A Massive Waste of Human Capital

Graph source; Cranky’s Blog. (Click for clearer image)

In the 2012-13 school year, roughly 32,000 students entered Virginia’s public universities. Six years later, some 9,000 of them, 28%, had failed to graduate. And if they hadn’t graduated within six years, the chances were remote that they ever would. John Butcher provides the numbers in his latest post at Cranky’s Blog.

Think of the waste in human capital — 9,000 kids, the vast majority of whom took on student-loan debt and were unable to earn a degree that would give them to earning power to pay off that debt. Nine thousand kids mired in modern-day indentured servitude.

As John points out, the problem doesn’t originate at the University of Virginia or the College of William & Mary, which accept only students with high SAT scores. High SAT scores are highly correlated (almost 90%) with college graduation rates. The college drop-out rate is highest at schools that cater to students with low SAT scores. But even then, some schools do a worse job than others of nursing students through to completion. The biggest under-performers, adjusting for average SAT scores, are George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Old Dominion University.

ODU has the excuse that it serves a transient military population. What’s VCU’s and GMU’s excuse?

Why is this a scandal only for for-profit diploma mills?

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33 responses to “A Massive Waste of Human Capital

  1. So how does Virginia compare to other states? My perception has always been that a significant number don’t finish college – nationwide and Virginia is fairly typical.

    Looks like this data came from SHEV

    Cranky, to his credit, does explicitly say “correlation is not causation”

    and the efforts to tease out insights from the data in graphical form is good stuff and I applaud Cranky and Jim for upping their game!

    With due diligence and care – even more/better insights are possible!

    And such insights can be extremely valuable if it leads folks to a better understanding of the issues and to be able to form fact-based opinions rather than biased beliefs.

  2. The real shocker on that chart is Virginia Tech, clustered there below several others at just about 60 percent on-time completion despite 1200+ SATs. For some of these schools the on-time completion rate has improved over a decade ago, and it remains a focus. At some of them the word “scandal” does apply. Lots of reasons students start but do not finish, not all of them within anybody’s control. My takeaway on this all along has been 1) some students go to college without really being ready or motivated or mature (can name examples in my own family who finished later in life) and 2) students who are marginally prepared or under financial stress need plenty of support and usually do not find it. A hard nosed solution would be to reduce the slots and raise admission requirements, but for every child pushed out who wasn’t going to make it, aren’t you also cutting one another one who will?

    • “The real shocker on that chart is Virginia Tech, clustered there below several others at just about 60 percent on-time completion despite 1200+ SATs.”

      I think it’s difficult to make a fair comparison between institutions that have a substantially different field-of-study mix. For example, at VT (and I suspect at UVA and many other places), four-year graduation rates for engineering majors fall below those in many other fields of study (e.g., liberal arts). For an institution with a large proportion of its undergraduate students studying engineering (like VT), that could mean a lower overall graduation rate.

      VT’s published statistics suggest 4-year graduation rates there are lower, on average, for engineering majors than for business or liberal arts majors. See https://www.ir.vt.edu/data/student/retentionGraduation.html. Click on “Retention and Graduation Rates,” then “First-Time, Full-Time Degree-Seeking Freshmen,” then “All College, by Major.” Graduation rates are available there for each college and for different cohorts.

      If I’m reading the data correctly for UVA (pulling from two different places), its outstanding graduation rate for engineering majors (recently the best in the U.S.) is below that of its overall graduation rate. However, I think that engineering majors at UVA represent a much smaller proportion of the undergraduate student body than at VT.

      I could be mistaken, but I think one major reason for the longer time to degree of some engineering majors is that so much of the required credit hour total is comprised of required/prescribed courses as compared to some other majors.

      • Good point — the mix of disciplines does have an effect on graduation rates. I know from family experience how tough engineering school is. My son started in engineering school but decided after a year that engineering was not for him. The switch to Arts & Sciences probably will make it difficult for him to graduate on time. I guess I was lucky — I never had any delusions that I was cut out for engineering school, so I never had to go through what he did.

      • I agree in part with the two Steves as to the internals of chart. But there is much left out in Crany’s chart and our discussions about it here. For example,

        Typically, roughly 50% of those electing to major in Engineering drop out of Engineering, and they drop out quickly given the rigorous nature of these courses in most (but not all) colleges, and their inability to hide lack of competence in testing by those schools with integrity of testing. The great majority of these students, however, do not drop out of college. They switch their majors to other courses, sometimes “softer”science courses, or Liberal Arts. Many of these courses are almost impossible to fail, if one shows up for class. I suspect that those who drop out of Engineering and “Hard STEM” courses like pre-med, have substantially higher graduations rates than those students who elect liberal Arts and softer Sciences to begin with.

