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To the editor: 

Teaching professor of engineering Justin Shaffer seriously misleads readers with his question, his source, his logic, and his arithmetic in his June 7 essay "How Much Do Students Pay to Attend Your Class?" Over all, he actively trivializes teaching while succumbing to a fallacious context free fall into simplistic economics. 

First, the effort itself to calculate the cost of minutes (3 minutes in his introduction) debases teaching and learning themselves. 

Second, he seems unaware that U.S. News and World Report is the least reliable of all sources about colleges and universities. All data is self-reported, unchecked by any outside parties. This is why knowledgeable people turn to Times Higher Education, Washington Monthly, and now DegreeChoices for more reliable, comparable data. 

Third, it is also well-known (and publicized in Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere) that all reported “costs” not only vary from institution to institution but include all matters of fees that have no relation to the actual costs for time spent in either in-person, online, or hybrid instruction. 

Thus, the exercise is not only misguided but fallacious. 

But why, at a time of an incoherent wave of “skepticism” about the “value” of college education, would any educator wish to calculate what amounts to a misleading and in fact counter-productive “cost per minute” of something or other? I do not understand that. Is that the engineering teaching professors understanding of “catalyzing” instructors and students? 

Relatedly, in his June 9 “Higher Ed Gamma” blog post, Steven Mintz errs first in referring to lack of knowledge about higher education as “illiteracy” and misunderstanding early American colleges as places for the sons of the wealthy. They were primary vocational schools for future clergy and a much smaller number of administrators. More than a few studies are accurately titled “paupers and scholars.” 

--Harvey J. Graff
Professor Emeritus of English and History
Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies,  and Academy Professor
Ohio State University

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