What does a degree mean?

Many college students get a credential but not an education, writes an author of the Lumina Foundation’s proposed framework for defining what competencies students should master.

Professors are fascinated, puzzled and skeptical.

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  1. “Once upon a time, making students ‘college ready’ meant strengthening, not weakening, the high school curriculum.”

    Rather than working to improve K-12 outcomes, efforts are underway to weaken college requirements. Winning the future? (Yeah, right!!)

    The Innovation Agenda

  2. A college degree today isn’t what it used to be 30 years ago (unfortunately). In addition, the cost of a college education has risen 432 percent since 1982, and in many cases, 50% of the students who start college still haven’t finished within 6 years, while amassing a pile of debt.

    Parents should look into the concept of ‘college is a ripoff’ before Johnny or Jane reach the 11th grade.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Here’s what a degree means:

    The student paid tuition at the institution in question or was granted a waiver. The degree says nothing about where the money came from or why the waiver was granted.

    The student’s professors marked down grades on the student’s account giving credit in at least 3x courses taught by people who were hired by the university in question. (3x=Thirty-x)

    The student received credit in courses that lined up administratively with some “Requirements for Graduation”. If a major was required, then some subset of the courses lined up administratively with that department’s particular requirements.

    That’s it. That’s all a college degree means. It doesn’t mean that the student learned anything, that the student attended any classes, or even that the student did any work. It might have all been a giant fraud.

    Now we can start asking what a college degree probably signifies, from the various particular institutions that grant them. But in each case the inquiry is going to be highly institution- and faculty- specific.

  4. The sad reality is that the business community has made that the standard. Companies don’t care about skills or competencies. They simply use the degree as a gatekeeper for people who can accomplish a long-term test and be trained.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    Companies don’t care about skills or competencies.

    At least in the technical fields like engineering, this is simply not true.

    They simply use the degree as a gatekeeper for people who can accomplish a long-term test and be trained.

    I’d suggest that many companies use a college degree as a proxy for (a) and IQ test, and (b) a validation that the candidate has some minimal level of reliability.

    It would be better if we had much cheaper proxies for these …

  6. What Mark Roulo said. Companies use degrees as barometers of capability. Of course the institution that issed the degree matters, as does the type of degree and the major. A math degree from the College of New Jersey means one thing, a communications degree from Rutgers means another.

  7. Tim-10-ber says:

    I would add the businesses look at a college degree as determination of starting a project and sticking with it. We do look for certain degrees (subject matter) as it means the person had enough basic classes in a given field so that should have a fundamental knowledge in the area we need. That is a general business degree.

  8. Companies do what they can, given that the decision in Griggs vs. Duke Power rules out most cheaper tests of capability and reliability.

    If you want to fix this, you’ll first have to ban the use of “disparate impact” as an indication of unlawful discrimination.  Colleges and universities are not bound by Griggs, so they are the only safe filter companies can use.  Colleges and universities in turn can use the College Board tests, which companies cannot use directly.

    I doubt universities want Griggs overturned; that alone would probably be enough to pop the higher-ed bubble.  Unfortunately, we can’t afford to keep paying so much to gatekeepers who don’t contribute much else.