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Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education

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The cost of a college degree has increased by 1,125% since 1978—four times the rate of inflation. Total student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Nearly two thirds of all college students must borrow to study, and the average student graduates with more than $30,000 in debt. Many college graduates under twenty-five years old are unemployed or underemployed. And professors— The cost of a college degree has increased by 1,125% since 1978—four times the rate of inflation. Total student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Nearly two thirds of all college students must borrow to study, and the average student graduates with more than $30,000 in debt. Many college graduates under twenty-five years old are unemployed or underemployed. And professors—remember them?—rarely teach undergraduates at many major universities, instead handing off their lecture halls to cheaper teaching assistants. So, is it worth it? That’s the question Charles J. Sykes attempts to answer in Fail U., exploring the staggering costs of a college education, the sharp decline in tenured faculty and teaching loads, the explosion of administrative jobs, the grandiose building plans, and the utter lack of preparedness for the real world that many now graduates face. Fail U. offers a different vision of higher education; one that is affordable, more productive, and better-suited to meet the needs of a diverse range of students—and one that will actually be useful in their future careers and lives.


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The cost of a college degree has increased by 1,125% since 1978—four times the rate of inflation. Total student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Nearly two thirds of all college students must borrow to study, and the average student graduates with more than $30,000 in debt. Many college graduates under twenty-five years old are unemployed or underemployed. And professors— The cost of a college degree has increased by 1,125% since 1978—four times the rate of inflation. Total student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Nearly two thirds of all college students must borrow to study, and the average student graduates with more than $30,000 in debt. Many college graduates under twenty-five years old are unemployed or underemployed. And professors—remember them?—rarely teach undergraduates at many major universities, instead handing off their lecture halls to cheaper teaching assistants. So, is it worth it? That’s the question Charles J. Sykes attempts to answer in Fail U., exploring the staggering costs of a college education, the sharp decline in tenured faculty and teaching loads, the explosion of administrative jobs, the grandiose building plans, and the utter lack of preparedness for the real world that many now graduates face. Fail U. offers a different vision of higher education; one that is affordable, more productive, and better-suited to meet the needs of a diverse range of students—and one that will actually be useful in their future careers and lives.

30 review for Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    A devastating indictment of the current travesty called higher education. A very worthwhile read, especially for those parents preparing to shell out megabucks for a bunch of nothing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaways program. A very thought provoking book on the ills and wrongs of the American higher education system. As a part of the system, I found agreement and understanding of several of author's points. I would argue for a broader understanding of learning, one which transcends the academic classroom, and includes the many co-curricular pursuits the author seems to negate as non-essential to academic mission and purpose. Regardless of one's position on I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaways program. A very thought provoking book on the ills and wrongs of the American higher education system. As a part of the system, I found agreement and understanding of several of author's points. I would argue for a broader understanding of learning, one which transcends the academic classroom, and includes the many co-curricular pursuits the author seems to negate as non-essential to academic mission and purpose. Regardless of one's position on higher education, I think that everyone will walk away with a different perspective of higher education.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Devin

    I really enjoyed college when I attended in the 1990s. Back then, we challenged the profs and tuition was reasonable. Since many high school students obtained good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, 18-year-olds did not need to attend college to access meaningful employment. Things have obviously changed. I have two children in college and, quite frankly, when they come home on the weekends, I feel as if they are being brainwashed by liberal professors, who feel no need to even pretend to I really enjoyed college when I attended in the 1990s. Back then, we challenged the profs and tuition was reasonable. Since many high school students obtained good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, 18-year-olds did not need to attend college to access meaningful employment. Things have obviously changed. I have two children in college and, quite frankly, when they come home on the weekends, I feel as if they are being brainwashed by liberal professors, who feel no need to even pretend to be objective researchers. Unlike my generation, today's group of kids are more concerned with the number of likes they get on Facebook, Twitter, etc. than challenging profs that carry water for one major political party. Go figure. Maybe this is why Charles J. Sykes' book "Failed U" resonated with me. Sykes has a radio show in Milwaukee, was a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, and his research is very good. His ex-wife, Diane, is a judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In other words, you can disagree with him, want to slay the messenger, etc, but you must do your homework to challenge the work he presents in his book. He even encourages those who disagree with him to call in to his show and challenge him. Sykes' narrative is that federal government guaranteed loans have given Failed U's a blank check to raise tuition 1,100 percent since 1978, more than three times the rate of inflation. Many of the degrees received (woman's studies, sociology, liberal studies) do nothing for graduated students. Moreover, 96 percent of history professors are left of center and seek to revise and attack the US, instead of seeing the nation as a place made up of flawed people, who have done their best to address the country's shortcomings. Good book. I would recommend it to parents whose children are approaching college. You might want to have your son or daughter consider a trade or learn, first hand, how to run a business

