Following publication of my article, America's Most Overrated Product: a Bachelor's Degree, the Chronicle of Higher Education asked me to blog on its site about it for a month.
I have never seen such defensiveness as I encountered in the readers' (mostly professors) responses. The focus of my blog was to document how little students grow in college, suggest a variety of approaches to improvement, and invite readers to agree, amplify, or disagree.
Instead, the large majority of responses were tangential and/or personal attacks. My 13 detailed posts in the month plus approximately 10 detailed rejoinders to their comments yielded little willingness to engage in the issue.
I believe the largest reason was defensiveness: If those professors looked inward, they'd have to realize they're the wrong people to be teaching undergraduates and are educating in a way that serves themselves far more than it serves their students. After all, they're hired and promoted based heavily on their research capabilities, attributes which often are inversely correlated with the ability to teach undergraduates.
I come away from my Guest Blogger stint at the Chronicle of Higher Education more convinced than ever that a bachelor's degree is America's most overrated product.
I'm confident that graduate instruction is not much better. I need search no further than my own family:
-- I look at the irrelevance of most of the courses my wife and I took in getting our Ph.D.s at Berkeley. For example, all the students in our programs were forced to take five five-unit graduate level statistics courses, even though the vast majority of us would never use any of it--If we needed advanced statistics, we'd hire a statistician. But one of the most powerful professors in the department was a statistician and he wanted to make sure that the courses he wanted to teach (Nonparametric Statistics anyone?) always had sufficient students enrolled.
-- Barbara and I had to write many long papers but rarely received much feedback on any of them, even though there were fewer than 10 students in her program and in mine.
-- My daughter went to Yale Law School, considered America's best. Yet when hired, she like most Yale Law School graduates, had to enter a training program on how to practice law. The Yale grads understood arcane and leftist legal theories but were clueless about what to do to prepare a case or succeed in the courtroom.
Many of my career counseling clients are physicians, attorneys, engineers, etc. Most of them believe their long, expensive education ill-equipped them to be competent in their profession. Or at minimum, it provided much too little learning of value for the time and money expended.
When I supervised student teachers at San Jose State University, despite their having nearly completed their teaching certification, most of them were bad teachers.
So, my summative message: I believe not only that the bachelor's degree is America's most overrated product, but that most higher education diplomas are.
Of course, alas, many professions require degrees, for example, doctor, lawyer, and teacher, although some school districts now allow alternative certification. But many careers don't require a degree. If not, a self-starter will learn more at far less cost at what I call You U: Learn, on a just-in-time basis, via self-study, workshops, mentors, etc. If you're worried about being unemployable because of your lack of a degree, write cover letters documenting how you've opted for substance over form.
If you want more formal education, even if you already have a degree, check out the offerings at community colleges. Because faculty is hired and promoted heavily on teaching ability, because the tuition is low, and community colleges offer a surprising array of programs, I believe they're among America's most underrated products.