        Of course, the great limitation of Cranky Chart is that it does not measure the quality of education that these students receive, save for hard and legitimate STEM, and one must be cautious even here, as many courses advertised by colleges as STEM are not true college level STEM courses.

        All of this leads to the biggest problem by far, the low quality of the education that the majority of graduated college kids have received by the time they graduate. To graduate from most all colleges today is quite easy.

        So while most of the kids who drop out are not ready and never will be, many of the kids who do graduate from college fall into the same category. And many others who do graduate have learned very little while there because they lacked the motivation to learn, were not made to learn, and had nothing better to do. So they took courses that taught them nothing of value, and often times taught harmful material easy to pass if you stayed in your seat. Those who received a great or even good education in our colleges today are in the very small minority. This included our elite colleges now at the undergraduate level. In fact most honest and knowledgeable observers say most undergraduates students are far better off education wise a small college, instead of a large university no matter the ranking of that university.

        So the greatest tragedy of all is those kids who graduated learning next to nothing because they were not college material begin with, or because they were not motivated to learn, or well taught while in college. These kids are most typically represented by the vast number of kids today who graduate but cannot get college level jobs despite today booming economy and historic 3.7% unemployment rate. Frankly, these are the kids Speaker Cox was talking about in his speech but likely for good political reasons did not delve into the main driving cause of the problem, namely the lack of good or properly designed education for most of our college age kids whether they graduate nor not, or who never attend college at all. This vast failure of our education system problem is now a national crisis.

        Thus, the WSJ today reported that the percentage of COLLEGE GRADUATES who could ONLY get a first job that does NOt require a college degree, were broken down as follows:

        Engineering – 29%
        English and Literature – 45%
        Business,Management,Marketing – 47%
        Biological and Biomedical Sciences – 51%
        Homeland Security and Law enforcement – 65%
        Personal and Culinary Services – 81%

        On average (after studying 4 million cases) the report found that 43% of the four million kids were unable to secure a college level first job. And that TWO THIRDS of those 4 million kids had not found a college level job after FIVE YEARS OF TRYING.

        Hence, if you accept the analysis of Cranky, and the WSJ report, the majority of all kids who attend college and drop out or graduate receive no apparent benefit whatsoever, despite all the time and money wasted. That would amount of roughly 55% of all of our kids who were accepted and attended college whether they graduated on not.

        What does this problem tell us? What do we do about it?

        • “What does this problem tell us? What do we do about it?”

          There is some support for your point suggesting that many college graduates have not attained college-level skills. For example, the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that relatively unimpressive proportions of adults with a bachelor’s degree (but not a master’s degree or Ph.D.) exhibit proficiency across multiple measures of literacy, as just 31% of them were proficient in prose literacy, 25% were proficient in document literacy, and 31% were proficient in quantitative literacy.

          See https://nces.ed.gov/Pubs2007/2007480_1.pdf

          Separately, despite the big focus on STEM, businesses indicate that many recent college graduates lack the general college-level skills that every college graduate should possess. For example, a survey of employers commissioned by the Chronicle of Higher Education back in 2012 suggested significant gaps for recent college graduates in their written and oral communication skills relative to employer expectations.

          Another way to make your later point is to say that only about 30% of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshman in the U.S. graduate within six years (about 60%, I believe) and secure a college-level occupation right out of school (about 50% of those who graduate), so 0.6 x 0.5= 30%. The big insight from the Burning Glass study referenced in the WSJ article is that most of the initially underemployed college grads never secure a college-level occupation. Wow. At some point, I’m hopeful those statistics will be published by institution.

          What do we do about it? More should be done to ensure that college students attain college-level skills before graduating. The big question is how best to ensure that happens, as well as where responsibility lies. One could argue that college proponents (including me) have placed so much focus on the completion agenda that the learning quality agenda has received insufficient attention. Indeed, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) said as much in 2010: “The current focus on college-going, while important, short-circuits the core issue of educational quality. Yet both employers and educators know that the quality shortfall is just as urgent as the attainment shortfall.”

          See https://www.aacu.org/about/statements/2010/quality-imperative

          Additionally, recognizing the critical role that the first post-college job typically has on the rest of a college graduate’s career, we need to do more to help facilitate a successful launch. For example, we could encourage more students to complete internships while in college.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Excellent comment. Thank you.

            For example, this: “The big insight from the Burning Glass study referenced in the WSJ article is that most of the initially underemployed college grads never secure a college-level occupation. Wow. At some point, I’m hopeful those statistics will be published by institution.”

            An additional insight here is that those far too few kids who do not find a college level education first job, but do so later, “or come close to it later,” often must go back school later and start over, after their unsuccessful first and second and follow on job experiences points them into the direction they should have gone, or have been lead to by the system, in the first place.