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steve Peifer

    There are two drinking games that could come out of this worthless book: 1. Please give oh another reference to your classic, most beloved former book ProfScam said no one ever, yet we are treated to SO many references to his former book that the first drinking game is to have to take a shot every time ProfScam is mentioned. If you are a mean drunk, give notice because you will be blotto by the third chapter. 2. This isn't a real book with real research. The second drinking game is to pick a topic There are two drinking games that could come out of this worthless book: 1. Please give oh another reference to your classic, most beloved former book ProfScam said no one ever, yet we are treated to SO many references to his former book that the first drinking game is to have to take a shot every time ProfScam is mentioned. If you are a mean drunk, give notice because you will be blotto by the third chapter. 2. This isn't a real book with real research. The second drinking game is to pick a topic in this book and google it. If the references in this book are in the same order as your Google search, it shows the amount of creative thought that went into this joke of a book. If you drink every time the references line up with your Google search, take a shot. Avoid if you already have liver damage. The shame is that there are important issues worth raising but not by a family values DJ on his third marriage with this cut and paste lack of effort joke.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    compiles many of the anti-modern-university greatest hits [tuition costs have gone up too much; federally subsidized loans insulate the consumer from the costs and facilitate tuition increases; star professors' teaching loads are too light; grade inflation is rampant; Antioch's code requiring affirmative consent for each escalating step of a sexual encounter can be easily mocked; MOOC's are going to put these sorry teachers out of business; college sports are a big waste of money; modern compiles many of the anti-modern-university greatest hits [tuition costs have gone up too much; federally subsidized loans insulate the consumer from the costs and facilitate tuition increases; star professors' teaching loads are too light; grade inflation is rampant; Antioch's code requiring affirmative consent for each escalating step of a sexual encounter can be easily mocked; MOOC's are going to put these sorry teachers out of business; college sports are a big waste of money; modern students are fragile snowflakes in [perceived] need of trigger warnings about microaggressions; most research is BS; tenure mainly protects slackers rather than outspoken dissidents]. Even my personal favorite, the "money is wasted on climbing walls" meme, is here. I wish my school had a climbing wall -- I could practice climbing it and relieve the stress and boredom from reading so many times about how tuition money is wasted on climbing walls. oh well, my fault for reading another diatribe on this topic. If you are unfamiliar with issues listed above, then this would be an informative, if slanted, read. But to try to make it a safe space for you, two warnings: 1. you will see many references to, indeed extended quotes from, his much earlier [late 80s] book ProfScam. Stats are updated, and of course MOOC's weren't a thing then, but in many respects [there are too many administrators!] the arguments are interchangeable, which should give pause as to whether this book was necessary. 2. more generally, a wide range of topics is covered, but not necessarily in much depth. For examples: (a) subsection on "the publication racket" [pp. 60-64] makes the inarguable point that lots of low-impact research gets published and then doesn't get read much, cited often [or at all], etc. However, he doesn't really take on the challenging question of whether there is some valid means of identifying in advance what research is going to turn out to be fairly useless and discouraging its production by redirecting the investigator's time toward more teaching. Instead, the argument is carried in part by just listing esoteric or trivial-sounding article titles without actually diving into what the articles in question are like. For instance, "Don't tell me who to blame: Persuasive effects of implicit arguments in obesity messages on attributions of responsibility and policy support" (p. 61) is just listed as an example of pointless research, but how do we know that? I can't tell from the title that it was a waste or included no new and important insights. This is just lazy "come on, crazy stuff, amirite?" journalism of the weakest variety. (b) chapter on "our bloated colleges" decries the costs of running programs with few, in some cases no, students (p. 103), but he doesn't really dig in critically to the assumption that there are big savings to be gained by cutting such nominal programs from the roster. I closed a certificate program with zero enrolled students last year just because I thought it was misleading for us to claim we had a real program in that area, and the occasional inquiries about it always convinced me that people misunderstood what it could offer, but I'm quite confident this action did not result in cost savings. Actually, the trouble it was to close it probably equaled the cost of running it for the past 12 years or so. In other words, if you really look into a program with zero students, there is very likely to be no dedicated staff, no faculty getting teaching credit, no ad budget to speak of, no office space used just for this program, etc. etc. The notion that lopping a few such programs out of the catalogue is going to free up a lot of resources for more productive use is fanciful. anyway, don't mean to be too defensive. There is plenty wrong, irrational, or inefficient in higher ed, but I think you can find better sources for in-depth analysis than this one.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Miescha

