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Degree mills and their failings
JohnH wrote:
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.

Agreed agreed and agreed. The real value of my degree IMO was that I learned how approach life.

That's the real danger of the whole free market ideology. The problem is that cheating people is profitable in quite a few circumstances, especially in an educational situation where the resulting degree really is no guarantee of a career in that field.
Edited by seeker on 04/16/2011 12:45
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
It works outside of typical school also. We had an organisation approach my school when I was studying for my GCSEs I believe (15 or 16 years) that professed to be here to help gifted and talented pupils of inner city schools get help in chosing how their education could work for them.

The school, through drive from us students, and teachers wowed by the notion, had to pay quite a sum per head - If I recall correctly it was
Where to begin. I am tempted to make a long convoluted reply to a number of posts. I am however not going to do that. I would like instead to make two simple statements.

Education at a high level has multiple benefits. Not necessarily any of which lead to financial success in life.

Public (government) money is often ill spent. There are a variety of reasons for this. Mostly it is because the guardians of public money do not pay attention to the consequences of how that money is spent.
JohnH, agreed and agreed. I was to make that very second point in my post - it is not just in education that our 'elected' governers waste money/create systems by which the tax payer can be fleeced - it happens across the board.

It has been a mere three years since I left uni.
Government spending is just like anything else done by committee, so full of compromise that no one can ever be truly happy with the result.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I am in the midst of listening to a radio program on the current economy. I was struck early on listening to this program, when they were talking about the collapse of the the housing market, how similar that event was to what I have been talking about.

Government programs intended to help people are manipulated by the rich and powerful to make a profit no matter the result. Capitalism, ain't it wonderful for the most of us. Or more appropriately casino capitalism abetted by those who should restrain it.

There are times when I do wish I was commissar of northern California and not just so I could live in the mansion at the top of Angel Island.
I used to work retail sales, a profession rife with many compromises, most of them ethical. The trouble is, a lot of the rationalizations aren't easily dismissed. There's one that I think applies here:

It's ridiculously easy, even and perhaps especially for those with the best intentions, to judge people. There comes a point where you realize you can sell a given person far more than what you judge that they necessarily "need." Ideally what you recommend is going to dovetail nicely with that they're telling you but in reality, if you do it long enough and manage to retain a conscience, that the same answers to the same questions can result in totally different feelings depending on how you perceive them. Maybe the rich guy and the poor guy both really do need the full ride top of the line system with all the extras. But you're probably going to find yourself pushing that less on the poor guy. That seems like a decent way to be but it's actually quite a dilemma. I mean, who the hell are you to judge them like that, right? Is it right to sell them something less because you've arrogantly decided that they don't really need it? It's one thing if they hedge on the price and ask you pointedly what the minimum they can get away with to accomplish their tasks, but that's not always or even often going to be the case.

With regard to education, it's a little like that. If schools or the government started deciding, based on your socioeconomic status, what programs you ought to take you'd start to wonder who the hell they think they are. Even if they're right, there are bound to be enough exceptions to question the credibility of acting on it. With education or retail computer stores, the odds favor the house to be sure. But even a casino who turned away people based upon how they were perceived would seem a little extra creepy.
Well in the case of sales, the person would generally find themselves in a shop if they did have money to spend (assuming credit cards did not exist). It is then their choice whether or not they buy your produce, as a sales person, you should be pushing it on everyone equaly, up until the point they make it clear they either do not want it, or cant afford it.

Sadly, people are encouraged to spend money they do not have (shoppers with credit cards) and it is this system that puts the 'poor' into trouble. It should be the case that you cannot buy anything, other than food and medicine (other assessed essentials), on credit - but who would likely push, who has any power to move anything, for that sort of system?

As I have said before, my parents had a mortgage at my age (dad a builder/labourer, mom a receptionist), a house they could call their own. I would need to more than double my salary at this point to even consider it.

