Monday, September 12, 2016

McDonald’s And Higher Ed





By Professor Doom

     There’s this nice video from Prager U, from a young person explaining how she learned more at McDonald’s than at college. The key idea of the video is when she went to college, she was coddled and given the following advice from the college administrators:

1)    Ask for help when you need it

2)    Speak up when you feel uncomfortable

3)    Place your own well being above all other concerns

     For what it’s worth, the first piece of advice above is good: there are many lonely professors, sitting in their offices, wishing students would come for help. It probably was the advice faculty gave incoming students, decades ago. When administration took over, they followed the faculty advice, and then added two more pieces of advice to it. The new pieces of advice are questionable at best. The college made the new student know that what was important was for her to feel good, and the institution would do whatever it takes to keep her from feeling offended (and she gets to define what offends her!).

     The student realizes this is ridiculous advice, advice that, if she followed, would not make it possible for her to work at McDonald’s…which she needed to do to go to the college which was teaching her “skills” that would make her unemployable, even at McDonald’s.

      Obviously to her (but not to higher education administrators) this is ridiculous advice. She explains McDonald’s advice to be more practical:

      “The most important thing to McDonald’s was not how I felt, but how my customers felt…”

      “It strengthened my character, my work ethic, and my sense of my own resilience…”


      The strengthening she received working at McDonalds is simply not possible in college, where such goals have long since been abandoned (they used to exist, as anyone who reviews campus mission statements from a century ago can see). It’s a good video, but it doesn’t address why McDonald’s—not exactly an employer held in high esteem—is now doing the job higher education used to do. The video dances around the answer. 

     Let me highlight the answer the video doesn’t, by summarizing the video:

      The student mentions that at McDonald’s, she’s told to coddle the customers in every way, do whatever it takes to make the customer happy…even if the customer is being ridiculous. At the college, the student is reassured that she will be coddled in every way, that administration will do whatever it takes to make her happy…no matter how ridiculous her concerns.

      The realization of what’s going on is thus made clear: she’s the customer of the college. I’ve written before of the “student as customer” idiocy that has warped higher education…but seeing as so few commenters on the video see what’s going on, it’s worth going over again, at least lightly:

     The student loan scam warped higher education. Successful institutions of higher education no longer needed to focus on education, and instead just needed to focus on getting people to sign up for student loans. It’s why for-profit schools spend as little money as possible on education, and a great amount of money on advertising to pull in more suckers students. 

     The kids on campus today aren’t simply customers…they’re high paying customers, and you better believe admin is very motivated to keep these customers on campus as long as possible. The comparisons between McDonald’s and higher education don’t just end at how they treat their customers, however.

     McDonald’s cashiers are trained to say “would you like fries with that?” This tactic is called “cross selling” (selling to an established customer) and is very successful, adding millions of dollars of sales. Higher education does the same, bloating out the course offerings with classes on Game of Thrones, Gilligan’s Island, and other topics. Regularly indulging in these courses is just as bad for your education as extra orders of fries are for your waistline.

      The cross selling doesn’t end with fluff courses, however. Open admissions policies extended the user base to people holding little interest in education, and the real money came in offering remedial coursework, based around 9th grade, 7th grade, 5th grade, and, I promise you, even 3rd grade material, greatly increasing sales. More insidiously, courses needed for a degree can be offered sparsely, making it difficult if not impossible for students to graduate on time—this is a double bonus, as it traps students on campus even longer, and keeps the costs of hiring educators with real skills low. Win-win for admin!

      This last part touches on a difference between McDonald’s and higher education. See, McDonald’s actually cares about its employees, to the point that it warns them away from eating McDonald’s food. On the other hand, higher education seems determined to screw over the teachers as brutally as it screws over the students.

Online Master's, PhD Programs 

Every degree program is 100% online, all the time, on your tablet, laptop, and even your smart phone.

--from Capella’s website. I know many admin get their degrees here, because it’s so convenient.


      Getting back to comparisons, one of the major selling points of McDonald’s is convenience (and please understand, in no way am I encouraging the gentle reader to eat here, I’m simply discussing a selling point). In the same vein, higher education sells its wares regularly as “convenient.” A great number of education degrees are available fully online—isn’t that what you want to hear from the teacher of your child, that she became a teacher because it’s convenient? It’s positively ridiculous on the face of it that people are pursuing knowledge as convenience…this whole corrupted system is due to the student loan scam. Get rid of that, and all the other corruptions will decrease greatly.

      Now, I’m not criticizing McDonald’s for the things they do, at least not vociferously. They’re a business, they’re supposed to give the customer what he wants.

      On the other hand, higher education is supposed to act with integrity. Every institution, as part of its accreditation affirming that it is a legitimate institution, promises to act with integrity, and puts that promise in writing. And so, yes, I have a real problem with higher education being difficult to distinguish from a fast food joint, even a successful one, and it doesn’t help that the most significant difference between higher education and McDonald’s is McDonald’s actually cares about its employees.