Re: On degrees and the like...

Subject: Re: On degrees and the like...
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 11:25:37 -0600


>Point 1) For a variety of reasons, university degrees, particularly
>at the BA/BS level, are often being perceived and marketed
>as trade schools.

When there is competition, there is a need to differentiate your "product"
from that of the competitors. Look at the "problem" from the point of view
of the university.

Your goal, as a university, is to fill the input hopper with enough
students to pay the bills, and hopefully, to grow the insituttion at least
a little. Therefore you need to try to hook as many as possible.

You need something quantifiable. Even accepting Eric's second point (which
I'll get to later) "99.44% of our graduates are able to think" is just not
going to cut it as a slogan. Everybody thinks they can think, just like
everybody thinks they can write. I don't think I need to demonstrate the
fallacy of either of those points of view; we can all supply our own
counterexamples. Plus there's the added problem of being able to quanitfy
that number. Thinking is not readily subject to measurement, in any
generally acceptable manner.

So they're left with placement rates as their only real metric.

>Point 2) Historically, a university degree is for _education_,
>not training. If you want to learn how to think, you get a
>degree, while if you want to learn how to do, you take training
>courses or go to a trade school.

It's so tempting to agree with this completely. After all, my major
objection to the word training is that you train animals; you teach people.

But I can't.

Universities have rarely been interested in getting their students to
think; they've always been more interested in turning out rows of clones,
whose regurgitation of the party line (university line?) is impeccable and
unassailable. Education is an accidental by-product of that process,
incompletely acquired via the carefully selected inputs applied to the
students in order to properly achieve the desired output.

Maybe it's just the biased sampling of a personal history, after all, I've
only had direct contact with the process in less than a dozen institutions
of higher learning, by it left me with the realization that if I hadn't
learned how to think before I arrived, I certainly wasn't going to acquire
it there. If anything, there was a strong desire to discourage any critical
thinking whatsoever; via Orwellian Newspeak, repeating the professor's
conclusions was evidence of critical thinking, anything else was ridiculed.

>In other words, the degree programs that most effectively
>prepare students for _getting_ a job may not be the ones
>that most effectively prepare students for _excelling_ in
>a job in the long term.

Quite so. Those who excel (and I won't pretend to deny that some students
emerge from the process with the ability to excel) do so in spite of what's
been done to them, not because of it.

Frankly, the tendency to confuse a degree with knowledge or education or
the ability to think critically disturbs me. It's symptomatic of the very
same superficial attitude that is at the root of point 1 above.

If you've been around the list for a while, you'll know I generally find a
way to bring everything back to Deming. A college focuses on placement
rates as their metric, because that's a number their market can understand.

Deming teaches us that every time you establish a performance metric,
maximizing that metric will supplant actual performance as the goal. And so
the college begins to focus on maximizing the placement rate, rather than
teaching.

And, similarly, when we see a college degree as the metric for knowledge,
education, or critical thought, we move the focus off the desired goal and
onto the acquisition of a piece of paper. We've already seen that the
college is taking a step away from the desired goal, yet we continue to
move with it.

I don't have the answers, either. But I *do* have a suggestion; not for the
techwriters of the world, either degreed or non-degreed, organized or lone.
It's for the hiring managers.

Admit you're being duped by the phony metrics, and quit asking to see them.
Doesn't matter if the metric is a degree, a certification, a professional
organization, or whatever.

Admit that the only thing that matters is the performance on the job. It's
harder than simply checking off fields on a form, yes. But it's the only
thing that's going to sustain your company in the long run. Check
references, ask to see samples; even ask the prospect to "fix" a document,
or rough-in the design of a new one.

>Any other thoughts?

Yes, that I've run off at the keyboard far too long on this. I shall go
back to my silence now, secure in the knowledge of what the future holds:

"It was believed afterwards that the man was a lunatic, because there was
no sense in what he said."


Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
----------------------------------------------
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
----------------------------------------------
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.






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