The Ethics Of Responding To Inconvenient Truths: Colleges Aren’t Working…Now What?

From the Wall Street Journal:

Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016. …At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. . . .

Some academic experts, education researchers and employers say the Journal’s findings are a sign of the failure of America’s higher-education system to arm graduates with analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing, increasingly global job market. In addition, rising tuition, student debt and loan defaults are putting colleges and universities under pressure to prove their value.


What’s the other side saying, that the results are cooked? That critical thinking is over-rated or a sexist, racist, xenophobic construct? How can any objective individual who has followed the news, listened to activists babble incoherently on  campuses like Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, University of Missouri and hundreds of others, been aware of higher ed apocalypse stories like this one , or notice that the overwhelming majority of college students enthusiastically supported the fact-, math-, economics-, foreign policy-, history-and Constitution- challenged candidacy of Bernie Sanders  be surprised at these findings? They aren’t even new.

The scam that is U.S. higher education poisons the American dream in too many ways to count.  50% of employers say that college graduates they hire aren’t ready for the workplace because of inadequate critical-reasoning skills.  Yet virtually every institution cites this as the prime benefit of paying it a king’s ransom for four years, with brochure proclamations like…

“The university seeks to foster in all its students lifelong habits of careful observation, critical thinking, creativity, moral reflection and articulate expression.”


“… University fosters intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, preparing graduates who will serve as effective, ethical leaders and engaged citizens.”


“The college provides students with the knowledge, critical-thinking skills and creative experience they need to navigate in a complex global environment.”

“At most schools in this country, students basically spend four years in college, and they don’t necessarily become better thinkers and problem solvers,” said Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociology professor who co-wrote a book in 2011 about the CLA+ test, that littel-known test the Wall street Journal referred to. . “Employers are going to hire the best they can get, and if we don’t have that, then what is at stake in the long run is our ability to compete.”

Even the arguments used to defend college lack evidence of critical thinking. Today’s New York Times special Higher Ed section highlights this quote:

“The reality is that someone who has a college degree compared to someone who doesn’t makes a million dollars more in their lifetime.”

This tells us that universities are relying on the lack of critical thinking skills of their graduates to sneak deceitful statements like this into the public’s conventional wisdom. It tells us, or should, that newspaper editors are either short of critical thinking skills themselves, or that the news media is intentionally bolstering its ideological allies in higher education at the expense of public knowledge.:

1.  All that statement shows is that there is a vicious bias making a college degree a work and income credential without a diploma necessarily meaning what  it claims to mean. It is a circular argument: college is good because employers require a degree as a credential because they assume it means what colleges say it means, and colleges say it means that so it will be a required credential.

2. The relevant studies show that the average college grad will make a million more dollars over the course of his or her lifetime than the average non-college grad. This is because the pool of non-college grads, as a group, are poorer, less well-educated thorough high school, are more likely not have stayed in school at all, and are less talented, intelligent, healthy, and attractive than the pool of college grads. That is not what the Times statement says, however.

3. There is no evidence that the same intelligent, talented, motivated and able individual who graduates from college will make a million more dollars over his or her lifetime than that individual would have in the alternate universe where he or she did not go to college.

4. The college-going twin will have massive debt to deal with, however.

Widespread belief in the deceptive New York Times statement, moreover, is one reason why colleges get away with charging such obscene tuition to do…what, exactly? Yes, college is a convenient stalling method to allow immature teens to be supervised while their brains grow and they make their dumbest mistakes in life competencies in a relatively safe cocoon. Yes, the opportunity to develop interests and talents—journalism, drama, athletics, political activism, writing, public speaking, management, leadership—in the organizations fostered and funded by universities is valuable.  Every other reason college is supposed to be essential, however, rests on the presumption that it teaches young adults to think, and prepares them to be productive citizens, workers and professionals because they can think clearly, rationally, creatively and without the habitual influence of emotion, rationalizations, logical fallacies and bias.

