“Be the Change You Want to See”: Reforming Education

Reforming the Education System Needs to Start with How They do Business

The college admission scandal of 2019 rocked the education world in the United States. Thousands of educators were shocked that seats at prestigious schools could be bought by those with lesser qualifications and greater bank accounts. “The sacrosanct college admission processes is color blind, status-blind and gender-blind,” echoed in the halls of academia all through the week.

At least this is how it should have been. The truth is thousands of educators sat on the edges of their seats hoping that the favors they curried or blackmailed for were not exposed, and crickets were heard in the halls of the most prestigious US schools. Academia knew about this crisis, though they may have not known how deep it ran. Just as scandals are rocking all other industries in this country, academia needs to address its role in this crisis. It was not just the sneaky people who were taking or giving the bribes that are at fault, it is the fault of the whole industry.

Change in Education

College is not what it used to be. Less than 25 years ago, I can remember traditional teachers sending students back to the dorms because they were not properly dressed for class. Now there is no response from administrators when students walk out of class or even riot over issues that are not related to the school. We need to remember college has three main purposes. Schools not fulfilling these purposes should not be getting federal funding:

  1. Educating– Colleges and Universities were originally areas where hopeful scholars could learn under the guidance of established scholars. Now, we have a system that sends students to massive classes where the “scholar” (who is often a grad student) does not even know their name. Colleges need to get back to teaching students the skills they will need in their future jobs, not indoctrinating them in the current protest of the day. Funding needs to be focused on the skills society needs: the trades, STEM+ fields, law, and medicine.
  2. Networking– When you go to college, you make friends that you will have for life. Some of them you may talk to every day, some of them you may talk to every 20 years. This network is a group of people supporting you professionally as you matriculate through your career. College programs should focus on supporting career-based social groups rather than spending 90% of their attention on social groups.
  3. Furthering Human Knowledge– Every student, every professor and every administrator in the university or college setting has a duty to further human knowledge. Whether this means writing for a class “A” peer-reviewed (refereed) journal or putting out a short piece in a mainstream periodical, we need to move out of the “stagnant” period of opinion papers and return to academics putting out real research.

Admission Process You Want to See

People are so afraid now that they will be called out because of not going to the best school, that they are willing to risk jail time for breaking the law, either to get into school themselves or to get their children into the “best” school. Other than those who want pretentious degrees, the best school is the one that helps the student succeed by teaching skills and giving necessary connections to function properly in the modern business world.

One of the major reasons the college admission scandal was allowed to happen is because of the “mystique” society places on having a “good” degree. Too often, parents who have their bachelor’s degree or who have not been to college, do not realize that whether it’s from Harvard, Penn State, or Barry College, which are all good colleges because they are regionally accredited, as long as you graduate – your degree will go anywhere.

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Standards Needed for Reform

Everyone has to follow the same standards. The problem begins when companies hiring people will choose a “D” student from an Ivy League school over an “A” student from a state college system. This bias is rooted in the idea that all grades are curved (like in law school). This could not be further from the truth, most colleges have their scores based on a simple points scale. A class can be full of “A’s” or full of “D’s.” Which means getting “D’s” at an ivy league school (other than law or medicine) means that you are still at the bottom of the class.

When graduate schools and employers favor the school over the grade, this is what causes parents and students to cheat to get into “good” school. Therefore, the first step in reforming the education system is to end the stigma claiming public schools are a “bad” thing. If a student has earned A’s the whole way through their college career at a regionally accredited university, then they should be admitted to grad school or hired based on the work they have done – not the people their parents know or money to spend.

Yes, there is an understanding that people from Ivy League schools will have a better network, but unless you are a hedge fund, a PR firm or a defense contractor- will this really change your business enough to justify hiring a sub-par student/worker? Those conservatives and liberals that are clamoring to “reform” the education system, you need to get the Ivy League plank out of your eye before you start looking at the speck in other people’s.

Education Reform Looks Like This

The truth is that the United States has an education problem. We are fascinated with the prestige of a “good” degree so much that we actually ignore good programs across the country. Some of the best programs for students right out of high school are junior colleges, community colleges and trade schools. These programs are designed to move students from the failing high school system in the United States into the ultra-competitive university system. Some of the advantages of junior colleges and community colleges are:

  1. Smaller Class Sizes Junior colleges and community colleges have smaller class sizes, which means students who are used to being a “big fish in a small pond” in high school will be able to adapt more easily. Too often, we force students into massive classes of 180 students or more. Though this does not change the quality of the education, it does give good students a chance to be lost in the sheer magnitude of the class, which can cripple their educational experience.
  2. Faculty Caring More About Students than Research– While all faculty should be doing some sort of research, even if it is contributing to the knowledge of the public by being an expert on the local news, sometimes students are lost in the quest for that publication at big universities. If you have a “publish or perish” policy where you have to publish in an A or B research journal every two years, then that freshman student who is having trouble in your class of 180 may slip through the cracks. As educators, we have a duty to help students who are struggling to find their footing. Community colleges place the importance on the students, not on the research so students that are finding their way in college have more opportunity to succeed.
  3. Fewer Distractions– Community colleges are building more extracurricular groups than ever before. But wise administrators at these junior colleges and community colleges are keeping out the “social” groups and building “professional” groups. While fraternities and sororities have their place in the world of networking- focused professional groups have been shown to be more useful when students are trying to get a job out of college or when they are trying to go to graduate school.
  4. Networking with Local Community– When your child is going to school, ask them if they want to live locally or move nationally. Junior colleges and community colleges take the time to foster relationships with the local community, something that major colleges spend less time doing. Big schools want their students to work for big names. If your student is going to stay in the local area, then a community college program that places them at a local business in their first year can be much more effective helping them get a local job than working in the mailroom at Microsoft. Good local schools have good local programs, so if you want your student to get a good job near your home town, take a good look at your good local college.
  5. Much Lower Cost– The biggest draw for junior colleges and community colleges is that they have a lower cost. In some states, students can even get a high quality first two years of their education for free. This means that while a student going to a “top tier” private school will graduate with around $125,000 in debt after their bachelor’s degree (without study abroad), a student who does two years at the local community college (with study abroad), and two years at the same “top tier” private school will have only $74,000 in student loan debt. If the student chooses a high-quality public university for their second two years, the debt can be as low as $25,000! In these examples, all the students graduate with high-quality 4-year degrees, but the students that went to community college had the opportunity to study abroad and saved $50,000-$100,000! Same degree, different price – you decide.

Cash Cows and Junior Colleges

These advantages more than outweigh the disadvantage of a “top tier” school, especially noting that if your student has an “above average” resume, that they can transfer to a top tier school out of the community/junior college. Trade school should also not be overlooked when students are looking for a degree, especially in business.

More and more small to medium-sized companies are hiring managers and executives who have worked in the field in which they are managing. Students have the option of working in the field for 20 years, getting a bachelor’s degree at night, then moving on to an MBA to get that manager’s slot. Or they could go to a Trade School for 4 years, get an Applied BA, work for three years while they are getting their MBA and then have the manager’s slot in seven years rather than twenty-seven years!

Colleges and universities should also be taking advantage of the junior college/community college system. Right now Universities have too many staff, too many faculty and too many students who are “cash cows” (students that they know are going to fail out, but the let stay because of enrollment numbers). This is leading to college costs rising across the board and the amount of student debt graduates have been more than the cost of a house. College can reduce cost, reduce staff, reduce faculty and reduce the burden on the system by cooperating with junior colleges and community colleges to create a pipeline.

This would ensure that the students matriculating into their system would be qualified (judging a student based on their high school record is misleading, at best), they would have experience in how college works and they already have their general education classes out of the way. The last element alone would help colleges eliminate majors that bring down their employment numbers because the majors only support general education classes.

Employers Need to Be the Change

The biggest change that we need to see in society to turn off the attraction of people cheating and bribing to get into college is for employers to start giving more credence to junior college, community college and trade school. If employers were to give graduates a chance based on their transcripts, not the name on the diploma, millions of qualified (sometimes first generation) students would be given a chance that they are passed over because someone from an Ivy League School with D grades applied.  To see the change that you are clamoring to see in academia, you need to be the change you want to see – hire a junior college graduate and see how they work out.

Hire a student that did two years at a community college and then two more at a state school and you will be pleasantly pleased.  Take the chance and hire a student that went to trade school for their AA, then community college for their BA before getting their MBA online, all while working- you know that this person is a hard worker coming into the job’ isn’t hard work more important than a lazy person whose parents paid their way through grad school?

Wake up to Reform

America has woken up to the travesty that is happening in our schools. Moral outrage and punishing the parents and kids who cheated will make everyone feel better, but it will not change anything. The crooks will still find ways to cheat people into school and bribed faculty will still look the other way hoping that their crimes are not found out.

The only way that we can change the system is to demand change in the output of the system. If employers hire highly qualified students that worked their way through junior college, community college and trade school for a better life, then we can have employees that we know are hard workers. A degree may give you a good network, but is that network of millionaires really worth a bad worker?

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Author Profile

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
Dr. Christopher Smithmyer is a writer for NRN, the Vice President of International Affairs at Brav Online Conflict Management, and an Adjunct Professor of MBA Business at Doane University. He is also part of the founding team at BlackWalletLTD, one of the leaders in stable coin 2.0 ecosystem maintenance. Dr. Smithmyer’s focus is international business and finance, along with reviews of board games, weapons platforms, and survival items.