            For example, and this example is very typical, taken from real life, the high school graduate is encouraged to take a full liberal arts degree (in say history), at a second or third tier college (often at the lower end of selective, or non selective). The result here too often is a faux degree for her, like many others.

            So, upon graduation, she finds the hard way that her skills are not sufficient to get a college level entry job in the market place. Why? Because, as you suggest, the marketplace determines that she “lacks the general college-level skills that every college graduate should possess … thus lacks the written and oral communication skills relative to employer expectations.”

            So, as as result of successive failures, she reaches a crux time. What does she do? Particularly if she has unmanageable debt to go along with her great disappointments and sense of personal failure, and if she lacks the support system (family) to give her the help she needs to transition out of her “tight spot.” Without that outside help, she and kids like her often give up, and spiral down, into often destructive behavior, without recovery.

            But say if she can go back home wounded a year or two later, and get help from her understanding and loving parents on her debts, and get a kind of job in an area that now she knows interests her, one that gives here life meaning and personal satisfaction, she can work and grow out of her “tight spot. In one case I know well – that young “college graduate” struggling to find herself 3 years after graduation, found her calling after working as an assistant in a animal hospital. Once there after several months, she experienced deep satisfaction working as an assistance helping the Vet. in animal surgery. After a year or two of doing that, she “goes back to college” to gain a nursing degree, ending up as a surgical nursing assistant. This is story of a friend’s daughter. It’s very common, but without the support system in place, that story far too often does not end well.

            Speaker Cox’s speech addresses that scenario powerfully. As does the tail end of your comment. As he and you suggest ways must be found to fill the gap that kids often need to make the most always difficult transition from high school to mature productive adult. Our current system is failing or hobbling unnecessarily the great majority of our kids here. I strongly support Speaker Cox’s ideas.

  3. Any ideas about how/why UVA is so good? One might think at a top tier University – it’s sink or swim and the wash-out rate not low.

    so can the other Colleges like Va Tech learn anything from UVA? What?

    • The chart shows you why UVA and W&M do so well – high SAT scores coming in. Even 40+ years ago that test was described as predicting your ability to do college-level work, and that is all that it measured. No IQ, not achievement (well, the side tests were about the material), but preparation and readiness for college.

    • “Any ideas about how/why UVA is so good? One might think at a top tier University – it’s sink or swim and the wash-out rate not low.”

      There’s an important book published about a decade ago that offers some potential answers to your question: “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.”

      One of the interesting findings from the quantitative analysis presented in the book is that graduation rates are higher for students attending selective institutions, even after controlling for major differences in incoming students (e.g., socioeconomic status, incoming academics, and race/ethnicity).

      The authors suggested that several characteristics of more selective institutions may explain much of their higher completion rates for students with similar socioeconomic status levels and academic preparation. Peer pressure to graduate may be greater at selective institutions since more students there actually do graduate. Academic capacity and drive of students at more selective institutions may have a positive effect on all their students. Further, more selective institutions (often with better resources) may offer better instruction as well as more robust academic support and/or a lower total cost of attendance (via greater grant aid) for some students.

      The book’s analysis was based in part upon data associated with students who attended college in Virginia.

  4. “ODU has the excuse that it serves a transient military population. What’s VCU’s and GMU’s excuse?”

    Those data, according to SCHEV, are for first-time, full time freshmen. And the cohort analysis is supposed to account for students who transfer out, e.g., military folks who get moved. As well, those three schools are urban universities serving populations that differ considerably from those at other schools. They also had remarkably larger increases in graduation rates in the six- and, especially, the five-year data. See the figures here: https://calaf.org/?p=6305

    These data don’t allow any fine distinctions. But the bottom line, as Sir James points out, is that some 9,000 people, mostly young people, spent time and money on a college education and failed to get their tickets punched. Whatever the value of those unearned diplomas, the money and time spent on the effort to earn them were squandered. It seems to me that the only folks to profit from this were the schools, not the students they were supposed to be serving.

  5. sounds like UVA has a process for determining the “right stuff” necessary to graduate which is MORE than just the SAT.

    For all the criticism UVA gets – they wear well against their competitors

    • “sounds like UVA has a process for determining the “right stuff” necessary to graduate which is MORE than just the SAT.”

      I’m sure UVA does good things, but I’m not sure there is a lot of magic happening here. Cranky’s data shows graduation performance is highly correlated with SAT scores. (I’m sure it would also correlate with high school GPA if you look at SCHEV data.) I looked at family income data from the NY Times mobility study and it also appears to be highly correlated with graduation rates (and SAT scores). UVA and W&M have the highest average SAT scores, median family incomes, and graduation rates. (UVA and W&M also have higher levels of aid for lower income students, so they graduate with less debt.) NSU and VSU are the lowest in graduation rates, SAT, and income. The group of GMU, VCU, and ODU are ranked in exactly the the same order in graduation rate, SAT scores, and family income.

