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Tuesday, December 13, 2011


As a college professor himself, you might expect senator Jim Summerville to pitch softballs to higher education, you know, the " We need more money" or "Its not our fault" sort of thing when talking about how we can improve higher education.


He crushes them.

Time was, a bachelor’s degree from a Tennessee public college or university meant that one had received a solid grounding in core subjects: writing and literature, a foreign language, U.S. history or government, economics, mathematics, and science.

But that’s no longer true.

At some campuses, students can pick from a wide range of courses, some of them narrow, specialized, weak in content, or slanted to the instructor’s political views. The fact that an institution has requirements called “Literature” or “Science” does not mean that students will actually study those subjects.

Some schools have dropped any pretense of rigor. A person can graduate from UT-Chattanooga or UT-Martin without taking a course in literature, foreign language, U.S. history or economics. Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee State require no foreign language or economics courses, despite the oft-heard claim that we are preparing our students to compete in a global marketplace. UT-Knoxville began when America was young, but you can receive a diploma from there without studying U.S. history.

In a generation, a degree from a state college has become a degraded credential. But while its value has declined, higher education’s cost to Tennessee parents and students rises by leaps and bounds. In recent years, tuition at both the UT system and the Board of Regents schools have risen by 9-11 percent. Tuition alone (only a fraction of college expense) is two to three times what it was only a decade ago.

....One of the reasons for this inflation is administrative salaries. The chancellor of the Board of Regents (who does not even have a graduate degree) and the president of the UT system are paid six-figure salaries. This is to say nothing of the layers of vice presidents, deans and “diversity police” who live comfortably and well as long as this bubble lasts.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, puts the matter this way: “The price of attaining a college degree has skyrocketed, while the rewards have slumped. Sooner or later, people will notice that they are being asked to spend a great deal of money for a meager result.”

What’s to be done? First, the General Assembly should put a moratorium on tuition increases for three years. In that interval, we must also review and consolidate all the value-added data that are available. Let’s look at the causes for the escalating college costs, watered-down curricula, high dropout rates and crushing student loans. Maybe it’s also time to look at how more Tennesseans can achieve success, in life and in work, without college.


  1. I think the "literature, foreign language, US History and economics" courses are being misrepresented here. I went to college without taking any of those courses. There were core categories where you can choose from categories. For example, "artistic expression", "ethics", US civilizations, "Cultural Diversity and pluralism" all exist as categories where you choose what you take. You can take a foreign language course or some advanced sociology course.

    Besides, I would argue that if we're footing the bill, I would prefer my civil and mechanical engineers to be the most prepared possible. Who cares if they take US History if they are taking an advanced differential equations course instead?

  2. This devaluation of the degree at U of T is because of legislators decisions.

    FY08-FY13 TN cut higher ed funding, per student (inflation adjusted) by 30.1% - ($3,907 per student) while increasing tuition at public colleges and universities by 30.1% per student (+$1,775).

    Also, Despite rising high school graduation rates, Tennessee’s educational pipeline productivity ranks low: Only 19 of 100 ninth-graders eventually graduate from college within 150 percent of normal degree time.(http://goo.gl/ZR99n)


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