Academia is a cult

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by chrisjm18, Apr 1, 2021.

  1. chrisjm18

    chrisjm18 Well-Known Member

    Academia is a cult

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  2. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    When my first child was born, we had some friends over the house to meet and greet the new baby. Not ten minutes into the conversation, one of these friends who had an Ivy League degree said "Hey, when it's time, don't hire an educational consultant until you talk to me. I can save you a lot of money with advice they'll charge you for." I said "I'm never paying someone to get my kid into college." They were taken aback "Don't you want your child to get into the best school possible?" To which I replied "No, I want my child to be happy and live their own life even if their career path doesn't involve college." They were appalled. I'm surprised they didn't report me to DSS that very day. This is someone who once alienated a fellow dinner guest when she lamented as to how she almost got "stuck" going to Michigan State before her father was able to "pull strings" to get her into Sarah Lawrence from which she was able to bounce to the aforementioned Ivy League school for her professional studies. For reference, she is a part-time instructor at a college and the person who was thusly insulted was a physician (who, coincidentally, went to Michigan State).

    I like talking about all of this stuff. This is a fun bit of a hobby for me because degrees and the many alternate paths to earning them fascinate me. But for some people these degrees are, indeed, a religion and it's not getting any better.

    For years my guidance counselor told me I needed to go to college otherwise my life would be a horrible re-creation of Angela's Ashes. Many people had the same advice crammed down their throats being told that they were "too smart" for the skilled trades or that they needed to "follow their passion and money will follow." When that dream failed, people should have woken up a bit as to the limits of a university education. Instead they doubled down on it. If their dreams didn't come true it's because they didn't major in a STEM subject or because their school was for-profit or too niche or too small or too big or just not high enough in the rankings. It has to be the fault of the unemployed person. They must have just "done it wrong" because college education is all and everything less is damnation. For way too many people careers are a zero sum game where you realize the sum only if you can put the University of Pennsylvania or Stanford on your wall and literally everything else is a zero.

    Meanwhile, had I stayed in the Navy, assuming a reasonable career trajectory I would probably be retiring as a Chief Petty Officer now. Maybe I would have become an officer after I earned my bachelors. Figure I could be walking past the side boys at my retirement right now with Lieutenant Commander clusters on my collar. Retired, ready to embark on my next phase, with nothing more than a degree from a lowly for-profit school. As it stands, I'm an anomaly right now with a professional career and no student loan debt and a stacking of degrees that many people feel is not actually possible because, after all, surely a prestigious Jesuit institution like the University of Scranton would circular file anything with the stink of a for-profit school on it, right?

    While all of this is going on there is a union electrician making six figures without a penny of student loan debt. I'm pretty sure I've done more to put my mechanic's children through college than my own. And there are people with ivy league degrees working menial jobs trying to figure out how the dream failed them.

    Academia, in my opinion, has a lot of good things going for it. But it's a weird little bubble that thinks it is at the center of the universe. It is a breeding ground for arrogance and elitism and seems to export much more of that than the sort of research that benefits the whole of humanity. It's a system that insists it is better than the evil for-profit world even though most of its bills are paid by sponsored research from large mega corporations who will use it to make the next flavor of soda. And we could forgive the lovable weirdos at the university for their arrogance if they weren't so damn convincing to where almost every typical layperson buys into their nonsense. We watch kids from poor families show up at the doors of schools they cannot afford, earning degrees that validate that they are special and brilliant little snow flakes who don't need to be taught anything because they are so perfect. Then they walk out with no skills, no sense of how a career is built and get angry that the world is not rewarding their special uniqueness with a corner office and all of the money they could hope for. Imagine, for a second, it was Scientology with this sort of pull. That every kid in high school was being fed a line, and believing it, because every teacher and guidance counselor repeated it. They need to go out and take out six figure loans for auditing packages and then it will all be good. We would see that for what it is. But when colleges do it, we make like it's just no big deal. And if the kids grow up and can't get jobs? Well, they did it wrong. They can't pay their student loans? Then they should have known better than, I suppose, to trust every adult they have ever met.