      Income might even explain some of the differentials we see based solely on SAT scores. JMU has the same SAT scores as GMU, but a higher graduation rate. If you look at income, JMU has a median family income of $147K (NYT data), which is 30% higher than GMU’s median of $112.6K.

      Although Cranky’s data doesn’t show it, community college graduation rates are very, very low. Nationwide, 6 year cohorts (for what is a two year degree) have only a 39% completion rate.

  6. re: ” These data don’t allow any fine distinctions. But the bottom line, as Sir James points out, is that some 9,000 people, mostly young people, spent time and money on a college education and failed to get their tickets punched. Whatever the value of those unearned diplomas, the money and time spent on the effort to earn them were squandered. It seems to me that the only folks to profit from this were the schools, not the students they were supposed to be serving.”

    re: Although Cranky’s data doesn’t show it, community college graduation rates are very, very low. Nationwide, 6 year cohorts (for what is a two year degree) have only a 39% completion rate.”

    I think it is undoubtedly a fact that there is a significant dropout rate for college 4yr and even high for 2yr.

    But trying to draw conclusions from that data – gets into philosophical viewpoints.

    UNLESS Virginia is significantly worse that other states – I’d see this as more representative of College in general across the country.

    And yes – it DOES represent a waste but then when we start playing a blame game that implicates the institution of education – that somehow K-12 and Higher Ed are “failing” the students – we veer off the rails IMHO.

    So, if true -and we run that scatter chart on a larger scale – for a region or for the nation – and it basically confirms the relationship between SAT and the best and worst colleges – then what exactly is the point of the discussion?

    Virginia is not unique. What the Virginia-only drill down shows is that yes – we have our share of top tier and lower tier colleges and as Izzo points out the correlation of higher SATs with the higher tier institutions.

    So.. yes… it’s a “problem” when a third to a half of kids who attempt 4yr/2yr college – don’t complete it but my suspects are that this is not new and not just Virginia unless perhaps we can show on an overall trend basis, that many more kids are now attempting college – and failing – than before – which, if true, might indicate more wrong with society than our colleges .( we are among the world leaders on the level of college attainment), .but I digress.. (as usual).

    • Larry, you are correct that Virginia colleges and universities have better completion rates than peer institutions in other states. (I’m pretty sure about that — I think I’ve reported that on the blog.)

      But that’s damning Virginia colleges and universities with faint praise. The fact that the college dropout rate is a bigger scandal elsewhere does not make it less of a scandal here.

      • How realistic is an expectation that we have a much higher graduation rate – nationwide or we characterize it as a scandal otherwise?

        Isn’t that like saying that despite trillions spent on highways, we STILL have congestion or trillions spent on public safety and we STILL have crime?

        Why should we believe that 70, 80 90% should finish college? Where’s the marker that say that?

    • “But trying to draw conclusions from that data – gets into philosophical viewpoints.

      UNLESS Virginia is significantly worse that other states – I’d see this as more representative of College in general across the country.”

      Drawing conclusions from data is what should be done as long as it is backed up by a scientific method. Cranky had a hypothesis that there is strong correlation between SAT and graduation rates and he proved it. He showed there are some narrow outliers in Virginia above (JMU, VMI, LU) and below (GMU, VCU, ODU) the plot line. Based on that, I hypothesized that income might be a factor, as the average income at JMU, VMI, LU is about 25% higher than GMU, VCU, ODU. Urban vs. rural locations could be another factor to test.

      If you look outside of Virginia, it really doesn’t do any good to say we’re not doing so good in a relative sense, because we know the U.S. overall is much more expensive than any other OECD country (with possible exception of UK) and has completion rates that are now no better than middle of the pack (they used to be leading).

      It might be helpful to look for examples where an institution is performing above expectations. UCLA, for instance, has a median family income of $105K, which is well below or below UVA, W&M, JMU, VT, VMI, CNU, GMU, UMW, LU (it is about the same as RU), but it has completion rates that are very close to UVA/W&M. UCLA appears to have a higher percentage of students from the bottom 20% than any Virginia schools other than VSU and NSU. Now there could be something else that explains this, but it is worth exploring.

      • I should add that I’ve seen some analysis that shows that UVA and W&M do pretty well on graduating students from lower income groups (they are close to the average graduation rate). The problem is there are comparatively few lower income students, and the results start to diverge from the average at other Virginia schools. I know others have said you can’t compare California and Virginia, but this is where their system outperforms Virginia’s.

        • re: ” Drawing conclusions from data is what should be done as long as it is backed up by a scientific method.”

