Serious issues plague education
December 4, 2006 —
I first saw the phrase "education industry" a while ago. I don't even remember where it was printed because at the time it didn't mean anything to me. Yet, my five years at SVSU have given new meaning to the words and indeed have made them very scary.
Scary because for one, such a thing exists. After the Second World War, more and more people began attending college as it became more accessible, with the G.I. Bill, government grants, and loans all allowing historically uneducated demographic blocks to go to school.
Eventually, virtually everyone was expected to acquire a university education and today a college degree serves as the basic litmus test as to whether or not an individual can live and work in a highly competitive job environment. In order to serve this need for such authentication, the "industry" began stamping out degrees by the millions, as institutions filled cavernous lecture halls with hundreds of students. This commoditization of education is a most worrisome trend indeed for a number of reasons.
Take for example grade inflation, which occurs everywhere, from Georgetown to Grand Valley. The logic behind it varies, depending on the institution, but it's usually pretty simple.
Sometimes, especially with large, state-sponsored universities, the student retention rate is the issue, as professors come under pressure from the administration to award passing grades so that the state legislature doesn't cut funding. At small, private colleges, it could simply be the intimidating price of tuition encouraging professors to inflate achievement. Even elite institutions suffer from it: if you're grading Jenna Bush's paper, would your tenure be at risk if you slapped on a "D"?
Grades are meant to reflect what a student understands. If they are not allowed to perform this very basic function, what good are they? Universities need to be as dedicated to standards as they are to producing graduates. They are useless institutions if they take in students only to spit-shine them and pronounce them competent. Whatever the political pressure, grades need to mean something.
Then there are athletic "scholarships," which are questionably ethical. Paid athletes? Even more questionable. Coaches making more than presidents? Depressing. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, brought to you by Tostitos? Sickening. Corporate sponsorship of athletic events is by itself a relatively harmless phenomenon, but the slope is too slippery in higher education, as universities desperate to cut corners compete for private sponsorship. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before Starbucks and Pepsi logos are plastered on our lecture hall plaques and university pens.
There is no shortage of stupidity to discuss. Take tenure, for example. At many institutions, it doesn't even make sense. Publishing well-researched, articulate, if not brilliant compositions in obscure, unread journals will cease to do anyone much good in the 21st century, as more people enter and graduate college than ever before. These multitudes of people need to be taught by educators, not researchers.
Both kinds of professionals serve different functions and both of them need dependable employment. The problem is that political scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers can make great instructors but often do not. Given this, tenure needs to be seriously revisited by just about every institution of higher education. As it is, the process of getting promoted by virtue of what monograph gets published in some arcane journal is just medieval.
Luckily, SVSU has avoided indulging in some of these worrisome trends, like dodging bullets in No Man's Land. But it too faces many of the same hurdles other universities have stumbled over.
Higher education is broken. It needs to be fixed. Now.