Buying Credentials: A Poor Substitute for Education

Despite $1 trillion in college loan debt, there is no sign that US college students are being well educated. They study less, lack quantitative reasoning skills, are poor at critical thinking, and attempt to balance binge drinking and laying about with copious quantities of Adderall — to cram for exams in hopes of making up for a general avoidance of studying.

The end result is very little learning of a useful or lasting sort, but enormous quantities of debt that sometimes last a lifetime. And perhaps a college credential. But what is the student good at? What can he do that is worth paying him what he feels he is entitled to?

Anyone who hires him will need to invest a lot of time and resources in training. Remedial math, remedial language skills, remedial reasoning and logic — all of this before training the hire in the special knowledge of the particular job. Unless the college graduate ends up flipping burgers or the equivalent.

Mainstream bricks and mortar colleges have become incredibly expensive to run due to top-heavy staffing and generous pensions, benefits, and salaries for non-faculty staff. Not to mention the widespread politically correct enforcement of speech codes, and ideological indoctrination substituted in place of the quaint and old-fashioned approach of helping youth learn to think for themselves.

No wonder large numbers of youth and young adults are looking for alternative ways of acquiring crucial knowledge and skills for gainful employment and all around life enrichment.

The MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] phenomenon is still in its infancy, with its expected stops and starts. Many universities would like to prevent MOOCs from growing strong enough to present a serious challenge to their academic monopoly, but MIT is going full speed ahead with MOOCs, expanding its EdX offerings to hundreds of new communities around the world. More here.

A student can take entire blocks of courses off-campus, without entering a formal classroom. Students can choose between pursuing online certificates, degrees, or just the satisfaction of learning new concepts. But the student has to want to learn, in order to put in the time.

Online educational content also provides on-campus students with useful ways to prepare for lecture ahead of time, “attend class” even when sick in bed, or make up class time when faced with other obligations such as part-time work or family obligations.

Either someone wants to educate himself or he doesn’t. Spending a quarter of a million dollars for a college credential for someone who lacks the motivation to move beyond the mediocre, or merely passing level, is a monumental waste of resources for most families.

But for the youth or adult who craves learning, the tools for assisting him to delve deeply into virtually any field of study are evolving rapidly.

This is where the Al Fin Institute parts with conventional educational theorists. To Al Fin, everything you do to advance the learning of persons who are already beyond the age of 18 is remedial and only partially effective. But better late than never.

Anything that we can do to counter-balance the decadent politically correct mass indoctrination taking place on campuses — a process that is “coincidentally” inserting yet another element of financial ruin into the system — is useful.

The best approach is to begin at the beginning, and mold the educational approach to the child’s rapidly developing potential and inclinations as they are unfolding along with a natural craving to learn and be acknowledged. Some parents do this already. Most are too busy, and stupidly expect outside providers or institutions to provide this invaluable service.

By the time the child is 18 and off to institutions of higher learning, the damage has been done. The unskilled minds of youth are sheep for the shearing and clay for the molding, to the cynical professors and administrators of palatial universities cum indoctrination centers.

MOOCs appear to represent an alternative, and they are better than nothing. Too late to compensate for some lost opportunities, they can keep students out of the hands of some of the worst indoctrinators while providing them with critical knowledge that might have otherwise been withheld.

From the Obama phenomenon to the climate apocalypse hoax to a mind-stunting popular culture, the ongoing neglect of human potential by a dumbed down, intoxicated, and cynical society will have serious, long-lasting consequences.

Clarification: Those who are interested in learning about the Al Fin Dangerous Child approach to early childhood education and child-rearing should consult some of the early ideas here and here. Several other postings at are pertinent to The Dangerous Child method, but not explicitly labeled as such.

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3 Responses to Buying Credentials: A Poor Substitute for Education

  1. bob sykes says:

    Having taught engineering for 37 years, I believe that what I did was provide direction, structure and discipline to students who could not learn on their own, which is the majority of engineering majors at every college, even elite schools like MIT. It is probably the vast majority of students enrolled in the humanities and social sciences, which generally recruit less intelligent and less motivated students.

    Most of the problem is immaturity and lack of goals. Poor preparation in the public schools is also a problem. Plato has Socrates say that no one should be taught philosophy until they are 30. And I had a colleague who taught Poly Sci at Union College who used to tell his students that they weren’t even human until they were 30. Sometimes I agreed with both.

    Towards the end of my career, students seemed to be lazier, most would not take notes, some would not even listen, some would not do home lessons or read the book. Or maybe I was just a cranky old man.

    MOOCS will not help those students, but they are a valuable resource to the minority who are disciplined and motivated. A recent study reports that most of the students in MOOCs already have degrees and are looking to deepen or widen their knowledge base.

    So, I don’t think MOOCs are a threat to regular schools. Regular schools dabbled in distance education once, too. That experiment ended when it was discovered how expensive it was. One faculty member could lecture hundreds scattered all over the place. But if it were to be interactive, every location had to have a TV studio and staffing. It will be interesting to see what the economics of MOOCs will be. Especially if the students expect interaction with faculty and certification of their accomplishments. I be it will be much more expensive than claimed. Every breakthrough always is.

  2. alfin2101 says:

    Bob: Thanks for the comment. I always appreciate your insight earned from many years of direct experience. I suspect that the lack of motivation exhibited by many modern students has its roots far back in early child-raising, as well as in earlier educational deficiencies. Parents are part of society, and in the sense of child-raising, modern society is very sick.

    MOOCs in their current form are not a realistic threat to regular colleges, as you say. But MOOCs combined with other things (credentialing, practical skills centres) could represent a very significant threat. The field is evolving rapidly, along with the technology.

    The theory of how best to use a wide variety of “MOOCs” in an integrated system of education beginning around the age of 4 (or earlier) is emerging slowly. Some of these new generation “MOOCs” will not be considered by most people to be MOOCs at all, but that is their lookout. 😉

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      I think Bob Sykes is right about MOOC’s. People motivated to learn specific subjects use them for that purpose. They are very useful for empowering the people who seek empowerment. The general education system, both K-12 as well as university, exists more to baby-sit kids (K-12) and to sell a credential (university).

      Alfin, I agree with you that in terms of raising kinds (as well as much else), conventional society is pathological. New means and institutions must be created by those like ourselves to seek empowerment in order to bypass much of this pathology.

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