Despite Success, a Failure Warning from SCHEV?

Source: SCHEV. Degrees and certificates awarded in Virginia, cumulative through 2018, and projected through 2030.

Hiding the silver lining deep in a grey cloud, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia reported today that Virginia is meeting its educational attainment goals to date and is on track to meet its aggressive 2030 higher education target. 

That good news was mentioned briefly and detailed in a footnote, in an otherwise-gloomy report (here) headlined “The Cost of Doing Nothing” and highlighted in a news release as “an urgent call to increase Virginia’s educational attainment.”  Never let good news stand in the way of a crisis.  The sentence that mentions the projection of success is followed by: “But warning signs are flashing,” in boldface.

Last year the state’s public and private institutions issued more than 120,000 degrees, certificates and workforce credentials, at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the pace needed to reach the 1.5 million needed over 16 years.  There are two other very positive recent developments for higher education in Virginia – the success of this year’s General Assembly effort to arrest tuition increases and additional investment in targeted tech-related programs promised to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia.

The headline goal of the state’s higher education strategic plan is to make our workforce the best educated in the country, with 70 percent having some sort of degree or work-related certificate earned beyond high school by 2030.  Virginia was already doing well in that measure, sixth in the nation at 52 percent in 2016, when the goal was set.

In the midst of this success, SCHEV focuses on a series of concerns:

  • The higher education attainment is focused mainly in Northern Virginia and other areas of economic strength, with rural areas deeply lagging, the “Rest of Virginia” or ROVA effect. That’s not unique to Virginia, but “the difference between the rates of educational attainment in Virginia’s highest-performing and poorest-performing localities is the widest in the nation,” the report claims.
  • Racial disparities, with far lower degree and certificate achievement among “our minority (non-Asian) population.”
  • Additional factors include enrollment decline, net out-migration among degree holders, resource constraints, and complacency.

So, having just seen on page 3 that the first four years of the plan are going well, and the numbers to-date indicate future success, on page 5 we find: “Without meaningful change, Virginia will not become the best-educated state by 2030 (or any other year).  Given current trends, policies and lack of action, some have proclaimed, astutely, “We can’t get there from here.”  This is an unacceptable outcome.  So, who would be those “some” people?

SCHEV is a data-happy organization, as it should be.  The data behind the claims that Virginia has the most geographic disparity in the country and claims that early success to-date is going to be crushed by the fears outlined should have been included in the report.  It is lacking.  All I found were the somewhat predictable calls for a number of steps which have long been discussed, the most useful including:

  • Concentrate resources on helping students with some credits in place to return to school and finish the program.
  • Concentrate internal support and guidance programs on students struggling to succeed, to ensure they stay the course and complete.
  • Improve and increase participation in formal early childhood education programs, addressing the early performance gaps that can set in place long before the students reach secondary grades.

Virginia is not doing nothing and to imply so is an insult to a vast group of dedicated people, including members of the General Assembly.  Faced with facts at hand, the instigators of this report could have seen the half-full glass, praised efforts to date for getting Virginia on track, and sought to reinforce those efforts.

If the glass really is half-empty and draining, this report fails to make the case.  Show us more data.  No question, there are bumps in the road ahead between now and 2030, but are we failing?

The single biggest impediment to success, the 800-pound gorilla this report only hints at, is the skyrocketing cost and crushing debt that stands between the average Virginian and that state-university degree.  Yet another guest editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, this one by retired public relations executive David Kirby, outlined the problem well this morning.  “Mass mugging,” he calls it.

A possible second major impediment to success, hinted at in the report, may be that economic malaise is behind the net out-migration statistics, with talented young people leaving the state for perceived greater opportunity.  The Amazon announcement and its prospects should have an impact on that, but it will also exacerbate that regional disparity complained of.

The relationship between Virginia’s economic prospects and the educational success of its workforce is truly like that chicken and that egg, and it really doesn’t matter which succeeds – or fails – first.  So far the educational goals are being met.

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5 responses to “Despite Success, a Failure Warning from SCHEV?”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “Yet another guest editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, this one by retired public relations executive David Kirby, outlined the problem well this morning. “Mass mugging,” he calls it.”

    Mr. David Kirby’s Richmond Times Dispatch guest editorial is brilliant. And it is right on target. His finely honed words hit SCHEV and Virginia’s entire Higher Education Establishment hard as a hammer, casting a dark shadow over both. What hypocrites both are.

  2. […] Haner has addressed the glass-half-empty tone of the report in an earlier post, making the points that “Virginia is not doing nothing and to imply so is an insult to a […]

  3. What they need to do is break out those degrees between ones where 2-3 years after getting the degree, they are earning in their field. Giving out gender studies degrees, English and PE degrees, do they REALLY go on to earn money? I mean become true independant taxpayers? STEM-H should be all we pay for in terms of loans. The other degrees need to be slimmed down until we get people to pay for these degrees on their own.

