I was once interviewed for a job in Georgia. It was a no brainer. A small pentecostal college that had a academic dean with a master’s degree–paid probably 30k, and so the money wasn’t anything special. I waited weeks afterward and only to find out that they gave the job to a guy studying at an American seminary who ABD–nobody bothered to inform me. The academic game had surprised me. In today’s analogy, I was Lebron–I studied at prestigious university, my PhD was all but in hand, and to top it off, I could speak three modern languages, and had proficiency in Greek, Hebrew and Coptic. It was a no brainer. But in the end, the other guy received the call, and I was still out of job. How could this happen? I did everything right and I was ready to step into a job, and they give the job to some guy still working on his PhD! Well, in the end, I determined that merit often has little to do with who gets a job in academics. Here are the real criteria:
(1) Ethos: Who fits into the reigning ethos of the school? A recent graduate from an expensive school is not likely to fit in well at a small school in Georgia that puts no priority on research or writing. Such a person has to be used to deprivation and self-sacrifice and must be satisfied with the small wage the school has to offer.
(2) Politics: a recent informal survey of social psychologists at an academic conference showed that their profession is dominated by those on the Left side of the political spectrum. Only an extremely minute number were self-identified conservatives. This sort of difference can only happen when the admission policies to graduate programs and the hiring policies intentionally weed out those of conservative persuasion, since the conservatives in the American general population greatly out number liberals.
(3) Diversity (=Affirmative Action): Michael, who reneged on his obligation to return to Africa, was one of 160 candidates for a job at a Christian University. When I pointed out that the reason he received the job offer was that the school was implementing a policy of diversity, he was offended, but I was able to point out the page on their website that showed that they were trying very hard and had even offered a job to Botswanan the year before. Adjuncts who had been working their butts off at one seminary I taught at were passed over as white males to hire full-time females; the next three biblical studies appointments were women. This wasn’t about their relative merit as professors but about increasing the number of women in the faculty.
(4) Old boys’ school: J. F. K.’s essay explaining why he wanted to go to Harvard was lamentably lame, but he happened to mention that his father was a Harvard man, and he would like very much to study there too. [BTW, old boys could now be a bunch of liberal woman for all I know--I don't belong to the club--in fact, I've never seen the inside of the club either].
Ok. So lets consider this question from the standpoint of how good the education is, given that merit is not usually the reason why people get hired. The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews a recent book by researchers of the products of university education in America:
Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent. At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment [CLA] performance during the first two years of college. [Further study has indicated that 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.] While these students may have developed subject-specific skills that were not tested for by the CLA, in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern.
A cause for concern indeed! You mean you can send 18-22 year-olds to school and they aren’t one wit smarter after four years of partying and learning about diversity and multiculturalism? Wow! Who woodda thunk?
I have heard the dogma that if schools become indoctrinators instead of educators, strongholds of political correctness and diversity, that that makes them better places, richer and superior to the monolithic schools (read: professors are all white males) that prioritize academic achievement. Yet after 30 or so years of this crap, we now have schools where large swaths of kids come out no smarter than they were before they entered. So what does a BA mean today? It means a huge debt without necessarily any usable or productive skills. It means that a university education for something like a third of graduates is a waste of time and money.