Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Education Enigma

About a month ago, I was skimming the headlines on Fark and encountered a peculiar story about college enrollment. I read it, found it bemusing, and moved on. Strangely, in the time since I've felt more compelled to do some further research on the topic and I arrived at some discomforting conclusions.

Many of you have probably noticed the uptick in undergraduates in the past few decades. Nowadays, you can't even find a decent job without a bachelor's degree; unless you've picked up a trade, even an associates doesn't cut it anymore. This is mostly attributed to a study suggesting that public universities are more accommodating than ever. As the United States has distanced itself from being an agricultural society with a rural-based economy to something more urban and sophisticated, so have skills and career choices. The problem is, college is so readily accessible that the meaning of a higher education has been undermined, almost trivialized.

Why has the credibility of a bachelor's degree has deteriorated in the last decade or so? Simple: just about anybody can get one. According to a June 2011 article in The New Yorker, public colleges enrolled fifteen million students in the past school year, private colleges just under six million. In 1950, there were 1.14 million undergrads in the US combined. Maybe I'm being elitist, but I'd like to think that a college education should be a consideration for the best and brightest high school students, not an obligation for the slow, the average, or the apathetic. Widening the pool doesn't catch the best fish. To imply that college is for everyone, regardless of whether it helps you land a better career, is a lie.

Let me use a personal example. When I was approaching high school graduation eight-plus years ago, I had my heart set on North Central College, a private university in Naperville, IL. My parents didn't have money to put me straight into a four-year school, so I went to community college first and my mass comm/broadcasting degree was put on hold. During my time at College of DuPage, I realized that Illinois State University offered the exact same program I was seeking but for less tuition than NCC. I applied at ISU in the summer of '05, and I was thrilled to be accepted by my "new" first choice of school. Looking back, that feeling may not have been as special as I once thought. A school not unlike Illinois State can have an acceptance rate hovering around 95%, which is absurd but in this day and age seems to be the status quo.

Back to the controversial article, which first found via SunTimes.com and was copied and quoted elsewhere. The article suggested that to boost admission, state schools are accepting students that may not have the skill set to handle higher learning. The mindset seems to be, who cares about your standardized math and reading results, we need headcount; a larger student body means more alumni donations. To some degree, four-year universities are accepting special-needs students when they don't have the time, energy, or resources to properly educate them. The handful of remedial programs set up for students on the left end of the bell curve have proven inadequate and useless. Basically, it waters down the process for everyone.

Luckily, this is not the case for all four-year universities. Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard are just as exclusive as they've ever been, though they too have evolved. Between the two schools their admission rate is below 10%, and most of the incoming freshmen are from overseas. Schools of similar prestige like Northwestern or University of Chicago accept 25% or so and also mostly attract international hopefuls. In an era of widespread standardized testing, being the offspring of an alum or donor does not guarantee admission, which is fair. On the flip side, that child of pedigree will attend a second-choice school, where they will likely advance their education with students that don't merit being there. Yes, the margin of error is that high.

I cherish my bachelor's degree from Illinois State University more than anything, though it bothers me how it carries far less weight in the eyes of potential employers than a school like Northwestern or U of C. Earning a masters or a doctorate would work wonders if the average post-grad could actually afford a fifth or sixth year of school, and most of the scholarships offered are mere drops in the bucket. Because of this flawed, watered-down system a bachelor's is the new high school diploma and a masters is the new bachelor's. Economy notwithstanding, a large percentage of my contemporaries with similar educational backgrounds are making just over minimum wage, if employed at all. You don't need a diploma to see the pretzel logic behind collegiate over-accommodation.

Other notes:

Fitness Update: Since May 1st I've lost 11 pounds. I bottomed at a loss of 12 pounds, but if I stay below 155 I'm content. I'm starting yet another new temp job on Thursday, so my twice-weekly training schedule is up in the air for the time being.

Fantasy Update: Both teams are still hovering around .500; one is three over, the other is five under. Why it took me this long to realize Ryan Zimmerman has been the albatross around my neck, I'll never know.

Improv Update: Two shows down, five to go. My class/team "Ladies & Lumberjacks" is midway through their graduate performance run at iO, and I couldn't be prouder enough of how we've done. It has been a long, wonderful journey and I look forward to working with everyone for the next few weeks and again in the near future.


  1. Congrats on the weight loss, Stu!

    College is nothing but a money-making scam. It's just one big money grab for universities.

    After I was transferred to ISU from COD, I was disheartened that I basically had to take the exact same Graphic Arts classes all over again, along with a bunch of other crap I didn't need or want to do. They wanted me to take on a daily schedule over 3 times the work load that I was used to & another 3 years on top of the 3+ I spent at COD (they kept dropping & adding classes in the program). Other stuff including Psychology, mechanics, AutoCAD, and a foreign language which was always a stumbling block for me (made even more difficult when you have Tinnitus, which makes picking up subtle differences impossible), all for a job I really didn't want to get into, which was Estimating or Graphic Arts management which was the degree's ultimate goal. Plus I was 24 & completely burnt out from almost 20 straight years of grueling, horrible schooling & life at this point.

    I've concluded I am never going to make $100,000+ a year, and unless I choose a new career path (maybe Culinary Arts), my Associates is as far as I'm going to get. Part of the problem in general is there's just too many people, too few jobs & way too much global competition. That's the unfortunate reality when you open the borders & allow the employers to select the crème de la crop.

    Tho on the other hand, there's a booming job market in the Dakotas. But who the hell wants to go live out there?? Tho it may have to be an option, and it wouldn't have to be forever.

  2. Time for another storm damage update, let's check in with Stewart Allard!

    So how's the damage, Stu? Just a bunch of leaves everywhere here. More strong gusts tho only for a short bit. Note the classic bow arrow shape on the radar, that shows you it's a very fast moving storm with strong winds in front of the storm gushing out.

    This stupid summer. We don't get any rain for weeks and when we finally do, it's all violent as shit. Can't we get any normal, calm rain drenching storms?

  3. How was the damage, Mark? Nothing serious over in Downers. A patio umbrella that my mom bought for $35 two months ago flew away and shattered on our neighbor's property.

    Weather-wise, 2011 is turning into one of the most fucked-up years ever.

  4. Fucked up... did you hear that, people? "Fucked.... up....!" We got some fucked up weather going on here!

    What a year:

    The Blizzard, the 3rd wettest Spring ever, the biggest power outage ever storm, now drought & heat wave with temps we haven't seen in years, in some cases decades. What's coming in the Fall? Ice storms? Locusts? Hurricanes? Flood? Tornadoes in November? Loch ness monster?