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Degree mills and their failings
I was not sure where to post this but since it mostly relates to education I felt this was the best location.

Before I retired, the office I worked in was across the street from an art school and about 4 blocks away from a culinary school. Both seemed to have a high number of students which I found odd considering the unlikely possibility that either profession would garner one a well paying job. I wondered at the placement rate of graduates and did some research at the time, neither school website seemed to want to indicate what that was but I did not look into it further. This afternoon for reasons I cannot remember I was reminded of this and did some further research on the net. Go ahead and question my methods, I even used yelp, highly questionable in its own regard.

The conclusion I came to is that both institutions are simply money sumps. They have essentially no entrance requirements other than the ability to get loans to pay for the fees. The best data I could find is from the art school. They reported that 84% of their graduates were employed with a median income of $32000, difficult with a medium debt of around $40,000 (I will admit I eyeballed the second figure it could be in the range of $35,000, but I have frankly forgotten how to do the math and I do not currently have a good calculator, also the numbers they included did not have interest). I also looked at various other similar schools in San Francisco and almost all seemed to follow a similar pattern. Take money from students no matter what it meant to the students, to make a profit.

I associate this with the student loan plans initiated in 1965. I also believe it was an unintended consequence of those acts. I will not dispute the intention of the government, I believe it was good and both my daughters-in-law (one not by law) were beneficiaries of these laws. It is not the intent of the student loan laws that trouble me it is the application.

Trade schools should be required to provide a realistic sense of the probabilities of making a decent income in the fields they represent. I will exclude artists who simply want to improve their craft.

I will point out two things.

Graduates of the culinary school found that when applying for jobs they often found the fact of their graduation from the particular school they were made less employable.

Very few of the graduates of the art school reported that the degree did them any good. The most positive responses were primarily from current students who said they thought they were taught well.

I am troubled by this mostly because the country may be on the hook for paying for loans that were lent with limited chance of success by the recipient.

A final fact. The cost of a 15 month course at the culinary school is $48,000 the average salary of an executive chef in San Francisco is $64,000. A position that one will not obtain in less than 10 years.
Since I am an artist I will address the art school side of this.

The tendency when looking at an art education is to think of a school that puts out nothing but painters. The fact is that there are quite a few professions that artists fall into ranging from graphic arts and photography to jewelry making.

You find tons of artists in the Advertising and Printing fields. Look closely at the movie industry and you see set painters, designers, photographers etc, all very likely to have had an art school background.

Sorry John but art school isn't quite the money sump you might think it is.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I think there well paying job opportunities available for well trained chefs, sous chefs and other kitchen and restaurant personnel.

But I have no idea what the ratio of the better paying jobs to the numbers of students graduating from culinary schools might be.
Bob of QF
Like anything else in what is essentially a totally unregulated system?

You are going to get greedy assholes.

Just look at Washington-- running for office is all but unregulated-- in fact? About the >only< qualifying trait you need is to be alive and willing to do/say anything, regardless of the consequences to your personal integrity. In fact? Removal of all ethics, morality and integrity is a plus.

So, too with the "university" field: there are no official high-level regulations, apart from the self- kind.

Accreditation is something the universities cooked up for themselves long ago-- it has nothing to do with any official regulatory body. Is is more akin to the "good old boy" network common in small towns-- each looking out for the other, all corrupt.

Now, I'm not saying university accreditation is corrupt-- but I am saying it contains quite a bit of pure arbitrary nonsense. Much of which isn't even objective.

In any case, trade schools are a much worse position than that: there is nothing policing these institutions of "learning" apart from reputation.

And 'reputation' can be fabricated these days as easy as anything else.

So. Where does that leave us? With a plethora of fake degree mills JohnH mentioned, for starters.

On the other hand?

The cynic in me says it's just another kind of test for prospective students....

... in this case? A combination of gullibility and critical observation skills.

On the third hand? I would submit that 80-90% of students attending any random-choice of trade school went there due to it being close to where they were living at the time....

... in fact? I'd submit that a very high percentage of university students "chose" where they went based on silly things like which football team the university had (and how well it performed), or other cultural pressures-- a favored university sports team in the high school they graduated from and so on.

