Comment Of The Day: “Contract Cheating: One More Reason College Is A Massive Scam On Our Society”

Michael R’s Comment of the Day on the post “Contract Cheating: One More Reason College Is A Massive Scam On Our Society,” to my mind, represents an overly optimistic view of the state of higher education policy as well as the mindset of the typical college student in 2019. It is, however, a view—I could say a romantic view–that has majority support in this country, despite growing evidence that indoctrination now co-exists with education as the de facto mission of most liberal education colleges. I answered Michael’s comment thusly…

I was the chairman of a non-profit educational advocacy organization, and attended many conferences and symposiums. The emphasis always was on college as a way to get better jobs. Always. At one session, a Clinton rep from the Dept of Education went on and on about how a college degree was essential to being employed and getting a good job, and why this justified affirmative action, grade inflation, and making sure we eliminated all impediments to graduation.

I stood up and asked why I had heard nothing about the value of education for its own sake…that it made better citizens and better, more productive, happier human beings. My comments were ridiculed. Literally, no one in the room would concede that education itself was the mission of going to college. And college does not educate. Indoctrinates, baby-sits, credentials, but there isn’t a strong current that leads to education. Students are incentivized to seek easy courses that guarantee the highest grades, and, in turn, better job prospects. Most college graduates, for example, cannot write coherently.

I absolutely stand by my statement, and until and unless we realize that this is the true framing of higher education in rhetoric and policy up and down the bureaucracy, the scam will continue.

Well, as I have a tendency to do, that was a bit over-stated. I also should have pointed out that one certainly can get educated in college, but one can also get educated outside of it, and a lot more cheaply. I’d also point to the recent push to pay college athletes, because, apparently, the quid of an education isn’t deemed as sufficient justification for the quo of their sports heroics.

Here is Michael R’s Comment of the Day on the post “Contract Cheating: One More Reason College Is A Massive Scam On Our Society”

“The idea is to get jobs, not to be educated.”

I’m sorry, this is just elitist academic garbage. Why is it that if you want a college education to become employable, it means you don’t want to be ‘educated’? I would say it is because the elites in this country don’t need any type of knowledge for THEIR jobs, so they equate being educated to possession of trivia and anything they have defined as elite culture. I went to college because I wanted to have a better life than I could have without a college education. That is true for a majority of college students nationwide. I wanted knowledge because I had neither money nor connections. I was going to have to make my way in the world based on my own merit.

This post is deceptive because it does not point out the dichotomy of college experiences. There are some students who go to college to become employable. Other people go to college to get plausible paper credentials and network. The latter have always been more likely to buy their papers and pay others to take their tests for them. Take someone like Chelsea Clinton. She didn’t have to learn one thing at Stanford. She had million dollar jobs lined up just because of who she was. However, she needed some kind of plausible degree to allow those companies to plausibly say she was qualified. In reality, they could have hired her at 18 and she could have done just as good a job for them, since her pedigree and connections were all they wanted. However, it would have been blatantly obvious what was going on and apologists couldn’t say “No, she really is qualified because of her B.A. in…”. Just look at the apologists go with Hunter Biden right now.

The vast majority of us, without influence, connections, and money, are left to fend for ourselves with only our employable skills. How do we get those? Education. However, wanting knowledge to be employable and work in a job are dirty, dirty, things. Those aren’t the things the elites strive for. These people aren’t studying modern, art, or dance theory, or wine tasting, or theatre. They are studying science and engineering because there are people needed who can design airplanes, and plan road networks, and become physicians, and check the purity of the drugs we make. We need to put down those people, how dare they WORK for a living!

Now, on to the so-called ‘educated’ people. I was in a room full of such people for a discussion about ‘what makes and educated person’. As they went around the table, the elite personages filling the room haughtily said things like “They should have read Dante”, “They should have read x plays by Shakepeare”, “They should take a second language”, and other things you would expect from the ‘educated elites’. Then it was my turn and the moderator said to me ‘And do you think they should know anything about science?” . I thought about rambling off a long list of things they should know, but I know I would just be scoffed at, so I replied “I think they should know how light bulbs work”. The room erupted. I was accused of making a mockery of the proceedings. I asked an obvious question “So, how DOES a light bulb work?”. I was the only one who knew. I was the only one who knew there are currently 3 main types of light bulbs and each one works on a different principle. Each one requires quantum mechanics to explain.

