Failure is not success

Patrick Gibbons

In George Orwell's famous novel about a dystopian future, 1984, the totalitarian state has a slogan announcing that, "War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, Ignorance is Strength." Such doublespeak may seem unbelievable to us today, but when it comes to education in Nevada, many indulge beliefs equally as absurd.

In a recent letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, we criticized diversity initiatives of the Nevada System of Higher Education, asking, "When it comes to the Nevada System of Higher Education, how well are its diversity efforts actually helping students?"

It is very clear that 11 percent and 15 percent four-year graduation rates at UNLV and UNR, respectively, demonstrate a dismal ability to graduate students. After six years, still less than 50 percent have graduated at either school.

One commenter, "John F," argued that, "Low graduation rates at schools like these is proof that they are working. It's the job of these schools to give those state residents who want a college education the opportunity to try. Like all other aspects of American life, it's about having the opportunity; nobody guarantees you will succeed."

To "John F," low graduation rates mean success. Say what?

Providing students with an opportunity to fail or to succeed is one thing, but our universities are not merely doing that. Rather, they are recruiting students with false promises of a large payoff after graduation, luring them in with state and federal subsidies that defray the upfront cost. Worst of all, they are actively recruiting students who have little chance of ever graduating.

"John F" simply does not get it. Instead of giving these particular students an opportunity to fail or succeed, we are almost certainly setting them up for failure. Rather than "opportunity," that is entrapment. If the state is to give students a real chance of graduating, it must first reform K-12 education so that high school graduates are truly prepared for college. For students who have already been failed by the state's K-12 system, we have something called "community college," for about one-third the price of UNR or UNLV.

If the state is truly trying to give these students a chance, why encourage them to go to the most expensive universities? The answer is simple: The state's higher-ed establishment is not out to give students a chance. It is simply out to take their money.

"John F" concludes, "Again, we owe them the opportunity to try, we don't owe them a guarantee of success."

On this, John, you are right. We don't owe them a guarantee of success—we owe them honesty and a good education, not a system that robs the poor to pay the Ph.D.