Tag Archives: job training

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.

Intelligence vs. Skill

Just as there is a difference between job training and education, there’s a difference between intelligence and skill.

A recent DailyKos post by a neurologist disputed the notion that being a neurosurgeon should be taken as evidence that Ben Carson is smart. The author distinguished between genuine intellect and technical skill.

“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge….

My point is that neurosurgeons are not automatically smart because they are a neurosurgeon. To get through training and have any sort of practice they must be disciplined, have immense ego strength, a reasonably good memory, and have mental and physical stamina. However, like many other doctors, they are not always smart. Neurosurgeons, like other surgeons, can be outstanding technicians but that is different than being intellectually brilliant. A truly brilliant internal medicine specialist once told me that “you can train anyone to perform a procedure”. I’ve seen surgical assistants, not doctors but physician’s assistants that specialize in surgery, perform technically difficult procedures with stunning alacrity. It’s the old rule: do something enough times and you will get damn good at it.

I thought about the difference between skill and intellect–both of which are important, but which are not the same thing– when I heard Marco Rubio’s astonishing statement in the recent GOP debate that “Welders make more than philosophers. America needs more welders and less [sic} philosophers.”

Not only was Rubio wrong on the facts (philosophers actually earn more than welders), but think about what this sneering dismissal of the worth of intellectual pursuits tells us about his worldview. Clearly, Rubio (and apparently everyone on that debate stage) evaluates  the worth of any profession solely on the basis of what it pays. If welders did make more than teachers, then welders would obviously be superior.

I’m a big fan of market economics, but the fact that the market rewards pornographers more than it rewards nurses doesn’t mean we need more pornographers and fewer nurses.

Let’s be clear: the skilled trades are important and honorable. But scholarship, research, scientific inquiry and yes, philosophy and theology, are essential to human progress. They also give our lives meaning and purpose.

Socrates–a philosopher– said the unexamined life is not worth living. There wasn’t anyone on that debate stage who appears to understand that sentiment, let alone agree with it–and that is terrifying.

A Perverse Idea Whose Time Has Definitely Not Come

I think I’ve written before about how profoundly stupid this is. But I may have neglected to mention that it is also perverse.

And I was shocked to see a Brookings Institute “report” seemingly endorsing it.

“It” is Income-Sharing Agreements (aka “indentured servitude”), currently being promoted by former Indiana Governor and current Purdue President Mitch Daniels as a private-sector remedy for the growing burden of student loan debt.

Income Share Agreements are an innovative tool that will, as I have argued elsewhere, allow students to finance college by selling “shares” in their future earnings. Graduates pay back in proportion to the pecuniary value they get from their degree. If the degree proves worthless, the students will pay little or nothing. If the degree is immensely valuable, then the students will pay back a lot. Either way, the payments are, by construction, affordable.

This is a great idea, if your definition of “education” is job training.

How many “investors” are going to finance that philosophy major’s education? How about the student pursuing a degree in English literature? Or romance languages? or basic scientific research that doesn’t promise a quick payoff, as opposed to training in   technologies that generate prompt turnarounds to satisfy consumerism?

Even for students in more “promising” fields, the plan doesn’t eliminate debt; it simply changes the identity of the creditor and the schedule of repayment.

Ultimately, this is one more step on the road to devaluing scholarly inquiry–one more bit of evidence (as if the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates wasn’t evidence enough) of the triumph of American anti-intellectualism.

If it can’t be monetized, it evidently isn’t worth knowing.

Speaking of Education…

David Schultz–with whom I collaborated on a textbook a couple of years ago–has written a thought-provoking article on the coming decline of the “corporate” university.

The corporate university is being undone by the very forces that created it. The defining characteristic of higher education in the last forty years has been its corporatization, which has transformed the university from an educational community with shared governance into a top-down bureaucracy that is increasingly managed and operated like a traditional profit-seeking corporation.