    I wish I could give this 2 1/2 stars because that's exactly how I feel about it, 50%. It's not wrong but it only represents half of the full picture and unfortunately, like so much discourse in this country right now, is therefore part of the problem, not a solution. He points out real, serious problems in higher ed that need to be addressed but does it by abusing the reader with a barrage of statistics on cherry picked cases/issues while slinging insults at everyone. It's not scholarly I wish I could give this 2 1/2 stars because that's exactly how I feel about it, 50%. It's not wrong but it only represents half of the full picture and unfortunately, like so much discourse in this country right now, is therefore part of the problem, not a solution. He points out real, serious problems in higher ed that need to be addressed but does it by abusing the reader with a barrage of statistics on cherry picked cases/issues while slinging insults at everyone. It's not scholarly research. He jumps all over the country through time and space recounting individual horror stories and neglects to give any instances where anyone anywhere is doing anything right. I get it, we're all complicit in any system but he is openly and unapologetically hostile throughout the book resorting to name-calling and snide remarks. "I told you so" is actually what he opens with. It's a shame because these discussions need to be had but after alienating everyone, who does he think will be willing to sit down at the table to discuss these issues? But as far as I can tell that's the point of this book. He doesn't want to engage real dialogue much less help come up with any tangible solutions. He believes he is above it all as evidenced in his closing that ascribes tasks and doomsday prophecies to each "guilty" party (from universities and legislators to parents and employers) but conveniently chooses to include himself in the "Rest of Us" category of victims whose only burden is to sit back and analyze what they're willing "to put up with". Seriously? Normally I wouldn't take the time to engage with something that is so obviously interested in only one-sided dialogue; however, I'm concerned that this one-sided list of grievances will actually harm those who it intends to enlighten and further damage the tenuous relationship that students and teachers alike are trying to foster under less than ideal circumstances by reducing people to members of societal groups that exist merely to demand things of one another.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Russ

    I'm biased since I've been advising against college for years. Most people don't need it and would be better off avoiding it. Most of this book will fall on deaf ears as the author tries to swim against a very strong tide. Like most things in America, it won't be fixed until a crisis and then it will probably be fixed badly. The author had plenty of evidence, statistics and studies to support his positions that college is overpriced, over prescribed where the inmates run the asylum.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ian Vance

    Legitimate criticisms encompassing a growing structural issue, marred by typical conservative hyperbole + generalized brushstroking.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    I have been reading several educational reform books in the past months, and this one is a good one among many. Good because the suggestions for reform are more rational and reasonable. Whether they could be carried out in reform is another question. We all know that college costs have skyrocketed, colleges have exploded their administrations to the point that there are often more administrators than real teaching professors, and we all know college students who graduate with degrees that don't I have been reading several educational reform books in the past months, and this one is a good one among many. Good because the suggestions for reform are more rational and reasonable. Whether they could be carried out in reform is another question. We all know that college costs have skyrocketed, colleges have exploded their administrations to the point that there are often more administrators than real teaching professors, and we all know college students who graduate with degrees that don't match the real world at all. Knowing all that, what to do? This book provides plenty of evidence of what we know, and also plenty of discussions of various problems across academia. The most interesting part to me was the last part on how to change what is broken. (These are sketchy but actual quotes FROM the book, fyi) 1) College for fewer -- not every student who graduates from high school needs to attend college. Separate the "college degree mystique" from the work that can be done. I am reminded of Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" and his ongoing desire to promote non-college jobs that are fulfilling and provide you with a good living. 2) Smaller -- instead of universities being all things to all people (and failing, as we have seen), trim the academic programs that have few students. Not everything requires a 4 year college degree. Make some degrees 3 year. Trim to focus on what is necessary. Eliminate that which sucks money and provides nothing in return. 3) Less -- Stop inflating the money bubble. Federal aid is a magnet that pulls faculty away from the classroom. Start treating student loans like loans rather than gifts on waiting. This might help students make prudent decisions and smarter borrowing choices. 4) Open, democratic, meritocratic, and global -- Rely less on SAT scores, GPA's, and focus more on those who are willing and able to do the work. Charge tuition based on completion of classes. Online courses, MOOC's remove class size limits and remove artificial barriers. and 5) (my favorite) Restoring the American Mind -- Revitalize the liberal arts!!! -- liberal learning (the small "l" in liberal) is set against the stifling and oppressive atmosphere that dominates universities today. Let's start educating again in the true liberal sense instead of the indoctrination sense.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vance