Now, if you are going to university on a sports scholarship? That would be as logical a "choice" as anything else, I suppose.

But if you are seeking a degree that has nothing to do with sports? Yet you "choose" your university based on which sports-team it has?


Bottom line: students rarely use logical reasoning when "choosing" an institution of higher learning.

Look at the advertising for these places, for example. Nearly always emotional appeals.


As I said: a kind of test for the student's ability to make Life Choices.

It's a shame they will often end up with huge piles of debt as result of the test, regardless if they chose wisely or poorly.

But, perhaps, that is another sort of test as well-- prospective students with savvy financial acumen often have the whole financial situation well in hand and under control long before they graduate.

It's a pity there could not be a sort of half-way step between the naive experience of High School and the harsh reality of university/trades.

One that teaches, among other things, how to manage your limited financial resources....

... and how utilize critical decision making tools, when making Major Life Choices...

... alas: most of these skills are available at the better universities...


You betcha.
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
It's a crap shoot no matter what one does these days. I'd say that if a degree from the culinary school actually hurt the graduates' chances of getting a job, something is seriously wrong there. But it may not be so much the degree that one receives. It may be more the knowledge/expertise which the student gains if the instruction is up to snuff.

My father was an advertising artist and made a good living the entire time he was in the business, first working for someone else and then having his own advertising agency.

[Tangent warning] Music has been so changed by the synth and sampling that being an excellent player isn't the plus that it used to be. Compare a 1970s TV soundtrack to anything made lately: The old shows had a full studio orchestra in many cases, while new ones usually have only synthesized 'sound effect' stuff to set the mood.

I don't know very much about it, but I think art is in a similar position in some cases. Think of all the artists who painstakingly did the full animation for old Disney movies and compare it to what computer-generated effects can do. There is still no substitute for skill with the hand, but computers have surely made inroads.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
Bob of QF
Continuing the tangent even more:

You are correct: in the 50's-70's Disney's animated movies were made painstakingly one frame at a time, by artists.

These days? The artists are still a requirement: an artist will begin the first frame in a sequence, then draw the next major shift in motion-- previously, there could've been hundreds or thousands of panels in-between, depending on complexity.

Today? Computers are used to render what is "missing" between the two frames, saving the artist countless hours of minute near-duplicated panels.

That's one method.

Another modern animation method? Video-tape actors going through the motions-- then a computer captures the fluid motion of a real actor moving, and renders the animated panels from the video tape's frames.

But of course, an artist is utilized to overlay the desired animated character's details "on top" of the actor's underlying motion.

Still another aspect of animation then and now.

Then? The studio would use 16mm (or similar) film during the voice actor's recording of the voice tracks. Most actors will utilize strong facial expressions as they do the lines-- method, after all.

By filming these expressions, the animators can use that as a basis for the animated character's expressions, if the animation is complex enough.

Now? They use digital video to capture the actor's facial expressions, and sometimes, they can even use computers to model the expressions directly onto the animated character's face.

But no matter how good the software is? Artists are almost always used to smooth the sequences, and to select the colors, the textures, etc.


I see it as taking the graphic artists' best skills, and eliminating the drudgery of thousands of nearly the same panels painstakingly rendered by hand. An excellent marriage of skill and talent, with the assembly-line drudgery done by a machine.

Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
It may have been drudgery, but at least it kept a lot of artists working. That's interesting stuff though, Bob.
Edited by catman on 04/09/2011 00:26
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
Bob of QF
catman wrote:
It may have been drudgery, but at least it kept a lot of artists working. That's interesting stuff though, Bob.

Slotting tab A into hole B can also be a paying job.

But, I suppose I'm one of those persons that think humans ought to be better than fleshy robots...

... in that, anything you can make a machine do? No human should stoop to doing (unless of course, he/she likes doing it as a hobby or Performance Art or something).

Repetitive activity, in my opinion, ought to be beneath human beings. Computers and robots are better at such things anyway.

I guess I'm something of an idealist, here...

... yes, I appreciate 1000's of artists needed 100,000's of person-hours to painstakingly create such classics as Snow White one single frame at a time, for 90 minutes of 30 frames per second.

