Sixth in a series on university struggles
In universities, all should speak the truth to one another in spite of political and university leadership relentlessly peddling the idea that any university degree has value. It is clear by the level of unemployment and student debt that not all degrees have marketplace value. Until 40 years ago, this was not the case: All degrees had value. Students and families should be ever mindful of employment opportunities available to the successful student who completes a degree.
Study the value of the degree. In degree programs where grades are passed out like Christmas candy, the ultimate value of the degree program may be quite low. To the student, look around you in the class, ask yourself the question, “Are these students — my peers — diligent and thoughtful so that the degree that they carry away from the institution will sustain the value of my degree?” If the answer is no, change majors; if need be, change universities.
At too many colleges, nearly 80% of the grades given are A’s and B’s. Something’s broken. Not that many people can be excellent. The average GPA nationally for high school graduates is over 3.0. This is at least a B. Everybody’s good and half the students graduate with honors. All of this lying, cheating, and stealing may make a student feel good. It may even increase the enrollment of second-rate universities. Another consequence is unintended: In a free market economy, employers whose livelihood depends on intelligence, acumen, and perseverance won’t hire skill-less graduates. And it is not just a U.S. problem, it’s planet-wide. Savvy employers will tell you to go find a job somewhere else because what may have made you feel good, and may, for a short season, be good for the university, is not good for business. Does this mean that the only value of the college degree is measured by employment potential?
The process of learning and investigating is rewarding and beneficial. Rigorous course work in all disciplines has value. It’s not the discipline that does or does not have value, but how the people involved value their craft and their products. Wantonly demeaning the study of literature or history and foolish dismissiveness will not diminish the value of the study of history. The ability to observe, the capacity to extract general principles from specific occurrences, the understanding of the march of time and the human condition, the situating of various forms of government in the world order, and a multitude of other events that will assist a student in becoming an intelligent human being have real value although such reflective insights, and their pursuit, are not typically seen as having vocational usefulness.
If a student receives an A in a class and worked diligently to generate an understanding of the subject matter of the class, while sitting next to a student who has done nothing and gets the same A, the student who has exercised intelligence and hard work to earn the A should become a hero. Go to a Department Chair, a Dean, or a President if need be and say very simply, “Why are you allowing my high cost educational experience to be undermined?” Put it in writing, heroically, and if university leadership at every level agrees with the faculty member who calls what’s good, good, and what’s bad, good, leave the institution in a hurry as it is in a death spiral. The organization has lost credibility and it will cost you and that will become clear as you study the value of the degree. In turn it will undermine how you value study.
How is it possible to value study when those who are “in the business of study” don’t value it themselves, or tell all students they are excellent, so everyone’s satisfied, except for the student who holds the worthless degree, the employer who can’t tell the good from the bad because they all look the same, and the institution that looks around in disbelief and wonders what has happened to its enrollment.
Students should study the value of a degree, and value the process of study in equal measure. But, if the institution won’t hold themselves to the same standards, the struggle will be lost as quality evaporates.