I blame those who regulate banks, for allowing them to lend on the bricks and mortar of their customers - but as many have pointed out, a house doesnt actually produce anything - it is just a building, so where is the value for the prices we have seen them inflate to, what ethical decision was made here?

With education in the UK, the current government isn't happy with the 50% further education rate, but in order to avoid being seen as a anti-education, they claim fees must be raised so that better education can be provided. They set an upper limit of
Edited by Theory_Execution on 04/18/2011 07:38
Cynic, I understand your point and tend to agree with it, to a certain degree.

In disagreement I must say that there is a difference between selling a good and selling a service. If the service you are selling is an education intending to lead to a job you have a greater obligation to prove that your education will actually produce that job. I found little evidence that these schools provide data at all to prospective students what their actual job and salary levels are likely to be.

In the case of the two schools I tried to look at in detail, former and current students from both reported clearly unqualified classmates who would quickly drop out but still be saddled with long term debt. I found more direct information from the culinary school where former employees reported great pressure to fill quotas set for the number of students they must recruit. There was no regard for the qualifications of students only that they had the money or could qualify for a loan. This was apparently true at a few similar schools I looked at in less detail.

It is one thing for an individual to buy a more expensive sound system than they should. In the worst case when they realize that they cannot afford the payments the sound system gets returned and the only loss is a reduced credit rating. If one is buying an education with the intention of that education leading to employment and it does not, all that the purchaser ends up with is debt.

The schools I was talking about in the OP are selling a service, much like an auto mechanic or a plumber. If they do not properly perform that service it is fraud.
I think something to consider is that the view of government spending is somewhat skewed these days. The fact is that a large part of the government's role in the economy is regulation, protecting the public from exploitation and that is one particular role that conservatives have critically weakened.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
seeker, I would refer you to repeal of the Glass-Steagall act. If you mean by conservatives most of the people elected to congress in the US you would be correct. The repeal was signed by that noted conservative Bill Clinton. In fairness both houses of congress had a republican majority at the time but the initial vote in congress was overwhelmingly for repeal, many democrats had to participate. As a side note the democrat minority in the senate did not demand that the republicans get 60 votes to initially pass the bill. The final votes for repeal after a conference committee were overwhelmingly for.

Financial regulation is a difficult issue, complicated to the voting public and important to the financiers. The financiers have the money to buy the votes and so they do.
John - One of the great myths going around these days is that somehow Democrats are liberal. They aren't. The Democratic party has historically been dominated by conservatives and only seems liberal now in comparison to the extremists in the Republican party.

While Clinton has been called liberal by the rabid right he was much closer to the classic conservative along the lines of Jimmy Carter. You pretty much have to look at guys like Dennis Kucinich or Al Gore for any real liberal voice.

Just to anticipate I would suggest that Barack Obama is not a liberal either, but a true centrist. Republicans have worked very hard to move the perception of their radicalism to the mainstream.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
It is a most interesting myth indeed. I will admit to actually tearing up on election night when Obama was elected. I did not expect a great shift in the politics of the nation, but I had come to believe that this intelligent man, with a life story well outside the mainstream, who seemed to come to be president with a sincere intent to change at least the discourse at the national level would honestly try to do that. I was patently wrong. And, if anyone cares I did not vote for him, I do not remember who I voted for but it was someone far to the left.'

I am not sure what the cause of the success of the right wing at making anyone to the left of Joe McCarthy seem far too liberal is. I think at heart it is because americans are trained from birth at accepting the notion that everything in this country is perfect and change can only be for the worse.
There are several points worth exploring. First though, I'd like to formally assert that I get what you guys mean on a general level. Schools, especially the smallest and most specialized, and most especially the small, specialized trade schools offering direct, occupation-oriented education, live or die based upon their ability to convince people of the value of their education. And even at this level, sales is an inherently unethical thing at times, yet still subject to a lot of those rationalizations that aren't easy to dismiss.

The product/service analogy problem isn't easily resolved. It's at once both, while one is attending. After the degree is earned, it's more or less just a product, a thing that says you got it and whatever that means to people within the industry you're trying to join. While attending, it's a service in the sense that they're teaching you and providing you with a curriculum to follow, practical exercises, etc.