    Excellent book by Charles Sykes on the problems with higher education and a few possible solutions. The ticking time bond of the student loan debt bubble orchestrated by government manipulation of increasing demand (e.g., grants and artificially low interest rates on student loans, etc.) and limiting supply (e.g., restrictions on new universities and lack of change to online options, etc.) contribute to extraordinary increases in college tuition and large potential economic effects. This process Excellent book by Charles Sykes on the problems with higher education and a few possible solutions. The ticking time bond of the student loan debt bubble orchestrated by government manipulation of increasing demand (e.g., grants and artificially low interest rates on student loans, etc.) and limiting supply (e.g., restrictions on new universities and lack of change to online options, etc.) contribute to extraordinary increases in college tuition and large potential economic effects. This process in a government run market has led to a watering down of many lessons in the classroom, more of a focus on extracurricular activities to incentivize students to attend, and a reduction in the signal a degree provides. The author also provides a thorough understanding of the mind-boggling situation of limiting free speech at universities as trigger warnings and micro-aggressions have become the new buzz words to limit speech someone disagrees with. As too many students grow up in this snowflake atmosphere, they are not prepared for the future, contributing to more of them staying at home for a longer period after graduation and less time at a job to increase their lifetime earnings. Solutions range from ending the antiquated tenure system in higher education to moving more to online education services, to removing the distortionary effects of the market by substantially reducing the government's role. I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I read with some breadth on the topic of education and from the title alone I braced myself for a very critical look at higher education. All of the points raised by Sykes (such as bloated administrations and grade inflation) *should* be raised, but what troubles me is that someone might read this book and think it is fair and accurate or scholarly when it is not. For example, it is important to question the assumption that everyone should go to college, but to do so fairly one would use a I read with some breadth on the topic of education and from the title alone I braced myself for a very critical look at higher education. All of the points raised by Sykes (such as bloated administrations and grade inflation) *should* be raised, but what troubles me is that someone might read this book and think it is fair and accurate or scholarly when it is not. For example, it is important to question the assumption that everyone should go to college, but to do so fairly one would use a longer lens that includes a study of the GI Bill and how higher education has historically been the surest path to upward mobility in our society. Similarly, it is important to question best practices for handling campus sexual assault, but to do that one would surely reference Krakauer's "Missoula" or a similar resource that explains some of the difficulties campuses face when dealing with the issue. Instead, this book is a very one-sided rant.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mama K

    clearly lays out the corrupt condition of our higher education system. But, of course, the universities have no reason to heed the advice to reform, students have no desire to heed reform because the government keeps throwing more money at them. Furthermore, The Snowflake Generation will not listen as they are being seduced by the promise Progressives feed them with "free" education......which they will pay for eventually down the road. Alas, I have no confidence that the universities, the clearly lays out the corrupt condition of our higher education system. But, of course, the universities have no reason to heed the advice to reform, students have no desire to heed reform because the government keeps throwing more money at them. Furthermore, The Snowflake Generation will not listen as they are being seduced by the promise Progressives feed them with "free" education......which they will pay for eventually down the road. Alas, I have no confidence that the universities, the government, nor the Snowflakes will loose their hold on their own personal Neverland until it's too late and we see a bubble burst just like the mortgage industry of 2008.

  13. 4 out of 5

    D. Ryan

    Well written. It made me sad for current undergrads, scared for our country, and thankful for my time in college.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James Carter

    Having attended colleges and universities for many years and experiencing different formats of how instruction is delivered, everything covered in Fail U. is true. I have to say that the author forgot to include a chapter on fraternities/sororities for being a colossal waste of time and money unless the goal is to develop network connections to get in the front door when it comes to getting jobs regardless of what they did in classes. There are a few incidents that happened to me that I want to Having attended colleges and universities for many years and experiencing different formats of how instruction is delivered, everything covered in Fail U. is true. I have to say that the author forgot to include a chapter on fraternities/sororities for being a colossal waste of time and money unless the goal is to develop network connections to get in the front door when it comes to getting jobs regardless of what they did in classes. There are a few incidents that happened to me that I want to relate to you just to make the author's arguments stronger. One: I was very late in registration for the fall semester, and I was given several choices for an elective. One of them was Women's Studies. So, I thought why not? Learn about biographies of various women and the history of the women's movement: Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, and all that. The first day I showed up in class, I was surrounded by female classmates with just only one male, who was obviously effeminate, among them. I made a small innocuous comment during a discussion. Immediately, right after that, I was instantly called out by the female professor and was sternly lectured for five straight minutes that there was a "zero-tolerance" policy in class. I was like, whoa! That never happened in my life. After the class was over, deciding I didn't need that kind of (wo)manhandling, I dropped out of the course and never looked back. Two: I was robbed once at a dorm. My roommate left the door open overnight, and we were sleeping. Somebody walked in and stole a huge stereo system out of our room and nothing else. I reported the incident to campus security. They failed to do a proper investigation. Remember the dorm had cameras on the sides of the wings and outside of the exit doors. Knowing that fully well, I told the guys in security to look at a specific time frame when the robbery might have occurred and look for anyone who might be carrying something huge across their arms, but they never did anything. Three: My first semester, I was seriously sick and was constantly lethargic. I went to the health center for a check-up. They said that I had a cold, so I was prescribed with cough drops. I kept getting worse for days afterwards. Finally, I decided to drive a few hours back to home, so I could see a real doctor. It turned out that I lost 15 pounds and had a serious respiratory infection which was cleared up after a week with proper medication. My complaint about any school, university or college, is that they are all the same. They didn't care about me. There was no learning going on. I had to teach the information to myself. The higher I went in classes, the harder they became. I just couldn't figure out the information, especially in mathematics, and nobody, not even my professors, was explaining any of it; it was all abstract and full of symbols. I was constantly surrounded by foreign students who probably had much better education overseas than I did. Needless to say, it became a survival of IQs. Sometimes, I thought they might be cheating by having an access to solutions or somebody to do the work for them. The professors were no help, and they were basically walking oral-textbooks, repeating everything from their old notes and books ad verbum. The bottom line is: I was not getting my money's worth. I thought this was college, and I thought I was going to be helped and taught in a master-apprentice way, but that never happened. It's either I know or don't know it, and that's that. All in all, I hope the bubble will finally burst one day because the whole thing about higher education is a joke; it's just a one big con game.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elina Salminen

