Chasing Tuition Dollars, Foregoing The Mission

When reasonably knowledgable people listen to today’s political arguments–not just in Facebook posts, or at dinner parties or other venues, but also on cable networks’ panel discussions–it becomes painfully clear that a whole lot of Americans have no idea how their government is supposed to work. I bitch about that constantly.

But ignorance of our legal and constitutional system is far from the only information deficit on display these days. The most dogmatic and smug assertions–on both sides of the political divide– routinely come from presumably educated folks who display absolutely no understanding of the rules of elementary logic, and who appear to lack even the slightest acquaintance with political theory, let alone American or world history.

“Presumably educated” is the key. At risk of over-simplifying a complex phenomenon,  I want to suggest that these low levels of argumentation are an outgrowth of the decline of  liberal arts requirements in our colleges and universities, where genuine education continues to lose ground to job training.

It isn’t only in the U.S. A reader of this blog sent me a link to a report from England:

The University of Staffordshire last year launched its bachelor’s and master’s esports programs, in which students mainly learn marketing and management skills tailored to the industry. This autumn, it’s expanding the program to London while other schools are also debuting esports degree courses, including Britain’s Chichester University, Virginia’s Shenandoah University, Becker College in Massachusetts and The Ohio State University. In Asia, where esports has seen strong growth, schools in Singapore and China offer courses.

The global esports market is expected to surge to $1.1 billion this year, up $230 million from 2018 on growth in sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales, according to Newzoo . The research firm expects the global esports audience to grow in 2019 to about 454 million as fans tune in on live streaming platforms such as Twitch and Microsoft’s Mixer.

I am prepared to believe that “esports” is a growing field. So are motorsports (which my own campus offers and hypes), web design, hospitality studies–not to mention more traditional business school courses in marketing, accounting and the like. And I have absolutely no objection to programs that teach these skills.

I do, however, have a huge objection to programs that allow students to substitute what is essentially job training for courses that provide them with a liberal education–that introduce them, albeit superficially, to great literature, to the arts, to economic and social theory, to history–in short, to the intellectual products of civilization.

At best, an undergraduate education can only provide young people with a “tasting menu,” a sampling of the intellectual riches that generations of scholars and thinkers have amassed. But ideally, that sampling will do three things:  foster a thirst for lifetime learning; give them a foundation for understanding the complexities of the world in which they must function; and inculcate an appropriate intellectual modesty–a recognition that there is infinitely more to know.

I understand why many universities have gone down this road. We depend significantly on tuition dollars to function, so we compete for students. Telling 18-year-olds that you will help them understand their world is far less enticing than telling them–and their parents–that they’ll make good money.

Universities also depend heavily upon public funding. State legislatures hold those purse-strings, and too many policymakers view higher education entirely through the lens of eventual employment. Along with self-anointed “rankers” of institutional worthiness in the media, they judge the effectiveness of universities by looking only at the rates of employment and salary levels of their graduates.

Esports, “game studies” and the like may pay the rent. However, unless  students in those programs are also required to take significant courses in the liberal arts,  they are unlikely to produce informed citizens, or to provide their graduates with the inner resources they will need if the promised jobs fail to materialize.

We are cheating students when we fail to at least introduce them to the intellectual and cultural products of those who have gone before. Making a living isn’t remotely the same thing as making a life.


  1. 1. It’s not “bitching” when you complain about something as important as the lack of civics education and understanding.

    2. You’re focusing here on universities. What about the mission of K-12 education? The curriculum has been hijacked by the “high standards” movement — don’t get me started on the state of mathematics education — to the point that schools can’t take time to teach kids what really matters.

  2. This trend just an extension of the emphasis schools put on varsity sports programs, in which the “student-athletes” are put in the least demanding majors, because they can’t be studying for tests or writing papers when they have to report for “practice.” The schools let these “students” coast through because the “games” on the weekends are supposed to instill school spirit in the entire student body, which will pay off in future years when they are making money and will donate to whatever fund programs they are hit up for. The sports programs are cash cows for the school, so they pretend that the athletes are getting an education.

