What is the Value of a College Degree Today?

When I was young, my father, Big Daddy G, never attended one PTA meeting or one parent-teacher conference.  Nope.  Not one.  But Big Daddy G did not have to attend either of these ‘child developmental’ programs.  I was in the unenviable position of having three of my grade school teachers having husbands that worked every day with my dad.  In essence, he attended a parent-teacher conference almost every day, even if it did come second hand through his co-workers.  This worked out very well for Big Daddy G, but not too well for me.  Talk in class?  One week of being grounded.  Do poorly on an assignment?  No need to wait for a report card; one week of being grounded.  Anything I did that was remotely determined to be marginal behavior or performance got to Big Daddy G faster than word travels in the middle of the Congo by drumbeat.  I was the proud recipient of any punishment coming from those drumbeats.  The situation did not improve in high school, either.

My mom, as practically all the moms, attended all the parent-teacher conferences.  In our small town, it was a social event.  My mother bought a new dress for these conferences.  Most of the other moms did the same.  In a small town, with a minimal number of weddings or funerals taking place, these conferences provided the perfect excuse for a new ‘outfit.’

Then something remarkable happened.  I grew up and went away to college at a Big Ten university in the Midwest.  After 50 years, I still remember my two day orientation as if it were yesterday.  The most memorable part was the last hour when we met with our two senior coed escorts at the student union.  Their last comment to our group of 25 incoming freshmen was this: “Look around.  Only 10% of you will graduate from this university.”  Say what?  Did I hear that right?  My thoughts were racing.  Most of these kids came from big city schools that held more kids in a bathroom than I had in my graduating high school class!  I reverted to my high school math.  If 10% of 25 freshmen equates to 2.5 graduates, maybe I could be the .5 graduate!  Made sense to me because most of these 25 freshmen looked pretty gosh darn intelligent.

During my freshmen year, I saw just about every one the members of my orientation class.  My sophomore year?  About half.  By the time I graduated, I had not seen any of those students for over a year.

So what has happened over the last 50 years to higher education?  It is much more expensive, for sure.  But now, my alma mater boasts of a college graduation rate of 65% up from a graduation rate of 41% of just 10 years ago.  I am guessing the 10% graduation rate from 50 years ago is close to accurate.

In my mind, I am questioning whether today’s college freshmen are that much smarter than 50 years ago, or if higher education is falling in line with the Grandpa T rule #2, ‘businesses are in the business of making money.’  If you were to ask my grandchildren, they would tell you that they are much smarter, if you can get them off their devices long enough to converse.  But I believe there has been a lowering of academic standards to receive that degree.   Let us review some statistics and data.

ATHLETES

Look at how much money a college spends on its athletic programs.  Why?   Because winning teams bring in huge monies for athletic event attendance.  I do not need to do research when I say that at least 6 college football coaches are making in excess of $5 million a year.  Usually, their income is higher from endorsements or from ‘sports talk’ programs.  The secondary benefit is that the alumni (and wannabe alumni) always donate and endow more to colleges with winning sports teams.  A third benefit is the royalties on the college branded merchandise.  You know what I mean, the foam fingers proclaiming their team is number one, mugs, hats, t-shirts and sweat shirts, etc.   But what happens to those colleges that do not have winning teams?  Well, the cost of the athletic department is passed down to the students in the form of tuition increases.

What does it take to have winning teams besides a coach.  Well, you need to have winning athletes!  And if you are a 5 star athlete, your ticket is punched.  If Bubba weighs 325 pounds and can run the 40 yard dash in 4.4 seconds while tearing off car doors with his bare hands, Bubba will be playing tackle on any football team he wants.   And Bubba will have an all inclusive scholarship, with private tutoring and privilege that the average student could only dream of.  But Bubba has been a 5 star student for his entire playing career.  He had marginal grades in high school, but was given a grade high enough to insure he was always eligible.  Now that he is in college, they will tailor a program that may get him a degree…just for him!