    The simple fact is, if my son told me he wanted to go to barber college and start his own business I would feel he had his head in a dramatically better space than his peer who wants to go to any college to study "whatever" thinking they'll be managing a hedge fund when they get out. But I'm clearly in the minority in that thinking.
  3. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member


    I have about a dozen friends who work for a commuter rail service- never went to college, had no previous skills or experience, and learned everything on the job. Their salaries are made public, so I know exactly what they all earn and I'd estimate that unless they blew all their money on sports bets, that they were all millionares before the age of 45.
    Neuhaus, chrisjm18 and Rachel83az like this.
  4. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    And yet, from some of what I've seen on social media, the pendulum is swinging a little too far in the anti-university direction. Without the context of the individual situation, saying that earning a degree must be a bad idea is no better than saying it must be a good idea.
    RoscoeB, Neuhaus, Dustin and 2 others like this.
  5. newsongs

    newsongs Active Member

    I heard someone say "Getting an education is different than getting a degree". Made sense. There are people who are educated who hold no degree; and there are people who have degrees...

    Degrees with life experience... can be a good thing.
  6. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    I feel like the people who are very anti-college are generally those who did not get a college education and feel some defensiveness over that. On the other hand, I might feel like that because I did get a college education and want to defend my "purchase."
  7. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    The problem is it shouldn't be an either or. Are life experience credits good and is there a place for them in academia? Absolutely. Taken at the most basic level I would dare someone to explain to me why basic training shouldn't transfer in to meet a physical education requirement, for example, while a semester of hot yoga once per week is worth one credit.

    On the other side, why can't we just say that the person who owns the carwash knows about small business? Why do we make it essential for that person to have a degree to be a fast food manager (in many cases)? I feel an Australian/NZ style qualification framework would help get to the heart of this. I think the biggest issue is people want some level of education for a job but without that framework we are left only with the language of college degrees. I do not see why someone would NEED a bachelors degree in HR if there were an acceptable Level 4 diploma that was considered acceptable by the industry for entering the profession. Want a degree as well? Go for it. There are people with law degrees and MBAs who work in HR but those aren;t necessary to do the job.

    Getting an education is, indeed, not necessarily the same thing as getting a degree. The problem is that many employers want the paper simply for the purpose of wanting a piece of paper and degrees being the only standardized educational papers on the scene (in the US).
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  8. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    Like so many other things, Canada straddles the line here. We have a system of applied college training and theoretical university training. Someone coming out of a college program is much more likely to have hard skills that are immediately usable on a resume. At the same time, the perception that university is better still reigns supreme so there is still some elitism.
  9. Rachel83az

    Rachel83az New Member

    Some are. But I don't think that this applies to all or maybe even to the majority. Personally, I don't even need a degree to justify what I know. I would be happy going through life without a degree if I could; I don't have a deep-seated need to prove anything to anyone. I only need it for employment purposes.
    SteveFoerster likes this.
  10. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Here's an illustration of what I mean about the degree being the only standardized qualification employers can default to...

    Bachelors degree, regardless of field, we know is roughly 4 years of study. There are exceptions, of course. Some people can wrap it up in 3. Some people take longer. Generally speaking, we're talking 4 years of learning post-high school. An employer knows this is the case whether they are accounting majors, engineers or studied Classics. That's the standard.

    Outside of degrees, it all gets very murky.

    I can award you a Certificate in Neuhausian Philosophy. But the word "certificate" is not standardized. Neither is diploma. Either can be highly intensive programs that last years or something you hammer out in a weekend. Rather than standardizing this, similar to how the UK has a stacking of Certificate -> Diploma -> Degree, we went the other way. Now we dilute the degree by flooding the market with microMasters and miniMBAs and Nanodegrees etc. The result is that it becomes impossible to look for what you want in any standardized way.

