I saw this title on an article by Randall Collins and my hackles rose, my eyes turned red, I started to sprout hair everywhere as I growled and slavered. I will have blood.
Students chase degree after degree, adding crushing debt, as jobs vanish. It is time to radically rethink college
Now wait, I said to myself as I tried to suppress the change, titles are written by editors, and sometimes reflect the content poorly — they are trying to get a rise out of you, so you’ll read what follows. Maybe it’s not so bad. Give the guy a chance. So I read on.
Credential inflation is the rise in educational requirements for jobs as a rising proportion of the population attains more advanced degrees. The value of a given educational certificate or diploma declines as more people have one, thereby motivating them to stay in school longer. In the United States, high-school (i.e., twelve-year secondary school) diplomas were comparatively rare before World War II; now high-school degrees are so commonplace that their job value is worthless.
Job…value? JOB VALUE? We have a more educated citizenry (not educated enough, I would say, looking sideways at the Tea Party), and this bozo is complaining that their value is less because so many have reached a minimal educational standard? The US has a literacy rate of approximately 99% — what a disgrace. What is the point of teaching people to read if it doesn’t give them an edge over a vast illiterate mob? Think what a great advantage it would give you if you were one of the only 1% who could add and subtract — you’d have great job security, and your market value would be phenomenal! Afghanistan, with it’s overall literacy rate of 28%, should be regarded as an ideal.
In light of this wonderfully blinkered perspective on education, I am radically rethinking college myself. Maybe we need institutions of ignorance to slap down millions of minds just to keep the economic value of my degrees high…because, after all, the only reason I do what I do is for my personal gain, with never a thought about making society better or helping other individuals.
Oh, wait. I forgot. We do have such institutions of ignorance: they’re called churches. I am beginning to see their place in the ecosystem of culture.
This attitude is taken for granted throughout the article, which sees all of education solely in a vocational light.
Educational degrees are a currency of social respectability, traded for access to jobs; like any currency, it inflates prices (or reduces purchasing power) when autonomously driven increases in monetary supply chase a limited stock of goods, in this case chasing an ever more contested pool of upper-middle-class jobs.
I know the universities promote this view already, advertising their role as one of granting access to the big bucks of a job after graduation. I hate it. Most faculty don’t think that way either — if we did, we sure as hell wouldn’t have used our ever-so-precious degrees to get jobs at relatively low paying places like colleges.
We are not handing out tickets to jobs. If you want that, go to a vocational college and learn a trade; this is an entirely respectable option and is often a very wise move. Go to college if you want to learn something about how the world works more deeply, or if you want to experience the unconventional and different and see a wider picture. Go to college because there’s something you love that you can’t pursue elsewhere precisely because it has no market value…but it means something to you as a human being. Poetry is not a path to riches, but in college you can find people who love it; there’s practically no economic value to thinking hard about ethics, but at a college you’ll not only find people who live for ethical issues, but will teach you what they know and ask you hard questions to make you think more about it too. Why learn about history, or dead languages, or exotically impractical bits of abstract mathematics, or putter about making art? Because it will make you wealthy? Hell, no. Because you’ve only got one life to live and you ought to use it to make yourself wiser and happier, and if learning about those weird and strangely human subjects is what you want to do, do it.
There are things we need to fix in our educational system, I would agree. But the very last people you should consult on how to fix it are those who so poorly understand the meaning of the word “education” that they confuse it with a certification in a task. Randall Collins is clearly such a benighted ignoramus that I could feel my urge to howl at the moon declining…until…
Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.
Aaaargh. The “mythology of education”? K-12 teachers are in sinecures, sucking up money to keep the economy afloat? Schools are a hidden welfare system for teachers who really aren’t otherwise contributing to the economy or society as a whole?
Fuck that. I’m wolfing out. GRRRRRRR.