The Downfall of Higher Education
Ever since Russia launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, America has been obsessed with the bachelor’s degree. The combination of World War II and the Cold War produced an innate fear of being second place in the new emerging world of science. My father once told me that right around when he was in high school was when the big push for everyone to go to college started, as he didn’t really know anyone older that had a degree from a university. However, I argue that the American university will not hold the value that it once did in the coming future. The value of a bachelor’s degree is becoming less valuable every day.
Of course, I must preface all of this by stating that I myself do not have a bachelor’s degree. I dropped out of college with 5 classes left in order to start a company back in 2003. I came back and finished 3 more classes in 2007. Part of me wants to finish the remaining classes, but I have this passion to create things and help progress society, and finishing school doesn’t really help me accomplish these goals; it only slows me down.
So back to my point. The reason I see the bachelor’s degree becoming less valuable is because I feel that it’s starting to reach its saturation point. Before the 20th century, the masses were not allowed to attend universities. The major push for everyone to have a bachelor’s degree has destroyed the scarcity that once gave the degree its value.
Note that I don’t believe that education lacks value, just the piece of paper that comes along with it. Despite my lack of a degree, I spend a majority of my day reading as many articles, papers, blogs and books as I can get my hands on, thus increasing my intellectual value. Yet I lack this piece of paper that supposedly defines my intelligence, which everyone claims is the only rite of passage into a career. This notion strikes me as odd because I’ve been working in my industry for 8 years now without one…
My lack of faith in the bachelor’s degree wouldn’t be so stated if I hadn’t actually been to college and seen what it has really become. A degree used to mean something when only the truly intellectually curious pursued them. I feel that undergraduate majors do a great job of preparing the student for graduate school in the subject they study. Yet a great majority of the students have no plans at all to attend graduate school and only went to school in the first place because they were told they wouldn’t get a job otherwise. Let me tell you, almost no jobs actually utilize the skills you acquired as an undergraduate. I’d even argue that a year or two of intensive training in a particular subject (similar to a trade school) would prepare you better for a job, so why does the bachelor’s degree exist?
The bachelor’s degree exists for the same reason the SAT exists. With increasing numbers of people coming in and out of the massive education system, big business (which includes universities themselves) need some sort of indicator of whether a person is capable. However, standardized measures are never accurate measures and I’m not sure why no one has come up with a way to rid society of these inaccurate forms of self-evaluation. With all the technology we have today, we shouldn’t have to endure broad generalizations anymore. I’m apparently not the only one that feels this way about the state of higher education. The wikipedia page on the university contains the following gems:
In his study of the American university since World War II, The Knowledge Factory, Stanley Aronowitz argues that the American university has been besieged by growing unemployment issues, the pressures of big business on the land grant university, as well as the political passivity and ivory tower naivete of American academics.
In a somewhat more theoretical vein, the late Bill Readings contends in his 1995 study, The University in Ruins, that the university around the world has been hopelessly commodified by globalization and the bureaucratic non-value of “excellence.” His view is that the university will continue to linger on as an increasingly consumerist, ruined institution until or unless we are able to conceive of advanced education in transnational ways that can move beyond both the national subject and the corporate enterprise.
The ironic thing about these two studies is that they were done by professors! If the professors at these universities have such a bleak outlook on the system that they’ve devoted their entire lives to, isn’t that a sign that there’s something wrong with the system?