A Stick in the Eye of Higher Ed

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If you haven’t read this, give it a shot and tell me what you think:

Ivy League Schools Are Overrated. Send Your Kids Elsewhere. | New Republic.

I really love how Deresiewicz takes aim at a few unchallenged assumptions of our 21st century American higher ed system:

  • that admission to elite colleges has everything to do with academic merit
  • that academic achievement is properly measured by SAT scores and GPA scales, and that the only intelligences that matter are the ones measured by classroom testing
  • that the SAT isn’t a tool you can “game” if you have enough money to buy enough tutors and take it enough times
  • that the very structure of our educational system isn’t deeply affected by socioeconomic status, not just hard work and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” American dreaming
  • that “success” in life should be defined primarily in economic terms (more wealthy = more successful)
  • that education should primarily promote economic mobility

I think colleges sold their proverbial souls in the latter half of the 20th century when they were willing to redefine education as “worker training” in order to get more students.

keep-calm-i-m-college-boundThirty or forty years later, our K-12 system is being ground down by over-assessment and lack of attention to socioeconomic factors that affect student performance, while class distinctions are ever more enshrined.

College is seen as the only way out of poverty, but usually it’s only the kids with social capital and a decent household income who can play the system well enough to get into a quality 4-year college.

The community college and junior college and vo-tech school network has nearly collapsed for lack of funding while ever more students – badly unprepared for the challenge of higher education because K-12 testing squeezes out time for actual instruction – are rushing into classrooms to do the college thing.

Does anybody even do apprenticeships anymore?

Seriously, people.  We need an overhaul.  *puts away soapbox*

Oh yeah, and it’s nice to be home from vacation. If you’re wondering why I went AWOL for a week.


  1. The fundamental financial scenario for college graduates has changed as well. The job training model had the underling assumption that a college degree = ability to reasonably pay off college debt quickly. Now, students from lower socio-economic classes who push their way into higher ed face unwieldy debt the constrains their ability to live out the american dream or even purchase a house in the long term.

    Something must be done, but the politics of fixing the problem are very difficult.
    Republicans don’t want to commit more money to higher ed
    Democrats want to ensure their gov’t union base is protected and allow costs to grow exponentially on the back of student debt.
    Something will give in the long term, I just worry about this generation’s financial future.


    1. There was a good article a few weeks ago about the topic of college debt – I’d have to dig up the link – which argues that actually, bachelor’s degree debt for most graduates isn’t too high. The people who are skewing the numbers are kids not really prepared for college or not clear on a career goal before they enroll, and then drop out halfway through a degree. Then they’re left w/o the education but thousands of dollars in loans.

      Several in higher ed have written about the “nuclear arms race” among college campuses to make bigger, nicer, more expensive campus life facilities which drives up the cost of college overall. It’s a nasty game, because if a college is trying to focus on education and keep costs down, they look “shabby” to the wide-eyed high school students being shoved into an enormous financial / educational decision before they really understand how to determine what bells & whistles matter, and which don’t.

      We need several realignments – IMHO
      – the fed gov’t needs to stop making money off student debt (currently loan interest rates are at 6-7%)
      – the K-12 system and the national conversation needs to shift to promote other pathways into good vocations, like 2-yr schools, certificates, and entrepreneurship – apart from obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Not every kid should be college-bound. And we need to value people who do good “blue collar” work.
      – higher ed institutions are responsible for their own fate, but no one is willing to blink in this high-stakes standoff. I have no solution for that, but do hope some of the major players in the game would step out for change.


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