Sunday, October 12, 2014

Students Fail After College

By Professor Doom

     I’ve often cited Academically Adrift, which shows that much of higher education is bogus: most students go their whole college career without being able to read or write in any significant amount. The authors of that book have produced a sequel of sorts, Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, looking at how well college graduates do after wasting years in higher education.

      It isn’t pretty, although I can’t help but suspect the authors candy-coat things more than a little, for whatever reason. Let’s take a look at what the authors have to say:

      If this were Wikipedia, I’d be putting [citation needed] on this. The authors just sort of put that out there, although I certainly have my doubts that it “still pays to go to college”, at least for most degrees, at most institutions. Their study doesn’t seem to support their assertion here…and the authors should probably take a look at some of my more recent posts on the criminality of community college.

“…two years after graduation 23 percent of those in the labor market were either unemployed or underemployed (working fewer than 20 hours per week or in jobs where the majority of workers had not completed even a year of college)…”

     This is actually very interesting, and devastating depending on who you want to believe. See, the government claims that unemployment is only around 6.1%, while pretty much every independent researcher says “real unemployment” is closer to 20%, if not more. This book accidentally just confirms what everyone knows about unemployment, namely that it’s far more than 6.1%. I mean, if new college graduate unemployment is over 20%, one hardly expects anything better from any other demographic. The authors continue:

“…less than half had full-time jobs that paid $30,000 or more per year….”

    Wait, I thought college was supposed to lead to those high paying jobs riding unicorns around all day, and where you opened up the faucet in the executive washroom and money poured out? A student can easily go $100,000 into debt for a college degree now. When you factor in paying annual interest on that debt, we’ve got more than half of students making far less than a janitor…and yet the authors began by saying it still pays (a word that implies money) to go to college? Hmm, why do I get the feeling they were pressured into putting as positive a spin as possible on this study?

     Continuing on:

“…74 percent reported receiving continued financial assistance from parents.”

     Ouch. How can someone look at that statistic of college graduates and say “it still pays” to get a college education? Most people, you give them $100,000, and they don’t need continued financial assistance four years later, not if they have an ounce of sense and decent health. If 74% of college graduates still need financial assistance, what’s that degree for?

“…Two years after graduation, 36 percent of our respondents reported never reading a newspaper in print or online or doing so only once a month; 39 percent reported discussing politics at similarly low frequencies….”

     Now this is just a follow-up of the first book. Part of higher education is developing a taste for knowledge. I promise you, 30 years ago, I found math textbooks incomprehensible, and a dull read even when I could understand them. But now, I can actually appreciate when a math book is beautifully written, and read such books even when I’m not forced to by my professor (or job requirement).

     But Academically Adrift shows students no longer get that option in higher education. Since they don’t read or write in their college courses, they get no chance to appreciate reading, or writing. So it follows pretty clearly that, once out of college, they’re certainly not going to be reading (and probably not writing either, beyond texting).

     Then again, it’s possible that the study was just not measuring properly. Mainstream print media is a horrible joke, and if the study’s “online” news sources were just restricted to mainstream’s online representatives (eg,, then these graduates were probably better off not reading. If online news sources doesn’t include the ever more relevant (and often more accurate) “alternative” news, then this statistic isn’t so meaningful.

     I reckon I’m being too kind, however. I’m inclined to believe that most people, including college graduates, don’t do much reading.

“…After all, the average full-time four-year college student in this country spends only about an hour per day studying alone and overall spends less time on academics than students attending college in Europe. Students in U.S. colleges rarely take courses that ask them to read more than 40 pages per week or write more than 20 pages per semester….”

     These are mostly results from the first book, but it sure bears repeating. Once you understand the system, one can easily get an accredited college degree for about 5 minutes of work a day, over the course of 4 years, at many of the bogus—but fully accredited!--schools that litter the US landscape. Unlike the authors, I make no assertion that such a degree is valuable, however, and the authors’ own study shows in blazing technicolor that it is not.

“…it becomes increasingly inappropriate to blame students for their lack of commitment and focus….”

     Absolutely, in many cases, the students are not to blame for getting bogus educations…how could they possibly know what a legitimate higher education is? It’s like locking 4 year olds in a candy store and then complaining that the little kids aren’t eating a healthy diet.

