May 22, 2008

Higher education as a pyramid scheme.

From The Atlantic, an anonymous article by a Professor X, who teaches English 101 at a couple of unselective colleges to people who can't learn to form coherent paragraphs:

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why.

Much of modern higher education today has many of the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme -- Elite English professors were paid by Professor X. (via grad school tuition) to get his Ph.D. which is only good for teaching the unteachable -- except that nobody's getting rich.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

19 comments:

Patrick said...

I think a more accurate analogy is that the university is the modern equivalent of the church.

Anonymous said...

He is wrong on one count ...

Even math students in some high schools come and expect their grade to be changed, even when they have done little or no work or have actually failed.

"But I worked so hard ..."

Anonymous said...

Steve,

My younger cousin is an English professor at a historically black university (although he is trying to get hired at a small private mostly white college presently). He teaches Lit 101 and some remedial English.

His stories are hysterical. He --STILL-- cannot get over the fact that *so* many of his students really expect to not read his two assigned novels, not do their homework assignments, and flunk the weekly exams, but somehow miraculously be given passing grades in the classes he teaches because they really expect to be given a "B" on their mid-term and final essays.

He has told me that some really are suprised when they dont pass and want to meet with him and gripe.


What in the hell have we told black America that has led them to believe that they will simply be "passed" onto the next level no matter what? Its astonishing even to my jaded eyes. He has to flunk about a full third of his classes each semester simply because they dont do their homework. He has also told me that some of these students must be accustomed to grade inflation because their simple grammar in their papers is really awful. Comma splices, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, incorrect capitilization and other very basic English errors that one would expect "an eighth grader" to know, many of his freshman are truly unaware of.

My cousin is moderate-to-left in his political orientation, but his eyes are being opened. Not everybody is college material, and giving them useless sociology degrees (a bunch of these given out by this school) paid for by the taxpayer (we have a lottery in our state to pay for alot of these kids) or so that so many of his students can flunk out of college after wasting a year of their lives is .................a big waste of time and money for everyone involved. Much better it would be for a great deal of his students to be learning how to weld, fix cars, repair appliances or whatever. They'd make the same money, if not more......and have the opportunity to work extra hours at many of these "skilled" trades if they so desired instead of being a cog in the government machine at whatever state or federal job they end up with, stuck on 32K a year for the rest of their lives given comp time instead of overtime. One would be better off putting in flooring for a living and starting when they were 18, but I digress.

They do learn one thing at his school though.............hate whitey. They get that in buckets according to him. The amount of freshman that flunk out there is Monty Pythonesqe according to him also....

Lucius Vorenus said...

anonymous: Comma splices, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, incorrect capitilization and other very basic English errors that one would expect "an eighth grader" to know, many of his freshman are truly unaware of.

You must not have been here for Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama's senior thesis at Princeton [see also Spengler's review of same].

Titus Pullo said...

Much of modern higher education today has many of the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme -- Elite English professors were paid by Professor X. (via grad school tuition) to get his Ph.D. which is only good for teaching the unteachable -- except that nobody's getting rich.

Steve, are you channeling Richard Jeni? The late great comedian had a routine about his philosophy degree:

Jeni: "What am I supposed to do with this degree?"

Prof: "You can teach"

Jeni: "And the kids I teach, what'll they do with it?"

Prof: "They'll teach, too."

Jeni: "This isn't college - this is Amway with a track team!"

Funnier on video of course. I couldn't find a clip on YouTube, but whatever you do, don't click on this.

Anonymous said...

I'm a community college student in California, where a semester course costs sixty bucks and teachers earn...

Instructors, like the author of the Atlantic piece, who are both qualified to teach their subject matter and determined to educate their students, are few and far between at the community college here. Some teachers don't know what they're talking about. Some don't care. Many are exasperated with their students' unwillingness or inability to learn. Few if any teachers demand that the text books be read.

Most students pass their classes without performing any reading. Most are unable to write proper and intelligible sentences, and few instructors require that they do so.

Nearly one hundred percent of the students at the community college here are white.

Sideways said...

Go to a lower tier but still slightly selective university and sit in when professors assign papers to their students. Be sure to see what first year profs and veteran profs do. It's an entirely different process from what goes on at a selective university. They assume that their students know less about paper writing than I knew in 7th grade.

As for the long "anonymous" comment, the students at these colleges aren't as bad as at that college, their errors tend towards sentence flow, minor punctuation errors, tense confusion, writing "alot" and improper its/it's. They can't write well, but they can convey what they mean with some small proficiency. Aside from writing "alot." That's completely inexcusable.

Tom said...

It seems pretty straightforward. As I understand it, you need that certificate to get a good (or perhaps just reasonable) job these days. Furthermore, those with "college degrees" are, according to the papers, financially pulling away from those without one. Given this, what would a wise man expect?

john of london said...

An aspect of the pyramid scheme nature of HE expansion is that a lot of jobs require a degree to get hired that a decade or so ago didn't. So a degree becomes less valuable because it's required for lower-paying jobs than it used to be.

Anonymous said...

Nearly one hundred percent of the students at the community college here are white.

That should make it fairly easy to pin down the identity of that California institution.

Chief Seattle said...

