GIORDANO: Academia must reform to save itself

A perfect storm is brewing that has the potential to decimate colleges and universities throughout the country.

Nicholas Giordano is a Professor of Political Science at Suffolk Community College and host of The P.A.S. Report Podcast. Recognized and well-respected for his analysis, Professor Giordano appears on radio and television to provide analysis on current issues and trends within government, politics, international relations, education, homeland security/emergency management, and social/cultural related issues. In addition, he is regularly called on to speak at events to provide expertise on critical issues facing the United States.

When it comes to higher education, a perfect storm is brewing that has the potential to decimate colleges and universities throughout the country. 

While some of the factors are outside of higher education’s control – an aging population, the coronavirus pandemic, inflation, and the looming recession – many of the problems are self-inflicted. With 74% of colleges and universities facing financial challenges, reforms are necessary to save higher education from its worst enemy- itself.

Graduating from college is usually a happy event for most students and their families. Years of hard work and dedication culminate in a piece of paper that’s supposed to be your ticket to success. For years, we have been force-fed the narrative that the only way to achieve success was to obtain a college degree. 

However, what happens when a student graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in debt only to find themselves working as a clerk at a department store? Stories like this have led a growing number of people to question the value of a college degree. 

Over the last few decades, tuition costs and student debt have increased dramatically. At the same time, student performance worsened, and standards began to decline. Universities throughout the country were offering impractical degree programs that would never translate into a real-world career. 

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They made a mockery of higher education by offering useless courses focusing on topics like Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus, and the Whiteness of Barbie. No matter how useless a topic may be, there is probably a college course for it.

It’s not just parents and students that noticed this, so did employers. Over the last couple of years, companies have begun to place less emphasis on college degrees and more on technical and interpersonal skills. Some companies have dropped degree requirements altogether for a number of positions, including Google, Tesla, Bank of America, IBM and General Motors

Even worse, as student proficiency continues to drop over the last two decades, and college graduates are less prepared than their predecessors, there is an inflated sense of self-importance. In fact, out of 200 colleges throughout the United States, over one-third of college students are unable to make cohesive arguments, assess the quality of evidence, and interpret data.  

From far-left indoctrination to safe spaces and speech codes, these students took the worst that college campuses offer, infecting the workplace with a sense of entitlement.

Colleges and universities also damaged their credibility by imposing censorship on campus, rather than promoting the free flow of ideas, which is fundamental to critical thinking and essential for professional success. 

Over the last two decades, we have witnessed colleges and universities impose speech codes and ban speakers whose message differs from the far-left mobs. 

We’ve also witnessed colleges and universities cultivate an atmosphere of fear and distrust taking the Orwellian nightmare to new levels. Many colleges throughout the Untied States have built out reporting systems where students serve as informants against their peers for anything they deem as “offensive,” even if that speech is considered “protected speech.” 

Instead, many within academia succumbed to groupthink and have zero tolerance for anyone who dissents from their narrow-minded points of view. This has led to nearly 80% of college students self-censoring their viewpoints afraid to speak up in the classroom. Why would anyone want to spend so much money on an education only to be taught by ideologues rather than educators? 

The first and most obvious way to reform higher education is to do away with all meaningless degree programs that have little chance of delivering a successful career. In addition, the cost of tuition should be tied to the potential income of that career field. 

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Too many colleges base their pricing on the number of credits, but that model doesn’t make much sense. For example, an undergraduate degree at New York University will cost the average student between $78,440–$83,250 per year. 

Why should a four-year degree in education cost the same as a four-year degree in engineering, where the lifetime earnings of the engineer is over $3 million, far higher than a teacher’s lifetime earnings of $1.8 million? Perhaps, if colleges were responsible for failed outcomes, they would be more responsible when it comes to what majors are offered and tuition rates.

We should also stop pretending that everyone is an academic. For many occupations, a two-year program would more than suffice. While some like to discredit two-year colleges, these colleges have the capabilities to meet the needs of most students, especially given the coming recession. 

These colleges offer academic programs, trade-based programs, as well as certificates, and micro-credentialing. This would certainly go a long way in alleviating the student debt crisis as the cost of a two-year college is a fraction of a four-year school.

Rather than reflect on the internal failings of these institutions, many in higher education believe the fault lies with the people. It’s that logic that has tainted these institutions as they preach from their ivory towers without ever reflecting inward on their own failures. Higher education is facing a reckoning if it does not embark on serious reforms to fix the institutional decay of the last few decades. 

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Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.