August 29, 2010


Our oldest son took his oldest daughter to school this week.  She is an entering freshman at a medium-sized university in the southeast.  He is a single dad, raising three kids by himself.  This exercise was a definite milestone in the life of their family.  Exciting times, full of promise and with all of those challenges you would expect being thrown at an eighteen year old little girl.  As we all know, by Christmas time senior year, a high school student is more than ready to move on to the next stage of their life.  Our granddaughter is a brainy young lady, really motivated, really focused and will major in environmental science, and if all goes well, then on to environmental law.  The next seven or eight years are somewhat programmed and planned.  She definitely was eager, willing and able to take the next step.

One fact mentioned during freshman orientation was the significant disparity between the number of entering freshman girls and the number of entering freshman boys.  Apparently this is a trend, at least right now in our country and one that has the attention of most members of academia.   In their words, “the boys just don’t get it!!”  Not only are those numbers turned in favor of the ladies but the dropout rate for the guys is considerably greater—disturbingly grater.  According to the US News & World Report, these facts are even more alarming when looking at the “hard” sciences; i.e. chemistry, physics, biology, math, etc, and when you factor in the engineering discipline, you see a country that seems to be in decline relative to higher education.  Since the jobs in manufacturing and industry have, to a great extent,  moved to China, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, etc. why major in a course of study in which there will be no jobs after graduation?  Does it really make that much sense to invest four or five years, plus a considerable sum of money, when there will be nothing out there when it is all over?   Zero prospects for employment is a frightening thought.  Another scary fact is the significant drop in entering medical students.  To exacerbate the situation, the “FED” has burdened the process of accepting education visas for work study so we now receive a fraction of those foreign students capable of thriving at our colleges and universities.  (By the way, these foreign students don’t need one year of remedial education prior to attempting university work.)  Instead of coming to the United States, they go to Western Europe or Canada to study. 

Let’s take a brief look at the top schools the US News & World Report say are the “benchmark schools”.  These sixteen schools are looked at first when determining trends in higher education.  They are as follows:

1.)    University of California—Berkeley

2.)    University of California—Los Angeles

3.)    University of Virginia

4.)    University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

5.)    University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

6.)    University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

7.)    University of Wisconsin—Madison

8.)    University of California—Davis

9.)    University of California—Santa Barbara

10.) University of Washington—Seattle

11.) Penn State University

12.) University of Florida

13.) University of Texas—Austin

14.) The Ohio State University

15.) University of Maryland—College Park

16.) The University of Pittsburg.

All of these schools are continuously evaluated on each of the following areas and ranked accordingly:

  1. Freshman retention rate
  2. Six year graduation rate
  3. Class size
  4. Faculty salary rates
  5. Percentage of professors who are full-time and hold the highest degree in their fields
  6. Student-faculty ratio
  7. Academic quality of students ( measured by SAT and ACT scores )
  8. Rate of acceptance of applications
  9. Per student spending
  10. Alumni giving

My school (The University of Tennessee—Knoxville) is rated number 52 on their list.  The most telling statistic is the 59.8%, six-year graduation rate with an 84% retention rate between the freshman and sophomore years.  HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!!!   I remember sitting in freshman physics class and hearing my professor pronounce the fact that two out of three students will fail out or transfer from engineering by the end of their sophomore year.  He seemed to take great pride in stating that awful fact.  In the state of Tennessee, only 21.8 percent of the residents are university graduates.  This number is barely over 25 percent for all states in our country. 

Now, if you look at the number of PhDs awarded, you will see the following ranking:

  1. Berkeley
  2. Michigan
  3. Florida
  4. UT Austin
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Illinois
  7. UCLA
  8. Ohio State
  9. Minnesota
  10. UMD College Park
  11. Purdue
  12. Penn State
  13. Washington
  14. Texas A&M
  15. UC Davis
  16. UNC
  17. Georgia
  18. Michigan State
  19. NC State
  20. Pitt
  21. Indiana
  22. Rutgers
  23. Virginia
  24. UC Santa Barbara
  25. Iowa State
  26. UT Knoxville
  27. Auburn Clemson

Impressive list but definitely not keeping up with China, India, Indonesia, etc etc.

I think one huge reason we have for the significant problems in education at the university level is the remarkable cost for that education.  Take a look at what our granddaughter is paying (or her father) per year—freshman year!)

  • Tuition                  $22,000
  • Dorm Fees          $  6,000
  • Meal Plan            $  1,800
  • Books                    $  1,200
  • Essentials            $  2,000

TOTAL                   $ 32,000 per year

Her first semester book bill was $ 513.36!  Five courses, 16 hours and used books for two of those classes.  UNBELIEVABLE and yet somewhat comparable across our country!!!!!!  We are creating a class structure by simply pricing some students out of the market.  Some students are simply unwilling to amass a $200K student loan bill when there are minimum prospects for employment after they graduate.  Let’s be fair,  our granddaughter has several scholarships and one “tidy” grant that will basically reduce the total to less than half of amount given above.  Sill,  $16K per year is a tough situation for a great number of prospective students in our country.  This is a situation that desperately needs addressing on a national level.



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