The industrial devolution and disenfranchised knowledge worker

Higher education exists to terrorize and bankrupt students with tuition costs (double, triple, insert value here) the rate of inflation. It is a current meme in public policy and though higher education has its issues this is a crock and there are a couple of reasons why.

1)   Higher education has had to stop doing education and implement training programs. The value of an education is not in a specific skill it is in the ability to think and add to the body of knowledge. People want jobs skills, and universities are the business of knowledge attainment. So, both efforts get short changed.

2)   Corporations have abandoned the education and apprenticeship models outsourcing their educational needs to university and then demanding higher education changes devaluing that same education. In the end the student bears the cost that a corporation should have been doing.

3)   Tuition cost increases can be tied directly to the market mechanisms and in about every other capitalistic environment we would say let the market dictate the cost, but in higher education we’re not happy with that answer. It is mildly ironic to here a republican who is all about deregulation and market forces arguing against allowing that in higher education.  Even more interesting is the trimming of state sponsorship of higher education, but then increased attempts to regulate, and the expectation costs will not change. For every dollar a state takes away tuition costs rise by $2. It doesn’t seem fair but those are the breaks kid.

4)   There used to be one school in the University. The school of liberal arts. Along about the time medicine exited the dark ages the school of sciences was added. Now universities have a dozen schools or sometimes more it seems. There are hundreds of majors and the overlap is immense. That is all overhead, but it is driven by the hiring market. You have to have a degree in this highly specific discipline that may be one class different than this other discipline but the wage difference could be literally tens of thousands of dollars.

5)   Human resources is a good place to pin a lot of these problems. Credentialism and a failure to understand what resumes actually show have led to pushes for degrees as attainment of skills. Universities do the knowledge pieces and vocational schools do the skills piece. This is a critical difference in goals and roles.

6)   There is a tendency to mix a lot of the higher education problems, from class size, to the role of professors as researchers and teachers, to the role of administration and government in the higher education process. You can NOT teach innovation to students you can only expose them to the process. Involving students in research is not innovation. We in the United States have abandoned as policy the practice of large leap innovative research. Which leads to…

7)   We pay professors a salary but then tell them to go get grants or contracts if they want promotion. It is a rare situation that teaching is at the forefront of administrators minds. This is what economists like to call a perverse incentive. If we want the nation to be successful we have to decouple promotion from grants and determine a strategy for using students in the research process. Merging research, teaching, and innovation emergence in the classroom put me at odds with my administration when it came to addressing learning objectives and organizational accreditation.

8)   Organizational accreditation nationwide needs to be addressed. This is what we like to call South Eastern or North Central or Pacific or whatever as regional accrediting agencies. Having sat through their seminars I would say there is a lot of room for improvement and the cronyism has to be addressed. A frequently overlooked problem in the whole higher education debate is the fact that THIS IS THE FREAKING MECHANISM for fixing higher education and what created all of the stupid stuff going on currently when the veterans GI Bill was originally signed. Don’t expect the actual problem here to be addressed.


Here is the problem. It is easy to beat up on higher education because it doesn’t really have a voice. You can beat up on the organ that provided most of the innovation over the last few centuries and continues to be about the only place that innovation occurs but for what purpose. It is not without note that most of the examples of innovation that supposedly happened outside of university actually occurred in the University setting but the thread of the narrative is lost in the fact the entity didn’t finish. Bill Gates was in Harvard, Bill Joy as at Berkley, and good ol’ Steve Jobs well we’ll leave it at that.

Meanwhile we continue to devolve the higher education institutions into erstwhile industrial devolution practices of push em’ in and push em’ out.  Knowledge workers watch as companies call for higher numbers of visas for foreign workers while the number of unemployed workers climb in advanced skill markets. We continue to reward financial management people who develop nothing and software engineers and developers become little more than software practice adjuncts similar to university adjuncts scrambling for jobs.

Then there is the simple industrial practice of transitioning tenure positions at universities to lecturer positions eroding the pay scale (which was already poor) and further denuding the landscape of innovative research inquiry. The landscape is even more barren as the paltry research dollars are foisted off into industry labs and academia is pushed out the door. Industry labs hide their research and rarely does something explosive or innovative make it out the door unless it is evaluated as positive. This process would have killed many innovations that were trials and never expected to succeed. Kind of like early Apple 1’s and Altair computers which led to a revolution.

The result of all of this is the number one threat to American national security that has ever occurred in the history of the country. When I heard a group of leading research graduate students had taken research jobs in academia I wasn’t surprised. When I heard that it was in China I was perplexed. You have to remember a colloquialism. The country with the best soldiers will lose to the country with the smartest geeks. One atom bomb is a lot more deadly than an entire division of soldiers. Understanding that geek power is national power has been lost as the higher education system that produced the heart of American innovation and is slowly being taken apart. What we need is to strengthen higher education and return to the natural goals of education and realize that companies are in it for profit. Not the student. The student is there to learn not define what they want to be entertained by, and finally there is value in structure of the University.

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