Fraud is a hard label to land because there are so many fine points. Take a cooking school. A long-standing cooking school in my city recently announced that it was closing down (gradually, as currently enrolled students graduate) because local job prospects had gotten to the point where they couldn't maintain enrollment based on such a promise. That's honorable enough, but of course the bottom line is the bottom line there. At the same time they're doing this, a lot of local restaurateurs bemoaned the move because they relied upon the school to provide people with the skills they need.

I'm not a big fan of caveat emptor, but at a certain point it's kind of up to the student to understand that there's a difference between preparing oneself for a career and succeeding in it. If they're putting up clearly shady information in an attempt to create expectations that aren't sustainable, then sure, they need to be dealt with. But so long as their programs actually make you qualified, and they're making earnest attempts to coordinate with employers in finding out what they need (as is certainly in their interest!), then a little caveat emptor is warranted.

As a rather extreme counter example, take acting school. I don't have any figures on hand, but I'd bet there's a rather small percentage of people attending even the most legitimate of acting schools that actually make a viable career acting. Sure, there's no shortage of "schools" willing to take advantage of people's hopes and dreams in exchange for truly inept programs of study that verge on outright fraud even by accident. Yet without acting school, there wouldn't be actors, not nearly as many, at least. There's risk. If you go to cooking school expecting to land a job and can't get one locally, be prepared to move. If you don't want to, that's fine, but it's not necessarily the school's fault.

Another point about trade schools is that they don't tend to attract the best students. As a somewhat recent graduate of a community college (now mercifully attending one of the best universities in the world), I can tell you there's a pretty damned wide range of students out there: many like myself who are potentially great students but take a while to live up to that potential, many who realize that potential right away, and many that just don't have that potential. I've seen them all, but the lesser the school, the more of that worse kind you see. Most schools are well aware of this range and do what they can to wade the worse ones into their curriculum based upon placement testing and the like. But let me tell you, a very large number of these people you might suspect have been mis-served or outright defrauded by their schools have no one to blame for their results than themselves, even if "blame" is a harsh term for what might be a temporary lack of maturity, poor live circumstances, or an unfortunate position on the left side of the bell curve.

I'm sure on some of this I'm just being my old Devil's Advocate self. But honestly, I think for the most part that schools or all sorts can be taken advantage of successfully. I'd much rather see a school dedicated to training hairstylists out there for those people who want to become hairstylists regardless of how many of those graduates go on to become them than for there to be no such schools because they were afraid of over-promising to people unwilling to do their own research.

All that said, I fully agree that one of the government's most important roles is that of protecting people from the unscrupulous and if there's something they can do to require more full disclosure so that people can have the best opportunities to make decisions based on the best available information, great. But I also think it's important for options to be out there.
Cynic, thank you for getting us back on track. I am again forced to say that multiple readings of your above post will be required before I can respond properly. With taste and much agreement you may be assured.
After all that all I have to say is: You retired?!
How did you plan for that? I plan to work until the day I die. I am sure someone will find me leaning against the monitor or face plant on the keyboard. I am going for face plant on the keyboard. That way after a minute the comp will be making a beeping sound after it realizes there is a moron or a dead guy pushing buttons that make no sense. Hey maybe then, they can demote me to customer service! Grin
I did read today that those who have spent a lifetime working at a computer (or else sat down for long periods of time) are more likely to develop bowel cancer, and for men, prostate cancer too. The single study also noted that no wealth of exercise after the fact would help. So a good precaution - as with long haul flights - is to get up as often as is possible.

I cannot see myself retiring, I asked my nan (grandmother) once 'what is it like to be old?' - she replied 'Crap, they wont let you work and you have to watch all of your friends die.'.

Back to the schools, what ever happened to apprenticeships - you hire a new guy/girl, train them up while theyre on the job - then theres no debt and a job at the end of it.
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