    (Still in the process of reading this, updating as I go.) Disclaimer: I have a long and complex history with higher education, having spent more than a decade in it and loving some parts of it while loathing others. Higher ed is in crisis and we're all failing. Sykes is scathing in his verdict, in a way that feels satisfying although not very productive. He also has skin in the game: the entire first section of the book focuses on the reception of "ProfScam", a book he wrote in the 80s. In short, (Still in the process of reading this, updating as I go.) Disclaimer: I have a long and complex history with higher education, having spent more than a decade in it and loving some parts of it while loathing others. Higher ed is in crisis and we're all failing. Sykes is scathing in his verdict, in a way that feels satisfying although not very productive. He also has skin in the game: the entire first section of the book focuses on the reception of "ProfScam", a book he wrote in the 80s. In short, he doesn't like the reception it got and feels it was entirely because the Goliath machinery of thin-skinned academics squashed his David without giving him a fair hearing. He does, in fairness, include evidence to back up his arguments, including depressing statistics about the building up of and default rates of student loans. Ditto for research output and publishing: in the 1990s (many of the studies Sykes uses are quite old - one wonders if things have changed in the meantime), 40% of faculty published little or nothing, and (according to a more recent studies), most articles are read by few to none readers. This is, unfortunately, accompanied by lists of shame where he mocks dissertation and publication topics; many of these topics seem to relate to gender studies and psychology. I say unfortunate because some of the topics he deems useless drivel include traumatic stress in mental health professionals and policy suggestions around obesity (and, one assumes, health) - hardly topics even a cynic sneering at anthropological studies of cultural perceptions of the body or histories of the US military (also on Sykes's list of shame) might actually see as being potentially useful. He does cherry-pick his statistics. I did not follow up on most of his numbers, but the ones I did proved to be less than representative. Sykes argues that college students are learning nothing. Some of the statistics are fairly horrifying at a first glance, although Sykes weaves between stats on all millennials and those with university degrees, confusing the matter some. Even so, in 2015 half of millennials had not reached minimum levels of reading proficiency, and 64% did not attain minimum proficiency in math (according to Educational Testing Services, the corporation running GRE and other expensive standardized tests). In 2003, most college graduates were not proficient, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). These minimum criteria seem linked to things like ability to calculate the cost of something per pound and being able to figure out an editorial's argument, so we're not talking about lofty goals here. Those are the numbers and facts cited by Sykes. Rifling through NAAL's website shows that scores actually slightly improved between 1992 and 2003, and "proficiency" is actually defined as "can perform complex and challenging literary activities" on NAAL's website. Finally, NAAL's results show that literacy scores do improve, quite significantly, with a college education (from an average score of 262 to 314). Comparisons to Finnish high-school graduates, who apparently are on level with US college graduates, are not really relevant because in Finland (as in many other countries), high school is selective. None of this negates the fact that US educational outcomes are, in places, worrisomely poor, but it makes one question Sykes's methods if not his overall argument. This is the only case where I had the curiosity to look up the actual sources, but it makes one wonder about the other numbers and arguments Sykes throws around. One of the tricky questions Sykes addresses next is the idea of "college for all." Two thirds of Americans now go to college, but many never graduate, while those who do graduate often go on to do jobs that do not require a BA. I agree with Sykes's overall ideas: that the assumption that every needs or is capable of earning a BA is toxic, that it results in many people going into debt for no clear rewards, and all this resulting, ironically, in increased stigma for vulnerable groups as a push for "college for all!" results in a lack of a degree being seen as a terrible shortcoming. What I was left wondering about was the flipside. Why should people attend college? Those who manage to graduate do, at least according to universities' propaganda, earn much higher wages than those who don't. College has, at least for some, potential for an entry into the middle class, and this is something not addressed by Sykes. The next section discusses bloat. The number of administrators and non-academic staff have ballooned, in some instances (Arizona State) doubling in less than two decades. Again, Sykes reserves special ire for positions aiming to advance diversity; the numbers regarding admin bloat seem damning, and one can ask if layering on endless administrators is the best way to advance diversity, but surely Sykes could have found worse examples of overspending. And indeed he does. He lists massive infrastructure projects and athletic programs. Again, the numbers are staggering, and I for one did not realize that most of even very successful and high-profile college athletics programs were running deficits. Regarding infrastructure, Sykes insists that students themselves don't want fancy athletic complexes. This contradicts my admittedly anecdotal experience of development officers and admissions staff being frustrated that donor and student alike prefer to spend money on shiny facilities than fellowships, hiring new faculty, or other things that might support learning and teaching. The next section focuses on hoaxes and scandals. Springer, while a credible publisher, isn't thought of very highly among many academics - and the reputation seems warranted, given how Sykes tells of how they published papers by "Ike Antkare," a fake academic producing "articles" that were in actuality computer-generated gibberish curated by Cyril Labbé, an actual scientist. Sykes notes how "Ike" was one of the most-cited authors for a while, but