Have you ever read any history of World War One? It truly was a needless conflict. The human collateral damage was both stratospheric and unnecessary, not to mention the lingering effects and unintended consequences (Treaty of Versailles?). Upon reading said history, one thing becomes painfully clear – there was no strategy involved. There was no plan, no grand scheme, and no ultimate objective. It seems that both sides possessed a mutually agreeable death wish. Why, you may ask? It is simple. The “plan of attack” – a most cynical use of the word “plan,” to be sure – was simply to charge across 100 yards of mud, barbed wire, and death into a hail of gunfire. That was it. It was a simple matter of putting everyone out front and seeing who made it through. Of course, like the dog that chases the car, who really knows what the soldier(s) was supposed to do if he made it across the killing fields?
Similarly in the world of modern American higher education, though admittedly pared down, there is this idea that increased graduation rates will lead to . . . well, actually, no one ever really says in real or specific terms just what this will lead to; but a college education is a good thing, so more college educated citizens must be the way to proliferate the good therein, right?
I have pointed out in a previous piece that college for all is a dirty cup with a clean exterior. It seems like a banner that every American can easily rally behind – “college for all!” – yet the economics of it simply do not add up. For this philosophy to take root, there would need to be one job created for every college graduate entering the workforce. Excuse me, there would need to be one job created for every college graduate worthy of the time, effort, and expense put in by said graduate. Presently there are 21 million Americans enrolled in higher education nationwide. If enrollment were to cease for the next four years, the American economy would need to create 21 million jobs for these newly minted graduates. If our economy can manage that one, I will start writing about happier things.
This is a fallacy, because it blissfully ignores the fact that there are more graduates entering the workforce than there are jobs in which to place them. It is a pretty basic economic problem, supply and demand taking center stage. Behind the scenes, however, there is a highly apathetic attitude pervading the land. Those who sit at the top of the higher education world – the presidents, provosts, state legislators, influential alumni, and the like – see higher education less as a place to cultivate the minds of our most gifted and talented, and more as a means to an end. Higher graduation rates will bring more wealth and prestige to whichever institution these individuals are affiliated with, and in so doing will benefit these individuals personally (and likely in a less-than-magnanimous way). The attitude behind the scenes is simply to “just get them through!”
Are they learning anything? Are they being imparted with gifts that will allow them to benefit society later in life? Are they learning any sort of virtuous or ethical code that can later in life be passed on to the next generation? Who cares? Just get them through. There is a quota that must be met. Are they learning profitable skills that will make finding a career thereafter any easier? Who cares? Just get them through. They can figure out the next step after they have taken the present one. What we need is not 70% graduation rates for classes sized in the tens of thousands; No, what we need is 100% graduation rates for classes far smaller in size. What we need is graduates who possess the ability to think critically and solve problems; whose knowledge of their feild of study extends beyond the pages of a book, who not only want to make money from their career, but know how want to make an impact through their career
As it stands, today’s students – in Texas and beyond – are becoming more and more like a dog chasing a car – they don’t know what to do when they catch it.