I did have to read Dante, and Shakespeare, and take 4 semesters of a foreign language, and I know how light bulbs work. But, I went to college to get a job, so I am not educated.

The irony is, the people who cheat the most are the people who can afford to cheat and they are the same ones who would be considered ‘educated’. The ones who are less likely to cheat are not considered educated because they needed to learn in college to get a job.

19 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Contract Cheating: One More Reason College Is A Massive Scam On Our Society”

  1. Great comment! This from a biased former liberal arts kid.

    College is not supposed to be a vocational school. It is supposed to teach you to think as you learn. Though it can help you find a vocation.

    Learning makes life and living better whether you earn millions or the minimum wage.

    • Critical thinking is not only ignored in college, it is actively avoided these days. Kids are dumbed down and made into useful idiots.

      Of course, colleges have not had the kids’ best interest at heart for decades. Prime examples: Time Value of money, basic banking, and simple budgeting have not been taught in my lifetime. However, college students are able to get credits cards with usurious rates at school sponsored events, so we have that going for us.

      • UConn had various voluntary financial awareness programs for students, at no additional charge. These carried no credit (having had responsible parents, I would have been quite annoyed to pay per-credit tuition for such courses, especially if mandatory).

        Students who took a leadership roll in any student organization had to take financial management training as a condition of getting funding from the undergraduate student government.

        The School of Business offered free tax advise from accounting majors and/or graduate students.

        Opportunities existed. It was up to students to take advantage.

    • College is not supposed to be a vocational school.

      Why not?

      It is supposed to teach you to think as you learn.

      How frightening it must be, to imagine that your survival depends every day on millions of people who grow your food, build the bridges you drive on, maintain the brakes on your car, and purify your water, none of whom ever learned how to think.

      I suppose we as a society have to keep the intellectual heavyweights in reserve to do the really critical mental work, such as deconstructing Pride and Prejudice in light of critical gender theory.

      • Because most learning is not vocationally focused. We can take what we learn and successfully apply it to vocations.

        I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a society filled with narrow expertise driven by purely vocational learning.

        My liberal arts learning has made me intellectually nimble enough to have been successful in a variety of vocational roles.

        • What makes you think that vocationally focused learning doesn’t translate into general learning? Do you really imagine that to be a one-way street? That general learning can be applied in a wide variety of vocational contexts but vocational learning leads to no general understanding? I’ve got news for you, four years of study is four years of study, you didn’t learn more in that time than those in vocationally focused studies by dint of generality.

          • See my final paragraph. If you can’t or won’t make the distinction that’s fine. Clearly there are wholly different designed learning outcomes for these two types of education.

            You are right that any education offers more learning and insight, but in a far more secondary or lower priority way.

            I’ll stick by my post.

    • College is not supposed to be a vocational school. It is supposed to teach you to think as you learn. Though it can help you find a vocation.

      This is funny to think about. I went to university for a decade or so for a science degree to use to get a job. I understand the arguments for liberal education enculturating boys to make well-rounded, intelligent men and believe them with my whole being. I just know the system in place now holds no candle to the great schools that once were. It’s as shallow and meaningless as it’s ever been described if not more-so.

      I did eventually learn to think, but it wasn’t the intended goal of any of my curricula. In the later stages of preposterously long winded education, it’s expected that you’ll find new, publishable results. I was ill-prepared to do that by the silly memorization games I’d played all along, and I learned to fight in a trench, taking heavy fire, while other unprepared boys all around me dropped like flies.

      There, but for the grace of God, go I. Then again, they didn’t end up with a degree which renders them unemployable outside of large corporate entities, so there’s that. Maybe they were the ones who thought it through.

