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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Teaching Moment

The modern American Right have - over the course of the last decade - slowly moved closer and closer to stating point-blank that higher education is completely worthless.

Seems that they are just moments away from claiming that, in light of this report featured in USA Today:

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows.

Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students’ critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

And right on cue, one of the biggest Right Wing blogs pushes exactly that question - do kids really need college?

But the author - AllahPundit - doesn't stop there, as they make a none to thinly veiled accusation that there has to be some sort of bias ( read: liberal ) at all colleges that causes students to put emotion and political alignments before "critical analysis", based on an article from McLatchy - then following up with this:

If you think false media narratives are easily absorbed now, wait until the Leaders of Tomorrow graduate and take their place in society. I keep thinking that the combination of a poor economy and ludicrous higher-education costs will solve this problem to some degree by re-normalizing the idea of entering the labor force after high school. If you’re a kid who’s unenthused about incurring a mountain of debt for the privilege of four more years of study with no guarantee of finding a job afterward to fund the repayment, why not pound the pavement for an entry-level/trainee position somewhere instead? The pay will be rotten to start and the lack of a diploma will make some future employers think twice, but in the meantime you’re debt-free and building skills — and if I’m right about re-normalization, the “no diploma” stigma will fade a bit culturally over time.

And there's the money shot - are conservative parents going to stop what they did when I was young, to urge that their children get a higher education so that they can end up better off in the world than they are?

Certainly, the world is a different place than it was in 1989 when I started high school, but have we come so far as a nation that we are willing to buy into this notion that a college education simply doesn't matter?

The first argument that any parent has with their high school senior is of the "cost" of the school of their choice. And while not every child is lucky enough to get that grant or scholarship, it is one of the obstacles with sending a student to college and will be a conversation that a plurality of parents will have with their kids. But should that be the rationalization for telling them they don't need any further education after high school? Should that be the reason that a kid give up their dreams of being a doctor, a lawyer, geologist, or an architect, or even a teacher?

I still owe a fairly large sum of money for my college education. Was it worth it? Every last penny. Could I have made some better choices after I graduated? Most certainly. But are we to believe that the modern American Right think that they could fair better without a college education? Are we to operate under the assumption that college is as outdated as cassette tapes, VHS, and CB radio? Are we to believe that the value of higher education in the eyes of employers will disappear in a sufficient enough timeframe to satisfy Right Wingers like the above mentioned author?

What the study shows, and what most within the modern American Right will ultimately ignore, is a lack of motivation by the students in the percentiles highlighted. This isn't about what classes are offered, where the school is located, or how much it costs - it's the students' desire to learn.

I'm not so naive to think that there won't be temptations at college, as I took part in my fair share of ribaldry and class skipping - but I knew that in order to make the grade I had to do the work. The person that is ultimately responsible for your grade is you, regardless of what the author at HotAir has to say about "grade inflation".

College isn't for everyone. I had this same talk with my nephew after he dropped out of a regional University and thought his parents would be mad at him for the rest of his life. But if you opt to skip college, don't think that you will have the same job opportunities as those with a college diploma, even if you don't have that debt hanging over you.


Troy Camplin said...

A university education is highly overrated, as I've talked about here:

There is a higher education bubble precisely because we have been told that only a college education is of any value. That's what happens when you have the combination of elitism and egalitarianism you find on the left. The result is that jobs that do not in fact require a college degree now require one, and jobs that previously only required a college degree now require graduate degrees. There are distortions created across this economy precisely because of the lie that everyone should get a university education.

This isn't to say that there should not be the right kinds of education for people -- just that a university education is not required. Most people should be going to trade schools to develop actual skills that can be actually used. The universities should be reserved for those pursuing things like the sciences and the arts and humanities. Computer science? Trade school. Business schools are a waste -- all they do is train middle managers. You can't teach people to be inventors or entrepreneurs. Many of the most successful examples of such people either didn't go to college or dropped out.

In the end, what I am really recommending is that we both encourage and provide a wider variety of training. College isn't for everyone -- and all too often it is downright cruel and irresponsible to suggest that it is.

I based this entirely on my experience as a college professor. Never mind the occasional bullshit ideological objections -- the rest of their points are dead-on.

aironlater said...

What jobs are you referring to when you state that some require collegiate documentation when they shouldn't? I may be inclined to agree with you had you provided examples.

Secondly, I am surprised that you equated higher education with the clearly pointed Right Wing meme that anyone desiring to obtain a college degree is somehow an "elitist", as that has always been a buzz word intended to claim that those with a college diploma somehow think the rest of the world is beneath them.

Am I reading this wrong? I hope so.

But in reference to what you do enumerate regarding "Business schools", I would have to agree - there are schools that do nothing more than bolster the already pointless employment category that is there to do nothing more than micromanage what shouldn't be.

Are schools like WKU - where you and I both attended - of no value? I would argue to the contrary. Are there jobs that over-value a collegiate degree? I suppose that could be true, based on the job in question. After all, I wouldn't feel comfortable with a person doing accounting for my recently started business having nothing but a high school diploma.

Troy Camplin said...

I did not say anything about desiring an education. I said elitists think that only a college education is of any value. They turn their noses up at plumbing, auto repair, etc. That's why these kinds of classes have practically disappeared in high schools across the country.

I am sure there is a list of sales positions a mile long that "require" a college degree, when no degree is actually required. I would go so far as to say that elementary school teachers don't need a college degree. Especially in the first few years, where you are teaching numbers, alphabet, basic reading, basic math, and that sort of thing. If they can read the text books used to teach the students, they can teach the students. Innumerably home schoolers have shown this to be true. And they don't have to take a bulletin board making class to do it. And it would be less likely that the latest pointless educational fad would take over and ruin a few years' worth of students, as happens now. Of course, the teachers' unions would never stand for it.

Now, I am not talking about schooling in general, only in a university education. It has its place, but it's not for most people. Most people need training in their fields, and that is all. Most people need to be retrained for new jobs unimagined when they were in school. Very little of the newest products provided in the economy are invented by college grads -- though they may use a few to help design the product.

And I won't even get into the fact that much education is entirely beside the point even for those who do need college degrees. Most economists are mathematicians who don't understand the first thing about the economy. Because math is too simple a tool to use to try to understand a complex, evolving, dynamic, self-organizing process consisting of independent, choosing actors with subjective valuations. Thus, most economists were left wondering how on earth the recession happened -- oh, except for one group of economists, who don't rely on math to understand the economy: the Austrian economists. They had been predicting exactly what happened.

Either way, it is well established that the vast majority of college grads end up in jobs that have nothing to do with their majors. No doubt all the accountants have accounting degrees -- but I would bet that there is a good percentage of accounting majors who don't do any accounting at all, other than with their own checkbooks.

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