Educational Arrogance: Why my degree is better than your degree.

Let’s get the truth out of the way as soon as possible.  This may hurt. 

Truth:  Credits are overrated.  Degrees are overrated.  Diplomas are overrated.  If you think you got your certificate because you were the smartest guy in the room, think again.  You graduated from the “School of your Choice” because you could sit complacently on your butt for four or more years, agreed with the majority of your instructors, did not make waves and paid your tuition on time when it was due.  If you had been the smartest guy in the room, you might not have finished college.  In fact, you probably would not have gone to college in the first place.  Just like in the Marines, when in college, loyalty trumps smart. 

In the Forbes list of 400 richest people in the world, non-college graduates are worth an average of 1 billion dollars more than the college graduates.  The average net worth of billionaires who dropped out of college, $9.4 billion, is approximately triple that of billionaires with Ph.D.’s, $3.2 billion. Even if one removes Bill Gates, who left Harvard University and is now worth $66.0 billion, college dropouts are worth $5.3 billion on average, compared to those who finished only bachelor’s degrees, who are worth $2.9 billion. According to a recent report from Cambridge-based Forrester Research, 20% of America’s millionaires never attended college.[3]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_college_dropout_billionaires

Wow, what a jerk.  I just spent $80,000 dollars on my college education and this asshole says it isn’t worth it.  I know he must be a disgruntled college dropout; some dweeb who could not make the grade so he gets his jollies knocking those of us who could; just another loser with an ax to grind.” 

Sorry to disappoint you though. I did get a BA and BS degree in 1975 and 1976 from Rhode Island College, an MS degree in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1986.  I graduated Cum Laude in my undergraduate work and my graduate GPA’s were above 3.5.  I have published over 50 articles in various assorted journals and had two books published by mainstream presses.  I was an Adjunct Instructor at St. Thomas College in the evening MBA program.  I taught the Capstone Class for the MBA and undergraduate business degree at Metro State University for 11 years and I presently am an Adjunct Instructor at Globe University where I teach undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level classes. 

What is my problem then?  Well, somewhere along the lines I began to realize that whatever is happening in most colleges and schools today could actually take place more efficiently and effectively “out” of school and with a different process.  Yes, many people do learn things in school and many people with a degree may be better off with it then without it.  However, the process that schools use to transfer knowledge is redundant, antique and obsolete.  In short, our schools and universities have fallen behind the times and are no longer a cost-effective bargain.  

The cost of a college degree in the United States has increased “12 fold” over the past 30 years, far outpacing the price inflation of consumer goods, medical expenses and food.  According to Bloomberg, college tuition and fees have increased 1,120 percent since records began in 1978.   Bloomberg reports that the rate of increase in college costs has been “four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index.” It also notes that “medical expenses have climbed 601 percent, while the price of food has increased 244 percent over the same period.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/cost-of-college-degree-increase-12-fold-1120-percent-bloomberg_n_1783700.html

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Nevertheless, the “Arrogance of Education” presupposes that courses, credits, degrees, diplomas and university affiliations are vital to one’s success.  The schools want you to believe this because they have become “institutionalized.”  Vast bureaucracies of inefficiencies and ineptness where coaches are paid fifty times what the President and professors are paid and college tuitions rise regularly at five to six times the rate of inflation.  

“Educational Arrogance” can be defined as: “Feeling that you are better than someone else because of the degree that you received or the school that you attended.”  It can be further broken down into three components or types of “Educational Arrogance.”  I will describe each one and the negative effects that each has on students and society.  The three components are:  Credit Arrogance, Diploma Arrogance and Institutional Arrogance. 

Credit Arrogance

If you have ever gone to college you may have experienced “Credit Arrogance.”  For instance, if you decide to transfer to another college, you may suddenly find that your former credits are discounted dramatically or even worse not even accepted.  Why?  Because the school you are trying to transfer to will say “Our standards are higher than theirs were.”  No proof is offered for this assertion and no evidence to support the reduction in credits is or will ever be seen.  The real reason is MONEY< MONEY< MONEY.  “Just give me money.”  This can even take place within institutions.  For instance, if you decide to transfer to another program, you may find that the courses you took cannot or will not be counted to your new program.  The same excuses will be given and there is no “court of appeals.”

