Higher ed. has fallen…

4 June, 2011
Rat Fink

…and it isn’t getting up.

Lately, I’ve been reading more and more (from smart people) about how the university system in America is broken, citing ridiculous cost and pervasive irrelevance. They also say that in many cases, college is unnecessary. By-and-large, with the exception of the requirements of highly technical fields like medicine, engineering, and other areas which involve protecting the public health, I agree with that sentiment.

Those of you who went to college, look back on your courses of study. Truly, honestly ask yourself: could you have learned what you learned in college on your own somehow? I know I could have. In fact, when I went to undergrad school at age 31, I tested out of all required English courses (via the CLEP). But more importantly, I also tested out of both years of aural training classes, and both years of conducting. Not because I was fabulous, but because I learned the stuff through experience. Watching and doing.

I’m not saying that Piagetian theory, content area reading, geology, psychology, golf, communications, the history of Christianity in America, and classroom technology (which, in my day, was filmstrip and movie projectors, opaque projectors, Ellison machines, etc.) are useless. I’m saying that I regret going into debt for the rest of my life for the privilege of learning about that which I could learn and do on my own.

For many, college is like adult kindergarten, with entry-level coursework and lots of play time — but with an enormous price tag. If you add in graduate degrees, a student can easily rack up six-figure debt (ask me how I know this), and never hope to make enough to pay it off early.

For those families who worked and saved to pay for their child’s entire education in cash, I salute you. I personally know no one who is doing that right now — even those parents who have significant savings put back. It’s outrageous; college is just too expensive for normal folks. And as is the case with a college near me, untold millions spent on development, renovation and landscaping alone have only one outlet in order for the uni to recoup its tremendous costs: passing the “savings” on to the students. They have to, in order to remain competitive in a corporatized education market.

<snark>Wait…market? Competition? You mean that colleges are a business? </snark>

Going to college is one of the biggest areas of stress for young people, and the madness is starting earlier and earlier as universities try to romance students at increasingly younger ages through sports and arts programs, workshops, seminars and “camps” for kids, the post-secondary option in high schools, and “college nights” held in community centers and school cafeterias for the sole purpose of recruitment. It’s insane; circling sharks in a sea of meat. I could write all day about it (but no worries, I won’t). :-)

So, to restate my thesis: I submit that nearly everything I learned in college for my particular major, I could have learned just as well on my own, and I have the hard evidence to prove it. BoomR and Lori remember me from my pre-degree days. Was I any less of a musician and choral director then, in your opinion? I look back on my experience vocal directing college shows, and even directing my alma mater’s vocal jazz ensemble — all before I even had an undergrad degree.

Why was I able to test out of aural training? Because I was in a band for over a decade before undergrad, transcribing stuff from records and writing harmony parts and singing with a partner. Why was I able to test out of conducting classes? Because I’d spent years watching and learning the technique (truthfully, my ex-husband taught me an awful lot about conducting style), then applying it to my own groups. I remember everything about those learning years — but virtually nothing about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. BUT — if I needed to, I could look it up in a book.

All right, if you’re still with me, I apologize. The fingers was flyin’ this morning! I have to get going — appointment in Akron today, then on to a graduation party for Country Mouse’s son, who is off to college this fall. Heh heh.


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Country Mouse
Country Mouse
4 June, 2011 8:19 am

You mean overpriced college!!! Heh heh heh. Fortunately his college isn’t as over priced as the first sons and at least he is studying one of those highly technical fields of engineering. I totally agree though about the learning from the “college of life”. Unfortunately in today’s world that won’t always get you the job. My spouse found that out 3 years ago when he lost his job – 21 years of experience were a lot less helpful to him then a piece of paper from a University would have been. Maybe the tide will turn someday and we’ll go… Read more »

4 June, 2011 11:13 am

Honestly, I never knew then that you didn’t have a degree. It would not have made one iota of difference if you had! I would LOVE for my boys to have benefited from your experience in jazz music. One thing we don’t have at our Lutheran high school. (They don’t really “do” jazz in the Lutheran schools!) I have one child who decided that college was NOT worth the debt she would incur, that the benefits of gen ed courses were not worth her time and money, who now owns and makes a living from rental properties (she’s 22). She… Read more »

5 June, 2011 10:26 pm

I’m TOTALLY on board with you, Fink. As you know, I had the good fortune to be the son of 2 very successful band directors. I was doing all the same/similar stuff as you (transcribing stuff, doing marching band or jazz band arrangements, charting parts of half-time shows, running rehearsals for small groups/sectionals, or even the jazz band) before I even got out of high school. All because I had my mom as my elementary band director, and my dad was the chrmn. of my HS music department & head band director. I learned about all sorts of things I… Read more »

Meg's Mom
Meg's Mom
5 June, 2011 10:54 pm

You’d be amazed to know how relevant this discussion is to something that came up just today! I agree totally. I have two kids that have completed their college educations. Both have good jobs in their fields. Both have told me that the actual skills they use on the job did not come from their college courses, but from personal experience and what they taught themselves. Both make decisions for their companies that involve hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars and they do that based on what is largely self-taught! Child #3 is just beginning her years of… Read more »