By Professor Doom
Hey, it’s no secret we’ve got a serious problem in higher education right now. Our kids, trained from birth that they should go to college after high school, are doing their supposed duty by going to college…and getting destroyed. Many of them leave higher education with lives crushed by debt, and gaining nothing from their 4 to 6 years of higher “education” that will help with that debt. Teaching kids they must go to college once they hit 18 is about as abusive as teaching them they should jump into a volcano at that age.
The Mises Institute usually focuses on theoretical Libertarian ideology or Austrian economics, but recently they posted an article on higher education:
It’s a good enough piece, but it repeatedly neglects an important concept: why. So, let’s hit the reasons and fill in the missing details.
1. Graduates have little to no improvement in critical thinking skills.
This is well documented:
According to the WSJ, “At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table”. The outcomes were the worst in large, flagship schools: “At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.”
Absolutely, a college degree can’t maintain its value if you can’t distinguish a holder of a degree from a non-holder. It used to mean something, and now it doesn’t. But…why?
The answer is pretty simple: a college degree used to be awarded by academics, demonstrating the holder was capable of jumping through a wide array of academic hoops, primarily by writing papers demonstrating understanding of a broad range of topics. That’s changed.
Assignment 1: “Fill in the names and capitals of the 20 southeast Asian countries on this blank map.”
Assignment 2: “Use techniques of advanced calculus to show how perturbations in the measurements of Mercury’s mass as it orbits the sun confirm the relativistic effects predicted by Einstein.”
---both of these assignments are from 4000 level, senior level, courses in state run universities with a reputation for partying, as capstone material for a degree. Assignment 1 comes from around 2014, assignment 2 comes from around thirty years ago. I totally concede neither has much to do with real life…but which of these assignments could a 10-year old complete with a bit of effort, and which takes years of knowledge and skill development before it can be attempted?
It’s also well documented that many college courses have no requirements, no reading, no writing, no demonstration of any knowledge. We have classes with hundreds of students in them, watching Powerpoint presentations that, over the course of the semester, add up to around 30 pages of text (i.e., less than an hour of reading)…and students are tested on how well they can learn this material over the course of 4 months.
The reason many campuses have courses like this is accreditation is broken, and no longer has anything to do with education. Even major campuses like UNC can operate academic frauds for decades with no significant penalty from their accreditor.
This is why most students get nothing from college: colleges don’t have to provide anything.
2. Shouting Matches Have Invaded Campuses Across The Country
Absolutely, a degree from a school famous for race riots isn’t going to be worth much, and every year at least one more school goes into the “you don’t want this school’s name on your resume” category because of the ridiculous rioting—problematic when the degree from that school cost $100,000 or more.
The article highlights one school, but it’s hardly alone:
It seems that developing critical thinking skills has taken a backseat to shouting matches in many US colleges. At Evergreen State College in Washington, student protests have hijacked classrooms and administration. Protesters took over the administration offices last month, and have disrupted classes as well. It has come to the point where enrollment has fallen so dramatically that government funding is now on the line.
The chaos at Evergreen resulted in “anonymous threats of mass murder, resulting in the campus being closed for three days.” One wonders if some of these students are just trying to get out of class work and studying by staging a campus takeover in the name of identity politics and thinly-veiled racism.
Again: why? Please understand, administrators have incredible power on campus today, they’ve tossed faculty for the most idiotic reasons imaginable.
If admin wanted to stop the riots, they could do so, trivially: remove students from campus, and keep removing students until there are no more rioters.
Admin won’t do it, of course, since it cuts into those sweet, sweet, student loan checks. They’ll cheerfully degrade the value of a degree into nothing before that.
3. Trade Schools and self-study offer better outcomes for many
Truth be told, this is a redundant criticism: the first criticism (college graduates gain nothing) sets a pretty low bar for a “better outcome” from doing something else, right?
So, yeah, the “why?” is easy enough to answer regarding the better outcome at trade school. If you get nothing from college, then anywhere else is better.
For a more satisfying answer, however, we need to consider how it happened that college became so devoid of skill development. There are many issues here, but primary is education hiring is no longer controlled by educators. Instead, administrators with administrative degrees handle that.
Thing is, every dollar not spent on hiring educators is a dollar that goes into administrative pockets. You’re going to hire people as cheaply as possible, and obviously that’s best done by hiring people without marketable skills. This is why our campuses are bogged down with coursework on gender studies, ethnic studies, and deviant-sex studies—there’s no other place people who can bloviate about such things can get hired.
On the other hand, you don’t see college courses on plumbing, air conditioner repair, or car repair. People with those skills can get high paying jobs, and thus won’t accept the crappy conditions and welfare-qualifying pay of your typical college professor.
One might argue that such things are not academic, but what of computer science? That was an academic subject, but many campuses are thinning out, if not outright closing down their computer science departments…it’s just too hard to find people with computer skills that would subject themselves to working for admin.
So, yeah, there’s a reason why you’ll learn better skills on your own or at a trade school.
And now we come to the last reason:
4. Tuition is increasing, but future earnings are decreasing.
The article backs it up with charts and things, and it’s true enough, but there are two “why” questions worth answering here, “why is tuition increasing” and “why are earnings decreasing.”
Tuition is increasing primarily because of the student loan scam: all the money flowing on to campus just raises prices due to increased demand, it’s very basic economics. I could, of course, blame the insatiable greed of admin as well but even if they had integrity or an iota of self-restraint, prices would still go up with all that money sloshing around in higher ed.
The second “why” is the big question for this country: earnings are decreasing for a great many jobs. When inflation is factored in, the average pay in this country is below where it was at the turn of the century.
For many kids, going to college is all about landing that “high paying job.” Hey, a high paying job is a good thing, but if you have a choice between a job paying $25,000 a year (a janitor, say), and a job paying $40,000 a year but also comes with loan payments of $16,000 a year…then janitor turns out to be a better deal, right?
Now factor in the years spent in college spending that loan money, and the janitor deal is even better.
“Why are earnings dropping?” is a complicated economic question and I can respect the article not even attempting to answer it (although, seeing as the site is named after an economist, they really should have tried…). That said, your average Trump voter believes it’s because our government has basically sold out the country, shipping those high paying jobs overseas and burying the whole country in debts to bankers rather than making decisions that would help the people of the United States.
The evidence justifying this belief is pretty strong, but the ultimate question is what, if anything, can Trump do to bring those jobs back?