I am, of course, a big fan of writing that agrees with points that I’ve made in the past. This Newsweek article, arguing that college education is providing smaller and smaller returns, fits the bill. I found this point especially thought provoking.
In Academically Adrift, their recent study of undergraduate learning, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa find that at least a third of students gain no measurable skills during their four years in college. For the remainder who do, the gains are usually minimal. For many students, college is less about providing an education than a credential—a certificate testifying that they are smart enough to get into college, conformist enough to go, and compliant enough to stay there for four years.
When I was a senior, one of my professors asked wonderingly, “Why is it that you guys spend so much time trying to get as little as possible for your money?” The answer, Caplan says, is that they’re mostly there for a credential, not learning. “Why does cheating work?” he points out. If you were really just in college to learn skills, it would be totally counterproductive. “If you don’t learn the material, then you will have less human capital and the market will punish you—there’s no reason for us to do it.” But since they think the credential matters more than the education, they look for ways to get the credential as painlessly as possible.
I’d never really analyzed the point about cheating. If you really want to learn, it makes no sense at all. But cheating was rampant at my high school – and, yes, I did it – and, frankly, some of the teachers clearly didn’t care.
The whole article is more even-handed than this quoted text suggests, but still damning.
On a side note: I’ve generally agreed with people that the “new” Newsweek is a sinking ship. But I gotta say, I’m liking their iconoclastic, anti-conventional take on things. It just might resuscitate the brand.