Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Professor Looks at the College Racket - By Armando Simon

  As the deadline for college applications and scholarships for this coming fall near, let us pause and take a deep breath.
Well, being a veteran of universities, having been an undergraduate, a graduate student, and a (now retired) professor, let me make the assertion that college is a racket.
            It did not always use to be like this. One of the most intelligent things that the United States Congress ever did (and, yes, sometimes it does something intelligent; not lately, though) was to provide returning veterans of World War II with the opportunity to go to college in order to go to a university in order to get a career instead of giving veterans the traditional “war bonus.” Thus began the rise of universities and community colleges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a third of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, whereas in 1940 it was 4%.
            But, whereas back then the purpose of a university degree was to prepare a person for a career in a specific, specialized, field, nowadays colleges fervently discourage such concerns, instead emphasizing vague, fuzzy, mediocre concepts like “broadening the mind,” and, “diversity” and such-like crap, so that college students about to graduate often voice the praiseworthy---actually, inane---ambition of “just wanting to work with people.”
            Hand in hand with this is the idea propagated by intellectuals that money is sordid and being preoccupied with money is a sign of an atavistic mind. The result of such an indoctrination is the fact that many college subjects may be intrinsically interesting, but from a practical standpoint they are about as useful as ice cubes in Greenland. Degrees in literature, history, art, gender studies, minority studies, anthropology, public service, philosophy and many others are absolutely useless, whereas persons with degrees in economics, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, physics, biology, geology and other degrees that lead to the engineering and medical fields can expect to earn a decent living by working in their fields. This is important to understand: half of the majors offered in universities are geared for obtaining jobs only in universities.
To be sure, many businesses now require an applicant for a job to have a generic college degree, even though it may be in Science-Fiction Studies (and, yes, in some colleges you can get a degree in that, just like you can get a degree in the equally stupid Minority Studies and Gender Studies) and even though it has absolutely no relevance to the position that is available. This is partly due to the fact that since there is a glut in the market, the employer might as well hire someone with a college degree instead of just what used to be important, a high school degree. Nor is this phenomenon limited to the United States. In many countries, from Egypt to Indonesia, a college graduate with a degree in business may genuinely consider himself lucky to land a job at a local McDonald’s. But don’t ever expect to be hired just so that you can discuss Kant’s categorical imperative, or the influence of Proust on surrealistic art (incidentally, this is not just opinion; research on students’ views show that the majority of students view a college education as being absolutely useless in getting a job afterwards).
Not having learned their lesson, many graduates holding a degree in one of the useless majors decide to go on to get a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. in those very same fields (which goes to show that they really have not learned anything). They then hover around universities, being exploited as part-time “adjunct professors,” hoping that one of the tenured old goats will finally retire, or keel over, so that they can fill in his shoes. And then, as professors, they can regurgitate what their previous professors regurgitated to them from what theirprevious professors regurgitated to them, and so on. But, again, because of the glut, there is intense competition for the scarce slots that become available each year and, on top of that, colleges no longer hire persons with just a Master’s degree when there are so many candidates with a Ph.D. in philosophy, history, or literature in their hands shuffling around like those zombies in apocalyptic films. And when a position finally comes available, “adjunct professors” and newly graduated Ph.D.s desperately scramble for those few positions like a pack of zombies after the last surviving human being.
            So why do so many go to college after high school? For one thing, everyone expects them to. It is that simple! Even though they do not have a clue as to what to expect, or what is going to be their major, or what they are going to do. In other words, because of conformity. Others, however, do go in with a definite goal in mind. Still others because they feel that the only alternative is to work at a convenience store, or a restaurant, or to join the military.
            But, frankly, most do it to prolong their childhood and avoid responsibilities. In this, they have the best of both worlds; as adults, they get to drink, drive, have sex and have social dealings with adults as adults; as college “kids,” they avoid responsibility, working for a living, and continue to go to school---the one thing (the only thing) that they truly know how to do. This concept of “college kids” is in turn simply an extension of an absurdity within our society: a desire to extend childhood (go to any college and you will find many of the students acting in a decidedly infantile manner). For millennia, once a person reached the age of thirteen or fourteen, he/she was considered an adult; young men went to work, went to the seas, went to war and young women got married (an unmarried 25 year-old woman was considered an old maid). The legal age to get married in Imperial Rome, by the way, was 12. The average age of recruits in the American Civil War was 16. Nowadays, we have stretched the concept of “childhood” so that persons cannot enlist in the military nor have a job until much later in life (the latter mostly due to the agitation by labor unions). Along this line, one of the more ridiculous ideas has been that of “statutory rape;” this entails pretending and proclaiming that a teenage girl is not interested in men, nor in sex---by the very same persons who urge the availability of contraceptives to those same young women (in New Jersey or California, having sex with a 15 year-old is considered to be unremarkable; in Texas or Kentucky, that person is considered to be a pervert, even if the age difference between the participants is a mere two years). Anyone who seriously believes that teenagers are not interested in sex is seriously out of touch with reality.
