An inside look at the retail scam known as the modern university
For the past seven years, I’ve polled my students at the University of Prince Edward Island on two questions. First: If you were told today that a university education was no longer a requirement for high-quality employment, would you quit? Second: If you decided to stay, would you then switch programs?
Positive responses to both questions run consistently in the 50 percent range. That means at least half of my humanities students — or about 750 since 2009 — don’t want to be there.
Why not? A university degree, after all, is a credential crucial for economic success. At least, that’s what we’re told. But as with all such credentials — those sought for the ends they promise rather than the knowledge they represent — the trick is to get them cheaply, quickly, and with as little effort as possible. My students’ disaffection is the real face of this ambition. I teach mostly bored youth who find themselves doing something they neither value nor desire — and, in some cases, are simply not equipped for — in order to achieve an outcome they are repeatedly warned is essential to their survival. What a dreadful trap. Rather than learning freely and excelling, they’ve become shrewd managers of their own careers and are forced to compromise what is best in themselves — their honesty or character — in order to “make it” in the world we’ve created for them.
The credentialing game can be played for only so long before the market gets wise and values begin to decline. I have been an educator in Canadian universities for over fourteen years, having taught some eighty-five liberal arts courses. During that time, evidence has mounted showing that a bachelor’s degree from a Canadian university brings with it less and less economic earning power. Last year, the Council of