          The Scientific Method is about crunching data correctly. The conclusions that one draws as to causation or implications of – is subjective and especially so if there are no recommendations to remedy but instead it’s characterized as a “fail” or a scandal.. and basically we’re assigning blame for not “achieving”.

          What actions to pursue should we take away from such narratives?

      • Izzo,

        I think your three pieces of commentary immediately above are quite useful, and spark a lot of ideas that have not been well explored.

        Such as what does a high income family mean for student performance versus a low income family? That answer is very complex? And how does it in all its aspects play out in different school cohorts? Plus I think we all are way overestimating the value of high graduation rates and low graduation rates, and failing to fully appreciate the positive and negative affects of both, in terms of student performance and education levels and quality.

        I also believe that much more study and creative analysis needs to be done on the interaction of acceptance rates, drop out rates, graduation rates and educational quality. For example, note the very high acceptance rate at Virginia Tech versus VMI, how does that affect the dropout and graduation rate of both, might not high and rigorous testing standards be beneficial in the case of Va. Tech in assuring that kids are learning to succeed in liberal arts, instead of wasting their time in very unproductive ways for their future, and for the teaching quality at the institution as well.

        The questions rise higher to the surface when you research and contemplate inductively (unlike you, I have no scientific methods, am only a student of history and culture) all of the 41 public and non profit colleges in Virginia, their relative acceptance, dropout, graduation rates, and SAT scores (old fashioned term I know), and cultural background. It seems to me that this system we have now in Va. and elsewhere is by and large set up to fail most of our kids, in different ways at all levels.

        For example, many of these schools simply cannot afford to have empty seats, nor can they well afford to flunk or drop out kids, or fail to graduate kids, financially or rating wise. Nor can these schools push them hard to learn, or do the very hard work they need to develop the skills and character they will need to survive in the real world. In fact, neither can UVA and W&l rating wise perform these critical taskes, although these two schools enjoy the strongest student bodies academically and financial positions in the state.

        As one other example, the girl student I discussed above graduated in four years with solid grades from Virginia’s 7th ranked school on Cranky’s last chart on his blog. There is much to delve into and think about here.

        Then too there is the issue of affluent and/or academically unprepared students versus the rest, how best to heal that gap, and much else. In short, I believe the entire system of higher education needs to be reformed from top to bottom. It starts with an honest and detailed list of how it fails all of our kids now, and now it works well for them too.

        For example, I strongly suspect that some of those schools that are low on Cranky’s last chart are doing a much better job educating their kids than schools that ranking far higher to that chart. That is not a criticism of the chart, only suggesting that we looked at it in many different ways, before deciding all that it tells us or can tell us.

  7. Going back to the late 70s everybody knew … it was next to impossible to get into UVA but also next yo impossible to fail out. Tech was different. Easy to enter, hard to graduate. The notorious 5 hour calculus course was a monster of student dismay.

    GMU? Live at home in NoVa and still go to college. A degree on the relative cheap.

    • Don, in the 1960s, after Edgar Shannon arrived in the late “50s” UVA was “next to impossible” (very hard) to get into, but quite easy to funk out of. It was truly swim or sink. Everything changed, however, around 1969 in Va. higher education that trailed California by a couple of years. The change was abrupt and startling.

    • re: ” it was next to impossible to get into UVA but also next yo impossible to fail out”

      that was the impression I had also.

      • But now its different. Like Don says, its “next to impossible to fail out of UVA. ”


        Because if they funk you out because you refuse or are to lazy to learn, it will hurt UVA’s ratings. So UVA does all they can to keep you there, despite the fact that you and they know you are learning nothing. Why? It’s simple. Their ratings are more important to UVA than your education.

        That’s a huge problem everywhere in American education. It is the primary reason why so few kids learn in college today, no matter the ranking of the school. The typical kid, no matter how smart, needs to fear funking out. Take that fear away from the kid, and he’s lazy as satiated Labrador in the hot sun. It’s worse for kids at college, cause the colleges now have learned to entertain kids, keeping them there, rather than giving the kids a serious education that requires very hard and demanding work ALWAYS, no short cuts will ever work on the road to a good education.

        • College grade inflation started during the Vietnam War (students who flunked out were draft-eligible and professors probably didn’t want to be party to that). It has continued unabated for 50 years and now GPA averages at top schools are often over 3.5 and often closer to 3.7. This isn’t attributable to time spent studying, which has declined according to several studies. Grade inflation is also rampant at high schools, particularly those in affluent areas.

          There are degrees and there are degrees. I had a friend who graduated from MIT engineering and his sister went to a top Virginia school majoring in humanities and had a very high GPA. He was fond of her but couldn’t help but speculate on how she’d do and how big of a wake up call it would be if she was dropped into MIT. Perhaps not a fair comparison, but I got his point.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            IZZO SAYS above:

            “This isn’t attributable to time spent studying, which has declined according to several studies.”

