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Education Reporter

The Five-Year Party, Craig Brandon, Benbella Books 2010, 235 pages, $14.95.
College tuition is climbing at three times the rate of inflation even as recent studies show students are learning very little. Veteran education reporter and former college journalism professor Craig Brandon charges that as many as 400 colleges have become more like expensive adolescent resorts than institutions of higher learning.

These "sub-prime" schools advertise a university education to parents and taxpayers, but deliver a non-stop party to students who want a diploma but not an education. The primary goal for these schools is student retention, which keeps the tuition dollars and taxpayer funding flowing. Satisfying students takes precedence over all else, and education is optional.

These schools spend millions on deluxe features in order to attract students looking for the best party while parents, taxpayers, and student loans pick up the tab. For example, the University of Houston has a five-story climbing wall surrounded by boulders and palm trees, Washington State University boasts a Jacuzzi that seats 53, and The Ohio State University is spending $140 million to build an entertainment complex with kayaks and canoes, indoor batting cages, ropes courses, and more.

If students are too distracted by drinking parties and entertainment options to actually go to class and study, it's no big deal. Professors are pressured to dumb down courses and give only As and Bs to all students, notwithstanding actual class attendance or academic performance.

Even though little is required of them, many students now take five years to complete a four-year degree. Sub-prime colleges actually view this trend favorably because it means another year of income from the same customers (otherwise known as students).

A party-school campus can also be quite dangerous because of rampant binge-drinking; 1,700 college students a year die from alcohol abuse and an estimated 100,000 are the victims of sexual assault and date rape. Another 100,000 report being too drunk to remember if they gave sexual consent. Even nondrinkers are victims of drunken assaults and property damage.

The book also exposes the drastic steps party schools use to cover up student crimes. Officials hide behind federal privacy laws as an excuse not to notify parents about even serious issues such as addictions or felony arrests.

Brandon concludes with smart questions parents can ask to identify and avoid sending their children to party schools. One of the best: How many of the school's professors send their own kids there?

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