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A Message from the Author - Andrew Hacker '51

Andrew Hacker '51

Most of my books have been quite sweeping in scope, dealing with  race and sex and wealth, not to mention the fate of the American nation.  But a few years ago, my domestic partner Claudia Dreifus, suggested that I descend  from my Olympian perch and look at my own backyard: the academic world, which I’ve inhabited all of my adult life.  I agreed; but on the condition that we write it together. She’s an award-winning journalist, and would ensure that the book would focus on real people. That’s how Higher Education? got started.

The best way to give a taste of what we’ve done is to cite some of our chapter headings, which convey much of what we say.

 In real dollars, tuition charges have tripled in the last generation, more than any purchase Americans are called upon to make.  Why College Costs So Much explains why.  One cause is proliferating bureaucracies (“director of “collaborative engagement,”  “coordinator of learning immersion experiences”). Another is an amenities arms race (five-story climbing walls, orange-ginger tofu steak for dinner). In these and other cases, it’s students who pay, with two-thirds now graduating in debt.

 College sports entertain close to 100 million spectators each year, with many more watching on the tube. Yet of the 629 football teams, only 14 cover their costs.  The Athletics Incubus shows how even low-profile teams skew campus priorities.  The University of Texas spends  $56,859 on each of its volley ball players, leaving less money for classroom instruction.

 Even at liberal arts colleges, promotions now call for research, not dedicated teaching.  Almost a third of the Williams faculty is on sabbaticals in a typical year.  The Professoriate wonders how much of what they publish is really needed. In a recent 14-year period, academics churned out 2,791 papers on William Faulkner.  Their real purpose: to bulk up résumés.

 Medical care is supposed to enhance a nation’s health.  And higher education?  In The College Crucible: Add Students and Stir, we ask how  those classroom-campus years actually affect individuals.  In fact, holders of  bachelors’ degrees do differ from their high school counterparts.  But not in ways colleges would like you to believe.

 As should be evident, we’re not pleased with many of the turns higher education has been taking.  Too much of it isn’t higher;  much isn’t  even education.  (We don’t count fashion merchandising or resort management as liberal arts.)  But in our travels, we came across several  Schools We Like.  We explain why Arizona State University and Notre Dame, and Evergreen State College and Raritan Valley Community College, do better by their students than many institutions with prestige names. 



The Class of 1951 have recognized Andy Hacker's intellect, wit and courage for all these years, if each in his own way.  Andy has framed the nation's discourse on the vital challenges of our time: money, sex, race and now education.  What the authors document does accord with my own lifelong experience with education. Thanks to them both.   Charlie Tritschler '51








I have read through chapter 12 of Higher Education?  Before I finish I want to ask about an issue that arises in chapter 12.  As graduates of one of the authors' Golden Dozen elite institutions, what might we think about the report from Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger suggesting "that for good students it doesn't really matter where they go (to college)"?

The authors point out that the suggestion is borne out by their follow-up study of Princeton graduates.  These two reports are hardly the last word on the matter and they may not be compelling for many of us.  On the other hand, it would seem that the burden of proof is on the individual elite institution when it claims or implies that it does more, perhaps much more, for its undergraduates than do institutions that are not listed among the Golden Dozen.  It seems fair to ask: Does Amherst demonstrate (or how could Amherst demonstrate) that its undergraduates are more likely to lead lives of consequence as a result of attending Amherst than if those same students attended a second or even a third tier institution?