And the results are breathtakingly beautiful animation.

But the computer assisted, artist-rendered animation is easily the equal of those films-- and nobody damaged their limbs with repetitive motions. I dunno.

Work just because, to me, is tantamount to a kind of slavery. We ought to be able to do better.
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
I think what this all shows is that education is what you make of it. An MBA is no guarantee of a job in and of itself.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
seeker: Right you are! Especially lately.

Bob of QF: I agree with you concerning computer-assisted animation. I would only say that 'repetitive' drawing of all of those frames, each successive one differing by just the least bit, was a fascinating (to me) skill in itself and was probably not a bad gig during the late Depression years. There were a lot of people who had far worse jobs, or none at all.
Edited by catman on 04/09/2011 14:24
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
Bob of QF
catman wrote:
seeker: Right you are! Especially lately.

Bob of QF: I agree with you concerning computer-assisted animation. I would only say that 'repetitive' drawing of all of those frames, each successive one differing by just the least bit, was a fascinating (to me) skill in itself and was probably not a bad gig during the late Depression years. There were a lot of people who had far worse jobs, or none at all.

Oh, certainly! If there is no mechanical method to create such things? Then people would do it for certain. And I suppose a very dull and repetitive job is better than begging on a street corner out of a cardboard box...

... but I spent 2 years as a customer service rep, and by that time? I'd heard it all-- it was mind-numbingly boring. What was worse? Some people simply should not be permitted to own anything more complex than a spoon....

I was working for a cell phone company at the time. And during that time? I had come up with as close to fool-proof a cell as I could imagine, for the plethora of brain-dead fools who called the most frequently:

The phone was basically a hermetically sealed little brick-- something large enough to hold comfortably, but not too large to fit in a pocket or purse. Approximately candy-bar sized. No buttons of any kind, a featureless little thing, perhaps with some pretty patterns or decals, as the customer desired. It would have sensitive enough microphones (also sealed and waterproof) that no matter which end you held it, it could hear you speak. It would have capacitive sensing, so it knew if you were holding it up to your head, rather than in your pocket, and automatically wake itself up from stand-by. From the sealed speaker, a friendly little voice (remotely selectable for tone, language and so on-- this would be setup at the time of purchase, by the sales staff, via a remote control secure website) would ask the "user" what it was they wanted to do? Make a call? And so on. If the phone was ringing/vibrating, it would automatically answer as soon as it detected it was placed next to a head. If that did not happen within a short time, it would inform the caller the user was not available. No complicated voice mail >here<.

Now. To use this thing, all the user had to do, is hold it up to the head, and it automatically detects a nearby head, and completes the incoming call.

Outgoing is even simpler-- if no incoming call is detected, it automatically assumes an outgoing call is to be made-- and connects the user to the automated operator for instructions. The system would remember frequently called persons, and check that list first, then go to the wider 411 options in an attempt to connect to the correct person, asking clarifying questions as needed. This is not all that complex, and software-based "expert" systems with anticipatory decision-trees would handle 90% of the outbound calls. If the system cannot understand or locate the desired person? It connects to an actual, live operator. For a small extra fee, naturally. Some fools would always choose the live operator, which is just fine.

No text messaging. No e-mail. No intertubes. No pictures-- no camera-- none of that.

This thing would strictly be an audio-only, person-to-person verbal communication device. Less complex than a toaster-oven.

Charging? That would happen inductively-- the phone would come with a nice base, that was so-shaped, no matter which way you dropped the little brick into it, it lines up with the charging circuits.

When to charge it? The phone itself would inform the user, by ringing as if an incoming call, and when answered, politely inform the user "My battery is low. Please place me into my charging base." Dropping it into the base would automatically engage the charger. Leaving it in the base would cause no harm, as the smart charger would know when it was finished.

Even 911 calls would be all-but-automatic-- voice-stress analysis circuits would identify extreme stress in the user, and politely ask if there was an emergency, and did they need emergency services? If the phone continued to detect high-stress voice, and that it was being held near a head, it would connect to 911 automatically, informing the 911 of a possible medical emergency, and giving the GPS information automatically.

In short?

