Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Dangers of Diplomas

If you ask adults going for a degree the question, “Why are you going to school?” they tend to respond in these ways:
1. In order to make more money;
2. In order to raise my station in life, that is, gain respect;
3. In order to speak with authority, that is, more easily persuade others to accept what I say;
4. to learn more about things I am interested in;
5. to improve my character or acquire wisdom.

Educational institutions of all kinds focus their advertising on such goals, emphasizing them in the order given above, particularly items 1, 2 and 3. Items 4 and 5 are left for faculty, counselors and late-night campus bull sessions to address informally, if someone appears to be receptive to them.

But although recruiting advertisements proclaim there is a correlation between higher degrees and life-time income increases (With which degree? In which field?) events have shown that for the randomly selected graduate student (you, me or our friends) the link between degree and well-paying job is tenuous.

I began taking graduate courses because, as a public school teacher, state and school district requirements mandated that I take courses to maintain my licensure. Contract incentives moved me to enter a Master’s degree program. It took me more years to make back the money I spent on tuition than I received by my salary increase for the higher degree.

However I did learn some interesting things and meet some interesting people as I worked at the university, but mostly, by luck: by just being around when things came up. That meant I had to spend substantial time away from my family to take advantage of such opportunities. The short-term tradeoff was not encouraging. Long term advantages were post-schooling circumstances: things happened.

Two not uncommon results of acquiring higher degrees are
a. overblown self-esteem, a pride that outstrips capability, even in one’s speciality; and
b. a sense of entitlement based solely on possessing the sheepskin.
Everyone vaguely associated with a college or university knows some pompous twit with a doctorate who constantly complains about being underpaid. But there are corporations that will not hire from certain highly reputed business schools because “all their graduates really know how to do is expect a beginning six-figure salary.” (People in basic education can look forward to the likelihood that wherever they are hired, a large number of people will treat them as overpaid ignoramuses.)

If you have acquired a higher degree, ask yourself, “Did it make a difference in who you are? Can you honestly say you’re a better person for it? Or did you just learn to keep your opinions to yourself unless you could flatter someone higher up on the food-chain with them?”

There is a bizarre correlation to consider: cheating and plagiarism in high schools and colleges are reputed to be at an all-time high. So are applications for admission to all kinds of higher education. Has someone found the real road to success?

To examine these issues further, see KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD: some misgivings

--- EGR