  3. Danny reminds me that in the mid-70s I hired 2 HS grads to work in my retail store. 1 graduated from Cathedral HS, the other from Carmel HS. To prepare for a clearance sale I indicated the merchandise to be discounted and told them to reduce the price 15%. The blank look they gave me was stunning. After showing them how to do that I explained they could just multiply by .85. I felt sorry for further confusing them. Cathedral and Carmel! How sad

  4. When I graduated from HS I had completed a class in American Government. It was fairly extensive ( we even did an IRS for 1040), covered the various duties of the branches of government, and left us better prepared to be citizens. I wonder if that course is still taught. My fear would be the political extremist would demand it bend to favor their brand of far right ( most likely) or far left view point but I think the class should be taught at the HS level.

  5. Who even knew eSports was a thing?

    As for higher education, educational reforms are long past due. As long as the costs of an education outgrow wages, some programs considered “irrelevant” will be tossed from a curriculum. One of the ways to reduce costs is books which are still dictated by publishing companies. We are way past the time of shareable technology and MOOCs exist to teach college-level classes decades ago, but somehow, those didn’t catch on. Diploma mills and high college debt have become obstacles to a well-rounded education.

    Not to mention the negative influence of private donors who are taking advantage of the “competition for dollars.” The Koch network is now over 150 institutions of higher learning. We can’t allow open-minded people to graduate from college.

    In our community, the two anchor institutions are higher education and healthcare; both produce an extraordinary level of debt on society due to low wages imposed on society by capitalists. The stock market and CEO pay have thrived at the consumer’s expense. It’s not sustainable. We should have been working on increasing wages but when the “love of money” is in control…

    Rent has now grown to 50% of monthly wages for a majority of Americans. That doesn’t leave much room for auto payments, student debt, medical bills, AND food.

    This all ties into yesterday’s post about pitchforks and why the billionaires should be getting very nervous. At least they were told to be nervous at this year’s meeting in Davos. Growing economic inequality is a BIG DEAL and no more so than on our younger generations who’ve been told, “No, we cannot afford it.”

    Is it any wonder that they lean toward socialism as their choice economic system?

  6. After decades of turning education into a commodity and productizing knowledge, this is what we get. Philosophy? History? Logic and ethics (see Philosophy)? The Arts? No ROI. Well, maybe the ability to recognize cognitive dissonance when you see it, or what a dystopia looks like when you’re in it, or think strategically about unintended consequences of actions or projects before they’re undertaken, or maybe understanding why science offers believable conclusions (especially when they’re backed with a 97% consensus). But, hey, how do you quantify and market those skills? And what if we teach people that stuff and they don’t just turn into mind-numbed drones serving the 1%?

    Yeah, I’d track the rise of Kool-Aid soaked cult zombies like today’s GOP and their supporters to the decline of liberal (no, dammit, not “Libruhl” or “libtard”) arts.

  7. It isn’t just civics. I taught secondary school science – beginning at age 53. Much to my dismay, most of the students had no knowledge of the major theaters of WW II. They had some scant awareness that we’d put men on the moon. Civil rights? A little. Even in 12th grade they had very little awareness of seasons, geography and weather patterns.

    Maybe that was supposed to be my job – and I sacrificed much curriculum to bring those topics to the fore – but I expected my “colleagues” to be doing theirs too. Silly me. As cynical principal once told me, “The ABCs of education are Athletics, Band and Cheerleaders.”

  8. And California just passed a law allowing college athletes to be paid for their talents by sports connected businesses. Athletic coaches in colleges sign contracts for a specific number of years to earn a specific total of salary. We learned when Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight was finally fired after one too many temper tantrums during games that he was to be paid the full salary amount without fulfilling his contract time…it took a few years for IU to pay the unbelievable amount for that contract. They increased tuition amounts so students actually paid that debt; it is the same in other colleges with sports a focal point. Scholastic abilities have been lost to cheering crowds at athletic events; the dumbing down of college students. is the dumbing down of America We are paying a price for that mind set which begins in high schools which value sports over intelligence levels; brawn over brain. Girls aren’t considered with this level of education but pay the same tuition amounts as males; also those attending college for the education go deeply into debt to pay the same tuition amounts to help support the “jocks”.

    “We are cheating students when we fail to at least introduce them to the intellectual and cultural products of those who have gone before. Making a living isn’t remotely the same thing as making a life.”

  9. The time has come to make public education longer than twelve years. How many of you think that we the people will pay for a 10% hike in property taxes to pay for it even though I’m sure statistics would show a return on that investment from a more competitive workforce?

