The Unfair Treatment of Higher Education

Years ago in one of my undergrad classes in kinesiology two students (brothers) sat in the back of the class. The teacher was talking of the options we had with our degree. It spanned the spectrum from managerial positions to clinical physical therapists. The brothers interrupted the class and more or less pretentiously pontificated about how it didn’t matter what you major in. They added that most companies just want to see that you have a degree so you can just get your foot in the door.

Smug and sure that their beliefs were true, they went on, I believe, to become firefighters. Now, don’t jump to any conclusions here. Being a firefighter is noble, but who were they to take the pessimistic position on the importance of higher education?

The bandwagon and the dead horse

As someone who’s worked in higher education for almost 20 years I hear my fair share of criticisms regarding its importance in the potential for career opportunities. Normally, I read a lot from these “lifestyle gurus” who drone on and on about how a traditional university education is overrated and how we’ve been brainwashed into believing that we must attend a good college in order to be successful.

If you know anything about posts going viral, SEO, and trends in topics online you can easily conclude that everyone and their brother jumped on the bandwagon and beat that dead horse deeper into its grave.

Many of these “gurus” started a mildly successful online business in their parent’s basement. With that self-validated status of authority and an unmentioned failed attempt at higher education they feel the need to let everyone else know that college is a waste of time. Why waste four of five years of your life only to be broke, in debt, and jobless? They paint a dark and depressing picture indeed.

The necessity of higher ed

At the risk of sounding like an old traditionalist, a higher education degree is now more of a necessity than ever before. As many universities face budget cuts almost annually they have cut the fat in several ways. One, in particular, is the cutting of nonessential degree programs. Degrees and concentrations are being prioritized regarding the workforce. There seems to be a better connection between the job market and the education offered or at least the efforts are going in the right direction.

Furthermore, certain occupations require specific degrees. Would you like to become a nurse? You’ll need to go to nursing school. Engineer? Engineering school. Teacher? Yep, you guessed it. Additionally, many careers these days require advanced degrees. Grad schools, masters level degrees many times are needed to either specialize or become licensed or certified in certain fields. For, example, a physical therapist is now a DPT degree (Doctorate of Physical Therapy). This is around a three year graduate school beyond an undergrad degree.

The bottom line is that in order for anyone to achieve a solid, highly skilled job with long term career benefits and opportunities in addition to a certain level of security, a college degree is still going to be your best bet.

It’s not for everyone, but could be

Now, there are those out there who claim that college isn’t for everyone. That not everyone is cut out for going to classes, taking tests, and dedicating four or more years to a degree. They may say that there are plenty other options available for those who just don’t have the patience for all of that.

Some of that is correct. Yes, not everyone is cut out for it. Some will be better suited for some of the skilled labor jobs out there. They may have their own talents and abilities to apply to other career tracks.

I agree 100%.

But, here is where the water can sometimes get a little murky. I believe there are those out there who just need to push themselves a little harder. As we have a growing belief in our society to let up a little and say things like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself” or “Be easy on yourself.” The easy road seems to be the more popular option accepted today. The days of challenging yourself and putting yourself into uncomfortable situations are fewer and farther between.

Instant gratification, comfort, and expectations have a lot to do with that mentality, but that is an entirely different post. So, more on that in the future.

The fact is that so many new students drop out of college or don’t even attempt out of the belief that it just “isn’t for me” when all they really need is a shift in perspective and more resilience and self reliance. They need to rise to the occasion, take on the challenge, and extend themselves out of their comfort zones so they may reap long term success.

Let it be

Let’s just stop all of this higher education bashing and allow and support those who decide that it’s right for them. As universities continue to identify their strengths, cut out the fat, and hone their abilities to align with the ever-changing career landscape it will still be a needed and required path to specialized, successful occupations.


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One thought on “The Unfair Treatment of Higher Education

  1. Dear Brad,

    As usual, I concur with you, though I could be biased insofar as I have/had been in the tertiary environment for a long time. In any case, higher education has some serious problems, as I have both observed and experienced over many years. Having worked on four theses across different academic domains and also attempting to enlarge and combine as well as critiquing and innovating across outstanding gaps and fault lines straddling different researche(r)s, schools of thoughts and intellectual disciplines have enabled me to see the pitfalls and oversights of sticking and/or pitching researches along the lines of what and how some prominent academics or thinkers have aligned themselves in their research territories, outputs and claims.

    In explaining further, I would like to quote myself from my co-authored post entitled “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve?” as follows:

    In spite of this, those who are conscientious would still like to be confident that their due diligence can be exercised to foster good understanding about various research methodologies and pitfalls, including the art and science of falsification (and of questioning), in order to gauge the validity and reliability of research findings, including their interpretations and assumptions. These abilities are not necessarily easy to cultivate by being (or functioning as) a “normal” or “regular” academic, given that the science and philosophy of research (and of knowledge) are very complex, and there are good reasons to be so. Perhaps such abilities are even more essential in analyses of, or discussions on, subject matters that are seldom or inadequately explained, debated or resolved.

    The contemporary tertiary education system and some of the intramural politics and bottom-line approaches operating at universities can be detrimental and even hostile to academic research, especially multidisciplinary undertakings. There are both limits and segregations imposed on intellectual liberty with respect to research territories and knowledge demarcations, beyond which there are barely scant platforms and rare opportunities to generate some debates, discussions or studies on issues never, seldom or inadequately debated or contested before. Since demonstrating a substantial engagement with existing literature and critiquing contested areas of thought are enshrined and mandatory, those areas that have not been researched or contested would tend to be much less favoured or noticed, if not automatically consigned to or considered as non-academic or second-rate materials. In other words, there are significant barriers to becoming maverick and holistic in one’s academic life, and to functioning as an exemplary liberal scholar, in addition to the added risk of being ignored, abandoned, consigned or ostracised as anachronistic proponents or promulgators of erudition and education. It is unfortunate that those who conduct research at colleges, universities or other tertiary institutions face constant pressure to have clearly defined research topics and agendas, which are supposed or expected to be concentrated on and shaped by the most contested, recognized or commensurable areas that comply or align well with the prevailing paradigm, academic climate and intellectual zeitgeist, in which ideas, data, models, methodologies and theories are created, examined, refined and fought over and over again by peers and rivals, and repeatedly quoted with zest by fellow scholars and aspiring students to show that they are up there with the most consequential leaders. Contests are usually fought contiguously, with rivals coming from within a discipline and focussing on specialism and micro-topics. At the multidisciplinary level, the dins and roars of such contests are few and far between, as fault lines seldom straddle continents of knowledge. Even when they do, they are often dismissed, misunderstood or ignored rather than examined or contested. The upshot is that academic research is increasingly reduced to playing an intramural game for “points” that earn coterie repute and disputable expectation, where conditions conducive to unbridled, exploratory or revolutionary ways of conducting research or investigation have become very illusive, even more so as colleges and universities opt to operate under the model of mass education and customer satisfaction, all too often underfunded, overburdened, vocationalized and instrumentalized, becoming more performance-managed, metricized, casualized and marketized under the pervasive influence of privatisation, consumerism, audit culture, managerialism and neoliberal orthodoxy.

    I realize that this comment is already very long. You can find another of my critiques of tertiary education in my extensive and analytical post entitled “💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠“, which contains twelve sections. The most relevant part about tertiary education is located in the last section named “Denouement: Democracy, Education, Legislation & Sustainability“, which even gives a very dire warning of what humanity is heading towards if there is still no concerted, meaningful and large-scale change for the better.

    Yours sincerely,

    Liked by 1 person

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