The Realities of 'College Education'

The soaring costs of a college degree are prompting colleges to consider a three-year degree program. Britain has long granted a degree for three years of college.

I would like to suggest a one-year degree program. And I don't mean an associate's degree.

Here are some hard facts most colleges will never tell you and most parents could not tolerate hearing. The general requirements of the first two years at most colleges are what high school should have been. That is what junior should have learned had he not been busy getting high, getting drunk, and being socially promoted.

Better high schools frequently use the same textbooks for the mandatory requirements that are used in the first two years of college. If a high school draws from the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, the courses will be more demanding than the first two years of most colleges.

Although it is fashionable to talk of our strength being our diversity, it is simply not true when teaching in a college classroom. Teachers have to teach to some middle ground, and that middle ground is going to be higher in an upper-tier high school. A classroom that draws from a wide swath of socioeconomic groups is going to have people of vastly different preparation and skill levels.

You might ask: What about admissions requirements? Aren't these students qualified to do college work? Absolutely not! Advertised admissions requirements, save for the best institutions, are meaningless. Even in the best institutions, admissions requirements are highly suspect, given the imperative to produce a diverse student body. Advertised standards are what colleges would like their student body to look like. At many institutions, roughly twenty-five percent of students fail to meet published admissions standards.

Public colleges get reimbursed on a head count basis, so taking in more students for unused space means more revenue. In addition, every out-of-state student provides nearly twice the revenue. If your child has a mediocre academic record, have him apply to an out-of-state public college or university. You can experience the joy of paying out-of-state tuition, while still retaining the bragging rights so vital to sending your kid to college.

The impetus for colleges to achieve affirmative action admissions, by dipping into impoverished high schools, results in a student body that varies enormously in preparation and skill level.

Nearly half of all students will not get beyond the sophomore year, even though it should be repeat education. When the high school counselor tells you how many students go on to college, be sure to ask how many finish.

Good students from good high schools, who have not taken advanced placement, know how to play the repetition game. They cut class and recycle their high school term papers.

Early in my teaching career, I had a student from one of the state's best high schools. She was bright, but hardly exceptional. I found she was taking more than a full class load and holding down a full-time job. I was amazed. She told me that her classes at a suburban high school were more demanding than their repetition at the university. She chose classes where attendance wasn't mandatory. Was she recycling her high school term papers? Of course; so was everyone else from her class.

A student in the sciences or engineering could not remotely do this, but the liberal arts have become intellectual wastelands, with an emphasis on persuading a captive audience as to the eternal verities of professors' beliefs about racism, sexism, and homophobia.

A colleague in engineering used to remind me that in his college "PC" stood for personal computer, not political correctness. His dean was reprimanded for not sending his graduate students to diversity training during orientation week. The dean stated that engineering was a serious subject and his students had important assignments during that week. Told that he would have to answer to an administrative hearing, he said that he would be pleased to show up along with several of his alumni, successful businessmen and big contributors to the university. He then said to the diversity apparatchik, "This is a career decision you are about to make." The hearing never took place. An engineering dean could get away with this. A liberal arts dean could not.

My neighbor's daughter was valedictorian of her class at an elite, private high school. She enrolled in engineering only to find that there were lots of valedictorians. School was demanding. At the computer center in the middle of the night, she could find her classmates designing programs or doing homework.

In contrast, a hundred yards away on the liberal arts campus, a valedictorian would have been as rare as a student who didn't download a term paper from the Internet. Here most students were seeking majors that put no premium on analytical skills or cumulative knowledge. The equivalent of writing computer programs as a hobby would have been reading a good newspaper or journal of opinion. But few of these students read anything, including the class assignments.

In the late afternoon, the advanced mathematics courses were taught on the third floor of one of the science/engineering campus buildings. Students dubbed this floor "the Asian bazaar," because when classes changed it looked like a street in Delhi or Beijing. My colleagues in physics quietly implemented a program of affirmative action grading for white students. "They lack the motivation of our Asian students," a colleague told me.

In liberal arts, there was affirmative action grading for nearly everyone. There was ten percent that for financial or personal reasons should have been in an elite school, but weren't. Light years separated their work from that of the average student, and a total universe separated them from the students from the schools of the inner city.

"The genius of Stalin is long overdue to be appreciated in the West," one of my brightest and most conservative students wrote, tongue in check, for a self-proclaimed "human rights" professor. After a joint "human rights" session between a political science class and the law school, conservative students came back with stories of how Stalin's crimes had been exaggerated, there was no gulag, and Solzhenitsyn was on the payroll of the CIA. All of this was duly regurgitated, with a wink and a nod, on the final.