David points out that–at least since World War II– there have been two very distinct “business models” that have characterized American higher education. The first model was based on public investment in education, and it lasted until the 1970s. “The second, a corporate model, flourished until the economic crash in 2008.”

Public institutions were central to the first model.

The business model was simple: tax dollars, federal aid, and an expanding population of often first-generation students attending state institutions at low tuition. Let us call this the Dewey model,after John Dewey, whose theories emphasized the democratic functions of education.

Beginning with the 1980s, support for all public institutions and programs–including but not limited to universities– began to diminish, and a near-religious belief in the power of markets to cure everything that ails us replaced it.

The corporate university took control of the curriculum in order to generate revenue. The new business model found its most powerful income stream in professional education, including programs in public or business administration and law school, which became the cash cow of colleges and universities. This was especially true with MBA programs, which rapidly multiplied. These programs were sold to applicants with the claim that the high tuition would be more than offset by future earnings.

This business model in part used tuition from professional programs to finance the rest of the university. Students in these programs were able to secure loans to finance their training. The model relied heavily on attracting foreign students, returning baby boomers in need of additional credentials, and recent “baby boomlet” graduates seeking professional degrees as a shortcut to professional advancement.

The consequences of this shift are all around us: ballooning student debt loads, the emphasis on narrow job/professional training and the corresponding neglect of the liberal arts curricula that taught students how to think, the ever-growing dependence on poorly-paid (okay, exploited) adjunct faculty, and the rise of for-profit institutions that promise quick credentialing without the inconvenience of an actual education, among others.

David pulls no punches: as he says, the corporate business model is an education Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes, it is falling apart.

Those of us who care about education, who fear the consequences for self-governance of a credentialed but uneducated population, need to figure out how to go about restoring the university’s civic and intellectual mission.

Economic Straw Men

A friend recently sent me one of those irritating articles purporting to lecture “liberals” about economic realities. This one was unusually smug. It was written by a self-styled “economist” and published by Forbes; titled “Ten Economic Truths Liberals Need to Learn,”   it mostly rebutted “straw man” positions that no one–liberal or not–actually takes.

I won’t go through the whole list, because you can read it for yourselves, and because we’ve all heard these “truths” before.

“Government cannot create jobs” is an oldie but goodie. Like many of the others, it is “true” only in a very limited sense; obviously, government can and does create jobs for teachers, police officers, and other government workers, and when it invests properly in infrastructure, those investments also generate jobs.

What that flip formulation also misses is the essential role government plays in providing the infrastructures that make private enterprise and private job creation possible.

Several other “truths” on the list are equally wrongheaded: the author claims that low wages are not exploitative, for example–among other things, conveniently overlooking the fact that taxpayers are making up the (enormous) difference between low wages and living costs, and thus effectively subsidizing corporate profits.

I guess it depends upon what your definition of “exploitative” is.

But the “truth” that sent me over the edge was this one:

Education is not a public good. We provide publicly funded K-12 education to all (even to non-citizens), but the education provided produces human capital that is privately owned by each person. This human capital means more work skills, more developed talent, and more potential productivity. People with more human capital generally get paid more, collecting the returns from their education in the form of higher earnings. One common defense of education as a public good is worth refuting here. Yes, education helps people invent things that benefit society. However, they will expect to be paid for those inventions, not give them away for free in return for their education.

This betrays an appalling lack of understanding of both education and the public good.

READ MY LIPS: Education is not synonymous with job training. There is nothing wrong with job training–it’s essential–but a genuine education is far more than a skill set that makes someone marketable in the dystopic society idealized by the (presumably trained but clearly uneducated) twit who wrote this.

Job training produces people who produce things. Education produces people who create art and music and literature, who develop philosophies and political systems, who innovate and imagine and beautify cities and civic environments.

Job training allows people to be productive economic units. Education allows people to be responsible citizens.

If a polity consisting of thoughtful and informed and genuinely educated citizens isn’t a public good, I don’t know what is.