    • This is exactly the mindset I was protesting. In my experience, this ‘vocational’ training DOES teach critical thinking and does so to a higher degree than the ‘liberal arts’ education that is touted. I feel that this attitude is an elitist one that continues the aristocratic notion that manual labor is somehow ‘dirty’ and worthy of contempt.

      Now, I am assuming that by ‘liberal arts’, you really mean the humanities. Remember, almost half of the liberal arts are science and math. If you think science, math, and engineering don’t involve critical thinking, I have oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you. The humanities in this country have become little more than indoctrination. Even before that, there was little more than memorization involved. I have put problems on exams that involve concepts we haven’t discussed in class. I have had to defend this before humanities professors (who don’t feel that is unexcusable) explaining that I want to see the students use what they know to figure out a new problem. I have also suggested a weighted grading scale taking the ratio of the students grade to the median grade in the class (to see how average the student is) as a way to root out grade inflation.

      As for cheating, I catch about 25% of my new freshman cheating on their first exam. I’m sure there are more I don’t catch. They cheat because they have been told explicitly or implicitly that cheating is OK. That is why over 98% of high school students admit cheating in high school. When I catch them cheating, they think that nothing is going to happen to them. They think the policies against cheating are just for show. When they get punished, some get furious and leave, but most…change. I only have had a few repeat cheaters and they left the program. Most people stop cheating when they realize it actually ISN’T OK. When I explain to them why they are here and what they need to get out of college, they actually try to do it.

  2. I don’t see it as a dichotomy. A program focusing strictly on job skills is a vocational program, and a program focusing on education strictly for its own sake is enriching but makes itself irrelevant to many by virtue of a simple cost/payoff analysis. Ideally college incorporates both of these.

    To use myself as an example: I was a hard science major at Michigan State. My program had elements of job skills (laboratory classes and internships that taught me the fundamental mechanics of my job), career skills (bigger-picture science to equip me to move forward in the field), and enrichment (electives and non-core classes that ensured I had a fundamental familiarity with a broad range of knowledge.

    These classes ran the range from purely task-based (do the experiment, memorize the dates) to the famed “teaching me to think” (design the experiment, compare historical themes). I walked away both enriched and broader-minded, AND employable by a few different metrics:
    – Credentialled in the field
    – Equipped with basic hard skills for an entry-level job
    – Established, by graduating, my ability to work within a system, within a group, within a deadline, to file paperwork, etc.

  3. Having gone to a liberal arts college and been force fed its communications department and development department (i.e. fundraising department) incessant baloney for nearly fifty years, I sympathize with and second Michael’s skepticism of and annoyance with the liberal arts industry’s smug self-satisfaction.

    • Those who are smug are not learners, they are elitists. Personality types produce elitism, not liberal arts curriculum.

      Having been just one year behind two well known people in college who turned out quite differently, I can honestly say Mike Pence and Woody Harrelson epitomize the value of a liberal arts education.

      I don’t recall either ever espousing elitist notions despite their education or their wide values differences.

  4. I’ve mentioned this before, but I work in higher education (staff, not faculty). It may have once had lofty goals and values, but not it is nothing more than a business trying to attract customers (students). To that end, what attracts more customers? A positive end result (i.e. a good paying job after graduation).

    Walk through departments at my school and you’ll see justifications for their studies couched in outcomes. For example, we have a strong pre-law program, and (Jack will appreciate this) the theater department has signs saying how theater classes better prepare a student to speak in front of a judge and jury.

    And then you have well funded “career services” departments whose goal is to help as much as possible to get the students jobs.

  5. I think college may or may not educate you. It may or may not teach you some valuable skill or knowledge. It may or may not connect you with friends and contacts to last a lifetime. It may or may not fill time until your trust fund matures. Or it might be a waste of time and debt. But sometimes it’s hard to identify which path a particular student is on until years later.