doesn't mention that this was mostly (or only?) because his articles cited his other work. Certainly something to make one question the value of certain algorithms measuring "impact," but hardly the same as the wider scientific community embracing the work; it's a flaw in measurement rather than a flaw in the readership. On the educational front, the UNC Chapel Hill scandal, where hundreds of students were given high grades in exchange for handing in papers ranging from plagiarized to bad, is mentioned. Again, the stuff of nightmares, but one wonders about cherry-picking once more: Sykes mentions fake journals, but it's not clear how many of the gibberish articles were published in those versus journals that have at least some level of academic integrity. Springer, as mentioned, is an "actual" publisher, and they should feel embarrassed. Many of the other journals, it is implied, might be the type that send me cold emails addressing me as Professor (I'm not) and copy-pasting the titles of my articles onto a template, offering to kindly publish them for me (even though they've already been published) for a modest fee. It seems unfair to hold academia responsible for journals like that publishing garbage, as it would be like blaming Nigerian elites for email from "Nigerian princes." The next section is called "Victim U." Sykes discusses examples of false accusations of rape and professors being interrogated for suggesting a student should capitalize "White" along with "Black." His examples seem well-researched, although of course extremely cherry-picked and wrapped in offensive rhetoric. He brings up the wildly different estimates in the prevalence of on-campus rape, ranging from 20% to 0.6%. Some digging up reveals a lot of discussion on the causes of this. One of the main drivers seems to be how sexual violence is defined and how questions are posed: surveys asking about "rape" result in much lower prevalence than surveys that describe unwanted touching, sex, and sex while incapacitated. In any case, I think Sykes has a general point about excesses and paranoia, but the anecdotal nature of the chapters doesn't really delve into more nuanced discussions about political correctness and sexual violence on campus. And finally, the solutions: MOOCs, shorter degrees, and leaner universities. Given Sykes's criticism of conventional universities, his plentiful praise of MOOCs is a little surprising. I think many of his points are valid: there is much to be said about democratizing education, allowing people to study at their own pace, giving more people access to top instructors at elite universities. However, as someone who has taken a few MOOCs, his idea that MOOCs are more rigorous than sit-in classes strikes me as preposterous. Of course, the online infrastructure works better for certain things, such as programming courses where each participant is asked to submit their code (although what's to stop them from plagiarizing it), but peer-reviewed assignments are frequently flooded with lorem ipsut that gets a top grade with the understanding that others will return the favor. As for the idea for shorter, leaner degrees, I'm in support of Sykes. This would, of course, change the conventional college experience, but his point about not everyone needing four years of coursework is a valid one. In short, Sykes makes many valid criticisms and has good suggestions, but they're often undermined by his provocateur prose and liberal use of statistics. I am curious about the idea he floats (not invented by him) of hybrid degrees allowing students to enter a university with a certain number of online credits.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Sykes thinks that college is a joke that the Universities are playing/preying on the undergraduate students. Tuition is rising, administration staff is growing out of proportion to students and staff, political correctness and safe spaces are on the rise. Why I started it: Eye catching title... but after 10 minutes I knew that it would be a battle to finish the book because of the author's immediate political stance and aggressive hyperbole. Why I finished it: It is necessary and good to listen to Sykes thinks that college is a joke that the Universities are playing/preying on the undergraduate students. Tuition is rising, administration staff is growing out of proportion to students and staff, political correctness and safe spaces are on the rise. Why I started it: Eye catching title... but after 10 minutes I knew that it would be a battle to finish the book because of the author's immediate political stance and aggressive hyperbole. Why I finished it: It is necessary and good to listen to someone on the other side of an issue with you, to learn their perspective and look for their solutions. Sykes solution is to do away with tenure and research at universities. He argues that some research is frivolous, so all research is frivolous. The Wright brothers were called that. Telecommunications are based on the frivolous branch of mathematics from the 1800s of wave mecahnics... the list is long. And if the Universities don't do the long term, "frivolous" research, who will? As I've recently read The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation less and less private companies are willing to invest in long term research. Sykes argues that college sports suck more money out of the Universities than they contribute. And that they don't help and can actually harm the college athletes. I agree. He thinks that colleges shouldn't step into the investigations of rape victims and that too many are being falsely accused. I disagree, and the news shows that there are far more rapes/assaults being covered up than made up. #OhioState #MichiganStateUniversity #MeToo MOOC - online courses are Sykes solution to the many problems. I'm not convinced. Many companies from Google to Pixar are having their employees come to the office so that they can bounce ideas off each other in hallways or the cafeteria. (Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration) Face it, people want to get into the prestigious universities not only for the classes, the professors, and bragging rights... but also for the networking. Thought provoking ideas: 4 stars Condescending tone: 2 stars Research: 1 star - self referencing a book that you wrote years ago, doesn't count as research. Anecdotes without context, doesn't count as research either.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jerrid Kruse

