Wednesday, November 16, 2011

As The Cookie Crumbles: Matter of Degree

Along with throwing a papier-mache life-raft to home-owners already underwater, and floundering, in a sea of credit malaise, St. Barry, the Capitulator, tweaked the terms of SOME students' loans, lowering interest rates and lengthening terms. As someone who borrowed freely when the loans were plentiful, back in the day, I know the burden.

But back in the day, there were jobs with the wages/salaries from which you could pay them back, albeit slowly and interruptedly.

But bad as it was then, the plight of the student forced to borrow for their education is even worse today. And, paradoxically, it seems the PRICE that students increasingly have to pay for their "degrees" is inversely proportional to the actual VALUE of the credential once it is awarded.

The verity of this observation is attested to by a recent report which compared the value of a "college education" with that of a new car, and found the car actually, though only marginally, superior in durability value.

That, in no small part, is because "college degrees" have become a spurious requirement for about 60% of the jobs for which they're now pre-requisites. As the number of actual jobs has been declining, the qualifications for acquiring one of the scarcer and scarcer jobs have become more difficult to achieve, depending on any given individual's position on the social scale at the start. Requiring a degree for just about any position helps "keep the riff-raff out," too, because it provides another layer of "legitimate" exclusion.

It is also, again in no small part, because the whole system, it seems to me, has been cheapened and diluted by the plethora of trivial crap in which colleges and universities now offer "degrees." The paramount case of which, in my humble estimation, is business administration. "Office management?" What kind of a degree is that? What classics of the field could someone NOT in the field read with pleaasure and understanding?

And finally, they've been cheapened by their commodification by the recent explosion of proprietrary "colleges" like Kaplan and Phoenix, which essentially SELL their degrees if you can provide the cash in an atmosphere of consumerist, cash-and-carry-ism.

Did you know the University of Phoenix gets over 80% of it's $$$$ from veterans? That the majority never graduate with any meaningful professional skills? That the federal money from veterans does not count against the amount of federal money they are allowed to take in? The the for profit college gold mine is a huge supporter financially of Obama? That any regulations are mostly nonexistent? One more way to screw those least able to protect themselves. Desperation--long-term unemployment, a family, and dim prospect--inhibits clear thinking and decision making. ANY opportunity can look like salvation.

But evidence leaves one with the conclusion that ‎"Proprietary" colleges are nothing but junk degree mills, too often. Retail outlets for trivial credentials. The claims of the few folks in their ads notwithstanding, many investigations have reported that an embarrassingly SMALL number of the "graduates" of such programs do much more than increase their debt load.

That's the "price" of commodifying "education," by 'credentializing' every possible kind of job. And, as I noted before, it provides another level of social "filter," to keep the undesirables out.

It's been this way, though not nearly so blatant or obvious, for 20 years. Higher Ed has been so commodified and consumerized that it's essentially become worthless as a pedigree for dogs.

My (paid) professiorial career ended in 2000. For the previous decade at least, it had become obvious to me that students had come to regard their teachers as something akin to "knowledge clerks," paid minimum wages to fetch their "education" from the well-stocked shelves, as if it were a video game or a pair of jeans. The idea that they would actually be involved in the creation/generation/evaluation of NEW "knowledge" never even crossed their docile, bovine minds. They were there, like trained livestock, becazuse it was it was the next/last hoop they'd have to jump through before they began the process of jumping through more hoops, for pay.

I taught at big, highly regarded state schools. A plurality of my students were "legacies," whose parents had sufficient resources to send their progeny to any school the kids could get into, and they stayed home. A large percentage of the students I observed, and with whom I interacted, wanted nothing from "college" more than getting their prejudices ratified, and their tickets to the middle class punched.

They were there to "get" an education. they hadn't the faintest notion that they were actually supposed to make it themselves. Your education is like an artisan's tool-box. It contains the tools you've already made, and the templates for the ones you'll later need.

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