Does lowering the standards for Bubba sound like a stretch to reality?  During a recent University of North Carolina scandal, a learning specialist hired to help athletes found that during the period from 2004 to 2012, 60 percent of the 183 members of the football and basketball teams read between fourth and eighth grade levels.  About 10 percent read below a third grade level.  Keep in mind that all of these athletes both graduated from high school and were admitted to college.  Do you think this is just a problem at UNC?

INSTRUCTION

During my college career, I had good instructors and I had bad instructors.  I know that my university attempted to hire professors with ‘distinction.’  Many of them had written books.  One of them had been a member of John Kennedy’s cabinet.  But do well educated people, regardless of their distinction necessarily make for being a good instructor?  After all, during my lifetime I have met people with educational credentials up the wazoo, but would not be able to figure out which way was up if the sun was not shining.  I call them ‘educated idiots,’ because they had absolutely no common sense, and sadly, no teaching charisma.

Would you like your student to attend Harvard law school?  Well if you do, your student would have Laurence Tribe, author of the book, “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment” as a professor.  On CNN last week, this supposedly brilliant prof said this about the POTUS:  “You can’t be the boy who cried wolf and have a viable impeachment power.  You can’t use it over and over again against the same president.  If you’re going to shoot him, you have to shoot to kill.”  Ah, there it is.  Academic brilliance at its finest…and its stupidest.  That turd would not have floated during my college years.

Or, just to show that your student may have a prof with immense compassion, there is this from an English prof at the California State University in Fresno within an hour after the death of Barbara Bush.  Her name is Randa Jarrar.  She decided to twitter that, “the late Barbara Bush is an ‘amazing racist.’  She went on to say, “happy the witch is dead”…and then crowed that because she had tenure, she’d never be penalized for her ugly comments.  Is this who you want teaching your student?

(As an aside, my instructors at my officer basic course were absolutely top notch.  95% of those instructors were better than my profs at my Big Ten university.)

Do I think a college education is ‘watered down’ since my college years?  Absolutely!  I believe colleges have become more corporate than educational.  They strive to keep up attendance because they cannot receive monies from students that drop out.  Bragging about their high graduation rates makes more sense when they are dealing with a generation of students that are accustomed to getting ‘participation trophies.’  A college degree today appears to have become a participation trophy for many universities.

I believe the quality of instruction has suffered, because profs are not hired as to how well they instruct, but by how ‘distinguished’ they are.  Most of my high school teachers and practically all of my military instructors, were better than my college professors with few exceptions.

After looking at the available degree programs at my alma mater, it becomes evident that some of the degree programs are ‘watered down.’  In other words…a cake walk degree program to keep the student in college, paying tuition.  Inter-college bachelor’s degree program?  Multidisciplinary bachelor’s study program?  Yup.  They are both in the catalog and I have no flippin’ idea what either of them encompass.

Here is what is really missing from a college education today.  Mom and/or dad.  Remember at the beginning I explained how my mom would always attend the parent-teacher conference?  Well, how many colleges have that as a program?  Once I left home, I was on my own.  A novel concept in today’s society, but none the less, my parents had no input into my college career.  I think parents should sit through some of their student’s classes, just to assess the quality of the instruction they are receiving.  I know that if my parents knew that I was receiving instruction from the two professors I quoted, Harvard and California State University administration would have experienced a ‘crap storm without an umbrella.’

My advice?  Be selective about where to attend a college.  Pick a major that produces a career and earning potential.  Pick a school with excellent instructors and not necessarily the school with the most ‘distinguished’ instructors.  Remember that not all people are cut out to go to college.  Skilled labor is needed in our country and does provide for a decent living, so technical schools are essential.  Just hire a plumber or an electrician and get the bill to see how decent that living can be.  Additionally, one-third of all college graduates are in jobs that only require a high school diploma.   Education is expensive.  Use your money wisely.

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