            Yes, indeed, only in American higher education is it possible for students to get ever higher grades while spending ever less time studying. And there is no dispute whatsoever on the trends and statistics here.

            Last time I looked, the typical kid in college put in roughly 28 hours a week in solitary study, reading books, doing numbers, and writing papers that were often rigorously graded on a weekly basis, in the 1960s.

            Today, the typical kid is said to “study” roughly 13 hours a week, much of it today in collaborative “study” sessions alone without supervision with other kids.

            Imagine that! Kids not reading, computing, and writing hard, exercising the hard earned skills they need to acquire and retain knowledge and learn skills, how to parse and analyze then synthesize knowledge and learning in clear, organized and effective writing.

            No, No! Not at all! That is all out the window. Too Hard!

            Now many kids (boys and girls), get together to talk and chat about things, what we used to call bull sessions or describe in quaint terms like “dating” before hook-ups became all the rage.

            Now, if you as a mature experienced adult doubt the efficacy of “collaborative learning among kids for homework done together up in their bedrooms together ” your suspicions are well founded.

            Many studies have shown the “collaborative learning” among undergraduate college kids is not effective homework study, nor is it study at all, nor is it a effective innovative cutting edge technique of pedagogy, as our professors claim after much “research.” No, for most college undergraduate kids it is not learning at all, it’s a total waste of time. It’s doing what kids love to do, socialize.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Immediately above, I said:

            “Many studies have shown the “collaborative learning” among undergraduate college kids is not effective homework study, nor is it study at all, nor is it a effective innovative cutting edge technique of pedagogy, as our professors claim after much “research.” No, for most college undergraduate kids it is not learning at all, it’s a total waste of time. It’s doing what kids love to do, socialize.”

            You see what the problem with “collaborative learning” by college kids is, when it is in lieu of “real homework,” why it is worse than a wastage of their time, why it really does them so much active harm?


            Because it returns our college students to young children.

            They become again little tribes of group-think children again, little socialized armies of little kids who now never grow up. The task of a real undergraduate college education is the reverse. It demands that kids in college learn to be and act as autonomous individuals. It demands they learn habits that cause them to be independent, competent, and confident souls and thinkers who, on every day after they graduate, know how to walk out into the real world, and there stand on their own two feet, and there use their own independent thoughts and actions to build their own world, independent of the mobs and whiners, and so take the productive and positive actions of free and liberated individuals who are accountable to themselves, their beliefs and past, even as they are committed to the public good.

            Hence, cannot be a gabfest like the rest of the day, its a time for contemplation, and hard independent work, where the college kid learns over her time to college to splint off from the tribe, thus gain for freedom become a mature independent human being, well armed to fend for herself and build her own future on her past, for the benefit not only for herself, and those around her

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Correction to last sentence above.

            Hence, homework time in college cannot be a gabfest like the rest of the college day. Instead, it’s a time for independent study and contemplation, and hard work, a critical time wherein the college kid learns on her own to splinter off from her tribe, and thus gain for herself, the space she needs to become a mature independent human being, well armed to fend for herself and build her own future on her terms and out of her own past, for the benefit not only for herself, but also for the benefit of those around her and for the benefit of her society.

  8. What’s happened? Most of my friends from several high schools in the Twin Cities went to college in the Greater Metro Area. I guess we didn’t have enough money to pay for board & room. I classify them as at least reasonably bright; some more than that. I met quite a few more when I went to college. They too were similarly gifted.

    Virtually everyone I knew from what had to be a good 40-50 people graduated in 4 years. A couple took an extra semester; maybe two. But a couple of them graduated in less than 4 years.

    The idea of taking more than 4 years just didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar screen. And since most of us did not come from wealthy families and most were the first generation of their families to go to college, most of us worked during the school year.

    What has happened for so many students not to be able to graduate in 4 or even 5 years?

  9. re: ” ost of my friends from several high schools in the Twin Cities went to college in the Greater Metro Area. I guess we didn’t have enough money to pay for board & room.”

    YES! And nowdays – people, parents and kids, CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE – deep debt to pay for room & board rather than economize and not go into debt for room & board .. AND THEN …….. BLAME the colleges for the costs and Govt for not forcing the colleges to charge less.

    Imagine if we took that approach on things like Affordable Housing or Health Care! Nope… it’s the free market for that stuff – even if the govt is spending money towards it like it does College.

    What has happened as people have lost their freaking minds these days on things like this. If the College you want to go to is too much – don’t do it! Don’t go into decades of DEBT that impinges on your ability to own a home or support yourself and family just because you insist on attending a too expensive college and make it worse by staying on campus.

