Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Higher education at the precipice

A straight-A student at Kansas State University has boldly proclaimed that the college emperor has no clothes and bidden a public farewell to what he calls a “scam.”  This could be a sign of what lies ahead for the left-wing propagandists who have taken over our colleges and universities.

An entirely predictable cataclysm awaits the American higher education sector.  Having jacked up their prices at roughly triple the rate of inflation for at least five decades, college education is no longer affordable without crippling debt for all but the richest families.  The sole justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars on a child’s education at a full-price private school is that a prestige degree is the gateway to upper-middle-class work status.

Yet in tandem with higher education’s putative lock-grip on career prospects has come an intellectual death spiral into ideology and irrelevance.  Baristas with prestigious baccalaureate degrees are now a clich√©, but the underlying fact is that a bachelor’s degree in grievance studies (most of the humanities and social sciences are now little but propaganda on the evil of America) does not equip one for useful work.

All of these facts are well known but have yet to influence a significant enough segment of the market, with a few exceptions.  Instapundit and the University of Tennessee’s Glenn Reynolds has ceaselessly been writing about the coming Higher Education Bubble for years now.  And he has chronicled the market and ideological forces already closing in on the nation’s law schools, as automation and a changing market mean fewer jobs for new graduates.  (Latest news: Charlotte Law School students suing and claiming problems not disclosed.)

But until the smart kids start saying that they don’t need college, that it just isn’t worth it, higher education can keep on running toward the cliff.  Well, it is starting (hat tip: Instapundit).  Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education (a trade journal) reports:

Billy Willson finished his first (and his last) semester at Kansas State University this week -- and in so doing has set off a debate there and beyond on the value of college and of general education in particular.

In a Facebook post, he announced that he was dropping out, despite having earned a 4.0 grade point average. He said that he would start his own business and learn more from that experience than anything he could hope to achieve at Kansas State or any college. He ran a photo of himself giving the finger to Kansas State, although he's since said he really wants to be doing that to all of higher education. (snip)

"YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED," Willson wrote on Facebook. (The wording, grammar and capitalization quoted here and later in this story are verbatim from Willson's and others' social media posts.) "You may not see it today or tomorrow, but you will see it some day. Heck you may have already seen it if you've been through college. You are being put thousands into debt to learn things you will never even use. Wasting 4 years of your life to be stuck at a paycheck that grows slower than the rate of inflation. Paying $200 for a $6 textbook. Being taught by teacher's who have never done what they're teaching. Average income has increased 5x over the last 40 years while cost of college has increased 18x. You're spending thousands of dollars to learn information you won't ever even use just to get a piece of paper."

He added: "Colleges are REQUIRING people to spend money taking gen. ed. courses to learn about the quadratic formula (and other shit they will never use) when they could be giving classes on MARRIAGE and HOW TO DO YOUR TAXES."

His complaints are not political, which really helps spread the discontent.  He can't be dismissed on this basis as a crazy rightie.  Willson’s own first plan, a t-shirt business, will be only a stepping stone.  But if this angry young man focuses and starts to acquire online education on demand, as is now possible, he can learn every skill he will need.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and am exposed to numbers of Millennials working in the tech sector.  Some have computer science degrees; others do not.  All are pulling in enviable wages, and all of them are constantly acquiring new skills online.  That is the nature of life today for techies.

For this life, an online degree in computer science would be helpful, but a young person like Willson can simply pick up a skill set and get hired without ever paying outrageous tuition.

The marks are wising up.


British Universities warned over 'snowflake' student demands

Universities will be forced to pander to the demands of "snowflake" students if controversial changes to the ranking system are approved, education leaders have warned.

The Government faces a cross-party revolt in the Lords this week over proposed reforms to higher education, which include placing student satisfaction at the heart of a new ranking system.

It is feared that this will lead to a "fantastically dangerous" culture where authorities will give in to student demands, however unreasonable they may be.

"Safe space" and "no platform" movements have swept across campuses including a campaign to ban Germaine Greer from giving a speech over her "offensive" comments.

Baroness Wolf, a professor at King’s College London (KCL), warned:  “Universities are increasingly nervous about doing anything that will create overt dissatisfaction among students because they are being told that student satisfaction is key.

“It has had a real effect on the willingness of universities to stand up to student demands which in the past have been removing statues, safe spaces and no-platforming. This whole movement is a direct threat to academic standards and the ability of universities to stand up for freedom of speech.”

She added: “The student satisfaction measure is fantastically dangerous. The way to make students happy is not asking them to do any work and giving them a high grade.

“This will reduce standards and undermine quality.  I just think this is totally mad, and destructive of everything universities stand for.”

Professor Julia Black, interim director at London School of Economics, Baroness Wolf, Baroness Deech, a former senior proctor at Oxford University, and Gill Evans, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University told The Telegraph of their concerns.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, championed by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, will reach committee stage in the Lords on Monday, where is expected to be subject to a barrage of criticism.

Sir Keith Burnett, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is clear that members of the House of Lords are deeply concerned about the long term future and sustainability of universities, and this is true across parties.”

