Friday, December 19, 2014

A Serious Joke For Higher Education

By Professor Doom

I saw a great cartoon on Zerohedge. It’s a joke, of course, but why not take it as a serious suggestion:

     Imagine if higher education really did work this way. Institutions of higher education, especially universities, justify their incredibly high tuition because of the incredibly high value of their degrees, or so they claim.

     “College degree holders make a million dollars more over a lifetime”, or so university officials claim, but this myth is easily debunked, to the point that janitors are better off than college degree holders, at least at current tuition prices.

     But…why not make the above joke a truth? Just add another line to accreditation: “All accredited institutions allow graduates to return their degrees, in exchange for the institution paying off all student loans incurred for such degrees.”

     Wow, this would melt the face off higher education. No longer would institutions sign up hordes of students for 6th grade level work, knowing full well that such work has no market value. For-profit schools could no longer rip off students with utterly worthless degrees, year after year, with no drawback to doing so. It wouldn’t take 18 years of fraudulent classes before students could feel like they could sue for being ripped off.

     Instead, within, say, 2 years of graduating, a student could just go back to the university, and say “Sorry, turns out this degree doesn’t work as advertised. Here, you can take it back, and pay off my student loan for me. Mkay?”  This may seem draconian, but keep in mind the university clearly ripped off the student of years of his or her life, far more precious than a $100,000 in my opinion (if you don’t believe me, come back when you’re 75, and see if you wouldn’t pay $100,000 to live as a 20 year old for 4 years!).

     Institutions of higher education, with the sudden realization that they, and not students, would pay for institutional fraud, would probably be much more interested in not being so fraudulent anymore. Knowing that they, and not students, would be paying for 340,000 square foot student recreational centers that would shame amusement parks would stop their ridiculous building sprees. Institutions realizing that they, and not students, would pay for bogus degrees with no content, would no longer sell degree programs in homosexual music preferences, or coursework on Lady Gaga, or any of the other myriad versions of academic snake oil so prevalent on campus. Institutions realizing that they, and not students, would be paying all the seven figure administrative salaries would probably cut back on such insane pay. (Hey, anyone else remember when a “six figure salary” was a big deal? That’s chump change in higher education administration today!).

      If degrees are so frickin’ valuable that universities can be shameless about charging 100k or so for them, why not have a money-back guarantee? If accredited schools are so frickin’ legitimate then why don’t accredited schools actually stand behind their product?

     The simple fact that no institution anywhere stands behind its educational product well enough to offer a refund like this, despite the supposed legitimization offered by accreditation, strongly supports my assertions that much of higher education today is fraud, bordering on an extraordinarily expensive joke.


  1. I, too, believed that having a degree would bring greater financial reward. Nope. Uh-uh. Didn't happen.

    While I was an undergrad, I worked for an oil company that no longer exists. The big money wasn't in being an engineer who actually worked on actual technical matters. It was in becoming a manager where one, really, was an engineer in name only. (Most of the managers who had "engineer" in their job title were so inept that they couldn't tell the difference between a U-bolt and an integrated circuit.)

    Having a graduate degree didn't increase my earning power, either. In fact, it worked against me. I was told by one employer that I approached that I wouldn't be considered because with a master's degree (which was all I had at the time), I would be bored there. Encouraging, isn't it?

    Even while I was an instructor at a technical college (an intellectual sinkhole if there ever was one), I didn't get paid much more. When I went to the personnel office with a photocopy of my second master's degree to put it in my file, I was told that I needn't bother because I wasn't going to be paid any more. What a wonderful attitude for an educational institution to display to someone who actually adds to his credentials.

    Now I have 2 master's degrees and a Ph. D. I'm semi-retired, but I'm worth a lot more than I did while I was working for a living. I did that by taking the money that I had saved and invested while I was employed, putting it into the stock market, and watching it like a hawk. No university education is required to read a financial report.

    Do I regret getting my education? Of course not. It allowed me to do certain things that I might never have thought possible. I work on the research I started for my second master's degree and continued for my doctorate. My investments are my funding agency, my grant. On the other hand, I don't teach, don't have to deal with students (clever or otherwise), and don't have to deal with petty academic (did I repeat myself?) politics.

  2. Students could abuse this by finding employment and still returning their diplomas. They could also make photocopies of their diplomas and transcripts and either conceal the fact that the degree is revoked (not everybody checks), or argue that the experience of learning still took place and that revoking a degree cannot change that fact and take away their skills. In many professions, a degree is not a legal requirement. Some employers would even choose to hire someone with a revoked degree to do the real work even if degreed individuals have to assume responsibility for the end product, if such responsibility is even required in the first place. The employee with a revoked degree may get paid less, at least until promoted based on work experience, yet might be better off even in that case because at least he or she would not have to pay back any student loans. Because only skilled, talented and hard-working individuals can make this work, keeping a valid degree beyond the deadline could almost become a red flag because that's exactly what the incompetent graduates would do.

    1. Oh, I totally concede my joke shouldn't be taken seriously. But there still remains the issue that we should really, really, consider changing our thoroughly demented system, where worthless degrees are sold for insane sums, into something more fair to the people involved.