The Next Education Bubble

Y’all, I think that we, on campus, who give a flying fig newton about our students see the next big educational bubble: Students who have already graduated with a university degree who know only a little more than when they left high school. Let me share some background and then some ideas.

Last year, I wrote about my department’s widespread dismay that our students (and yours) are cheating. That post was met with a widespread: Meh.

Denial. Not just a river in Egypt.

There were some surprising responses. From an Academic group I belong to: So what. Cheating has been around for years. Back when I started teaching, sororities and fraternities had file cabinets full of old tests for their members to study. Ok! Great! So (white, upper SES) communities with file cabinets can cheat their way through school and that’s just fine.

More typically, faculty said “Not My Students.” OK. Maybe not. If every evaluative exercise is new, in-class, and written by hand, then I agree with you. But any activity that you have used more than once and requires outside work is suspect. A colleague told me yesterday that she found plagiarism on personal experiences essay. The student couldn’t even write about his or her own personal experience with the topic; there’s no right or wrong answer here!! There’s just WRITING about what happened to you.

And I understand. A new instructor said that she doesn’t want her students to think that she thinks they are cheating, that she thinks that they would ever do something as wrong as that. I get it. Trust but verify was my advice.

The worst reactions, however, are coming from the upper administration, although not necessarily ours. A former student and now professor elsewhere was told by her provost: “But they sign the honor code! We go over it during Freshmen orientation! If they see that we are monitoring them, they will think we don’t trust them.” So, they aren’t going to cheat because you told them about the honor code and any sort of monitoring will make them feel bad.

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That’s what they say, but it’s possible what they actually mean is this: We can’t mess with our business model of getting as many students in and out of this organization as quickly as possible.

Here’s the bubble:

We are graduating a fair number of students with high GPAs (and business schools, I’m looking DIRECTLY at you) who have NO IDEA what they are doing and will have an ish ton of student debt they are carrying. I can already tell you, although only anecdotally, that some prestigious employers no longer trust the degrees people say they have and are having potential employees answer basic and then advanced questions in their field before they start the interview. This is in addition to my friend whose direct report, despite being a finance marketing (recent) graduate did not know the difference between a fix and a variable rate mortgage. My husband attended a SHRM conference last week in which the SHRM presenters provided data that more and more newly graduated employees are not prepared for their jobs.

Folks, we may be seeing graduated students who have high GPAs and no substantive knowledge from their degree, students who cheated their way through college and could and should have just started working right out of high school.

At what point did some of our students stop believing they are supposed to learn something in class and getting an A is the only point? Have we, as a society, so emphasized grades as a measure of a child’s innate value that unless they Score Highly they are worthless? What about learning?

You can say I told you first: This bubble is going to burst. We are going to have a generation of students who are carrying a ton of debt who learned nothing from their university education.

Next Blog is what we’ve learned to make sure our students are actually learning. We have some best practices from my colleagues and current students that we can use to help our students against their poorer choices.

About Anita Blanchard

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
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