The bill outlines the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), where universities will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals on the basis of a range of factors including student satisfaction, teaching excellence and preparation for the world of work. Universities are currently ranked based on quality of research output.

Gill Evans, emeritus professor of Medieval Theology at Cambridge University, said the new criterion will lead to an attitude among university authorities of “bother the kids but we had better give in as we stand to suffer more for fighting it out”. It will lead to a feeling of “if in doubt, give in”, she added.

Baroness Deech, a cross-bench peer who formerly held the highest office dealing with student complaints, has tabled two amendments to the bill dealing with free speech, which she said are “integral to academic freedom”.

“One is requiring universities to protect freedom of speech within the law, so that lecturers on unpopular subjects are not shut down, so that "safe space" and "trigger warnings" do not impede scholarship,” she told The Telegraph.

“The other amendment requires universities to take steps to stop illegal speech, for example invited extremist speakers calling for discrimination and worse against gays, women and Jews, or inciting terrorist activity.” She said that while provisions for both already exist in the law, they are “widely flouted”.

“You should always engage with students, but their experiences change the whole time,” she said. “Universities do have to challenge students and students may find that to be an uncomfortable process. It is beholden on universities to make sure students feel supported through that challenge.”

Vice chancellors have been accused by senior academics of being “needlessly spineless” in their opposition to the bill. In order to raise tuition fees in line with inflation and recruit international students, they must sign up to the proposed teaching excellence framework (TEF).

One Vice Chancellor told the Sunday Telegraph that in terms of opposing the bill, this “leaves universities between a rock and a hard place”.

A senior academic said: “They are terrified at the idea that they might lose fees. They did not need to be so needlessly spineless. ”

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We want more young people to have the opportunity to access a high-quality university education, and the measures proposed in the Higher Education and Research Bill are critical to making this possible.

"The new Teaching Excellence Framework will help raise the quality of teaching and almost all English universities, including those in the Russell Group [24 leading UK universities], have confirmed that they intend to take part in the second year."


British government declares war on school cyber-bullies: Teachers to be trained on how to spot the signs under plans to tackle the scourge of mental illness

Teachers are to be trained to spot pupils affected by cyber-bullying and eating disorders under plans to tackle the scourge of mental illness, Theresa May will announce today.

The Prime Minister will use a wide-ranging speech on social reform to unveil a new fight against the 'burning injustices' suffered by those suffering mental health problems.

Warning that failure to tackle mental health problems quickly 'destroys lives', Mrs May will vow to end the stigma that has led to millions of people suffering in silence.

A key part of the package will be funding to train teachers in every secondary school in England in mental health 'first aid'.

Teachers will be taught how to spot problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, and offered help in identifying and talking to those at risk of self-harm and suicide. Reports have warned that rising numbers of young people are suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and stress because of an 'extraordinary range' of pressures.

Among them is the rise of modern technology, which has facilitated cyber-bullying and left many children anxious about their appearance or their social lives.

In her speech today, Mrs May will warn that mental illness 'too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched'. The Prime Minister developed an interest in mental illness and its consequences during her six years as home secretary, where she was struck by how much police time is taken up dealing with the issue and the prevalence of serious mental health conditions among prison inmates.

Today she will identify it as a key priority in her vision of creating a 'shared society' in which no-one is held back unfairly. She will vow to 'employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society'.

Mrs May will say support for mental health sufferers should be offered not just in hospitals 'but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities'. She will add: 'This is a historic opportunity to right a wrong, and give people deserving of compassion and support the attention and treatment they deserve.

'And for all of us to change the way we view mental illness so that striving to improve mental wellbeing is seen as just as natural, positive and good as striving to improve our physical wellbeing.

Theresa May's package of measures to tackle mental illness also includes:

Trials to allow vulnerable youngsters to receive fast-tracked care from the NHS;

New guidelines for employers to help staff suffering from depression or other problems to return to work;

Investment in new 'crisis cafes' across the country to offer support for those who do not want NHS help in dealing with their problems;

The expansion of digital diagnosis services that allow people to have their symptoms assessed more quickly online;

Moves to end the scandal that can see people already plunged into debt by their problems charged up to £300 by GPs for proof they have mental health issues

'This starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched.'

Today's package has a strong emphasis on early intervention in schools, where problems such as cyber-bullying, 'sexting' and eating disorders have added to anxiety about exams to place youngsters under intense pressure. Staff at 1,200 secondary schools will be offered training in 'mental health first aid' this year, with those in the remaining two-thirds of secondary schools following in the next two years.

Trials will also be held to strengthen links between schools and local mental health trusts to ensure faster referrals for those with problems.

The Government will also launch a review on the services on offer to help vulnerable youngsters in school, at university and in the home. Speaking yesterday, Mrs May said work was already under way to tackle the 'stigma' faced by mental health sufferers seeking help from the NHS, including a £1billion package announced in January last year.

But she is determined to also tackle the problem in wider society.

She said: 'I was talking to somebody today and they made the point that in the workplace if you break your arm and you go in with your arm in plaster and in a sling, people will come up and talk to you about it. If you have a mental health problem people are more likely to try to avoid you. We must get over this stigma.'


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