    One friend was from a well off background, and they disappeared off on a walkabout after much rebellion in two years. Another was well off and worked their tail off for the credentials. Most of my circle were working on degrees for the opportunity to do better than their parents, but also fit in other interests as a minor or club. Both my parents had jobs that now expect a sheepskin to advance as was my chosen area, but my education did not start or stop with college. Too many treat classes like kryptonite, even if skills gained and accountability simply do not lay a proper foundation in the online schools’ world. [grade/skill inflation is the enemy of education] A live face to face class means the prof has the chance to know if the material was absorbed and their writing/work style. F2F experience and testing work against plagiarism and inflation.

    I wasn’t really any one of those four paths, I can definitely say I wasn’t a trust fund kids as mainly I was always on the edge of having to drop out due to lack of funds and I missed coop/opportunities. My grades did suffer as I worked 20-49hrs a week during term, hence I believe there should be some break if the student does all their own work and is working for a practical degree. My career and life would have gone very differently if I’d had a thousand more dollars at two points. The second gain from college was that I made contacts that lasted for decades, ones I could not have made outside the more diverse bubble of college, where being the odd duck was no longer an issue. Thirdly, I was one who needed certification for a field that simply didn’t have self-taught options by then. But I always took and enjoyed the raw liberal arts aspect of taking classes in myth and symbolism, Herman Hesse, and (what a shock) science fiction. One of the most useful classes was a tech writing class that was more useful in RL than 75% of my major.

    So while it ended up putting me in a huge debt that took decades to pay back, it enriched my life in so many ways. Isn’t that the purpose? There MUST be a balancing of the education’s sake idea, with practicality in the field of the major. Majors boom… then bust. Schools get addicted to pumping out popular degrees that have no future prospects, right now woke areas are hot. That may be an unspoken flaw, that it’s so much easier to get through impractical degrees, even if we don’t need 25k more interracial/intergender graduates every year. Encouraging kids with hip ads or movie tickets is not as useful as reducing the debt load for desired programs. There’s a shortage of GPs in my area, and my doctor moved to California and a buddy’s wife went to Wisconsin because they wanted to afford kids while still youngish. Vets have the same load.

    College is not bad, we’re just in an era or horrible implementation. Not much is required, but it needs to be across the board. 1) colleges, programs, and even profs must be reviewed and accountable if they screw around or take away the legal rights of their students. 2) students must do their own work and be able to prove mastery, with harsh penalties for cheating. A little late effort or B test is worth tons more than any inflated grades, bought papers or cheated tests, And 3)degrees with direct tangible benefit to society should get more aid than underwater basket weaving, sports therapy, Chaucer, or any activism. Not that students can’t take those but they will need their own revenue stream. The business of colleges is education, not activism.

    • Admirable comment, Marie. Reminds us the quality of the student is a determining factor in the outcome of the college experience. Perhaps the determining factor. A friend, then a librarian at Princeton, was having a hard time getting a student to do his work study job at the library, to which he replied, “I don’t have to do anything. My work is done. I got in!”

  6. Too bad that there couldn’t be a required case in ethics at liberal arts colleges. However I believe this is a forlorn hope at most of them considering liberal administrators seem much more interested in setting up ethnic studies, feminist, and LGBTQ departments which will not get you a career job or educated in the least.

  7. Love your comment, Michael. I don’t know if you know this, but in the UK in the 1950s there was a debate raised by a distinguished Chemistry professor who became a top scientific civil servant during the days of devolping the first nuckear power stations. He had married a novelist, and written a novel of his own when he began, for the first time in hs life, to get respect from the upper class cool kids, who had completely blanked him when he was just doing chemistry, making electricity cheaper, etc. His idea was that to know, or not know, the 2nd law of thermodynamics should be just as much a marker of an educated person as to have read Shakespeare, to speak French, to listen to Mozart, etc. Needless to say the cool kids went back to roundly mocking him. His name was C. S. Lewis and a transcript of his lecture ‘The Two Cultures’ is out there on the internet.

    • Nice comment. Allow me to make one correction.

      Methinks you have misidentified the person. The person you have described is clearly C. P. Snow.

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