    There’s the problem. We no longer have the will to be successful, to be first. We are too comfortable in our recliners in front of intelligence depleting entertainment media being told what to think, who to like, who to hate. We are too tired when we get home from work from days in the advertising hamster wheel chasing more endlessly.

  10. Vernon,thanks. we as this age group,look back, and now see,where it was left off,so,ewhere,the lessons of the wars,never seem to mean much,when full blown corp intrests,start to demend,better money much for the wood amd metal trades. this so called economic growth today,is much of e commerce,which turns out to be foreign made products from slave like employment in countries. they dream of our American dream,we send them our military. seems all the employment here,has been simplified,streamlined,and dumbed,to please the money that be,then,well, punch in,read the new sign,keep working,punch out…dumb down America? no,a deliberate move to keep Amaericans ignorant of their own country. i have been infuriated by the lack of common knowlege needed to have a decent conversation about anything in my working world.i meet people are from all over the country and their education in civics,how it works,and their responsability to their country,severly lacks. ive met alot of younger people from other nations,educated,aware,and many have family in war torn places,that are still under siege,who practice our civics with dedication.does this mean anything to us white crackers? no.
    it just means we have a military eating up billions and killing from rooms thousands of miles away…this is what we have given our young to act on and media, corp ads,and news has delibertly dumbdown America,for its own needs,led the sheep to the,,,,,,,,

  11. I wrote earlier about ignorance of simple arithmetic skills. My HS American History teacher, 1948, was so good I didn’t have to read the book in college, 1951

  12. The difference between Training and Education.

    Remembering that trained people are easier to control than educated people.

  13. Let’s see…48th time? “Teaching As a Subversive Activity” – da book to chart the course.

  14. Someone commented about a longer school year, or more than 12 years. Of course. The rest of the world sends their kids to school for 200+ days per year at 8 hours per day. We send our kids to school for 180 days per year and 6 hours per day. Why?

    Well, the summers off thingy was a rural sop for planting and harvesting seasons. That now applies to about less than 5% of our kids….if that many. Oh, and the family entertainment industry has a lobby that quashes ANY and ALL suggestions that kids should only get ONE month off instead of three. And, of course, there are those tortured souls who think teachers get paid too much for the time off they receive. O.K., then have the teachers work 11 month contracts and reduce winter breaks to one week instead of two. How about those pesky Spring breaks? Do we really need that? Oh, but those tourist industries would suffer, wouldn’t they?

    Our citizens simply don’t understand the value of quality education. If they don’t have kids in school, they’re not interested. There goes yet another advantage…..

  15. Thumbing a nose at liberal arts courses is not a new phenomenon. In the fifties I was the recipient of more than a little sympathy from my engineering fraternity brothers who were sure my adult life would be spent as an impecunious non-earner (my brother got a math degree from Johns Hopkins, went into teaching and then into conservative Maryland politics, and lived his life on bread crumbs. He needed lessons from South Carolina politicians who see no conflict between high positions and high income).

    Regrettably, I’m not convinced that a liberal arts background can successfully defeat the barrier of ideological rectitude in instilling the ability to think critically. I suspect most of the Republican attorneys in the Senate received undergraduate B.A.s, yet they can be out-thought by any 12-year old relying on logic and verifiable information.

    Allow me to repeat that “The Dumbing Down of America” is the most successful Republican program ever. Who would have thought that a pleasant, oratorically gifted, senile refrigerator salesman could produce such a powerful and popular initiative?

  16. Amen Sheila. Education should be much more than job training. Critical thinking, creativity, ethics, an ability to understand and work with others, resourcefulness, and more are every bit as important (sometimes more so) as narrow job skills.

  17. Vernon, you are right, the entertainment vacation industry, including airlines, etc., would send all their lobbyists out in force and dump a bunch of campaign contributions if the school year was extended.

    What Liberal Arts can do is educate children to learn about the vast amount literature that has been written. Philosophy can expand the mind to getting out of the boxes – multi-dimensional thought. How about a history of unionization and the struggles that went along with it.

    The last thing our Authoritarian Dominated Society wants is children with critical thinking skills. Greta Thunberg is a recent prime example to the nail that stands out, the Reactionary Right must try to Hammer her down.

  18. You all may have read that a Hong Kong school class in critical thinking is “blamed” by the Chinese government for the protests…I sure hope that propaganda is true!

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