The evidence—not just one study— suggests that college does not do that, and hasn’t for some time. If this is a fact, and objective consideration strongly points to that conclusion, then a crucial section of the foundation of our society has become  unstable, threatening the rest. The ethical (competent, responsible) response to this very serious, indeed dangerous  problem is to accept that it is a problem, and to accept the daunting challenge of re-thinking our criteria for identifying qualified  employees, re-evaluating the credentialing of colleges, placing professors, courses and degrees under some kind of fair but rigorous scrutiny, and having the courage to consider whether what once was a functional and trustworthy model is no longer able to deliver to American society what it needs.

For decades, the response of policy makers and social engineers has been denial…perhaps because their own critical thinking skills are flawed.

Critical thinking is essential to ethical analysis too.

18 thoughts on “The Ethics Of Responding To Inconvenient Truths: Colleges Aren’t Working…Now What?

  1. “The reality is that someone who has a college degree compared to someone who doesn’t makes a million dollars more in their lifetime”

    The reality is, to the extent that million dollars extra lifetime earnings is valid, it is a measurement of what the value has been of a degree awarded 30 or so years ago. I don’t think it is a good basis to estimate what the value of a degree awarded now will turn out to be over the next 30 or so years.

  2. Interesting. I particularly want to talk about this part:

    The college-going twin will have massive debt to deal with, however.

    Take a look at this article and see how much the cost of public higher education has increased since 1976-77 until today. Long story short, the cost of just tuition has increased from an average of $2,600 per semester in 1976-77 to $9,650 in 2016-17, with both figures in 2016 dollars (adjusted for inflation). That is a 371% increase, by my estimation.

    If you throw in room and board, it goes from $8,160 in 1976-77 to $20,090 in 2016-17 in adjusted dollars, a 246% increase.

    In my opinion, in this time frame, the quality of education has declined significantly despite costing almost 2.5 times more.

    Average student debt is something like $37,500 for 2016 grads. That’s like having to pay off a new Lexus with only an entry-level job.

    • I’d like to see it broken down by discipline. How do “studies” graduates lifetime earnings compare to hard science, engineering, law, economics etc. Is there a more than 50/50 chance that a “studies” graduate will even be able to find a job in their field outside of a university or government bureaucracy?

  3. College these days is becoming increasingly counterproductive, and that goes double for hotbeds of activism like Evergreen State, which produced Rachel Corrie (mashed flat standing in front of an armored bulldozer trying to play human shield). The original purpose of college was to learn many different ideas, now students learn only one set for the most part. The original purpose of college was to ask questions, now students dare not ask too many questions or challenge what they are hearing too hard. The original purpose of college was to mature from teendom into young adulthood, now students are encouraged to regress to the maturity level of toddlers.

    More importantly, the primary purpose of college was the academic part – to learn a discipline. If you were a history major, you learned it from the early Greek states to now, before deciding to concentrate in this or that area, and then you learned that area – European history, American history, the history of war and diplomacy, or whatever, in depth. You were in the stacks researching primary sources, and maybe you even took a semester to go to wherever the history you were studying happened. If you were a chemistry major, and didn’t wash out in the year-long, make-you-or-break-you hell that is organic chemistry, you were in and out of the lab or the science library constantly and always had experiments brewing. If you were an English major you wrote, and rewrote, and rerewrote your essays and papers, maybe even diagramming your sentences. Maybe you played an instrument in an ensemble. Maybe you did some kind of community service . When crunch time came, though, you knew it was time to buckle down, and if you were wise, you didn’t waste a whole lot of time along the way before it go there. You didn’t spend your time in endless protests or listening to speakers who did nothing more than reinforce your own viewpoint, and you didn’t challenge the college as though you and not the administrators ran it. Violent action: vandalism, rioting, and so on, was right out, and you knew damn well that not only would the administration not hesitate to toss you out for causing trouble, your family would be all over you if word reached them that you were acting like a Bolshevik on their dime.

