Friday, January 11, 2013

Consumer Electronics Show Day Three. Is the nation in an educational crisis?

I enjoyed the last panel that my work paid for me to attend on Thursday. It ran all day and focused in and around higher education technology. Just as a little background, half of my salary is paid through federal vocational rehabilitation which is a program that focuses on getting individuals the right kind of education and training for them to become gainful contributors to society. V.R. of course has its challenges, and I wanted to find out more information regarding what's out there that could help our clients to achieve success. What I ended up getting can more or less be summed up by the question: "How well does society in the United States prepare college graduates for a life of work?" I'm sure all of you have answers to that question. For me, the answer is obvious: it doesn't. The cost of higher education has become grotesque...beyond the means of people (like me) to afford. Sure, you can take out student loans. But graduates today will step into the workforce for the first time with a mountain of debt and many with skills that are obsolete within six months. So if you don't swim right away, then within a year or two, you're sinking. Is the cost of education worth it?

It's an interesting dilemma and really goes well with some of the other panels I attended at CES this week. Take for example the quandary of all of those out-of-work professional drivers who will be in their mid-forties and face obsolesence. The person in charge of that particular panel chafed at my question (if you remember) and merely said, they will have to get trained in other jobs that are created by leading innovations.

Okay...sure. So how does one get trained? Well apparently it's for the cheap cost of another $50,000 that you could either borrow or starve your family out (I suppose you could try selling your soul to the devil, but I don't think he's buying these days as sin is free).

Basically, this panel on higher education had a debate that went on for hours. They know that as of 2011, there exists 9.4% unemployment for those possessing only a high school degree. The ones that fall outside of that percentage have jobs at Burger King or McDonalds, right? But who cares, they have jobs. They just can't make any money at the jobs that they do.

The panel knows that normal "non-unicorns" are graduating with a ton of debt. A "unicorn" in this context is the "mythical" genius student that gets into Harvard at the age of 15 (my book "Slipstream" is about the life of a "unicorn" of this nature). These panelists know that a path to a degree should allow for the learner to pick and choose what they want that is in accordance with their goals. Take for example the "engineering" student that is forced to study Spanish literature and read Don Quixote. They want to put an end to this. However, to accomplish this, means to go to war against the Department of Education, and the DOE (the people that pay my salary through Voc Rehab) is an entity that moves very slowly and does not adjust to change the same as people posting a relationship status on Facebook.

It literally means a revamping of the "credentialing system." This "system" has been in place for decades, but technology has arrived. The West is well beyond what we should be doing and is facing what it must be doing in order to retain a position of leadership. The answer is a new pedagogy, because the United States is a nation that is in (right now) an educational crisis.

The United States is setting itself up to be essentially "irrelevant" within my lifetime. Nice. Here's some statistics for you: 36 million college students lost their way at some point and didn't get credentialed. They are smart, but have no certificate to show it. Because the system is the way it is, without that certificate, they are condemned to a life of poverty. Our system is not set up to help those students who may run into trouble mid-course. Our system is set up to count the dead bodies at the end. It's not a good system and creates obstacles for success to preserve the value of the certification as a reward at the end.

That would be all fine and dandy if businesses valued those credentials. But increasingly, businesses are hiring their employees based off of portfolios. They are examining the work of someone and could care less what the credentials are. That's the way Silicon Valley currently operates and is becoming more and more the business norm.

So the value of a degree is basically becoming less and less.

However, all of this discussion is moot since the Department of Education sent no representative and as far as anyone can tell, congress can't agree on anything anyway between the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling that a discussion on educational reform isn't going to happen.

Interesting eh? I found a lot of food for thought in this last summit at CES. However, being presented with all problems and no solutions I guess seems like a waste of time. But at least there's a discussion taking place (probably one that gets even less attention than the one regarding gun control in our country). I predict that both will peter out, and we'll accept our irrelevance while China, Singapore, and other countries become global leaders and the United States watches Honey Boo Boo and gets fat on "sketty and butta", but continues to feel important simply because we all own firearms (and someone in the country knows the launch codes to nuclear weapons). And as much as the evangelicals in our country will want to blame the intellectual abyss that will become America, it will not be because of gay marriage.
"The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting."
--Plutarch. (I really liked that quote and thought I'd share). You're welcome
Book Tour Stuff: Today I'm at Mimmi's Musing talking about my love affair with assassins. Go HERE to read about it :)

I'm talking about the hockey culture in "Oculus" on Puck Buddy's. Find the post HERE. Thank you, Jeff, for putting up the article on this blog recognized by the New York Times for its ground breaking articles.

Also I may be at Melissa Stevens tomorrow. Find that blog HERE.

Next week I shall be back from Vegas trying to resume a normal schedule. Thanks for your patience. Have a great weekend.


  1. The educational system in the US is more mired in tradition than probably anything else other than the religion institutions. Despite mounds and mounds of research that show them that what they are doing doesn't work or that some other way is better, they continue to cling steadfastly to the "way it's always been done."

