Higher ed. has fallen…

…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.


8 thoughts on “Higher ed. has fallen…

  1. Country Mouse

    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 back to the thought that higher education from an institution doesn’t mean you’re smart. My grandfather left school after the 8th grade and he was the smartest man I ever met!!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      And it’s sad that employers often just arbitrarily say “Bachelors degree required,” and thereby cut out dozens of people who have the talent and drive do the job just as well as anyone.

  2. Lori

    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 loves to learn and is doing quite well learning on her own.

    Then there’s the other one… two years at an out-of-state state college which he loved but he’s now tens of thousands of dollars in debt with nothing to show for it, a minimum wage job, a desire to go to culinary school but not able to do it now because of the debt he’s drowning in. (I’m sure that my grammar is so very incorrect. Sorry.) Was it worth it. No way.

    With the third one on the doorstep of high school graduation, I wish there was an easy answer.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Wow Lori — your family is a case study for this issue, both the good and the bad. You’re right on your #2 child. The debt is crushing. (Although are you aware of the Forbearance option on all government loans? They suspend your payments while you are in school. Of course, there’s interest…someone always gets the shaft.)

      And good for your daughter! That’s the American Dream: owning your own business and building something from the ground up. Good for her. And flipping houses is an art that can be quite rewarding!

      Would have loved to have your boys sing for me. I see your Facebook posts about all the cool stuff they’re in — what a gas!

  3. BoomR

    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 needed to know but never got in college from them, too (ex. how to run/maintain your music library, how to do the white lines on the marching band practice field, etc. etc.).

    The scariest thing for me was the first time I was video-taped during conducting class at AC. I **totally** looked like a cross between my dad & our local semi-pro civic orchestra conductor up on the podium!! My sr. year of HS I was a “dual-enrollment” student – half day completing my last HS courses, and half day taking freshman theory, aural training, and a 1 hr. clarinet lesson at Univ. of Northern Iowa. By the time I graduated HS, I had 10 hrs of college credit.

    (Funny story supporting your thesis & the only reason I bring this up): During spring semester of my dual-enrollment senior year, a doctoral student at Univ. of Iowa created an exam for all freshman aural training students. His thesis was that there were/are certain intervals & chord types that are always mis-identified by 1st year students. Supporting, of course, the need for a formalized aural training program. Dr. Kennedy (Prof of French Horn & also did freshman theory/AT) told me that I totally whacked out the guy’s thesis & curve. Yours-truly as a high-school senior was the only person in 200+ freshman exam participants to ACE the doctoral student’s exam :D LOL

    But of course, when all is said & done, you need that piece of paper that says you’re certifiable…er.. .certified to teach. So whaddaya gonna do??

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      EXACTLY. It’s a means to an end. And it does not surprise me at all (and it wouldn’t surprise others, either, if they knew you) that you had what it took from an early age. It solidifies the argument that we can’t all fit in the cookie-cutter university scheme and come out the same.

  4. Meg's Mom

    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 college in a medical field so her training is legit to me. However, her field, physical therapy, has been turned into a doctorate program–6 years of education and that’s only because she’s lucky enough to have been placed in a freshman admit doctorate path! Most PTs today go even longer…and that’s if they’re lucky enough to get into a doctorate program at all. From what I hear from practicing PTs the six year students are really no more prepared than those that met the four year education requirement from years ago. I do believe it’s just another way for schools to make more money!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      And this is more anecdotal evidence for the archive, MM. Much of the college mission is about profs and VPs of Development keeping their jobs. Of course there are fantastic teachers from which students can learn loads, but it’s all scrunched and buried underneath tons of nuclear waste. Someone is getting rich, and it ain’t the graduates.

      I mean, look at Michael B. from school. Remember him? He just graduated high school, and he probably already knows more about computers than most adjunct uni faculty. Would you hire him as an IT person at your firm? I would! Right outta high school I would. But now we’ll have to wait four years (and a hundred-some grand) before he’ll be marketable. Pshh.


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