    We talk often here about Asians. Take a trip to Blacksburg some day and note how many Asians got to Va Tech but live in almost poverty circumstances off campus… they do that to get their degree AND to not have tons of debt when they finish. Must be a “cultural” thing, eh?

    • My daughter went to North Carolina State. She loved both the college experience and NCSU. (She stayed in Raleigh.) When she was a junior, she announced she wanted to stay for a fifth year and get a double major. We replied that the college fund would only last four years. She replied “Oh, I’ll just borrow the money.”

      On her next visit home, she announced that she was just going to stick with her business major and graduate in four years. She did not want to take on education debt.

      My wife and I knew our daughter would make it in life.

      • Same thing happened to me but I was the kid. After law school, I wanted to get a masters in City Planning. My father said gigs up. Not on my dime. So I got a job in a law firm, learned on the job.

  10. Below is some earlier related commentary found on this website, for a more complete record.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 15, 2018

    “Fantastic post, Jim. Love this:

    “People point to the declining number of suspensions as evidence that restorative justice is working. But the numbers don’t necessarily mean schools are any safer or students are behaving any better, writes Christine S.”

    How true!

    IN addition, retention rates in college do NOT mean kids are learning. Graduation rates in College do NOT mean kids are learning. Transfer rates from CC to 4 year college do NOT mean kids are learning.

    Same applies to all levels of schools. We have to stop focusing on process and start focusing relentlessly on substance – are kids learning, and learning the right things and habits – otherwise retention and graduation rates are worse than meaningless, they are signs of great harm done.


    Keeping kids in college (retaining them in a place they should not be) is malpractice in education. It’s immoral, too. It is particularly immoral when an institution’s policy in retaining as many students as it can violates the students’ self interest, while at the same time it promotes the self interest of the school.

    For example, when such a retention policy drains money from the student’s pocket or loan while the institution then pours those monies of its improperly retained students into its own institution’s pockets. This is cynical beyond imagination, and it goes on all the time in education. And it is now standard practice. It is done not only to take the students’ money when the students are not learning, but it is also done in order to falsely raise the rankings of institution at the students expense, while falsely claiming to benefit the student, including the claim that the student is being educated, when the student is receiving little or no education at all, only learning bad habits.

    We know this behavior is rampant. The false gods of rankings, and money, now powerfully motivates all of our schools of higher education, from the best to the poorest. As regards the poorest, see for example my post found at:


    That is one reason now why most all our schools inflate students grades. Why they refuse to grade on a curve. Why they refuse to enforce outside study by students. Why they refuse to demand that students read or write outside the classroom. Why they refuse to legitimately test and grade their students, and report results. Why our schools refuse to be accountable for how they educate their students, or whether they educate students at all.

    Indeed now, for many students, college is a summer at the beach, or far worse. Far too many students hardly study at all. Too much of college today is not the real world, nor does it prepare most students for the real world. Indeed, it too often does quite the reverse. College too often is a largely bogus teaching industry for most kids without real or legitimate standards, much less coherent standards. It is without accountability. It is a place that touts itself as a Temple of Learning where far too often there is little or no learning going on at all. It’s just a stopover place where our kids can acquire a toxic brew of horrible habits – acquire the sexual habits of rabbits (the hook-up culture), binge drinking and drugs, or learn to be victims of, and aggrieved by, others said to be different from them. Or where our students too often learn self-hate of themselves, their families and their culture by reason of who they are, and/or by reason of who their parents are, or where they worship, or what the believe in by reason of where they came from.

    Quite literally, too many students today graduate as damaged children, instead of educated adults. They have attended a college that is in the process of destroying their culture and ours, not preserving and enhancing our culture, much less passing it onto our young students. Many school are in the business of money laundering toxic cults and ideologies instead. Thus these colleges don’t teach kids real history, most particularly their own. They erase the history of their students, and then poison a clean slate in the heads of their students, instead. Yes, it is true. Many colleges today mostly destroy our history, they destroy our faith, they destroy our culture, they destroy our traditions, and they destroy our system of government, churning out ill educated children with ideas in their heads to bear no semblance to the real world they will encounter. Armies of Bernie Sanders truth believers, for example.

    Of course this conduct of uncountable and out of control intellectuals and pedagogues has happened again and again through history. Hence, because it has been so common among sick societies within out, its growing presence here in America should be setting off alarm bells in our heads.

    For too many of our students today would have been better off not to have graduated at all, but to have dropped out, or never attended, or funked out, and only then returned to college with an altogether better attitude, call it maturity given the life lessons learned during their time in exile, in the real world.

    I saw the time and time again at during my time at UVA during the 1960s. The students who dropped out or funked out back in the 1960d often gained a great advantage over the rest of us. One of those guys who funked out, went into the army, and returned to UVA then graduated. and went on to redefine the skyline of the city of Philadelphia. Had he been “retained” at Virginia under its current policies, instead of taking that army intermission, he would have been far less likely then he would have learned what he knew by the time he graduated and went on the change a city for the better.

