Saturday, January 16, 2016

The 1870 Harvard Entrance Exam…And Student Loans

By Professor Doom

     Every few months it seems, an old 8th grade exam makes the internet rounds. The questions on the exam generally blow away high school graduates of today, and usually the difficulty of the exam is hand-waved away—“oh, it was mostly just local knowledge” and “nobody really passed it, or was expected to.”

     Old tests are a surprisingly valuable historical resource. Old textbooks aren’t nearly as reliable for indicating what students learn, since it’s never a sure thing that any particular topic in the book is actually covered. Heck, today’s community colleges are so unhinged that it’s common enough for almost nothing of the textbook to be used, and we know this because we can look at the tests and see with our own eyes what students are expected to learn. This blog might not even exist but that I looked at tests I gave over a decade ago, and realized “if I gave tests like this today, I’d end up failing the whole class.”

      A 19th century Harvard entrance examination surfaced recently, and it’s a nice artifact of what people knew back then. About 90% of students that took this test, passed it. We really need to bring back entrance examinations, so that only people who are interested in learning actually end up in college. Old accreditation actually mandated entrance exams, but “modern” accreditation got rid of that, because it cut into growth—anything that gets in the way of those sweet, sweet, student loan checks has been removed from higher education.

     Because Harvard had such a “difficult” exam, weeding out the bottom 10% of applicants, it kept its reputation as a fine school into the 20th century. Instead of spending its time on teaching students basic material anyone with an interest could learn in a few months, Harvard classes were allowed to focus the knowledge that made humanity great.

      On the other hand, the student loan scam got rid of entrance exams at many institutions—there was just way, way, too much money on the line. Sure, you could have an entrance exam, but that meant no administrative palaces or gigantic salaries. Not having an exam meant the Poo Bah could count on a salary and benefits package of a million dollars or more. Educators were fine with entrance exams, but it was administration that got to decide whether to have them or not, and well, we can see how that decision went.

     Entrance exams are gone, on many campuses, and anyone who wants checks can come to campus and get them. Getting an education, however, is not an option at many campuses.

     Now, on many campuses, 90% of the material taught is high school level, 8th grade level, even 3rd grade level material. Something like 25% of our “higher education” resources now go into 6th grade level or lower coursework, assuming the course has any work at all in it. The student loan scam provides money for “college credits,” not education, and so colleges offer loads of useless coursework, producing at best, graduates with no measurable skills, and, more likely, dropouts…degree or not, they exit college with student debt, while the administrators  nigh give themselves hernias from laughing so hard at the suckers as they leave.

      We’re told colleges that have such exams are elitist, but the gentle reader should consider the following:

Just to the left of that admission in the Sept. 27, 1870, newspaper — a Tuesday — another frequent advertiser, Columbia College, was spreading the word in its ad that spots could still be had in its freshman class when classes resumed on Monday, Oct. 3. Candidates for admission, it stated, would “be received” at the college that Friday and Saturday, no appointment necessary.

 …students without plans in September could find themselves ensconced in a top-flight university by October…

      You could walk into top schools before the student loan scam, and you didn’t have to jump through hoops a year or more in advance just to have a slight chance of being accepted for the “privilege” of going deep into debt…you just had to know things. The cost of tuition was minimal…if you could do the work. We now give out piles of student loan money, and those top schools are inaccessible to all but the very wealthy. The kids that know nothing are free to deeply indebt themselves forever while going to schools that, well, are the opposite of “top.” This, regrettably, is the only “benefit” of the student loan scam.

     So what’s the takeaway from the Harvard entrance exam?

     That exam could only exist in a world without the student loan scam. The student loan scam has warped education, and instead of allowing anyone who wanted an education and was willing to work for it to get it, we now allow anyone foolish enough to sign up for debt servitude to get that, instead.

     That’s our first takeaway from the Harvard entrance examination. Next time, I’ll talk about the implications of the Harvard exam for Common Core, because it’s even more disastrous than the student loan scam.

     Much more disastrous, by far.