Institutions are propping up college

February 25, 2020


I recently had the pleasure of attending a forum held at UTEP, put on by the Texas Tribune.  


The most interesting panel of the day was “Educating the Next Generation.”


The panel was moderated by Texas Tribune CEO, Evan Smith, and featured President of EPCC, William Serrata, President of UTEP, Heather Wilson, and President of New Mexico State University, John Floros.


The most notable part of the panel for me was when UTEP President, Heather Wilson, justified the high acceptance rate at UTEP which stands at 100 percent.


Wilson said that the current culture of higher education in the U.S. is one where the hardest part is getting into the college and from there, things are relatively easy.  


She said the opposite should be true.


Getting in should be open to everyone so that no one is left behind, and that what you do when you get to post-secondary school, should be the hard work.


I agree with her there.  And when I heard her talking about this selectivism, it got me thinking of credentialism; specifically when she talks about great talent being left behind because of arbitrary standards.


She was talking about the arbitrariness of standardized test scores, and I’m going to discuss the arbitrariness of having a college degree.


Credentialism is the practice of employers setting education standards for consideration for a job.  


This system is put into place because there was such a push for everyone to become college educated that many employers now require a college degree, and that has become more important than any experience you may have.


For example, if you were looking to get into a managerial position, that employer may require you to have a college degree in business, but that is a flawed way of measuring talent.  


You could have two candidates in front of you.


One who went to college right out of highschool and got a bachelor’s degree in business management, but only has a couple of years of professional work experience. 


The other candidate decided to pursue advancement of his entry level job and now has double the professional work experience of the other candidate. 


As an employer looking for talent, I would probably lean towards the non-college educated candidate but if I’m in a corporate space, I may not even be able to consider them because of a policy saying employees need a college degree.


In that case, we are leaving behind candidates.  


And just because someone graduated from college doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily talented.


And with issues of increased debt coming out of higher education, it may be better for someone to not go to college.


But in that case, the culture needs to shift away from credentialism so that those who can’t afford school, or who feel they’d be wasting years of their life, aren’t left behind.


This is why I think Texas’ “60 x 30” plan is so shallow.  


The plan sets a goal that 60 percent of Texas’ workforce will have some type of post-secondary credential by 2030. 


The plan may sound nice but completely neglects that the nature of work is rapidly changing and that young workers will most likely be freelancers and will be changing career fields several times in their lifetimes.


The era of one job, one career was given a death sentence with the arrival of the internet.


The one positive out of this plan has been a shifted focus towards technical education.


Presidents of higher education institutions know that there’s no use in having a majority of the population hold a bachelor’s of arts.


This is why EPCC has changed it’s slogan to the “best place to start AND FINISH,” and now promotes and is expanding their Career and Technical Education programs.


This is a good start for higher education to catch up to the cultural shifts that will eventually beat them down, but at some point in the near future, universities will have to accept that they will become a niche market, a facilitator for research, and not a “swiss army” education tool.  


UTEP has already realized this and that’s why Heather Wilson can’t stop describing UTEP as a “world-class research institution.”  


The need for well-rounded education will be taken up by online institutions which will give students a quality education for a fraction of the price.


This should have been foreseen when Khan Academy was put out to the public for free.The world is changing, and I like where it’s heading.

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