Knowledge Monopolies: the University

Builds Upon: Introverts Vs. Extroverts: Learning

To get highly paid skilled work, one generally requires a college degree. Without that big stamp of approval it would be hard to ever get to a real interview let alone get hired.

Clearly, businesses are confident that on average, college graduates will be more profitable than people who have learned skills through other means.
To be accredited, colleges must be relatively uniform in the knowledge they teach and the order in which they teach it. Therefore there is a measure of predictability.
When running a business, it would seem even a mediocre known is a better choice than an unknown who could be better or worse.
After all, unknowns are just what stops projects and production lines. Unknowns are scary if you’re a planner.

A degree has major advantages for an employer:
– The employer already knows exactly what the applicant should know.

– Better still, the employer knows the student has spent years successfully following the instructions of their professor bosses. The applicant is highly likely to sufficiently subservient, malleable, and disciplined in the workplace.

-A graduate sunk deep in debt is sure to be a loyal worker in their first job. Exorbitant college tuitions effectively funnel college trained people into the workplace. In exchange for knowledge, the student loses any freedom they might have over how to use that knowledge. Nearly a sort of Faustian bargain! The necessity of paying off schooling seriously compromises the employee’s ability to walk away from the job or demand better conditions. When an employee cannot walk away, the employer calls all the shots.

This is a pretty convenient setup for employers but what does it mean for everyone who needs one of those degrees?
It means that one must deal with the knowledge monopoly that we call ‘college.’ Only when the college hands out that piece of paper can we be socially recognized as possessors of a certain kind of knowledge.
A monopoly, of course, means that the provider of a good or service can do pretty much what they like.

So it goes with colleges and universities. Such is the demand for degrees that they can charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services and everyone just has to put up with it. They can pile extra fees on top of an already massive tuition: parking permits, activity fees, graduation fees, lab fees, mandatory meal/housing plans, overpriced, unnecessary text books …
The college has every incentive to add extra course requirements to a major and subdivide the core requirements into as many classes as they can.

Then, they can contrive to make each class far more difficult and time consuming than it needs to be so no one notices how much the material’s been watered down. All they have to do is teach a few actual concepts, then have a test worth a third of the grade that drills the students on how well they’ve memorized even nonsensical theoretical applications of the material. The high stress tests and assignments are a bulking agent.
Any person who ever ran a restaurant must know that no customer ever feels they’re getting small portions if you fill them up with complimentary rolls and include french fries/baked potato/pasta/rice/beans with the actual dish. All of these are starches that a restaurant can charge dollars for even though they cost mere pennies to purchase and prepare. Put a little cheese/meat/sauce/other relatively expensive ingredient on top and the customer never notices that 80% of the meal is starch. Colleges make ample use of this same principle.

On a campus, one has to go out of their way to submit paperwork to school bureaucrats by arbitrary, contrived deadlines. One has to bow and scrape to the whims of professors and their assistants to get favorable letters. One has to live as a delinquent teenager beyond the teenage years.
The universities do this because they know they can get away with it.
Attending college is basically paying an employer a very nice salary for the privilege of working a full time job.

All that money really purchases is letter grades and credits. Courses can usually be audited for free. Several of the most famous universities now put their courses online for free. All those thousands of dollars and thousands of hours scraping for letter grades in a grotesque continuation of high school yield only social recognition.
Real knowledge and competence may or may not exist alongside the rubber stamp of approval. After all, gaming the letter system produces greater rewards than actually learning things. To some extent, college, even if sub-optimal continues as a matter of social habit:

-College tuition does not just purchase social recognition upon graduation. It also purchases the social license to focus one’s time entirely on studying. Can one imagine devoting oneself completely to a subject outside of a university? All one’s family and friends would ask: “Why aren’t you working? What are you doing with your time?” Soon comes the ultimatum: “We’re not supporting you if you don’t get a job.” One’s devoted full time studies are then effectively over.
In order to study a subject full time, someone needs the official-looking fancy campus, the mystique of cap and gown, the socially recognized credits. Suddenly it’s accepted without question that one is devoting hours to studies that could instead be devoted to the workplace. Only the university can provide this official license to study.

-Chances are people in a position to hire have a college degree. They will only accept people with college degrees because the people who first hired them would only accept people with college degrees.
All around the world human groups have rites of passage people must go through in order to become members. Workers in skilled industries “make their bones” by getting the degree. This sort of social custom facilitates social cohesion by ensuring that each member has a certain common base experience. People don’t usually think this out. It comes by habit, by instinct. Demanding degrees is a self-perpetuating tribal initiation custom, very like painful tattoos or ritual disfigurement.

At the very heart of the system resides a key assumption: Even as adults, we all lack the initiative to learn things without some coercive element, some contrived sense of urgency to spur us on. At the heart of things, is a sort of personal humiliation. In order to get that degree you tacitly admit that you’re too weak and incompetent to learn properly unless you pay them to keep you busy and babysit you.

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4 responses to “Knowledge Monopolies: the University

  1. Pingback: School As Introvert Prison Sentence | Neurodiversity

  2. “…She always told me not to let anger and hatred get the best of me, not to let them guide my blade… This will be my only exception.”
    –A quote from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and one that aptly describes my emotions upon finishing this article. Though I am rarely quick to full-blown anger, I feel that college (and by extension, school) is one of those things I will always hold in fierce contempt of court. Reading this article is painful and infuriating for me, not because I disagree, but on the contrary, because it rings so true for me, and often I feel powerless to change such an entrenched system. Forgive me, but all I can contribute with this comment is a very sincere affirmation of what you say.

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