    I might add, all of this was 25 or so years ago, when I was in college. If you went back another 25 years, to when my dad was in college, you had to be signed in at Mass at 7 AM each morning and you had to turn out the lights every night at 10:30. You learned discipline and came away ready to face the real world.

    Honestly, I would have real pause about hiring someone right out of college now, especially liberal arts (engineering or business are a different discussion). Just because the candidate could please a bunch of revisionist historians or write “deep” poems that pleased some ivory tower academics doesn’t mean he is going to be any good at whatever tasks I may have for him. On the other hand, I would have some very real concerns about drug use and the attitude that it’s no big deal or nobody’s business, or the bringing of loud opinions into a work environment and the attitude that it’s all about how passionately he believes something. I’d have a real concern that such a candidate would have a real problem with authority generally. I’d be really nervous about this person’s record – was he involved with antifa or BLM or some other movement that isn’t just about opinion, but about creating chaos?

    Congratulations, higher education – you’ve succeeded in achieving the exact opposite of what your original purpose was, and a lot of the real world hasn’t even noticed. I just wonder what’s going to happen when this generation of coddled child-adults has to actually lead this nation.

  4. Growing up in Casper, WY, the expectation among my peers was that after graduating high school, you either went to college our you stayed in your home community to work low-wage, service industry jobs. On very rare occasions, there was mention of going to WyoTech, if you really liked working on cars and could pay the tuition, which was quite a bit more than tuition at the University of Wyoming. I can’t say I ever heard anything promoted at my high school about apprenticeships in a craft, or any other kind of traditional skilled labor.

    At the University of Wyoming, a great many people I met, a portion of which never made it past their freshman year, only went to college because it was expected, not because it was what they wanted to do or were interested in. I can understand going to college when you are searching for what you want to do with your life, and I think most people going to college either know what they want to do or want to find what they want to do at college. But for so many people that I saw, a trade school or an apprenticeship would have been worlds of improvement over drifting through campus, failing classes, drinking, partying, and essentially wasting thousands of dollars to go nowhere.

    The point was driven home as I graduated and entered into graduate school. I had the opportunity to watch friends who were a couple of years behind me finish their degrees, and then find they couldn’t find work, because their degrees weren’t all that marketable. They struggled with a sense of betrayal, because all their lives they had been told that the path to success was to go to college, get a degree, and then get a good job because of that degree. And these realizations were hitting home before the 2008 recession, so it wasn’t as though it was a difficult economy in which to find work.

    Worse were the friends who drifted in and out of college, spending time building up money so they could get readmitted, take a few course, perhaps fail a few, and then leave so they could go back to work to earn a little more money. The frustrating aspect was, they were talented enough in other areas that they could have built up a good career in a more blue-collar type job, but were prevented from doing so by disapproving family members.

    At the refinery where I work, there are people who earn a substantial amount of money by entering Operations or Maintenance right out of high school. For some of our engineers who were raised locally and went to college, there has been some angst about the fact that people who graduated from high school at the same time were making almost twice as much money as an engineer because they didn’t spend four years earning a degree.

    What frustrates me most about our system and about the way we have, especially under the Obama Administration, pushed more and more people towards college, is that college is treated like this magical pill that one takes and problems suddenly go away. It is an arrogance of academia. A job is only worthwhile if you have to be highly educated. Yet we need electricians and plumbers and mechanics, and you don’t need four years at a university to learn those trades. The strongest argument I’ve heard about the need to go to college is to expand one’s horizons, to be exposed to greater diversity, to become a well-rounded individual. From my personal experience with the “cultural context courses” we were forced to take to earn our degrees, it seems far more geared toward ensuring everyone is indoctrinated with the proper groupthink.

  5. For decades, the response of policy makers and social engineers has been denial…perhaps because their own critical thinking skills are flawed.