    The policy that high college ratings require high retention rates is an awful policy that does great harm to colleges and students alike. And it is only one awful policy driven by ratings among many awful policies driven by ratings.

    James A. Bacon | September 15, 2018 at 11:22 am | Reply

    … Wow, Reed, I suspect you have overstated the case, but you have overstated it most eloquently. This is quite an indictment.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 15, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Reply

    Jim – yes, you are right. I do overstate it. There are some excellent colleges and universities in America, many excellent teachers, many many fine students who do learn incredible things, it is the best time in history to be great student, and most all the rest in college are wonderful kids.

    But I am after terrible trends in higher education, and on this format some overstatement and lack of full nuance is too often necessary, I believe.

    And I am far from alone. Today many professors and scholars in the academy, are saying much the same thing. For example:

    “(In academia, Tolerance is having an identity crisis. Today, the western canon is increasingly being purged from universities by faculty in favor of identity- based curriculum. Meanwhile, classical liberalism has been relabeled conservatism, liberalism shape-shifted into “progressivism,” “anti-fascism” has donned Jackboots of its own, and a poorly defined yet virulent identity politics has virtually replaced citizenship, its language permeating the public sphere and officially respectable discourse.

    Simultaneously with this rising tide of divisive racial, sexual, and gender politics, free speech and inquiry have come under attack by the very institutions that should protect them. Speakers are disinvited by universities or shouted down by virulent “social justice” radicals, angry mobs deface or seek to tear down statues of notable historical figures, political leaders oscillate between politically correct appeasement and authoritarianism, and mere allegations foment public outrage together with dire personal and occupational consequences for those who run afoul of such dynamics.

    Watching this, I find myself feeling a deep, increasing sense of unease about the fate of the once familiar world around me. Yet, in questioning this state of affairs, I feel like a medieval heretic already tossed down an oubliette to be forgotten.

    Yet I can no longer morally afford to scream silently. If I just sit, ruminate, and do nothing as western civilization crumbles before me, I simply won’t be able to live with myself. I really need to articulate things more fully, to find my voice, to leave a record – at least – of the lived experience of someone navigating this rotting dystopia as our civilization totters and lurches towards its apparently dismal dismal future …”

    This is the opening of a essays titled “Can we talk? Life under the Frankfort School” by Professor J. Scott Kenny, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and part of a discussion with others, published by the National Association of Scholars headquartered in New York City in their 2018 Fall issue of “Academic Questions.” It was also published on line on July 10, 2018. (See http://WWW.NAS.ORG)

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Reply

    Earlier this year on this subject I said in revised form:

    I have little confidence in the metrics used by schools and by many others, such as those who rank colleges, to judge college performance in educating our kids. Far too often. these statistics show the reverse of what they are claim of show, and their metrics harm education instead of enhancing it.

    In fact, all to often these metrics and rating systems acerbate the problems of educating kids in school, where for example have gotten into the habit of entertaining kids, instead of education them, with the result that other students who truly want to learn are not given a chance to learn despite their best efforts by reason of the bad habits or negligence of others, including kids and teachers alike, whether it be by ill conduct or example alone. Take retention rates, they often hide and breed problems.

    Our real problems in school are cultural and ethical. We must find ways to restore our means and ethics to teach again. And to demand that teachers possess the power, skills, and safe spaces to teach, and insist on learning.

    This means we must find ways to insure and enforce standards of acceptable and unacceptable conduct in schools and academics, including giving teachers the power to label excellence, mediocre and failing performance, and to render appropriate consequences as necessary to insure that all kids who want to learn or will learn have the very best chance to do so, without hindrance or interference from others.

    Amazingly today, that is apparently a radical idea in our schools, whether in lower or higher education. But without such reforms our teachers and institutions can accomplish little or nothing but mostly injustice for everyone involved, whether they be teachers, students, administrators, or parents. For, only with such standards, can we recognize and reward good teaching, and restore the job of good teaching to the high status that its deserves, and must enjoy in all our schools, if teachers are have the tools to do their job.

    Only then can we restore the respect and authority within the classrooms that our good teachers deserve and must have to do their job, that is to teach. So we must stop coddling students. They should have no right to judge, to grade, or to interfere with teachers. That is not their job. Their job is to learn.

    So we also must find ways to enforce real learning by students, and give that power to enforce it back to the teachers. Without that power teachers are neutered and disrespected. We must require them to grade on a curve and mandate consequences for “Excellent, Okay, and Bad Performance, to include flunking out. In short we must get serious about education, and be proud of it.

    See: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/how-restorative-justice-is-wrecking-our-schools/

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