Higher education may be at a crossroads, facing the possibility of losing its role as the main merchant of career credentialing. Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote about this in her commentary on Peter Thiel’s initiative to lure entrepreneurial students away from college.
Colleges have long been engaged in an odd deal with students and their parents. Paying for a college education — or taking on a huge amount of debt to finance an education — is a transaction in which most of the buyers and most of the sellers have fundamentally different understandings of the product….
In the college transaction, most parents think they’re buying their kids a credential, a better job and a ticket, economically speaking at least, to the American dream. Most college professors and administrators (the good ones, anyway) see their role as producing liberally educated, well-rounded individuals with an appreciation for certain kinds of knowledge. If they get a job after graduation, well, that’s nice, too.
The students, for the most part, are not quite sure where they fit into this bargain. Some will get caught up in what they learn and decide to go on to further education. But most will see college as an opportunity to have fun and then come out the other end of the pipeline with the stamp of approval they need to make a decent salary after graduation.
Here’s a dirty little secret that’s quickly becoming common knowledge.
Thanks to the wonders of grade inflation and the lack of a serious core curriculum, it is possible to get through Harvard and a number of other high-price universities acing your computer science classes and devoting very little effort to anything else.
College students are spending less time studying, graduating with minimal evidence of academic growth. Their course work often consists of random bits of dumbed down fluff classes.
Beyond the top tier, there are also gaping holes in higher education. Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire. Maybe they too will get tired of using higher education as a credentialing system. Maybe it will be easier to recruit if they don’t have to be concerned about the overwhelming student debt of their new employees.