM. Despite colleges' and universities' tendency to prioritize research over teaching, some of these institutions do a better job of undergraduate education than others. This chapter will show college-bound students and parents insiders' ways to assess the quality of teaching on a campus.
One example: The standard advice is to sit in on a class. That's useless because an individual professor could be the campus star or the campus joke. Better yet still simple is to walk down the halls of a busy classroom building, perhaps one in your intended major, stand in the doorway of perhaps ten classes, and ask yourself, "Would I like to be in this class?" Observe the students: Do they look engaged or about to fall asleep?
When you're enrolled, take advantage of excellent but rarely promoted options such as independent studies. These are one-on-one courses, studying
what you want with the professor of your choice. Independent studies are rarely promoted because they are costly to colleges.
PART III: EXTRACURRICULARS
CHAPTER 8:IN LOCO PARENTIS. Campus extracurricular activities aren't crucial for most adult students, but are much valued by traditional-age students. Younger students envision--aided by colleges' brochures and websites--vibrant living-learning experiences filled with fascinating encounters and mind- and heart-expanding adventures. Fact is, in today's laissez-faire college environments, a top recreational activity is getting plastered--a national study found that today, 27 percent of all undergraduate students binge drink regularly. Colleges are fully aware that when you stuff into a dorm hundreds of 18-year-olds, many of whom are living away from parents' watchful eyes for the first time, you have a situation ripe for alcohol and drug abuse. Yet too many colleges just offer a student a quick alcohol/drug awareness workshop and for the next four years do little more than wink at the problem.
CHAPTER 9: REINVENTING EXTRACURRICULARS. I'm certainly not calling for a return to the parietals of a bygone era, when a den mother would keep students on the straight and narrow. But innovations such as a richer program of dorm-based extracurriculars with carefully chosen peer and professionals coordinating, would go a long way to address the problem.
CHAPTER 10: MAKING THE MOST OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM. Most colleges offer a host of extracurricular options particularly likely to be rewarding: working at the campus radio or TV station, on the student activities board (the body that decides what concerts and lectures are to be brought on campus), becoming a student member on university-wide committees. These are little-known and can make the difference between a mediocre and outstanding college experience.
PART IV: GRADUATE SCHOOL
CHAPTER 11: EVEN MORE HALLOWED, EVEN MORE OVERRATED. Especially in a tight job market, more and more people figure they'll go back to graduate school to ride out the downturn, picking up a career-enhancing credential in the process. Unfortunately, those plans often don't work. There is a glut, an ever growing glut, of graduate degree holders. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, there is a 30% oversupply of Ph.D.s in the hot field of molecular biology. The situation is far worse in less in-demand fields, even the seemingly practical MBA. According to the Rand study, 16% of STANFORD MBA's were unable to find professional-level work within a year of graduation. The situation is far worse for graduates of the many less prestigious business schools. Yet universities offer more and more "executive" and distance MBA programs because they are cash cows. It appears of little concern to colleges that students are giving up years of their lives and up to $100,000 for a degree that may do little for their careers.
Perhaps even more outrageous is how ill-prepared graduates are. MBAs learn theory that rarely applies in the real world. It's axiomatic that law school graduates, ESPECIALLY those from prestigious law schools--have no idea how to practice law. They must be trained from Point Zero when hired by a law firm. This chapter will present many other examples of graduate schools' unconscionable behavior.
CHAPTER 12: REINVENTING GRADUATE SCHOOL.
CHAPTER 13: MAKING THE MOST OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM
CHAPTER 14: SPECIAL ADVICE FOR STUDENTS OVER 30.
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AUTHOR'S PLATFORM: Column on Page 1 of a section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. Host of popular talk show on an National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco. Strong keynote speaker and guest on radio and TV talk shows--frequently held over for a second segment or asked back. Been the primary source for dozens of articles, including in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
AUTHOR'S CREDIBILITY: Ph.D.in education, specializing in evaluation of education programs, from the University of California Berkeley. Subsequently taught in Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. Introduced as "The Ralph Nader of Education" in ABC-TV's Summit on Education and dubbed with the same appellation by KCBS Radio. Author of four well-reviewed, commercially successful books including "How to Get an Ivy League Education at a State University," which former US Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell called, "A tremendous service for students and parents. Thorough, reliable, and remarkably helpful." It was the only one of eight education books to receive an A rating from Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. He has been a consultant to 15 college presidents and to such entities as the Educational Testing Service and Consumer Reports.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2013. Usage Rights