The Delusions of Higher Education

My College, Buffalo State College, a part of the State University of New York forces students to take out tens of thousands of dollars in Student Loans, and then behaves as though they are doing students a “favor” by “allowing” them access to loans that they have a legal right to access anyway. “Loans” are “credit” – this is essentially a student putting their education on a credit card; they have to pay it back with their own money.

This is an example of the lack of customer service that my college offers, and I’m pretty positive (though I have no data) that they are not alone. It’s important to define “customer service” in higher education, because for one, it’s simply never been done before, and two, higher education is a different animal than just an “service” industry. Let’s start with this basic premise: grades should be earned. So when I speak of “customer service”, I’m talking about the myriad of departments that are NOT academic. Here’s a few of them:

Financial Aid/Student Accounts: I was literally ostracized by my financial aid department for asking too many questions. How many? 2 questions within a 3-month period. Just the concept of not being allowed to ask questions in a Higher Education Institution is mind boggling at best. However, it begs another question: if 2 questions in a 3 month period is “excessive”, then how effective are they?

Students who have had zero income for YEARS, homeless, and hungry are repeatedly told that they do not qualify for grants, and are forced to take out loans that barely cover expenses. In return for the student using his or her credit, where the school is paid cash in lieu of the student’s credit, students are treated as though taking out loans was a “privilege” bestowed upon them by the school. Let’s make this clear; all students have the RIGHT to take out loans, and it’s essentially THEIR cash/credit.

Student Loans were never designed to be the primary source for education funding according to the law that created them: the Higher Education Act. Financial Aid/Student Account offices however, force low (or zero) income students to use this as the ONLY means of paying for college.

Job Placement office: Few places are more delusional than job placement, or “career development” centers. In my office, they believe that discrimination in the workplace does NOT exist, and encourage students to engage in activities in the labor market that studies have shown to be discriminatory (such as posting a photo on LinkedIn). I spent 20 years in Human Resource Management, including being active in my local SHRM chapter, and I can unequivocally state that discrimination in the labor market exists.

What makes job placement offices live in a separate dimension of the universe is that they typically have no services for students who need a job while in college. They are only for graduates. According to the 2010 Census, 40% of students are over the age of 24. 23% are over 30. Yet colleges still behave as though students are teenagers looking to make extra money in college, instead of grown adults trying to SURVIVE through college.

Tutoring: There never seems to be enough tutors. Colleges should want students to succeed; to get the most value for their education dollar, and obtain the highest grade possible with hard work. When I applied to be a tutor in subject areas that I was more than qualified for, I was told that my services were not needed, because they didn’t think I was “serious”. I also was not the only one to be turned away. Turning away qualified tutors when you’re short-staffed on tutors makes about as much sense as brail on a drive-thru ATM.

These are a few examples; there are many more, such as an Equity and Diversity office that isn’t all that concerned about Equity and Diversity unless it involves faculty, an “Educational Opportunity” office that encourages students to drop out of college, and a University Police Force that refers homeless students on campus for “disciplinary action” for trying to stay warm at night.

Now keeping in mind that there is a certain “privilege” for being in college, I would consider this if I were working or studying at Princeton, Harvard or Oxford. Where I do not expect this level of arrogance to play out is in a public university that has falling enrollment.

Again, the Census tells us that the college demographic is changing; swinging older. Older students have something that teenagers don’t; life experience in the market. Telling older students, through actions, and attitudes (or just downright telling them) that they have no right to quality customer service in the face of being forced to put their education on a credit card (many times when they should qualify for grants or scholarships), is the equivalent of paying Starbucks for an empty cup of coffee. With total student loan debt over a TRILLION dollars, what exactly are people getting for their money?

To add to the delusions, my college (as well as others I know) refuse to listen to the musings of faculty about service departments, much less to the students.

This, of course, is beyond the issue of 43% of people who work in low-wage jobs have a Bachelor’s Degree.

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One Response to The Delusions of Higher Education

  1. As a state university student, I can say that I’m particularly concerned with ‘officially’ entering a labor force suffering from part-time syndrome. Sad thing is, I’m half-way through a degree and I’ve looked for summer jobs unsuccessfully. I feel overly-competent for some low wage jobs that have passed over my application. The value of a BA is dropping, so of course I’m considering grad school. Either way, I have concerns. Is academia adequately preparing me, or am I wasting money-earning, real-life-experience time?

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