I read the first few paragraphs of that article, and felt bad for the students as well. Why is it necessary to read Hamlet to learn how to write a few decent paragraphs and avoid grammatical mistakes? Why can't these guys read current events, or well written police reports, or something not dreadfully boring and stuck in the 16th century? Why do these English professors insist on the least relevant and most boring stuff imaginable to teach how to write?

H. said...

As an English prof who used to be an English 1A adjunct at community colleges, I can identify with X's article. The fact that not all students should be there came to me in a powerful rush of realization when I examined the first batch of one-paragraph writing samples handed in by my first class. Needless to say, their "term papers" at the end of the semester were comically dismal. (Only about half made it to the end of the semester, anyway). While everyone has a right to apply to a higher ed. institution, and while many could benefit from taking certain courses from them, the idea of a BA for everyone is hopelessly unreal, and degrades the value of a solid education for those who can attain it intellectually.

blue said...

I have heard of several schemes to tax the rich, repeal tax cuts, etc., and then to use that money to fund college educations for everyone. This sort of thing is a favorite of liberals everywhere.

Don't colleges themselves benefit from this kind of thing? How many fewer colleges would there be if only people who had attained the 12th grade standard in math, english, science, and history attended?

Carolyn said...

As a California transplant, I am appalled at how much of my taxes go to subsidize students in the Cal State system, the vast majority, based on my acquaintance with their grads, have no business going to a 4 year college (cal polys excepted). I have my doubts about the lesser UCs, too. The whole California higher education system is a big government employment scam as far as I am concerned.

Maybe it's because I am a private college grad and from the east coast where there are so many outstanding universities/colleges, but if my kids go to a public university, it won't be in California. [Yes, even if they get into Cal/UCLA - the class crowding issues (aka impaction) are a major consideration]

Poor Postdoc said...

For more about the standards that students at less selective colleges are held to, see this article from Inside Higher Ed about a professor that was fired for failing too many of his students.

Justin Halter said...

As an adjunct prof at a community college, I can relate to what the guy is saying, but he is missing some key points. He is apparently not realizing that D's will not transfer up, and they will lead to a low GPA that will keep the student from even being admitted to a university. However, the D will probably apply to the student's associates degree, and allow the student to progress professionally. He can distribute D's to students who don't really deserve to pass, yet who stuck out the whole semester, in good conscience.

Also, he should realize that education is a formative process. He is not the college president or department chair signing off on a degree. It is their first college class, fer cryin' out loud! No doubt they will improve over the course of years in college (if they don't quit in exasperation after meeting him, which is quite probable).

Overall, typical numskull English teacher. And a jerk. But I repeat myself...

Anonymous said...

"An aspect of the pyramid scheme nature of HE expansion is that a lot of jobs require a degree to get hired that a decade or so ago didn't."

Until grade inflation and dumbing down cranked up, a high school diploma actually meant something. People with a HS diploma could be assumed to have mastered a certain level of math, science, reading with comprehension, etc even if they didn't plan on attending college and so took the business, vocational, or general course of study. Knowing the material mattered and grades reflected that.

Then public education was so dumbed down and social promotion so elevated that today - and for some time now - a HS diploma means nothing; therefore, many jobs require at least an AA and some a BA/BS. Many job positions requiring a college degree today could easily be filled by a person with a HS diploma from a HS with the same standards as prevailed 30 years ago.

Now so much of college has been dumbed down and degrees awarded so casually for substandard work that employers are looking for post grad degrees. No doubt these in time will be equally dumbed down etc.

We could save ourselves a pile of money just by re-instituting higher standards in public education, starting with elementary school. So what do we do? We come up with No Child Left Behind, which tells us that we have to have all children proficient at everything by a certain amount of time, which is ridiculous. A lot of "children" are going to be "left behind" but they'll have diplomas. Boy, will they have diplomas!

Deena Flinchum

none of the above said...

One thing that strikes me here: Why in God's name does a future policeman or LPN or mid-level customer service manager need to be able to read and parse Hamlet? They need enough native intelligence to do their jobs, enough verbal skills to write the stuff they have to write. Similarly, they probably don't need to suffer through calculus, or (other than the nurse) a lot of science classes.

A college education intended to broaden the horizons of the top few percent of the country's students, yeah, some literature requirements there make sense--along with calc and stat and some kind of hard science. You might want your future scientists, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and doctors to have a somewhat broad intellectual framework. But it's just silly to demand that framework for cops and nurses and (probably) elementary school teachers.

A lot of these requirements remind me of the way that, in the past, all educated men were expected to know Latin and maybe Greek, and to have read the classics. No doubt, there was some value to this, but mostly, it seems like it was a massive waste of time.

Igor Alexander said...

"A college education intended to broaden the horizons of the top few percent of the country's students, yeah, some literature requirements there make sense--along with calc and stat and some kind of hard science. You might want your future scientists, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and doctors to have a somewhat broad intellectual framework. But it's just silly to demand that framework for cops and nurses and (probably) elementary school teachers."

I'll go a step further and say that there is no need whatsoever for doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, or engineers to study Shakespeare, and no need for doctors, lawyers, accountants, or even some scientists (e.g. biologists, the majority of chemists) to study calculus. I am convinced that universities deliberately design their programs so that a student's education will be dragged out as long as possible, and they do this because they are above all else a business.