      The authors neglect to ask who’s locking the kids in the candy store. Dropping the allegory, let me say instead that the authors never consider college administration’s role in all the bogus college “work.”

 Instead, colleges, which have often focused more on delivering improved social amenities to students rather than high-quality academic programs, must bear a good deal of responsibility for the low levels of student performance…”

     Absolutely, once again, the colleges, and by colleges I mean college administrators, bear the blame for offering bogus educations. Unlike many online mainstream media outlets, the article here allows comments. That’s great, because comments allow for clarifications of things said in the article (probably why mainstream sites often don’t allow comments…). Allow me to present a selection from the comments section explaining why colleges offer so many bogus courses, since you won’t get that explanation from the book:

Setting high standards for students and demanding performance to pass your course carries a high price. There will be no credit…in the Dean's office since invariably, high standards produce many more student complaints. The majority of faculty set modest standards to avoid the headaches, so the few who are demanding and require performance to pass are always under the microscope…They must reward demanding teachers, rather than punish them.

     --I’m hardly the only person to note that any professor who gives coursework comparable to what he had to do in college will simply be punished. Punished. I often use that word in describing what happened to me for having integrity. One witness can be discarded, but how many times have I quoted others in academia using that same word? Let’s look at another post:

And yet, if professional educators make attempts to reinstate high academic standards, we are invariably punished for doing so… Everywhere the professional educators look, we are surrounded by incentives to do everything BUT improve academic standards.

     ---Isn’t it funny how often “if we have standards, we’ll be punished” comes up when faculty explain what’s going on in higher education?

I was not asked to return...This is despite the fact that a small minority of my students described me as one of the best teachers they'd ever had. I was demanding…I wrote tests that expected the students to have attended the classes and studied the material. The ogre that I was, 15% of the grade was based on the simple act of reading the material and showing up in class… 

     ---It isn’t simply punishment that’s the problem, faculty that insist on having any sort of integrity will be removed.

     Because faculty are punished and eliminated for offering legitimate courses, they really don’t have much choice but to offer bogus coursework. I hope the authors will read the comments and maybe start studying the obvious reason colleges don’t ask anything of students. I recommend they look at the administrators who are doing the punishing and elimination, but far be it from me to suggest a topic for research.

     In the meantime, of course, we’ll just keep cranking out bogus degrees for bogus coursework, and the authors will show their conclusions that (gasp!) bogus degrees really aren’t worth anything…


  1. The idea that a university education would automatically lead to a high-paying job was bogus even when I was an undergrad 40 years ago.

    My first employer after I finished my B. Sc. in the late 1970s was really looking for cheap labour. While it paid better than most companies, it expected one to work long hours with little hope of receiving equivalent time off, despite labour legislation dictating otherwise.

    Having a graduate education wasn't much different. The firm I worked for while I was completing my M. Sc. paid me less than I thought I deserved. (The only reason I took that job was because I thought I would be working in a field that really interested me.) I was told by that company that it didn't count what I did during my grad studies as experience, even though it was directly relevant to what I would be working on. (As for pay at that outfit, it depended on who charmed the boss. No surprise there, eh?)

    As it turned out, I was wasted there. Most of what I did could have been done by someone with a technologist's diploma, not a B. Sc. and a nearly-completed M. Sc.

    The only instance where having a graduate degree resulted in higher pay was when I was teaching. How much one was paid depended on seniority and education. However, towards the end of my time at that institution, that was drastically changed and only time of service mattered. Having a bit more education did result in being paid a bit more, but it wasn't much and there was even a limit on that.

    I'm semi-retired now and make my money from my investments. One doesn't need a great deal of education to do that.

    1. I'm closing in on semi-retirement myself. I enjoy what I do, and I'm back at a legitimate place again...but having seen my previous school go from legit to scam in a few years, there's a part of me thinking about retiring as soon as I can just so I can say I went out at a legitimate school.

      But I enjoy what I do, so probably I'll keep at it until I don't.

  2. According to the definition of success you quoted, working as little as 21 hours instead of 20 and making sure from now on the majority of people "in jobs where the majority of workers had not completed even a year of college" will have degrees would "improve" the situation.