Archive for the ‘Academic majors’ Category

Free Graduate Degrees: Is This Fair?

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Some students are lucky enough to earn a free graduate degree. Others will pay tens of thousands of dollars or more for a master’s degree or PhD.

The tab – if any – often depends on what a student is studying.

If you’re bright enough to major in chemistry (an unfathomable subject for this little ole journalism major), you can get a free ride. It’s the same with many science and engineering majors. But if you want an advanced degree in business, the humanities, law or medicine, be prepared to pay dearly.

I first got a whiff of this inequity during a visit last fall with the physics chairman at Drew University in New Jersey. The chairman at this liberal arts college was telling my son Ben, a possible physics major, that he should be able to get a free graduate education just like so many of the bright kids who had gone through his department.

I mention this reality because of a commentary written by Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel Prize winner and Cornell chemist, which was published this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Hoffmann  lamented the priorities of research universities in this era of shrinking education dollars. When budgets are being cut at these institutions, the dollars are being taken out of the hide of undergrad instruction, but money to pay for teaching assistants and faculty research isn’t being touched. It’s the science grad students who serve as teaching assistants for undergrad labs and who help with faculty research.

Here’s an excerpt of what Hoffmann had to say: (more…)

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Rating College Professors

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

On a lark, I decided to attend a conference being held this week in San Diego that is focused on improving the lives of professors.  Understandably this is not a subject that worries families, who are too freaked out about paying for college.

The conference, which was sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, brought together heavy-hitter speakers, who had worked for decades to improve the teaching profession.

Here’s what struck me about the conference:  The speakers were BORING. I think my nail clipper possesses more spunk than some of these guys.  And this, of course, left me incredulous. Are these experts really the ones the higher ed world is depending on to improve the quality of teaching? Yikes.

I did walk away from the conference with a handout that shared some stunning statistics. The traditional professor who enjoys  tenure (and can apparently get away with boring lectures) is disappearing.

Here are the stats:

  • The classic tenured professor represents less than one-third of today’s college faculty.
  • Over the next decade, 40% to 60% of faculty will retire.
  • Among full-time faculty, 32% of teachers are not on the tenure track.
  • More than 50% of new full-time hires are not on the tenure track.
  • About 80% of part-time and  67% of full-time non-tenure track profs don’t hold doctorates.

Why should you care? (more…)

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The Pros and Cons of Double Majors

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Double majoring in college seems like a no brainer to many students today, who want to capture a competitive advantage in the work world.

Some academics, however, argue that double majoring doesn’t necessarily provide that edge. Even worse, double majoring keeps many students from graduating on time.

The double major issue came up when I was talking to a professor at the University of California, San Diego, about why it’s taking so long for kids to get college degrees today.

At UCSD the four-year graduation rate is 53%. While that number is underwhelming, the national average for public universities is far worse — 28%. (Here is where you can find the graduation rates for any school.)

The UCSD professor told me that the popularity of double majors is one significant reason why students at her institution — and I assume elsewhere — aren’t graduating on time. Underfunded state schools are struggling to usher students through with one major and adding an extra major gums up the system.

Here’s her suggestion for students who are contemplating double majoring: (more…)

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Engineering Majors: A Road Less Traveled

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

I’ve been a great admirer of liberal arts colleges for years. Students who  attend these colleges enjoy small classes, get to know their professors, and, per capita, they tend to go on to graduate schools in greater numbers.

My son has watched his sister thrive at her liberal arts college which prompted him to say that he’d like to attend one too. This request, however, posed one huge problem:  He hopes to be an engineer.

There are very few liberal arts colleges that offer a engineering major, which made me wonder about the effectiveness of so called 3-2 engineering programs. Here’s how they work:  You attend a liberal arts college for three years and then you transfer to an engineering school for two more years. At the end of the 5th year, the student receives a liberal arts degree and an engineering degree.

Many liberal arts colleges across the country offer these 3-2 degree programs. These colleges often align with the engineering schools at Columbia University in New York and Washington University in St. Louis. Some of the other schools that participate include Penn State, Case Western Reserve, Cal Tech and Duke.

I wondered, however, if these 3-2 programs really work. Do many future engineers participate in them? And, more importantly, do the colleges adequately prepare students for the rigors of engineering school in the fourth and fifth year of school?  (more…)

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