            Earlier, I wrote that college professors and administrators promote the attitude that money is sordid and that they themselves disdain money. You would not think so just from observing them behind closed doors rather than just listening to them. They are breathtakingly avaricious. Colleges squeeze every last possible penny from students; indeed, colleges feed on students as if they were cattle. Just as wildebeest in Africa and deer and mice in North America exist solely for the purpose of being eaten by predators, so do undergraduate students exist solely for the purpose of feeding the voracious universities and community colleges. First, you have the parents sacrificing their lives’ earnings to give their (ungrateful, unappreciative) children a college education. Then, you convince those students to take on a “student loan” to pay for those ridiculously expensive classes and obscenely expensive textbooks, which said loan will cripple their future livelihood. On top of that, the government has been conned into giving Pell Grants to everyone and anyone who applies for them, since “everyone deserves a college education” (even morons, and boy, have I met some real morons in my classes!).
            One of the many, many rackets that colleges have for squeezing money out of students, for example, is that of CLEP exams. These are exams whereby a person can test out of taking a class that he feels confident in knowing the material for a cheaper fee than the tuition for the class, and, of course, eliminates the time that it takes to finish the entire class since it can be gotten out of the way in one sitting. On the surface, CLEP seems to be for the benefit of the students. But it is a scam. The exams have exceedingly hard questions, harder than one would find in the actual classes, and they are impossible to answer the required number in order to pass the CLEP because the exams consist of, for example, 85 very hard questions to be answered in less than 60 minutes.
            Perhaps one of the most shameful examples of the predatory outlook towards students is that of college sports, the ones that generate millions of dollars for the universities. None of the players get a penny from the income generated---in order to keep the sport “pure” (snicker). It is truly amazing that those college administrators can say that with a straight face.
            The reason that colleges are notoriously expensive is because they are bureaucracies with top-heavy deadwood, and bureaucracies, of all types, grow like cancer. Absurdly overpaid positions like Dean of Men, Dean of Women, Director of Inclusivity, Dean of Student Affairs do absolutely nothing of any consequence. If they were fired, believe me, nobody would realize they were gone, they are that useless, and certainly no one would miss them. Actually, let me take that back, students and faculty would notice them, because administrators are little totalitarian dictators that enforce conformity to their totalitarian ideology. As Camille Paglia has said, “The administrators are the enemy!
Departments like Minority Studies and Gender Studies do actual harm where intense hatred is fostered on students and encouraged exist only to placate the entrenched, vicious, Politically Correct cadres, even though those courses are unpopular with students; in fact, the purpose of the existence of those departments is to provide jobs for people whose only marketable skill isscreaming and to make students into their own image.  These professors’ goal is not education, but indoctrination. And some of those professors are certifiably psychotic. The unstated goal of Gender Studies Department is to make women hate men and also to turn women into vagina-licking lesbians.  That these departments continue to be funded in conservative states speaks volumes of the stupidity of conservatives.
Aside from the expensive classes, the students have to pay through the nose for exorbitant textbooks, many of which are unnecessary since the professor’s lectures are verbatim from the text. And then there are the hidden fees. Just as purchasing a home or a car, obtaining a loan from a bank, or having a credit card requires being on the lookout for hidden fees, tuition costs include a plethora of fees. Take a gander at the hidden fees that my nearby University of Texas in San Antonio, to use one example, attaches to students’ tuitions each semester to thousands of students: Int’l Globalization Experience ($30), Professional Development ($25), COB Technical Serv. & Ins. Supp. ($30), Automated Services Charge ($150), COB Undergraduate Advising Fee ($95), General Property Deposit ($10), Int’l Education Fee  ($2), Library Resource Charge ($84), Learning Resources ($36), Medical Services Fee ($32), Recreation Center Fee ($120), Record Processing Fee ($10), Student Services Fee ($93), Athletics Fee ($90), Publication charge ($5), Teaching & Learning Center Fee ($5), Transportation Fee ($20), University Center Fee ($60), Energy Fee ($29), ID Card Fee ($3), Individual Class Fee ($56), Parking Sticker Fee ($40-$100).
But perhaps the biggest con job of all involving the college racket is the one called online universities. Now, this one is really good! I mean, really, really good. Are you ready for this? In these, there is no campus and no overhead, but plenty of cash coming in. Classes and exams and term papers are done via the Internet without the instructor or student ever meeting fact to face! And do I really need to point out the obvious, that it is commonplace for people other than those enrolled take those tests or do the assigned work?
            So what is the solution to the college racket? Simple! A slash and burn policy, wherein (1) state universities are forced to eliminate the deadwood without replacing them, (2) de-fund, i.e., do away with useless majors (all the while ignoring the screeching of “censorship!” “free speech!” and other dribble), (3) provide financial aid only for those fields where there is a demand for them and a person will earn a living, and (4) mandate that only a certain percentage of classes require textbooks (of a lower price) since the professors usually repeat in their lectures what is in the students’ textbooks.
            This solution is really very simple, but is this ever going to happen? Not in my lifetime.

Armando Simón is a retired college professor who lives in San Antonio and is the author of A Cuban from Kansas, Very Peculiar Stories and, The U.