The rallying cry for America’s economic recovery is to “Invest more in education!” That is the panacea, the cure all, the magic pill that will bring our country back to its feet and get everyone working again! Yet, the main area where jobs are actually booming in this mad rush for education is in the academic world, itself.
Traditional schools and newer cyber-based schools, alike, are exploding their ranks, hiring more teachers (many of whom are adjuncts lacking any scholarly background), expanding their programs, creating more and more online resources to tap into every last potential student, and raking in the money in record numbers.
In the midst of this academic boom a new con has been born—the Snake Skin Diploma.
The Snake Skin Diploma is the modern day snake oil of old. Snake oil began as a trusted ancient Chinese product that was used to help relieve joint pain. Exploiting the ignorance of rural settlers in the 1800s into the early 1900s, unscrupulous salesmen rapidly distorted and exploited the benefits of this ancient remedy to rip people off with claims that this simple oil was a miracle elixir that could cure everything from an upset stomach to baldness to cancer.
Like the Snake Oil Salesman of old, colleges and universities, both brick-and-mortar and virtual, are seducing consumers into believing their sick and hobbled careers will be invigorated by the new and improved bachelors, masters and even doctoral degree programs that can be earned in less time than “old school” programs and increasingly online at the convenience of the student. These programs will get you a piece of paper—after your last tuition check clears—but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve gotten a true education or a ticket to gainful employment at graduation. Too many of these degrees will be printed on snake skin—the sloughed off empty remnants left behind by the ever growing educational snakes feeding on a diet of helpless, frightened students trying to grab at a better future.
As access to “education” is expanding, the quality of the education is rapidly deteriorating in the competition for student tuition dollars. Just as hard news programs have degenerated into infotainment to attract a greater number of viewers, and thus more advertising dollars, undergraduate and post-graduate schools have become obsessed with keeping students happy and entertained to increase their enrollment and revenue. If a student feels there’s too much to read, too many assignments, the information is too hard to understand, or, even worse, it’s “boring,” they’ll quit and go to another program where its more fun and far easier to get that piece of paper—and take with them cherished tuition dollars.
Many academic institutions are destroying the quality of education overall in exchange for assembly-line expediency. The decline begins with a policy of “open admission,” which allows anyone with the money to pay the tuition to become a college student, even if they completely lack any basic writing or comprehension skills and shouldn’t have even been given a high school diploma. These students cannot handle the rigors of an advanced education, but instead of allowing them to flunk out, schools are lowering the criteria for earning a decent grade and passing them along the conveyor belt to graduation day.
The decline worsens as online courses and accelerated degree programs all truncate the actual learning experience and create graduates who are intellectual skimmers, unable to exercise true critical thinking skills and deft at doing just enough to get by—a strategy that will bleed over into their careers, if they should be fortunate enough to find a job.
A recent decade-long study by the Babson Survey Research Group indicated that more than half of the faculty surveyed expressed fear over the growth of online education. According to the study, one-third of all students, over 6.1 million, took at least one online course in 2010, a 10 percent increase over the year before, compared with only a 2% increase in enrollment overall. The study also revealed that 65% of all post-grad schools consider online programs to be a critical part of their growth strategies, despite the fact that the majority of faculty believed the quality of the education for online courses is inferior to those of face-to-face class-based learning.
Educational institutions are shifting from champions of intellectual advancement to revenue-generating businesses dominated by the all-powerful student satisfaction survey. The rigors of reading loads, assignments, and in class performance are all being downgraded to make the “learning” experience easier for the student. While school administrations publicly boast of their high standards, privately teachers who adhere to those standards are punished if their students complain. Online-based courses, in particular, are moneymakers, and those teachers who can’t keep their students happy face losing their jobs.
Though hailed as the new economic recovery cure all, education that produces useless diplomas granted after rapid-fire completion of emaciated degree programs will cripple the USA even faster. Employers can no longer trust that, just because a job candidate has a degree, he or she actually has the basic writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills that an advanced education is supposed to represent.
Worst of all is the scam being perpetrated on the students who are being given a false sense of competency, thinking they are educated, yet destined to discover that they are still unable to handle the responsibilities of a career. Yet, they won’t realize they are falling short. After all, they paid their money, they skimmed their way through, and they have this piece of paper. If they do manage to get a job, but it turns out they can’t actually be effective in the job, they can rest assured it must be someone else’s fault, not theirs. It’ll be the boss’ fault, the company’s fault, their co-workers’ fault, not theirs. And they’ll have the degree to prove it.