Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Kansas U Gets The Finger

By Professor Doom

     The first year of college, the freshman year, is the worst. I’ve seen many a good student (including the valedictorian in my high school class) come to campus, and, given no direction by rapacious admin, get sucked into the party atmosphere…drinking (or worse) away their chance at an education. They throw away their first semester, then admin “gives them another chance” with extremely loose policies (and still no guidance), and they waste another semester.

     I’ve seen plenty of not-so-good students wipe out in their freshman year as well. It used to be they vanished after the first semester, but those loose policies keep them on year after year, sucking them dry of student loan money before admin finally lets those kids go.

     In times past, it was no great dishonor to drop out of college after a semester or two. Nowadays, dropping out is such an achievement, and doing so with outstanding loans is such a disaster, there’s a stigma attached to it. There really shouldn’t be…and college shouldn’t be so ridiculously expensive, especially considering most schools, most degrees, really are scams, or at least grotesquely overpriced.

     For years, only the administrators in higher education knew what a rip-off most of higher education was. Slowly, faculty started to figure it out…either by seeing the pay that administrators get (which you don’t learn about at the school, but is posted online. I never had an admin tell me his salary), or seeing the infinitesimal graduation rates (again, available online, though never in 25 years has an admin told me about it), or perhaps just by counting cars in the parking lot when admin insists a thousand students are in class.

      Today, anyone in higher education who cares to know, knows what’s going on, and this knowledge is filtering to the students. We see the really bright students figure out that college, at least in most cases, simply isn’t worth it at all. Now even the mediocre students are figuring there’s a real problem with what’s going on in higher ed.

     The latest mediocre student to figure it out is, or was, from Kansas State University:

Billy Willson finished his first (and his last) semester at Kansas State University this week -- and in so doing has set off a debate there and beyond on the value of college and of general education in particular.

In a Facebook post, he announced that he was dropping out, despite having earned a 4.0 grade point average.

--his post also included a picture of him giving the finger to KSU.

     Now, a 4.0 GPA used to be amazing, but not so much anymore. My own GPA was a used-to-be-respectable 3.5, but nowadays that’s a pretty mediocre GPA. Grade inflation is so ridiculous now that professors don’t even use GPA to determine student caliber, and many institutions now have an “A+” grade, allowing for 4.3 GPAs. This makes all previous GPAs even more meaningless. I again point out there’s a trivially easy fix for the grade inflation that wouldn’t even require raising standards or cut into graduation rates, but I know it just won’t happen. I do note that any school with the integrity to do such a fix will suddenly find itself rated as an elite school…not that there’s any interest in that anymore, as “growth” is the only goal administrators pursue.

      Anyway, this kid is walking away from college, but I maintain he’s no great genius—I say this not to insult him, but to illustrate that the higher education scam is becoming as well-known as a fraud as Three Card Monte. Let’s take a look at his reasons for him to announce, correctly, that “YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED”:

You are being put thousands into debt to learn things you will never even use.

     I still have the Hamlet Soliloquy memorized. Granted, I was forced to learn it in high school…but it’s taken years for me to really appreciate the prose I was forced to memorize.

     Have I ever “used” it? Nope. Nothing in the premise of “higher education” says it will be useful. That said, I’m grateful for my teachers who forced the knowledge into me when I was too young to understand what I should know, as they laid the foundations for me to learn ever more things which I found ever more important.

     Important to me.

     I do understand all this knowledge will be of no value to many, and I agree with the student that going deep into debt is the wrong approach for gaining knowledge.

 Wasting 4 years of your life to be stuck at a paycheck that grows slower than the rate of inflation….. Average income has increased 5x over the last 40 years while cost of college has increased 18x… You're spending thousands of dollars to learn information you won't ever even use just to get a piece of paper."

     I do wish the kid had looked into the student loan scam, and had been forced to learn some real (i.e., non-Keynesian) economics, the better to understand why we’re seeing no paycheck growth in the economy.