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Actually, VN, your assumption is incorrect. Graduates with real liberal arts degrees are in high demand by the job market for high paying jobs. This is because employers cannot find enough graduates with real liberal arts degrees. Most American liberal arts degrees today are bogus. That is how bad and grossly unethical American Higher education is today. Many American colleges and universities are is more interested in filling classroom seats for money, than they are in teaching students quality liberal arts courses and demanding proof of competence before students get degrees. Hence, much of Higher Education today is engaged in a Ponzi scheme. Most liberal arts degrees are no such things, but instead are the products of elaborate scams.

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Here are some extracts from a fine article written on the subject by Allen Farrington, and published by Quillette on May 19, 2019.

    “Imagine what would happen,” Lehmann invites us to wonder, “if the behaviour of St Edmund’s College become a new norm.” It is now creeping into corporate and government life too … This power corrupts and, more importantly, it attracts the easily corrupted.

    Concurrently, a similar corrupting process seems to have occurred in academia, which has ballooned into an administrative morass, the primary purpose of which is to accrue rent-seeking profit, as predicted by Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law holds that a task will take as long as the time allotted to complete it. It seems to be a kind of social equilibrium theorem applicable to any complex organization. Normally such organizations would simply collapse under the weight of their own bureaucratic inefficiency, but academia is different. It will never be allowed to collapse because education is a right. And what kind of monster could possibly be against education? And so the administrative bloat continues, unabated. If we are to address this problem and rescue education, we first need to distinguish between classical and modern variants. Classical education involves the acquisition of culturally and scientifically useful knowledge, and fostering an ability to think critically to further understanding. Modern education, on the other hand, is accreditation by an officially sanctioned seminary.

    Defenders of “education,” who more often than not have a stake in the present racket prescribed by the modern definition, like to pretend that they are part of a system upholding the classical definition. At Evergreen, this was obviously false—critical thinking was subordinate to dogma and Bret Weinstein was hounded from his job for having the temerity to defend it. The university was conceived to provide scholars with a secure redoubt in which to conduct their studies, which would be partly funded by letting willing students pick up a thing or two by being in close proximity. This was a very sensible proposition in the 1300s, but is looking like a fantasy today. There are no safe spaces for scholars, and students can mimic proximity to scholars for the cost of an Internet connection. Willing students can get 20 or 30 separate undergraduate degrees’ worth of (classically defined) education from MIT OpenCourseWare alone. But many just want a piece of paper that says they are an adequately socialised member of society, approved of by the cultural elite.

    Peter Thiel has given a uniquely scathing critique of the insanity of this system. He questions whether higher education, as an economic exchange, represents much of an investment anymore—the student defers gratification to reap higher rewards in the future, or the student enjoys a four-year party as a consumption good. Thiel says he originally thought of higher education as consumption masquerading as investment, but now thinks of it as an even crazier combination of concepts: as insurance against failure in life in general, and as a kind of Veblen good that is priced uncompetitively so as to confer status on those who can afford it. This produces a ridiculous situation in which insurance is desirable, not because something disastrous is prudently insured against, but because the disaster would be the ignominy of failing to purchase insurance in the first place. It is effectively a Ponzi scheme. No wonder Thiel calls college administrators subprime mortgage brokers. They get a cut on selling pieces of paper that are only as valuable as we all pretend they are.

    This bizarre economic dynamic, coupled with Parkinson’s Law, coupled again with a slow motion ideological coup, has landed us with the following picture of higher education: students are required to enslave themselves economically to the cultural elite as a toll to gain admittance. The vulnerability in the interim is then exploited to manipulate social signalling and behaviour: if you don’t play along, your life will be ruined. But since academia is considered a bottleneck for success, those who don’t enter the raffle forfeit this leverage and are rewarded with dismal prospects.

    The only people really immune from all this are the actual elites, whose children are predominantly upper-class liberal whites. They receive all the same social assurances without giving up any leverage, and price out any remotely similar opportunity for the less fortunate to whom they ceaselessly and guiltily pledge their ostentatious support and solidarity. Higher education has become a transfer of wealth from the future earnings of the aspirational lower and middle classes to a metastasising administrative parasite, which funds the permanence of the cultural elite by wielding its leverage over anybody foolish enough to dissent.

    We need to stop wringing our hands over how to save academia and acknowledge that its disease is terminal. This need not be cause for solemnity; it can inspire celebration. It would allow us to shift our energies away from the abject failure of modern education and to refocus on breathing new life into the classical alternative. The social implications could be enormous—the lower and middle classes could be spared economic and cultural enslavement to the elite, leading not only to greater opportunity, equality, and worthwhile diversity, but frankly to greater happiness and fulfilment in life.

    So, how do we do this? It is very early days, but the key is to avoid the impression of attacking education itself. To employ some Thielian technobabble, we need to de-bottleneck the vertical; that is, recreate institutions that route around the modern variant of education so that it can expire peacefully—or, at least, shrink enormously—without dragging us all down with it. Aside from perhaps doctors and engineers, we need to stop pretending that the pieces of paper on which degrees are printed have value so that nobody can be tricked into buying them in the first place …

    Secondly, they can end the demand for useless pieces of paper, in the pursuit of which aspirational lower- and middle-class kids economically enslave themselves. There are very early signs of this catching on …” END QUOTE

    This insightful article on today’s Higher Education education scam is well worth reading in its entirety. Titled After Academia, the article can be found at:

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