    My unqualified solution? Degree level GEDs. Testing + Experience requirements = an equivalency diploma for levels above high school. You know all of those jobs that say "Bachelors degree or equivalent?" Let's make the equivalent even if we don't formalize it to the level of Australia/NZ. Instead of forcing a car mechanic to go get an associates degree, let them document the experience and take some exams. Now they have a diploma that is deemed associates equivalent. Instead of requiring Nurses to conform to the academic hierarchy, just make it so that a trained RN can progress through the equivalencies with experience and maybe specialized certification. A provider in my doctor's office, for example, is a Nurse practitioner whose highest degree is an associates because she got in while that was still possible. How about instead of saying you need to be an RN with a Masters degree just to get into an NP program, an RN who earns these certifications and has this much experience can just "level up" and now has a diploma that says he or she is now qualified at the associates, bachelors, masters level. No student loan debt. No busy coursework. No more BS. Validate the experience and acknowledge skill but treat skill as an alternate pathway to academic work.

    I can assure you that I am no more a Master of business after my MBA than I was before it. It didn't change my life or my thinking. It just made me more tired. Imagine if I had spent that time doing literally anything else and we just had a framework that said "Yeah, Neuhaus has a lot of certs, a lot of experience and he passed some really hard exams. This guy has the equivalent of a Masters degree in expertise."

    Because right now all we have are four degree levels. And our system has outgrown them and, as a result, we are spinning out of control.
    Maniac Craniac likes this.
  11. chrisjm18

    chrisjm18 Well-Known Member

    The Well-Heeled Professoriate: Socioeconomic Backgrounds Of University Faculty

    "If your aspiration is to become a university faculty member some day, here’s a bit of advice: choose your parents wisely. Turns out that university faculty are, on average, 25 times more likely to have had a parent with a PhD than the general population. In addition, those faculty tended to grow up in neighborhoods that had a 24% higher median income than the general public."
    Maniac Craniac likes this.
  12. Rachel83az

    Rachel83az New Member

    In some countries, nepotism and inheritance of faculty positions is near 100%. I can't see that article but do they mention how much of academia is made up of first-generation immigrants? Nothing against immigrants but it does show that producing too many PhDs is more of a global problem and not just an issue with America in particular.
  13. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    Hopefully, but I'm often floored by how many people make good salaries and find ways to blow it just on living with no basic money management skills, and even after decades of consistently working in good paying jobs are still living paycheck to paycheck with barely any savings.
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  14. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    There is also a difference, I find, between people who have one big jump in pay versus those whose salaries are high as a result of incremental changes over a long period of time. Surprisingly. the big win people tend to get their affairs in order. They start pumping money into their 401ks, etc. The ones with the incremental changes? They never really feel the increase. It's too gradual.
  15. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    Lifestyle inflation is a real thing and if you're not going into a situation with the belief that it's not "your" money today, you're liable to make decisions that cause that additional income to float away.
  16. chrisjm18

    chrisjm18 Well-Known Member

  17. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member


    The opposite problem also exists- not spending as much or not spending any money at all investing on one's own education and missing out on returns. You can't know where your life will take you, no matter how much you plan nor how hard you work. I've tried to meet that challenge by being very conservative with what I spend, but that leads to the same question of how any of my degrees will pay off financially. Will my generic degrees from my unknown colleges ever lead to enough opportunities and/or pay increase to justify the fact that I did them? How much more money would I have in the bank if I had just taken a second part time job, or pursued a business idea, instead?

    Of course, pursuing higher education isn't just about the money. Not for everybody at least.
    chrisjm18 likes this.
  18. chrisjm18

    chrisjm18 Well-Known Member

    So true. I earned my bachelor's degree and first master's degree by paying out of pocket. However, I took loans to cover my second master's and doctorate. I have no issues with paying my student loans nor am I looking for any kind of debt cancelation. If it happens, good. If it doesn't, oh well. I recently got a new job, which has almost doubled my income. I can easily pay off my student debt in about 24-30 months. I can't wait to be student loan free haha!

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