When Going to Work Became a Better Idea than Going to College
Back in November, I discussed America’s failing economy and capitalization of college in a blog post based on an interview with John Ratzenberger in the Huffington Post. Ellen Schrecker, herself a university professor, echoed the idea of college as company in her article on Al-Jazeera.com
Schrecker describes the current state of America’s universities and her description is, I’m sure, resoundingly familiar to anyone who has attended college in the past five years. Reviewing colleges that sound so glitzy and chock -full of amentities in a college fact book? Sitting through a class where TA’s pass out the homework and grade the exams? Trying to squeeze in an appointment with one’s professor, who doubles as an advisor to umpteenth students? These have become hallmarks of the American university, in particular the state schools, and Schrecker gives us a good look at why things have turned out this way.
The main reason, she says, is that “Most [people] in the US now view it [college] solely from a narrowly economic perspective.” Instead of being a place of higher learning, Schrecker argues that colleges are run as corporations where the bottom line not only for the students is to earn money, but the colleges as well. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and as a result students receive a lower quality of education. This doesn’t seem to particularly bother university administration, who put pressure on the teachers to let student’s “slide by” even when their work is not up to standard. Since when did college become about bypassing learning?
A college education was long viewed as a passport to life in the comfortable
middle-class, but somewhere along the way this changed. As Schrecker comments, “higher education in the US now signifies debt and lack of opportunity,” a statement that seems shocking when you consider what it used to mean. Even as little as six or seven years ago, graduating college still held panache; there was still honor in attending school, and a post-graduation job was still a possibility. Ever since the economy tanked,
What is unbelievable is that, despite the transparent equation attending college nowadays=debt and endless loans + low-paying job that has nothing to do with what one actually paid all that money to study, Americans are still going. Although most grads are drowning in debt even from their state-school educations, that doesn’t deter people from enrolling; college is still seen as the passport to success and the middle class. I’ve watched my fellow undergrads go onto grad school and asked myself, Don’t they know what the economy is like? Don’t get me wrong; I want to attend graduate school and one day will, but I know that now is not the time. Having a degree does not ensure you a job; John Ratzenberger was correct in saying that more young people should be trained in blue collar jobs, as today, those blue-collar workers can still find jobs. It’s the on-their-high-horse, diploma-grasping college grads who can’t find a job. Nowadays, it’s almost more worth one’s time to go straight to work than to go straight to college.
Is there anyway to turn all of this around, to create the classic college setting that is now only available at elusive and exclusive universities like Yale and Harvard? Schrecker insists that if college reverts back to the “old model” and, to quote, “jettisons the short-term business model” than one again create “educated and competent citizens upon whom our faltering democratic polity depends.” I agree with her that college needs to turn back into a center of higher learning, where professors have time to do research and meet with their students, where colleges don’t let shoddy teaching (or shoddy students) pass because they want to conserve (or earn) money. But I can’t help but laugh at the irony in Ellen Schrecker’s parting words. Apparently, the new equation is
College education=incompetent + uneducated citizens.
I know I was never good at math, but even I can see that there’s something wrong with this equation.
1. “The Fading Dream of Higher Education in the U.S.’ by Ellen Schrecker, 20 January 2012. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/2012113131643983539.html
2. Cortland photo from roger14850.tripod.com