    The book is well written and appears to be well supported, but that support is suspect. While there are many things wrong with higher education, this author has simply highlighted already popularized accounts of instances of university failings. The anecdotal nature of the examples, combined with the complete lack of effort to provide any balance in the discussion result in a series of strawman arguments. While these straw men might point to more comprehensive issues, the lack of nuance means The book is well written and appears to be well supported, but that support is suspect. While there are many things wrong with higher education, this author has simply highlighted already popularized accounts of instances of university failings. The anecdotal nature of the examples, combined with the complete lack of effort to provide any balance in the discussion result in a series of strawman arguments. While these straw men might point to more comprehensive issues, the lack of nuance means the recommendations fall flat for anyone familiar with the reality of universities today. I was particularly surprised that the author spent so much time lamenting the lack of faculty-student interaction and subsequently argued for MOOCs as a viable solution to the problems. Any of the issues addressed that have merit (e.g., administrative bloat) are obvious to anyone inside higher ed, but the author believes he is saying something new. In the end, the author seems to have a bit of a messianic complex with respect to his ideas (which are not new) and the fate of higher ed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Achord

    A biting assessment of the state of public higher education. The book is well reasoned and copiously documented. However, the author takes liberties with his rhetoric that, at times, strains the work into a more polemical light than it need be. Overall, students and potential students, teachers and parents, professors and administrators should all read this book and consider their options in a world where college is growing old, bloated, and very much unlike what education is supposed to be. A biting assessment of the state of public higher education. The book is well reasoned and copiously documented. However, the author takes liberties with his rhetoric that, at times, strains the work into a more polemical light than it need be. Overall, students and potential students, teachers and parents, professors and administrators should all read this book and consider their options in a world where college is growing old, bloated, and very much unlike what education is supposed to be. Chapter nine is worth the entire book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrianna

    Is there a chance this author wrote a book called ProfScam? I'm not sure, I think he might have mentioned it. Oh wait, he mentioned it dozens of times per chapter! Ii expected so much more from this book. All the interesting information could have filled about one chapter - the rest was endless griping and rehashing of the same exact arguments. Don't waste your time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christina Gagliano

    I read most of this book because I got the picture right away--in fact, all you really needed to do was read the chapter titles to get the picture: higher education is grossly overpriced, not challenging enough, and producing a generation of whiners who are under-prepared for the workforce. Tell me something I didn't know, and provide better answers for what can realistically be done about it!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Frank Schwarz

    Interesting information. Explains what each of us knows...the cost of a college degree is unbearable. Also, the payoff in meaningful employment is shrinking.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Budd Margolis

