Two of our sons (they happen to be identical twins) went to the University of Kansas in the mid-80’s and majored in accounting. They and we were somewhat surprised to find a course requirement not present in some other schools’ curricula, namely business calculus. They both tell me now that it was their hardest course and that a good number of their classmates failed it and dropped out of the curriculum. But, they persevered and both graduated with honors, calculus being one of the very few courses they didn’t ace. They tell me they haven’t used calculus since.
Why did KU have calculus in their accountants course? (Still do, as far as I know.) One could argue I suppose that it might make economic charts and the like more understandable, but not all colleges think so because not all have that requirement. My theory is that it was there to filter out the weak. Weak in ambition, intelligence, work-ethic, maturity – take your pick, or take all of the above.
Having participated in America’s degree system myself with a bachelor’s in engineering and a master’s in management, I have mused on the use of this mechanism by the education establishment. I believe that Ivy League graduates are worth higher salaries not because they are taught better but because the universities’ prestige allows them to skim the cream of applicants. The Ivy’s are selling self-processed raw material. Teaching quality? Ask any graduate of a top school how many of their classes were taught mainly by Teaching Assistants, or in huge classes, or both.
I also saw the filter system work by the same mechanism but with an added twist, and that was at the U.S. Naval Academy. My class of 1959 entered with about 1,200 men. By the end of the first year we were down to just over 800, a 33% attrition on top of rigid entrance requirements! It was due not only to a tough curriculum (advanced algebra and trig, calculus, chemistry, a foreign language, English literature, mechanical drawing, ordnance and gunnery, etc.) and mandatory sports, but also a solid year of constant hazing. Are USNA’s graduates good? You bet. But how much is due to good teaching and how much to filtering the input is a valid question.
So, what if I’m right? What if a college degree is less a function of instruction quality than of individual potential and hard work? What if you could get just as good an education without the fraternities, sororities, parties, dorms, campuses, cafeterias and lectures? What if you could get what you need from home by simple hard work and studying online?
All of this, I suggest, begs the question: Is a college degree worth the price? Stay tuned – that will be the subject of an upcoming post.