Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great comments

My Saturday post on education has generated a couple of great comments, and I thought, if you're not a thread-follower, you might like seeing them on the main blog. So here they are, along with my modest effort in between. First, from Citizen Carrie:
Lots of food for thought here. I'm kind of partial to City College and State U, and I tend to equate University of Phoenix with the old-fashioned diploma mills. I guess my biggest problem is I don't know any University of Phoenix graduates. I know a lot of people taking classes, but it's too early to judge whether their schooling is doing their careers any good. The few people I (barely) knew who did graduate usually left the companies right away for supposedly greener pastures elsewhere, and then I lost track of them.

I'm actually kind of surprised that the University of Phoenix model appears to be somewhat sucessful because, at least where I live, even the big-name colleges have very good study programs for non-traditional students. I really credit the U of P marketing campaigns for being wildly successful in attracting students. I briefly ran a company's tuition reimbursement program several years ago and, through my unrepresentative random sampling, found that our employees didn't even seem to realize that tuition at University of Phoenix was more expensive then at public universities!

I also think that a lot of the people who defaulted on their U of P loans might also have defaulted no matter where they attended school. Through their marketing campaigns, U of P could be attracting students who might otherwise not consider continuing their education, and they might not be, shall we say, well-suited for these programs.

I haven't personally seen anything to suggest that the University of Phoenix does a poor job of instructing their students, at least in lower level classes. I also don't have a problem with for-profit educational institutions, as long as they can deliver the goods and give people a better shot at landing a better-paying job after graduation. I know of several smaller, less-prestigious schools that, in many instances, better prepare their students for employment than the more prestigious colleges. But a fine education from experienced instructors won't do you any good if employers look at your resume to see what college you attended and start laughing.
From me:
Interesting comments, Carrie, and I appreciate them.

One thought I had: perhaps the massive education budget of some of these for-profit places has as much to do with establishing a reputation among employers as it does in attracting students. After all, if you've just dropped a few hundred bucks attending an NFL game in University of Phoenix Stadium, maybe you won't be as tempted to laugh when you get back to the office on Monday and pick up a resume from a graduate of U of P.
And from Greg Glockner:
Wow, where to start.

First, I'm amused whenever I open my email spam folder and see all the ads for "buy a Ph.D.". I always laugh because I've already got one! (No kidding!)

Now, when I was studying to become Piled Higher and Deeper, I was a TA (by my own choice), and it was a painful education - for me! The lessons I learned were that the students - at the #1 ranked program for my branch of engineering - expected good grades, no matter how poor or fraudulent their work. In other words, I had students who had so blatantly cheated on their work - violating the school's honor code - and they still believed they were entitled to a good grade.

I remember a particular high school math teacher who once taught me that you don't deserve "partial credit" for a wrong answer - because wrong answers can cause markets to crash, planes to crash and bridges to fail. The harsh truth is unpopular.

That said, I think part of the problem is the ridiculous expectations for university education in America. A liberal arts education is great for the minority of students who are motivated by a love of knowledge. But why did this become de rigueur for the population at large? And why is there such stigma with a vocational education? I see no shame in a career in sales, healthcare, product repair. Do these careers require familiarity with literature and history? No, their success requires mastery of computers, communications, marketing and other practical skills that are seldom taught in college.

I have nothing wrong with American higher education; I just don't think it's the right path for many people who are guided to follow it.
As for Greg's comment, I will mayhap have more to say later, but one side observation I will make is that, in some fields, even the "right" answer isn't right. For an interesting post by Daniel Little which talks about this in economics, see Mark Thoma's reference from 12/29/08 (and the comments are interesting too). There's some good stuff there about correctness and completeness, and I urge you to read it.

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