    Goodreads star rating system should be more precise. This book is not a 4 star but maybe 3.6 There is an obvious conservative bias which influences many of the critical points being made. This is an attack against Federal funding of Universities and student loans which is connected to subprime loans and a bubble crisis. Universities are spending huge sums on stadiums and sport centers but very few programs deliver a return. Professors hardly teach underclass, grade inflation and the reduction of Goodreads star rating system should be more precise. This book is not a 4 star but maybe 3.6 There is an obvious conservative bias which influences many of the critical points being made. This is an attack against Federal funding of Universities and student loans which is connected to subprime loans and a bubble crisis. Universities are spending huge sums on stadiums and sport centers but very few programs deliver a return. Professors hardly teach underclass, grade inflation and the reduction of the value of a degree continues. There are too many Universities and endless expansion is going to backfire and soon. Why do we need expensive loans for Starbuck baristas? Sex abuse on campus is a problem but is it 1 in 5 or .06 rate of rape? Campuses should not police or provide a justice system to their student bodies. We do not need everyone to have a 4-year degree. Harvard could have 10m online students in 10 years and online degrees could be FREE. So, some good points and I agree we must debate and improve schools and this debate should have started decades ago and never stopped. There is no mention of better systems such as in Finland, France the UK where an undergraduate degree takes just 3 years and students are provided with affordable loan schemes. I disagree with the idea that a liberal arts degree is a waste of time but I understand that not everyone is suited for or will benefit from such an education. We need to promote an affordable system which provides better skills and programs for the next generation. This downward trend of quality is gaining speed and getting worse, not better. This book raises all these points and more and has a few ideas which spark the debate. The only problem is no one had taken the bait.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Montefour

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Not good. While the author had some good points I found they were all tossed out the window once I read his chapters on grievance and rape. Shame on him. I can agree that yes, there are times when the victim isn't really the victim and fabrication and embellished facts twist what really happened. But what about the thousands of times when it really is rape? I don't recommend this book. If you're a parent of college age kids or soon to be college bound, get your facts elsewhere or at least read Not good. While the author had some good points I found they were all tossed out the window once I read his chapters on grievance and rape. Shame on him. I can agree that yes, there are times when the victim isn't really the victim and fabrication and embellished facts twist what really happened. But what about the thousands of times when it really is rape? I don't recommend this book. If you're a parent of college age kids or soon to be college bound, get your facts elsewhere or at least read this with great caution. I agree there's colleges and universities out there who fail our kids. But I also think a lot of it is due to students not being prepared and thus unable to stand up for themselves or even wanting to.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joey Bredesen

    Decent book, but insensitive on trigger warnings, safe spaces, rape and PC. Good points on campus athletics and cheating, debatable on tenure, and missing the point on online learning. I think some of it will replace the conventional classroom, but you need the give and take of the classroom and MOOC charged at free is not sustainable; you are going to at the least need someone to do busy work: answering questions, grading paper (teacher assistants) etc. And missing the point on funding. Free Decent book, but insensitive on trigger warnings, safe spaces, rape and PC. Good points on campus athletics and cheating, debatable on tenure, and missing the point on online learning. I think some of it will replace the conventional classroom, but you need the give and take of the classroom and MOOC charged at free is not sustainable; you are going to at the least need someone to do busy work: answering questions, grading paper (teacher assistants) etc. And missing the point on funding. Free college boosts graduation rates. Good point on how students need some skin in the game as it relates to online learning.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Kadmon

    Most (but not all) criticisms are more or less on point, but the book is light on data and heavy on emotionally laden anecdotes. The author is conservative and in typical fashion muddies the waters with shrill anecdotes of extreme cases designed to generate outrage while spending insufficient time on data and specifics of management models and trends, and certainly not enough time supporting his arguments with evidence. The tragedy of it is that for many of his arguments there are reams of it Most (but not all) criticisms are more or less on point, but the book is light on data and heavy on emotionally laden anecdotes. The author is conservative and in typical fashion muddies the waters with shrill anecdotes of extreme cases designed to generate outrage while spending insufficient time on data and specifics of management models and trends, and certainly not enough time supporting his arguments with evidence. The tragedy of it is that for many of his arguments there are reams of it out there. This book could have been so much better. Unfortunately it is not the book on the subject I was looking for.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Mullady

    The premise is a good one. That the skyrocketing amount of student debt and questionable amount of learning that occurs in some institutions is a significant problem in today’s and future higher learning That being said, the author frequently refers to his own writing and in some cases uses limited examples to state that things like sexual assault are overblown on campuses due to political correctness. Something I can’t agree with. It was underwhelmed

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris Hart

    If you've been paying attention for the last few decades, most of the content of this book won't come as any surprise. The author spends a lot of ink on citing a previous book of his, which comes across as a bit disingenuous--was there no other research worth doing? Second half of the book picks up a little as it cites actual situations on campuses these days rather than statistics.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karla

    I believe the author had some good points - not everyone needs to go to college, the dumbing down of the curriculum, the emphasis on research instead of teaching. However his writing style was too much of a rant and not enough substance (he also referred to his previous book an inordinate number of times).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tabitha Payton

    DNF, book was too dry and seemed to be a regurgitation of author's previous book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kyra Hahn

    Insights into how college isn't working for everyone who attends. Could serve as a warning to parents to prepare children for sending them off into.

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