Some parents did object to the nonsense. One popular radio talk show host called me about what his son was "learning" in "human rights," as he called the course. I gave him my sympathies, but there was nothing that could be done. I noted that the professor was an outrageous ideologue and did believe the nonsense he spouted, but he was well versed in his field and a dedicated teacher. The student would have to filter the nonsense and try and learn what was useful.

"I'm paying for this (expletive deleted)!" the father exploded. "Yes," I said, "and if we were held to the same standards as Sears Roebuck and Co., you could demand a refund and get it."

At the end of four years, many students simply learned how to manipulate the system. Almost anytime I taught a course that required a prerequisite, most of the students did not possess the prior knowledge. The Internet provided a vast array of opportunities for cheating that further compromised learning. And while there is software that checks for plagiarism, students know how to defeat this. Besides, professors want to catch plagiarists as much as sanctuary cities want to arrest illegal aliens. A student can avail himself of a due process system that will consume a professor's time and end with a slap on the wrist.

After all, plagiarism is as common on campus as promiscuity, drugs, and binge drinking. The ukase from the higher administration during finals week usually reminded us what it really was all about: as the campus community embarks on finals week, we encourage the entire faculty to remember our strong and vital commitment to retention.

You didn't need a Ph.D. to interpret that memo.

So, my dear parents, if your child has a real talent and is going into a demanding program, don't worry, she will get a real education. It does exist. Of course, there are the outrageous costs, the drugs, the binge drinking, and, oh yes, the sex. But you're only young once and it's all part of the college experience.

But if your kid is rather average, had trouble in high school, has no real interests, and is touring schools because "they're scenic," maybe you should consider what you really are buying for that tuition money.

Tuition, after all, is like taking on a subprime, adjustable-rate mortgage. The cost will generally go up year to year. Mix in fees and your child can have an assessment for some building program that will not even be completed until her children are in school.

For this vast sum of money, your child will be treated as the progeny of a racist, sexist, and homophobic society and desperately in need of reeducation. This will not only take place in the classroom, but even more so in the residence halls where a total shadow university or mandatory reeducation camp exists. Ironically, your child will not be exposed to the values that enable you to pay the costs of this experience, but the very ones that if implemented would make America look like Eastern Europe in the winter of 1989.

Faced with this option, I would suggest that you keep your child at home and send her to a good community college, where she will spend the two years of high school repetition acquiring the skills she needs. And if she doesn't, the financial burden will not keep you in a permanent state of indentured servitude. Certainly, community colleges have their share of political correctness and "studies programs," which are political interest groups masquerading as intellectual disciplines. But community colleges have no shadow university. Your kid walks off campus and back into the real world.

Since the first two years of college, in many places, are nothing more than two years of a good high school repeated, any sort of education reform should be able to cut them out. That leaves two years of college.

If we really were concerned about education, we would have national examinations that students could take that would verify they had achieved a college education. Kids who never went to college could take these examinations and get certified as being college-educated. And kids who went to college would have to take these examinations to demonstrate that they learned something.

Of course, the educational establishment would fight this. Such examinations would bring down the entire phony edifice of higher education more quickly than vouchers and charter schools are exposing the incompetence of the public school system.

Are the last two years really higher education? If you take out all the multicultural, diversity propaganda courses, you could conceivably get rid of a whole year of college. What is your child going to learn in a course titled "The Lesser Known Lesbian Poets" or in Stanford's once avant garde "Black Hair"? Every school has a multicultural requirement. Why else would people spend time and money on such drivel?

For the average kid, college isn't higher education. It's four years of propaganda, partying, and buying a degree.

So, if your kids need two years of remediation, find a good community college. If they need partying, send them on a cruise. Take the money you save and buy them a franchise. They'll have far and away more financial security than they'll ever get with a worthless degree. If they really want a liberal education, buy them a set of the great books. Any kid who reads the great books will follow in the classic tradition of the Founding Fathers. They managed to carve out the world's most emulated system of government without a single course in multiculturalism or exposure to the lesser lesbian poets.

Oh, I forget, they were white, male, capitalist slave holders, insensitive to the political needs of women and minorities. Not a single one of them knew that Jesus really was a black man and that "truth" has no objective reality, but is what a community of believers holds to be true. One wonders how the Founders ever accomplished anything without exposure to the curriculum of the modern university.