Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wasting Money On Higher Education

The US strives to lead the world in the number of college graduates. At the same time, not enough jobs are being created to meet demand as student debt piles up, forcing millions of Americans to settle for less than what they dreamed of. Lauren Kelley, an associate editor at AlterNet explained Americans simply spend far too much on higher education, forcing many into debt they may never be able to pay off.

Okay, why are these worthless (in many cases) degrees not translating into jobs? It's the economy, stupid. But it's worse than that, much, much worse. Where I work you can't advance without a degree, even though none of the jobs are anywhere near the category of doing brain surgery. So why is a degree necessary to advance? We're not talking a degree in particular field, either, simply at least a bachelor's degree will do, no matter what it's in. What does this laziness and short-cutting on the part of asshole slacker employers do? It leads to the "earning" of millions of unnecessary and otherwise virtually worthless degrees. Students aren't in college to learn (for the most part) but to get that piece of paper that will get them a better job and more income. And since that is all it's about, they cheat in massive numbers to "earn" their supposed meal ticket.

In a study of 1222 undergraduates, Selwyn[1] examined differences in cybercheating levels between a variety of majors and student types. Overall results? 61.9% of students cybercheat.

Before getting into this, it’s important to distinguish cybercheating/online plagiarism and cheating in online courses. These are not the same. Cybercheating can be defined as cheating enabled by the internet – so cybercheating can occur in any course. For example, one variety of cybercheating is the use of “paper mills.” These websites employ people to write papers for undergraduates for a fee. A student might pay $2 per page for a term paper, for example. But such papers can be used in either in-person or online courses. This is not in any way unique to online courses.

According to Selwyn, estimates thus far vary a great deal as to what percentage and types of students engage in cybercheating, but they are all a little depressing:

* In a US study, 50% of students admitted to cybercheating at some point while they were in college.
* In another 30-40% of students admitted to copying text from the internet into their own work without citing the source. 10-20% did so for large sections of their assignments (i.e. more than a sentence here and there).
* About 25% of graduate students engage in these same behaviors.
* Typical profile of the most likely cybercheater: young male underclassmen experienced with the Internet.-Online Plagiarism and Cybercheating Still Strong – 61.9%

The above article makes one serious error, and that is in the following sentence that provides possible answers as to why students cheat so goddamned much: "Some blame higher expectations for high grades, while others blame a changing youth culture where the copying of intellectual property is simply not seen as an important concern."

But no, copying intellectual "property" has nothing to do with it. When you copy a work, you aren't claiming it's your original creation. To so deceive and pretend you are the author of something written by someone else is not copying, it's plagiarism, something quite different. Again, the answer is that students aren't in college to learn, but to get their "get out of a crappy job free" card.

There are professions requiring specialized knowledge and skills where an education makes sense (medicine, engineering, nuclear physics, etc.) but let's face it, most of those going to college do not have the brains for any of those fields. I blame employers for using degrees as their asinine screening tool. It's stupid and unfair, and no, it does not give them better, smarter, or more competent employees.

Doug French: Higher Education

The idea that a brick and mortar university education is the key to success and riches still has a hold on parents. Author Jennifer Moses’s piece in The Wall Street Journal last weekend made clear that her and her Rutgers professor husband will do anything and spend whatever to get their Moses twins into the one of the nation’s best colleges of their choice.

Evidently tuition cost isn’t a concern. However, Mr. and Ms. Moses must make sure the twins qualify for the Ivy league if that’s where they want to go. Don’t want them ending “up having to go, God forbid, to Rutgers,” she writes. So the twins have had plenty of SAT and ACT tutoring, according to Ms. Moses at $125 per session. Of course on top of this are the fees paid for the actual testing and travel to all these places of higher learning. Plus, an additional consultant is on the job to counsel the male twin to not do anything stupid that could jeopardize his chance of admission. Moses considers the consultant a bargain at $701.25 so far.

The thrust of Moses’s view is there are only so many spots available in prestigious universities and that dumb kids with rich parents have a leg up to getting those few spots, so parents must do everything possible to make sure their worthy children are accepted. “We are all caught up in a crazy arms race, where the order of the day (to borrow a useful term from the Cold War) is ‘escalation dominance,’” she writes.

All this while Richard Vedder’s work finds that 60 percent of the increase in college grads end up working in jobs where a degree isn’t required.

Vedder points to credential inflation that arises from a perceived need by individuals to demonstrate potential employment competence through a high-priced college diploma. He writes, “Employers are using education as a screening and signaling device, at a low cost directly to them (although not costless because of the taxes they pay to sustain much of this), but at a high cost to the prospective employees and to society as a whole.”

Support from the taxpayer may not last much longer as state governments teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. When push comes to shove middle-class tax payers will not be eager to keep subsidizing rich kids or their professors with light teaching loads. But for now, as Vedder points out, those in higher education that know college is a bad deal are keeping quiet out of their own self-interest.

Before throwing their hard-earned dough at their kids’ higher education, parents might want to read Walter Kirn’s Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever. Kirn is best known for his novel Up In The Air which was adapted into a movie that generated six Oscar nominations last year.

Much of Kirn’s very funny book chronicles his student life at Princeton where he roomed with eccentric children of the upper crust. The reader’s first glimpse at Kirn’s life at Princeton has him waiting for the effects of two black capsules to kick in so he can complete his Rhodes Scholarship application. Meanwhile his friend is seeing what happens when you smoke ground up Percocet tablets through a water pipe.

“I have other comrades in estrangement,” writes Kirn, “way out here on the bell curve’s leading edge, where our talent for multiple-choice tests has landed us without even the vaguest survival instructions.”

While Kirn went home to Minnesota for the summer, his classmates would spend the summer on the Cape, the Island, or the Vineyard. He classifies the Princeton student body into groups. For instance those that came back baked from spending the summer on sail boats, drinking gin and tonics, and wearing funny hats. These privileged students “napped during lectures, but rarely to their detriment because they could always charm some awestruck stranger–a plump girl with a limp, a science major with untied shoelaces–into giving them copies of their notes.”

There were those students who wanted to serve mankind and those who only stopped to eat and drink to sustain themselves for studying. And then there were those who pursued higher education by injecting cocaine.

Kirn worked the system and made it to Oxford. “Flexibility, irony, self-consciousness, contrarianism. They’d gotten me through Princeton,” explains Kirn. As for his education, it began when he was laid up in bed with pneumonia. Bored, he read the classics, books he’d never bothered with before. “And so, belatedly, haltingly, accidentally, and quite implausibly and incredibly, it began at last: my education.” - Higher Education

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