Thursday, August 14, 2008

College is for suckers...

That's right, I said it. College is for suckers. Actually, Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve among other things, said it.

Mr. Murray ascertains that the post-secondary education system in this country is completely out of touch with society's needs, and I'm more than willing to agree with him.

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

How many people do you know who barely made it through college, and are now struggling to find meaningful employment?

In addition, how many people do you know that did well in college, only to find out that their history/philosophy/english/art/anything-else-that's-not-a-science-degree was more or less a waste of time, as they're now in a completely unrelated field?

From my own perspective, I really could have saved a lot of time and money by just getting into IT to begin with, rather than flunking out of school three or four times. Has not having a degree hurt me in looking for employment? Sure, in some cases, but for the most part, most employers are more interested in the fact that I've got 10 years of valid IT experience than if I managed to stay awake long enough to get a B.A. in something.


Cade said...

If you view a degree as a means of attaining a job or a higher paying job, you really deserve what you get. The degree is an achievement unto itself which shows the ability to complete a significant and disciplined regimen of study.

The fundamental problem with higher education in the US is that it's picking up the pieces of secondary education which is not producing students who know how to learn and who have a well-rounded experience and knowledge. Why should anyone be doing any math in university in the US unless it's techniques related to their major which are beyond high school calculus? They're doing it because they aren't successfully getting the entry-level material under their belts before they are 18.

I did my degree in Mathematics in England, and that was all we did. All the Shakespeare, world history, and everything else was handled by the secondary schools, and if you couldn't handle that, there was no reason for you to be in a university-level program in the first place.

S.A.W.B. said...

And that seems to be the larger scope of the problem, Cade. Not only is there little to no steering done for potential collegians in this country, but the first two years are almost wholly committed to either filling in the gaps, or filling in requirements so that everyone who pursues a college degree comes out 'well-rounded'.

Personally, i think that there needs to be more entrance examinations for fields in college to ensure that prospective students can handle the rigors of the curriculum, and have the necessary preparation to not require 2 years of remedial coursework.

Then again, that might require the primary and secondary education systems in this country to actually start teaching things other than feelings and love...

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Though I view the op-ed article with suspicion based on the traditional anti-intellectual culture we have in this country, I can't really argue with the main line of reasoning: we have some real problems with our educational goals and policies in our country.

The problems we're seeing come from several long-term aspects of how "college" as we know it today has evolved.

1. The traditional purpose of colleges were as much social as they were educational. Many middle to upper class parents want there to be a structured way to transition their children from home into the 'real world.'

2. The Educational Industrial Complex: there is a lot of money to be made by both encouraging youngsters to attend college and placing educational barriers on later employment.

3. A degree is no longer an acheivement unto itself. It serves as high school 2.0, a stepping stone to employment and a minimum acheivement on the way to an even higher degree (that requires even more college).

While a degree is supposed to be a singular acheivement, when it requires a degree to even be considered for an administrative assistant in this economy, and there are caps on advancement based on degree acheivement, then it becomes a necessity. Now that it is a necessity, there is going to be questions about its value to the job you are attempting to acquire.

Dante said...

There are plenty of vocational and technical schools in this country turning out a perfectly capable skilled labor force. If your goal obtain skills needed for a line of work, that's where you need to be.

You go to a traditional university to learn. How you apply what you learned is up to you. If you don't think that schooling is worth it, then don't go.

For what it's worth, competitive majors do have rigorous entrance requirements. Try getting into business school at UGA these days and you'll see what I'm talking about.

And it really doesn't help that Murray has totally confused his "we"s here:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught.

This "we" is article's aforementioned post-secondary education system and everything seems pretty straightforward so far.

We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned.

Wait a minute... I thought we were talking about a post-secondary educational system. When's the last time you saw a college dictating pay scale to employers? This "we" is an obvious reference to employers who are free to offer any worker whatever pay they want.

We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them.

Ok, we're back to the post-secondary educational system again except for the urging bit. In my experience, the University is pretty indifferent as to whether or not you attend. It's society that typically doing the urging on the university's behalf.

We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal.

Once again, this is typically society in general unless you're trying to obtain employment at a University. They typically prize a college degree more than most employers but they really should since that's their product.

We will call the goal a "BA."

Ok, we're back to the post-secondary education since they're free to call their degree whatever they want.

I probably would've come out ahead financially not getting a degree. (Especially since that dumb b!!ch Janet Reno lanced the high tech bubble halfway through my senior year in college by dragging Microsoft through the anti-trust fire. The bubble was going to burst anyway but it probably wouldn't have otherwise done so until I at least had a job secured.) But I wouldn't have missed mt time in college because I enjoyed what I learned and can even occasionally use that knowledge.

DADvocate said...

There are too many people going to college for no good reason. Much of my college was wasted effort. I have an M.S. in a relatively worthless area. I began taking some computer science courses over the years and eventually completed about 30 semester hours worth.

Upon getting my first, and only, job in programming I increased my pay by 66%. After 9 years I make 2.5 times the best I ever made otherwise. I would have been better off with a two year degree in computer science/programming/networking.

Cade said...

This also goes hand in hand with entitlement and grade inflation. Some people that get into the better schools figure they are paying for grades, and the schools (needing the money) don't grade to the same standard, thereby allowing a wider variation of quality coming out in the same grade ranges.

Ultimately, it's about every school at every level holding people up to as high a standard as possible (within its level, obviously - I don't expect my McD hamburger to taste like Ruth's Chris, but I do expect it to achieve a reasonable McD level of quality).

Cade said...

Which raises an interesting point about the benefits of public funding of university education as was true in England when I attended (and paid nothing for tuition - now there are top-up loans etc). There was no expectation that you were owed anything by the university (they would kick you out and the funding would be used for another place for a more worthy student) - it was an opportunity to achieve something.