    Of course, Lucas did donate $4 billion dollars to help bring about change...

  2. Online education will probably become more prevalent, I'm guessing.

  3. I work for a federal grant that grants fund to colleges' career and technical education programs. So, this discussion is one I've been engaged in for some time. Legislation will most likely change how that grant is delivered. In that, colleges would have to deliver innovative proven programs that have been articulated with secondary ed. Also, there would be financial support from business so that proves their investment in the program.

    Yes, things do need to change. I talk about the level of student loan debt all the time, and it's crazy. A friend of mine told me that her son borrowed $67,000 for the first year of med school. Can you imagine the level of debt when that student graduates?

    This panel you attended sounds like one I'd attend in my job.

  4. College tuitions have gone out of control. Just as scary is the fact so few people have a savings and can pay for them. I attended a private college and my parents paid for it out of pocket. Most people can't do that for their kids now.

  5. I don't have a solution for this, but I wish all students who get scholarships and they screw around and lose them, would be able to pass their scholarship to those who really will appreciate them. Unfortunately, I've known too many students who don't appreciate.

  6. It really would be a challenge to think of one think I learned from college that I apply to my job everyday. I mean the most basic stuff like debits and credits I learned in high school. Tens of thousands of dollars for a stupid piece of paper that isn't much use at all. It's a ridiculous system, but there's too much money and power involved for it to change any time soon. And as you say, we'll continue to become irrelevant. It's already happening. That's why so many doctors are from Asia these days and why we keep having to issue visas to let smart people from other countries in.

  7. Good topic Michael. The question of college and paying for it is a tough one; a problem certainly getting worse.

    Unfortunately as an instructor, I see too many young people who should be doing something else rather than slogging their way through college (academically unprepared and/or without the motivation to succeed). But the institution wants their money, and so life goes on.

    Anyway, off to see your guest post.

  8. I JUST read like 2 articles on this very topic. The idea that, really, college is a stupid idea unless you're going for something that requires it (law degree, engineer, medical etc). it makes me sad because i have a BA in creative writing and i know that i wouldn't have my current job at my well paying corporation without that degree. But, the times are a changing.
    I'm thinking about maaaaaybe getting my MFA. There's a lot of things that need to be weighed in my life, though. So we'll see

  9. I just lost my job and altho I would like to go back to school and study something that might get me a new job there's no way I could afford to.

  10. The cost of tuition is ridiculous! Your child might get into an ivy league school, but how are you going to pay for it.

    I didn't want my mother to pay for a dime of my college education. I had a full scholarship, but couldn't afford room and board. So I joined the military and worked on my degree slowly. Once I got out, I finished up full time with scholarships, a pell grant and used my GI Bill for living expenses.

  11. Hi, Mike,
    The information you've shared here is very enlightening. It helps put things in perspective for me when I think about the many people here who spend lots of money (think about a foreign exchange rate of 92:1)paying for a college education in America.

  12. At least a discussion is starting, even if it might not lead to real change. I work in an academic library, so I see exactly what you're talking about. We have grad students come in and they barely even know how to use a mouse! It's sad. So, so sad.

  13. I worked in a financial aide department for a couple of months helping out during the busy time (September) I saw a lot of young people just taking the max loans because they use it for living expense...with really no idea how to pay it back. They were in a hurry to get the money too.

    I think in general college is scam...and I've been scammed a few times.

  14. Education is in trouble and the problem with it is the people making policy and decisions are not the right people. Like you said, they weren't where you were.

  15. Um, yeah. Brain is fried today, so I have no cogent thoughts to add. So, just, um, yeah.

  16. Higher education doesn't cost nearly as much here than it does in the States, but the way things are going right now, I don't see that lasting. The French school system has been under critical attack for years now and diploma's aren't worth what they used to be either. That's one of the many reasons I want to be involved in my kids education, fill in the gaps sorta speak and try to give them an advantage for when they get older.

  17. Hmmm. I'm going to be the only one going the other direction.

    I am encouraging my daughter to go to college and get a liberal arts degree (OH NO, NOT THAT!) in History. She loves history. She will do well with 4 years of it. And if she sticks with it she will be one of the few young people (because everyone is discouraging people to major in such things and advising them to get straight vocational training) that will be qualified to run a history museum or work in the history department at a college library or write about history or just think her way out of a box and solve problems and be articulate (skills you definitely get by going to college instead of working at Burger King).

    And she is choosing to do it in a way that will not cause her to acquire a huge amount of debt - scholarships + go locally the first 1-2 years + we've been saving since she was a baby just like everyone said to do.

    BTW, did you know that if you have a 529 savings plan for your kid, you can't take advantage of some of the tax breaks for college tuition? And since we didn't make much on the 529 because of the economy, the tax break for being disorganized and not saving would actually be more. WTF?

  18. Our education system is a giant mess. It depresses me to think about how poorly we educate people and prepare them for actual jobs. Only a tiny percentage of people seem to make it to where they want to be.