Most people in Milwaukee know Charlie Sykes as a leading voice in conservative talk radio.
Sykes' daily program broadcast out of WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee has become a place for high-profile guests and news-making conversations.
But the AM host has also made a name for himself as an author. He has penned eight books, many on the topic of education.
His most recent work, titled “Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education,” details Sykes' opinions on student debt, and why the cost of a college degree has increased so dramatically over the past several decades. The central question of the book: Is higher education even worth its price tag?
It’s a subject Sykes has explored in past novels, including his 1988 book "ProfScam." And he says his outlook has changed about as much as the system he’s long been critiquing.
"There's more attention on what they're calling the 'higher education bubble'," Sykes says. "You have an entire generation of students whose future is going to be impacted by the cost of higher education. And this comes at the same time that more people are questioning the value of higher education."
"I think you kind of have the perfect storm," he adds.
According to the Federal Reserve, total student debt has reached $1.3 trillion, and continues climbing. The average student graduates owing more than $30,000 in loans.
Sykes says he's not sure the quality and substance provided by America's modern colleges and universities warrants the increased costs to students and families.
He argues fewer professors spend time teaching in undergraduate courses, opting instead to conduct research and leaving instructional duties to what he calls the "academic underclass" - largely part-time and adjunct faculty, as well as graduate students.
And, Sykes surmises, the skills students are being taught aren't adequately preparing them for the workforce -- or the world. He cites findings from a 2015 study by the Educational Testing Service that U.S. millenials with a four-year bachelor's degree scored below their counterparts in nineteen out of twenty-one participating counties in literacy and math abilities.
But he does see room for reform. He makes suggestions for various different stakeholder groups -- parents, trustees, legislators, administrators, faculty -- that, in his opinion, would move the system in the right direction.
"There's so many people involved in higher education," Sykes reflects. "You have to have scholars who are going to stand up for liberal learning. You're going to have to have employers who maybe have to become more open-minded about what kind of credentials they accept. You have to have policymakers decide, are we really getting as much bang for our buck as we could?"
"And also students," Sykes says. "I think it's time for students to kind of stand up for themselves."
Sykes will appear at Boswell Books to discuss "Fail U" Thursday night at 7 p.m.