A phone as idiot-proof as it would be possible to engineer.

Sure, it'd be a bit higher-priced than typical low-end phones-- but for many? It'd be the only choice.
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
A few comments to begin.

Bob of QF, I would very much like to buy your phone. It would make me less adverse to cell phones.

Catman, I find synthesised music disgusting, my personal belief is it should be banned. I can be puritanical about some things.

seeker, I was not condemning art schools in toto. I was only commenting on one.

Neither school requires much in the way of entrance. The culinary school requires a high school diploma or a GED. The art school requires nothing, not even a portfolio. They are both very expensive as I said above the culinary school costs almost $50,000 for a 15 month course the art school costs about $20,000 a year.

If one can afford these costs without strain that is one thing. If one is forced to take loans to meet that cost is another. Both these schools seemed, from what I could determine, indifferent to the probability that their students could reasonably repay the loans they would require.

I intended in the OP to comment on the fact that charlatans have made use of the availability of student loans to bilk both people and the public.
Bob of QF: That phone sounds great to me. I'd probably get one if it weren't too expensive!

JohnH: I really liked analog sythesizers when they came out. They were like another musical instrument, to be played with the others. The recording I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash featured beautifully utilized analog synth. Electronic music using them, such as Subotnick's The Wild Bull, is also interesting. I don't care for digital synthesizers in general because they are usually used to take the place of, rather than add to, other instruments (and musicians, of course). Instant obsolescence! And soundtracks are all the poorer for it.
Edited by catman on 04/15/2011 15:57
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
JohnH wrote:

seeker, I was not condemning art schools in toto. I was only commenting on one.


No worries John. The value of art in society and liberal arts education is sort of under fire these days so perhaps I'm a bit overly sensitive.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
The Labour government of the UK engaged in some very stupid policy making years ago over here, they set a target to get 50% of the school leaving population to attend higher education.

A figure pulled swiftly from an anal cavity no doubt. What did this do? Instead of driving school leavers into useful persuits, such as applied science, medicine or else, what are refered to as Mickey-Mouse degrees began to spring up- David Beckham studies being a prime example.

What did this lead to, it lead to universities trying to milk this new herd of cash cows, and as a consequence, spending much needed funds on cattle sheds for these people, instead of on better facilities for real students.

Education is a wonderful thing, and I believe it should be free to all - but the reality has to be faced that this 50% of the population do not need to be in further education - the necessary knowledge for life should be learnt in standard school years (when you are a child), simply setting an ill-informed goal like that just leads to poor education - as OP has pointed out, a degree/qualification that will go no way to increasing their employability, and due to the loss of time-spent in the working world, actually make them less employable.

Arts degrees do get a lot of flack, becuase they can become oversubscribed when compared to the jobs market afterwards - I know quite a few people that have studied Media Studies, who have then gone on to work in call centres. My brother studied Industrial Design and regrets having done so, pointing out that he could have spent the time on his portfolio while also working his way up.

What annoys me particularly as a result of this system is how it has devalued the degree, Human Resources by design must eliminate many applicants quickly, and this tends to be done by a quick glance at CV presentation, and then at the level at which a degree was obtained.

So by this a 1st in Chemistry is equal to a 1st in English, in Media Studies, in PIGs and in David Beckham studies. Some have scoffed that this cannot be so, but I have first hand experience with respect to Physics of people not knowing what was involved in the subject - it was once confused with physiotherapy.

So, not only by encouraging people to incurr debt do you create anxiety and financial instability in those you have delivered false hopes to, there is a knock on effect that makes the persuit of a job that bit more difficult for those who have sought education for self improvement and for the means to an end.
I first started thinking about these sort of schools a long time ago. I noticed that there seemed to be a significant increase or expansion of non traditional private schools within a short period after the government started guaranteeing student loans. I felt that there was probably a connection and wondered if these schools were doing the students any great good. My interest was raised recently by seeing several articles about the high rate of default on student loans.