When I was working at Metro State University, I once attended a meeting of the Minnesota State College and University System (MNSCU) organization. The attendees were primarily leaders from the assorted two year technical and community colleges that made up the system.  The subject was the transfer of credits between institutions.  Apparently, it was very difficult for students to transfer their credits and have them accepted when moving from one school to another within the system.  The meeting was an attempt to streamline this process and help students.  The attendees all had myriad excuses why accepting credits from each other was difficult if not impossible.  No one was honest and wanted to admit the real reason.  Who suffered because of these policies?  You want to guess? 

I presently teach part-time at Globe University and we need to warn students who are considering attending that Globe credits will not be accepted “ANYWHERE” else they may decide to transfer to.  Of course, the “reason” is for the substandard education they receive from instructors like me at Globe College, who coincidently have taught at St. Thomas College and Metro State University.  I guess my standards of teaching and my abilities degraded when I joined Globe.  In fact, many Adjunct Instructors at Globe also teach part-time at other colleges and universities in the area. 

Another irony to this “Game of Credits” is that whether you go to Harvard, Yale or Globe, chances are you will be using the same textbook. There are only four or five major college textbook publishers in the country.  Each publisher may publish a dozen or so different texts on a subject.  Thus, you have perhaps 50 or so textbooks to teach Intro to Business to select from.  Given that there are over 7000 accredited colleges in the USA, there is a very good chance, that your Ivy League school will be using the exact same textbooks as I use at Globe University. 

Of course, at Harvard, you will have much better instructors than at Globe, right?  Well maybe, but there is also a very good chance that as an undergraduate, you will get a teaching assistant and not the renowned Harvard Professor that was listed on the course itinerary.  In fact, you may not even see the highly renowned Harvard Professor during your entire four years at Harvard.  He or she will be busy writing, researching, consulting and publishing.   Most tenured professors will do anything to avoid the grind and frustration of teaching entering college freshman.

In a Harvard Education Isn’t as Advertised,” Alexander Heffner states:

For three centuries, Harvard has led a masterful public relations campaign to claim the mantle of what is best in American education, even if that means less community, less intimate interaction with professors and classmates, less “we” and more “me.” In reality, more often than not, faculty here are inaccessible, students are unengaged interpersonally, and two way education is an anathema. After a recent class, I remarked to the tenured professor that I had completed more in-depth research papers in high school, where I had possessed unrivaled access to my teachers and unlimited guidance during the research process, than I had in my time in Cambridge. “That’s the problem with this place,” the professor grinned, not in the least surprised. “There is not enough contact between professors and students.”

Diploma Arrogance:

My Ph.D. degree trumps your Ed.D. degree.  My Engineering degree is better than your Liberal Arts degree.  My MBA degree is worth more than your MS degree.  The universities work very hard to inculcate a sense of superiority that is based on the degrees they are providing.  Each department head will tell you why their degree is better than another degree.  Higher Degrees are worth more than lower degrees.  Four year College degrees are worth more than two year college or high school degrees.  Endless charts are trotted out to show you how much more a College degree will earn than a high school diploma or an MS will earn than a BS or a Ph.D. will earn than an MBA.  In many cases, the data for these comparisons is out of date, erroneous or spurious.  For instance, the Economist ran an article in 2010 titled:  “The Disposable Academic.” The article noted many fallacies concerning a Doctoral Level degree. 

“There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.”  http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

While earning my Doctorate degree at the University of Minnesota, I did some volunteer work as a Graduate Student Advisor for other students contemplating or working towards a Ph.D. degree.  I would often encounter angry students who were disgruntled at the inequities in their Ph.D. program.  I still remember my most cogent advice.  It went like this:  “Either fight the system and forget earning your degree or learn to kiss ass, keep your mouth shut and get out with a diploma.  You might beat the system but in over 125 years, I can’t think of anyone who has.”  Those who took my advice graduated and those who did not usually became what is known in Higher Education as ABD or All But Dissertation.   The attrition rate for Doctoral students has been cited as between 40 to 50 percent.  Another good article on this subject was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, May 3, 2012 titled “The Future of the Ph.D. degree.”

