Sunday, November 24, 2013

The first of many things to do to fix to higher education

By Professor Doom


Administrator: To address the problem of students failing College Algebra, we now have an Explorations in College Algebra course which can be substituted for the original course. It doesn’t have the material the students have no use for.

Faculty: What differentiates this new course from College Algebra?

Administrator (without shame): It’s algebra without the algebra.

--another year, another administrative plan to improve retention.


For months now, I’ve laid out the extraordinarily thorough corruption of higher education, explaining how it can be that a college degree no longer is a guarantee a person can read, write, or do ‘rithmetic at anything like an educated level. It is time to address each aspect of the corruption, and offer some suggestions that can allow education to return to its status of just a few decades ago. Many of these concepts are interrelated, but will be addressed as sequentially as possible.


Tell the Myths, But Tell the Truth, Too


 “If I get a B, I will die.”

--student complaint, in all seriousness, from early in my career. While this used to be an “every semester”-type complaint, I haven’t heard the like from a college student in at least a decade.


 “You need to pass me. If I fail another course, I might lose my scholarship for being a good student.”

--the most common student complaint at a CC.


     Earlier, I detailed myth after myth after myth after myth of higher education, and if the reader isn’t familiar with these myths, please, click on the links. Without the myths of college and higher education, the corrupted higher education system would not have had nearly as many victims to exploit. There is nothing wrong with a mythology that inspires a people to aspire to higher things, but the myths of college, spread so liberally in primary and secondary school, need to be corrected and clarified, instead of ruthlessly exploited.

     Higher education, particularly liberal arts education, needs to no longer be identified as a source of great wealth. The posters of “college graduates make a million more dollars” need to be ripped down and replaced with “people that work hard to get degrees in engineering, accounting, and some sciences make a million more dollars over a lifetime.” It’s the hard work and acquisition of in-demand technical skills that are responsible for the money, not the degree. Some may argue that such posters may not be much more accurate, but the current situation of students pouring into campus, indebting themselves for tens of thousands of dollars getting degrees in poetry, art, psychology, or “general studies” (yes, there’s a degree in that) and then being puzzled that they are not being showered with money after graduation, while administrators laugh hysterically, needs to stop.

      For the sake of those that believe life choices should be about money, and I’m not making any judgment on that, then high school counselors need to stop instilling awe into students about the financial glories of higher education. The high school graduate who fixes my car makes more money than I do with my high falutin’ degree, as does my plumber, my roofer, and many other workers. Instead of the nebulous “over a lifetime,” students should be told in high school what the facts are regarding annual salaries, should be told that fixing cars, for example, is good and honorable work…and pays better than reading essays written a century or more ago. Someone who can recite a poem in 17th-century French is not, as a matter of fact, a better person than someone who can “only” repair a carburetor. Both skills have their uses, and both should be respected.

     There will always be a certain minority of humanity that pursues various types of knowledge as an end, with money not a particular concern; at least, there always has been in the past. They are unlikely to be dissuaded by a high school counselor’s discussion of facts, and even if they are, they can always go to college after a few years of pursuing a fortune. This is a risk this country should be willing to take, in exchange for not pulling so many people into the college system, and tricking them into wasting years of their lives trying to acquire hideously expensive degrees pursued for the wrong reasons. Without the crowds of students blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes, these few seekers of knowledge as an end will have an easier time reaching their life goals, and those many that are there seeking nonexistent fat checks won’t be cheated and spend the rest of their lives in poverty.

      There are many jobs or fields of knowledge where degrees are necessary. These are the degrees where money is to be made, but this money comes from supply and demand—there are relatively few people that can master the technical skills of aeronautics or medical equipment design. Money thrown at such fields must be done carefully—a massive glut of even engineering degrees can lead to a glut of degree-holding waiters, much like today. It may be a national priority to support these people, but it should be done through targeted scholarship, not blanket provision of loans and “scholarships” for anyone that wants to poke their nose on campus to “study” any topic they wish for years on end in support of vague promises that “you’ll make more money with a degree.”