Paying $200 for a $6 textbook

      Hoo boy, that is a rip off. Many students now use (“illegal”) PDFs of their course texts, although institutions are countering with “user fees” forcing the students to cough up money on top of tuition to account for the revenue that used to be claimed by the textbook sales. It’s nuts, and indicative of a system, that, yes, is a scam.

“Being taught by teacher's [sic] who have never done what they're teaching”

     Considering how popular Sexual Deviancy classes are on campus, I consider this something of a plus. That said, I think the kid is a bit confused here. I assure you, I do the math I teach in my class. I guess he’s talking about job training? Again, he should look into how admin controls the hiring, and the less they pay the faculty, the more money they get for themselves. It’s not complicated, and, bottom line, admin isn’t about to pay the market value for someone with “useful” job skills.

 "Colleges are REQUIRING people to spend money taking gen. ed. Courses”

     The “gen ed” courses are always a struggle for me, philosophically. I hate forcing people to do things, but I also hate just how ignorant so many college graduates are. The reason why these courses are mandatory is because it’s written into accreditation that college graduates are to have basic knowledge of a broad range of subjects…back when education was cheap, it was ok to make some things mandatory.

     Strangely, admin has rewritten everything in accreditation that gave some quality to the education, but kept these mandatory gen ed courses which force students to be on campus for years trying to learn material they have no interest in learning. We should ask some questions about that, because every year the serious courses in gen ed like mathematics and literature get watered down, or removed, and replaced with laughable courses in socialism, gender studies, and ethnic studies courses which no scholar considers a foundation for academic education.

     When I went to college, I spent around $1500 a year for tuition. Nowadays, students spend more than that just on books,  “user fees,” “student activity fees,” “parking fees,” and a whole host of other yearly fees that don’t even figure into the average yearly tuition now, of roughly $25,000.

      Because college is so expensive now, students must take loans. The only rational reason for taking a loan is to get something that will pay off the loan. So even as I rationalize we should have gen ed courses, I admit the reality: at the prices we’re charging for “higher education,” we should abandon much of it in favor of “job training.”

“… to learn about the quadratic formula (and other shit they will never use)…”

      And here’s where I learn that this 4.0 student is actually pretty mediocre. The quadratic formula is taught in high school. I learned it in the 10th grade, and I tutor high school students who, even today, learn it in the 10th grade. So this kid is already 2 years behind college material…and yes, that makes him an average “college student” as, like most college students, he’s merely learning the material he should have learned in high school. 

      The funny thing is, the kid says he wants to be an architect. I wish him good luck building things without knowing much in the way of math. He’s dropping out of college despite his misguided architectural dream, and I’m fine with that, because he’s correct in that it’s just too expensive right now.

     I hope someone teaches him about libraries, and I trust he knows how to read because there’s nothing he’ll learn at KSU that he can’t just read and learn on his own for free.

     One more tidbit from his rant:

“…when they could be giving classes on MARRIAGE and HOW TO DO YOUR TAXES."

        I honestly thought the point of the state education system was to create educated citizens. Shouldn’t we be alarmed that our high school graduates don’t, apparently, know about marriage and how to do “your” taxes (I’ve always hated that phrase, as those taxes are not “yours” in any meaningful since. I do concede “how pay squeeze to the government so they don’t hurt you” is a bit too cumbersome though far more accurate).

So, on the one hand, good riddance, Kansas State! On the other hand, why do your students study middle school (or, at best, early high school) topics in college? Do they get college credits for taking these courses? Why was such an ignorant individual ever admitted to any university? How on earth was he able to get a 4.0 GPA during his first semester?!

--from the comments section. Lots of people outside the system just have no idea what higher education is today, so they don’t know that high school material and 4.0 GPAs are typical for college.

        In any event, I wish the kid well and my point remains: even the average students are starting to realize higher education all too often doesn’t make any sense. Is there even a chance it will change before there are no suckers left to buy into it?