I was told how prestigious a University of Minnesota degree would be and how much it would help my career.  I found it funny that in over 40 cases of working with clients as a management consultant, I cannot remember one who ever asked me a single question about my vaunted Doctoral level degree.   Not one client even asked where I got it from or what I got it in.  I will never forget meeting Dr. W. D. Deming for the first time and his comment about my degree.

I had been hired by Process Management Institute (PMI), a management consulting firm shortly before finishing my Ph.D. program.  PMI was working closely with Dr. Deming at the time and my boss (Lou) asked me if I would be a helper at one of the four day Deming conferences.  It was a request that could not be turned down.  I was really going to be more of a gopher running errands for Dr. Deming but it was also a chance to meet the famous Dr. Deming and to attend one of his four day training sessions.  I ended up attending four of these sessions as a helper during my time at PMI. 

It was around noon on the first day of the conference and the attendees were breaking for lunch.  The conference was being held in San Francisco and everyone scattered to find a place to eat.  My boss Lou Schultz asked me to come up and meet Dr. Deming who was just leaving the podium.  Lou introduced me:  “Dr. Deming, this is our new employee, Dr. John Persico.  He has just finished his Doctoral Degree at the University of Minnesota in business.”  Dr. Deming took my proffered hand and replied “Humph!  Doctorate degrees in business, teach you all the wrong things.”  Needless to say, I was speechless.   All I could think about was the four years of work, the time and effort I had spent and the money I now owed to pay off this “worthless” degree wherein I had learned all the “wrong” things.  I thought he was an arrogant SOB but I had learned to keep my mouth shut in academia and thus managed to refrain from telling Dr. Deming what a pompous ass he was.   

It took me four years more to learn how right Dr. Deming was.  What is it they say makes a genius?  They see things that other people don’t.  Or perhaps it was a case of the fish not seeing the water.  I learned much from Dr. Deming over the next seven years at PMI and I soon found out how erroneous the models and theories I had been taught at the university actually were.   In retrospect, I would say that Dr. Deming was 90 percent right about the University teachings I had acquired during my four years in a Doctorate program.  As a point of fact, most Business textbooks still teach the same fallacies that Dr. Deming (1900-1993) spent most of his life condemning.  Perhaps after another one hundred years or so, business schools will manage to revise their business texts and teach graduates more appropriate theories.

I have been a proponent of getting rid of college business text books for many years now.  My efforts have been fruitless.  Several times while at Metro State University, I was told that I must select a textbook to use in my classes.  I eventually incurred the hostility and ire of the Dean and some of the faculty by my insistence that these textbooks were worthless.  They were worse than worthless since several of them cost over $200.  The inflated costs of textbooks would not be quite as bad if the information had any value.  However, when students are asked to pay $200 for a fallacious and obsolete book that does not even make a good paper weight, I think you have a grievous miscarriage of justice.  However as Thomas Kuhn noted paradigms do not change easily or without much strife.

Institutional Arrogance:

I saved the best or is it the worst for last.  The most egregious of the Educational Arrogances lies in the concept of which school is best or who has the better programs.  Harvard is better than Yale.  Yale is better than Boston College.  Boston College is better than the University of Massachusetts.  The University of Massachusetts is better than the University of Phoenix and the University of Phoenix is better than ———“Fill in the blanks.”  The more prestigious the school, the more renowned its academic reputation, the more the school can charge for tuition.   