Clearly the culinary school should have the mission of providing its students with sufficient skills to get a well paying job fairly quickly after graduation. Yet as anyone knows who pays attention the food service industry is very cut throat. Likely a person starting out in that field will have a lot of low paying jobs to start out. In fact one of the graduates related just that fact. After graduation they found that the job in a restaurant they had would not allow them to pay off the loans and live, they had to quit and are still struggling because of forgoing payments the loan is now up to $80,000. As an aside this culinary school was once highly regarded. Two things happened. It was bought by a for profit company that runs schools like this all over the country and then the entrance requirements were down graded, and the number of students was greatly increased. An example of the change of entrance requirements, before the purchase entrants were required to have some experience in the field (they would at least then know what they were facing). This particular corporation is currently under federal investigation, I do not remember what for.

I have no complaint with art schools in general. I actually have so much stuff to hang on the walls I have to rotate it. I agree that americans undervalue art. Any artist who wants to attend to improve their craft is welcome. It should be noted that most of these schools also have a trade school aspect to them. Courses such as fashion design and game design (I assume computer games) or computer graphics are also taught. People take those sort of courses mostly in anticipation of getting a job sometime soon. There is also a school of fashion and marketing in San Francisco. How many jobs are available to fashion designers in the entire state let alone the Bay Area.

People who enter this type of school who also require loans and expect that attending will provide them with training to get a job should be provided certain kinds of information. What is the placement rate of graduates. How many are still in the field they were trained in after 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years. What is the average salary over the same period year by year. What will their loan payments be over the same period of time. It should be noted that becoming a buyer at a major department store should not qualify as working in the field of fashion design. The sort of trick these type of schools apparently engage in.

Another interesting aside is that the state agency that nominally regulated this type of school was so poor at its job the state decided to abolish it and start over.
When I started my degree I was in essence going into it blind.

I believe it was 2nd or 3rd year in which we were advised of the rates of employment and average first year salary.

Sadly, I graduated into the worst economic collapse of my lifetime (memorable life time), so the average starting salary of
Edited by Theory_Execution on 04/15/2011 03:31
I think that is more a general problem with the 'for profit' college system. The fact is that the majority of people make their decision about which college to go to at an age when they really don't have the life experience to understand what the career they are being educated for really entails.

I'm actually a good example of this problem. I got degree in Mathematics but I never considered just how limited the job market might be for a theoretical mathematician (ironically that now applies in more than one way now).
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
seeker, my two children have a very expensive education from a well respected state university (Cal) that neither uses. The older has a degree in history, he works manipulating computers. The younger has a degree in resource management, he works for a music distributor. I was amazed at how well off we were financially when both were out of school and we no longer had to pay for their upkeep. I do not begrudge a penny of what my family spent. They are both competent at what they do. The older was competent with computers from an early age and enjoys doing what he does. The younger would astonish catman with the depth and breath of his knowledge of music. We are also somewhat unique in that we could pay for our children's education without resorting to student loans.

It is not about a university education always leading to a job. A university education has a lot of value other than providing access to work. Oddly enough I started out as a mathematics student and quickly realized I did not have the chops.

This is all spoken by a person who changed their major to engineering with the full knowledge that the degree would probably lead to a job. It is also spoken by a person who learned a lot more about life as a college student then he did about engineering.

I have from the beginning tried to talk about the use of government money to both defraud students and the government. It is in fact a problem with for profit institutions. Without strict control they have a source of profits that should be offensive to most.

At the risk of beating a dead horse.
JohnH wrote:The younger has a degree in resource management, he works for a music distributor...[he] would astonish catman with the depth and breath of his knowledge of music.

If he works for a music distributor, I'm sure he would. He has doubtless picked up a lot of information in his job, and likely had an interest in the subject beforehand.

We are also somewhat unique in that we could pay for our children's education without resorting to student loans.

I didn't need a student loan either, but I went to college when public universities were really just that (inexpensive). In my first semester, I took 19 semester hours and paid $75.50 for tuition at North Texas State University. I understand that nowadays tuition for 15 semester hours is $4400 (the school is now the University of North Texas, befitting its expense).

My degrees didn't lead to a job. I have bachelor's degrees in geography and psychology and a master's in library science. I was a 'professional student', a profession almost no one could afford today. I enjoyed going to college in the daytime and playing bass at night.
Edited by catman on 04/16/2011 00:30
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
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