     Outside of the sciences, it doesn’t actually take degrees to achieve greatness. The great novels of the 20th century, for example, have not been written by Ph.D.s, and only a few doctorate holders have been candidates for sainthood. It’s a big world, liberal arts education is not the only way to succeed in life, and students need to be told as much. Often.

     In short, the myths don’t really need fixing, they just need to be supplemented with a heavy dose of truth. Additionally, higher education needs to do what it takes to make the myths true again, through the fixes relating to the other issues. Doing so will reduce the number of souls willing to sacrifice everything they have for college degrees of questionable value. We’ll discuss those other issues soon.



  1. "Higher education, particularly liberal arts education, needs to no longer be identified as a source of great wealth." Instead, according to you, "people that work hard to get degrees in engineering, accounting, and some sciences make a million more dollars over a lifetime.” Of course, if you consider the case of the super-wealthy like, for example, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Marc Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Evan Williams, Hiroshi Yamauchi, among others, who are (1) without any formally acquired college degree or any sort, (2) billionaires to boot, and (3) who are all active (or were active) in the high-tech space, then your argument cannot really be sustained. Remember, we are talking of the super-rich here! Imagine what the numbers (of people without formal degrees of any kind) would be for mere millionaires (and, just to clarify the point, possessing a million dollars does not make one a millionaire - one would need at least 1.5 million dollars to be classed as one. Why? Because there is a cost involved in maintaining the original million dollars that guarantees one that status!).

    No one actually needs a college degree to be able to do a job that can provide enough to keep one's body and soul together even in this hyper-competitive world that we live in today. Hard-work? Yes; College degree? Not necessarily. That said, a college degree - and I mean this in the classical sense where working towards and achieving a degree was a true accomplishment for it was never an easy task unlike what is in vogue today - is an indicator for an employer of two basic attributes of a potential employee : (1) that the possessor of a college degree has the self-discipline to be able to undertake and finish a long-term project (the achievement of the degree) and (2) the class of the degree (1st, 2nd etc.) demonstrates how well the person was able to do in his or her performance of the project. Moreover, a college degree is not the only thing an employer looks at - this is something that I am sure you are aware of.

    The core point, however, pertains to a very different question: Why get a degree in the first place? If the objective is to get a job, then a sustained period of vocational training is perhaps the best option. Business studies, in my opinion, (and yes, that includes whatever nonsense that is taught in MBA programs) fall within this category. Basic levels of reading, writing and the ability to work with numbers are (or should be) part of such vocational training programs.

    A college education, on the other hand, (something that results in the achievement of a degree) should be geared towards the production of knowledge - and that includes not only the hard sciences (I note not without concern your biasness in this regard which comes through clearly in your post), but also the arts, humanities and social sciences.

    Last words: While skills are necessary to live in this world, knowledge is what expands our world - indeed, makes it liveable.

  2. You may wish to read the entirety of my argument, as I mention Steve Jobs and others.

    In any event, my argument applies: in certain fields a college degree can add to a million more dollars over a lifetime in some instances. In many fields, a college degree is useless, and should not be ridiculously expensive on the basis of "earning more money".

    The fact that some people, somewhere, make money without a college degree is irrelevant to what I've said above.

  3. Actually, in the original post you said - as I have quoted earlier - "people that work hard to get degrees in engineering, accounting, and some sciences make a million more dollars over a lifetime."

    In your reply to my post, you have modified this to say "in certain fields a college degree can add to a million more dollars over a lifetime in some instances." And, these certain fields, according to you, are "engineering, accounting, and some sciences"?

    If yes, this is contestable. I agree with your second statement, but not your first. And, yes, I have read your entire argument - at least as it appears in the original post.

  4. Well, uh, read the whole sentence...certain posters need to be torn down and replaced with more accurate posters.

    I'm pretty sure there's more than one post in my blog...I'll have to look into that.

  5. Why dont you include an email address to send you ideas for education?

    1. Over to the right, bottom of the column, hopefully, is a contact form. :)