  • Estimated 4 Year Cost at Current Tuition for Harvard University:

At current published tuition rates, the estimated total tuition and living expense cost of a 4 year bachelor’s degree at Harvard University is $218,384 for students graduating in normal time. Our methodology for estimating the 4 year cost is a multiple of the most recent reported annual cost and does not factor in tuition increases.  http://www.collegecalc.org/colleges/massachusetts/harvard-university/#.UquTL_RDuSo

Now if you went to a “cheaper” less prestigious school, you could save a bunch of money.  For instance four years at Salem State University (also in Massachusetts) would only cost you $80,356, a savings of $138,028.  Of course, the first argument you might hear about such a choice would concern the “quality” of education you would receive.  Who in their right mind would imagine or choose Salem State University over Harvard? 

Thomas Sowell in his book “Inside American Education notes:

A Harvard education is no better than your average state school education. The only reason they turn out the best graduates is because of name recognition, and for that reason, they attract the top high school graduates.  When you input the brightest students, your output is the brightest graduates.  It is not because an education at Harvard is any better than you would find at any state university.  In other words, it’s all hype with no actual substance. People are paying huge sums of money for the name Harvard and nothing more.

Dr. John Kotter, a Harvard business professor and rated as one of the greatest thinkers in the world today has noted in his ongoing study of MBA graduates, that it was not what they have learned at Harvard which allowed them to make substantially more money than those at public universities but it was factors such as individual motivation and high standards which correlated with subsequent earnings.  His twenty year study of the 1974 MBA graduating class is prolifically described in his book:  “The New Rules.” 

Every year, the US News and World Report publish an annual list of College Rankings.  The best schools, the best value schools, the best specialized schools, the best graduate schools, the best up and coming schools along with a cornucopia of other college related information is listed in their annual compilation.  I don’t have enough time to go into the problems with the rankings but if you are interested, go to: 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-problem-with-the-us-news-college-rankings/2011/09/13/gIQAY5zPQK_blog.html

The main problem I have though is the rankings themselves.  Prestige becomes the criteria for quality and for education.  Prestige means more money and more applicants.  The system is self-serving and perpetuates the status quo.  Substantive change cannot occur when academics brag about their schools, students fawn over certain colleges and parents will kill to get their children into the right school.   People are so dazzled by the hype and future earnings that they are blind to other possibilities.  The key question of what is the best way to learn or what is the best way to become educated is cast aside in a mad rush to attend the most prestigious schools, ostensibly because this will translate into higher earnings.  Earnings become more important than substance.

Think you’ll be making top dollar with that Harvard diploma hanging on your wall? Sure, the Cambridge, Mass. university topped U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 annual list of the best colleges in the nation (again), and is third best in the world according to the QS World University Rankings.  But no matter how many accolades Harvard rakes in or how much praise it garners, its graduates are paling in comparison to their peers at lesser institutions in one crucial field: starting salary. It’s a list on which Harvard ranks #37.  —-The School Ranking List Harvard does not Top.

Our desire for more stuff, for more prestige, for more money leads to an unbridled arrogance that tops everything really important in the world.  Where is the room for passion, where is the room for dreams and vision, where is the room for spirituality, where is the room for valuing the things that will really lead to a fulfilling life:  Friends, learning, health, love and service.  The dream of getting a “name” brand degree trumps all the real values and meaningful goals in life. Our students become “Corporate people” and not passionate citizens.  Our every effort is tied to success and upward mobility.  The final measure of happiness becomes the almighty dollar. 

Arrogance means believing that you are better than others.  Our universities and colleges perpetuate this arrogance because it conforms to their desire to enroll you in their school and to be able to charge a hefty fee that students and society will unhesitantly accept.  Few people question the value of a college degree and fewer yet would substantively change the way we educate and train our citizens.  Unless, we start rethinking and recreating our system of education, we will find that rising costs, educational irrelevance, antagonism towards educators and a growing number of unskilled unemployed workers will come to define our “American System of Education.”   We need to focus our efforts on educating our citizens for life and not simple sending them to school to get a diploma. 

Time for Questions:

Did you go to college?  What were the important lessons you learned in college?  How many of the facts that you were taught in college are still relevant to you?  Were you able to apply your degree to a meaningful career?  Why or why not?  How would you change your college experience if you could?  Do you think all people should go to college?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning

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