Worthless paper

Patrick Gibbons

Nevada's higher education regents want almost 10 percent more for their budgets despite the state's revenue shortfall. What planet are they living on? Nevada isn't even getting a positive rate of return on its current investment in higher education. How can the regents justify an even greater investment?

Only 29 percent of freshmen who begin at UNLV graduate in five years, and only 30 percent finish in five years at Reno. After six years only 39 percent of UNLV students graduate compared to only 49 percent at Reno. And let's not get started on the number of kids having to take remedial college courses because our secondary education system fails to adequately teach them.

The problem isn't limited to Nevada, however. It follows logically from the way Americans have chosen to construct higher education. We push students through coursework which takes a minimum of four years to complete but teaches them little. In the end, the college rewards the students with a piece of paper that signifies nothing more than a student's persistence in getting that paper.

Even my engineering friends who have graduated from top universities such as Penn State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have told me what they learned in the classroom differed drastically from what the firms required of them in their professional careers. Several told me they learned new methods on the job that were significantly more advanced, and subsequently easier, than anything their university professors were teaching them.

If professional degrees are already antiquated, imagine what universities are doing to kids earning "soft science" degrees like history and political science (my chosen degrees). Think of all the fun but useless degrees like mine that can be earned:  sociology, psychology, anthropology, criminal justice, women's studies, African-American studies, Asian studies, Latin-American studies, cultural studies, journalism, English, communications … none of which prepare students for real-life careers.

Students may become "well-rounded," but being well-rounded offers no real assets and in no way contributes to the public good. You can become "well-rounded" by joining a book club, taking online courses or even through Wikipedia today. More effectively, students can take internships to actually learn something on the job.

So useless has college become that only 29 percent jobs require a college degree. How can we justify subsidies for a degree that often is, for lack of a better way of describing it, little more than a way to pass the time for four years?

American universities have become money-making scams. Today we steal from taxpayers and students to give to Ph.D.s, chancellors and university regents. While taxpayers, on average, subsidize about half the tuition of a single college student, universities take the most away from the students themselves.

Students waste four to six years learning very little that will contribute to their productivity in the market. Not only does that mean indebtedness for the next 10-15 years with little to show for it, but there is also a massive case of lost opportunity. Being a full-time student for four to six years means four to six fewer years to devote toward professional, on-the-job experience. The many students who take jobs that did not require a college degree thus earn lower pay than they otherwise would have – had they not gone to college in the first place.

Nevada's system of higher education doesn't need more money.  It needs a dramatic overhaul. Otherwise, our students will become more indebted and continue to lack the skills necessary to pay off that debt. Without drastic change, we will throw out our future by spending it away today.