    Was reading senator Ben Sasses’ book last night (too bad the Bill Maher n-word controversy took away from Mr. Sasses’ appearance) and came across some gems.

    He discusses John Dewey’s obsession w/ making school a lifelong center of a person’s universe & his desire for students to “not any longer bear the peculiar relation to books & book knowledge…” In his Pedagogic Creed teachers were only meant to select influences & assist students to respond properly to such influences. In essence teachers roles was/is to ensure the Helgian “social progress” philosophy is abided by. He also believed moral absolutes were meaningless.

    (A great follow up on Dewey would be Crimes of the Educators by Blumenthal & Newman. The Leipzig Connection is another book to check out. Also Intellectual Schizophrenia by Rushdoony.)

    My point is that K-12 has basically for decades churned out people who once they get to college, can’t think critically because they’ve been programmed & indoctrinated in the Dewey influenced religion of group think & are predictably responding as such. I don’t think policy makers are in denial so much as they’re watching the fruits of their programming efforts rot away our kids minds with glee. Our country is losing its ruggedness not only in physicality but in independence of thought. In essence, Fabian Socialism is winning.

    P-16 programs as Sasses’ book discusses, which is preschool through senior year of college, has been adopted by 40 states & is becoming to some education reformers, the answer to a lousy K-12 centralized school system. These folks believe kids/young adults need MORE time to apparently actually learn how to think. Their answer is to throw more money & time at the problem of K-12 education by EXPANDING their time under this same system, from 13 years to 18 years. Dewey might be smiling in his grave.

    I took a Family Studies class in college & a test asked in multiple choice – how lesbians usually have sex. I kid you not! The “correct” answer was strap on’s. Not to get salacious, I then asked some lesbian friends if they felt this was a correct answer & if they thought the question had merit regarding their relationships & families, especially in the context of higher learning. The resounding consensus was that: A. The answer was completely wrong. B. The question was inappropriate for a myriad of reasons including that in asking it, there had to be assumptions about lesbians & their sex activities in the 1st place. There was no critical thinking in the question, nor was there critical thinking in the mandatory “correct” answer. If that isn’t programming, I don’t know what is.

    Lastly I’ll share this quote by Oscar Wilde from The Soul of Man Under Socialism…
    “A map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia is not worth even glancing at. For it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there it looks out and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.

    But just whose “Utopia” is today’s education progressing towards?

  6. Devils advocate…

    But 4 year colleges have to compete with lots of 2 year out-based education Tech Colleges and now even the 4 year colleges are producing wonderful out-based education robots. What good is this critical thinking stuff that you’re talking about anyway, it doesn’t get your foot in the door or qualify you for the job? What’s more, this generation seems to be all about instant gratification and they float from one professional job to another anyway in an endless search for greener grass.

    P.S. The dumbing down of our education system in the United States continues. 😦

    • Ok, I’m back to reality now.

      Seriously though; out-based education is dumbing down our education system. It requires no critical thinking to apply what you’ve learned just regurgitate what you’ve learned and you’ll get a good grade.

      • But will you get a good job…and the answer is a resounding NO!. There is simply no demand for people skilled in Underwater Basket-Weaving. None.

  7. I’ve been saying for years, if I sold you something worthless for $100,000 you’d call it a scam, but in America it’s called college. I don’t understand how consumer protections don’t apply; casinos can’t lie about their odds and even cigarettes have to tell you they’re going to kill you.

    • Follow the money. Progressives have flocked to these institutions, and run everyone else out over the past 60 years. The government is the same, and the two protect each other.

      Had progressives run casinos, I would expect to the game to be rigged in their favor (more than it is) as well.

      Note that conservatives, given a monopoly over something (say, the Texas legislature) tend to devolve to bad players over time as well. This is human nature, and while political affiliation may make it easier for hypocrisy and greed to take root, eventually the old absolute power thing comes into play.

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