Politicians typically push for an increase in the high school graduation rate. They want to increase college degrees too, for that matter. But who will benefit and who will lose?
The law of supply and demand tells us that as the percentage of students receiving diplomas increases, the value of that diploma decreases. Its value depends on its scarcity. When nearly everyone has a diploma, the credential offers little competitive advantage. It will only retain a certain defensive utility, because not having one would then be a devastating handicap. But is that what we want?
Let’s suppose high schools produce even more graduates. What will happen? Youngsters who do not, perhaps cannot, go to college will be hardest hit. They depend on their high school diploma to still open a few doors. So an increase in the graduation rate will further devalue their diploma. It will become even more serviceable than it is now.
You might think that if we do produce more graduates, at least kids will be better educated. But that's not necessarily so. The easiest way, sometimes the only way, to increase the number of high school graduates is to quietly lessen the requirements for graduation. Many inner city and rural poverty schools already have tacitly adopted such a policy: "Come to school most of the time, generally behave yourself and we will give you a diploma." Essentially, it's you pretend to learn and we'll pretend to teach you. This tacit policy then often degenerates to: "Come to school at least some of the time, don't create major disruptions and we will give you that diploma." Consequently there are high school graduates who can barely read.
Don't think these dynamics are confined to basic education. They are influencing higher education, big time. Fed by political correctness, professors and/or administrators who kick academic butt and take names have become unwelcome. Encouraged, even ordered, by the administration the contemporary professor is required to cox, cajole and coddle. And this is precisely how we get college graduates who remain barely literate.
It isn't just political correctness that feeds this cancer. It is also financial pressures. Administrators have to pay the bills and applicants are scarcer these days. And despite the politically correct rhetoric that is often disingenuous, that's precisely why administrators pressure professors to not discomfort or discourage tuition paying customers.
Of course professors have their own motive for laxity. Keeping a sufficient number of students on their role. Do it has come to pass that political correctness, teamed with administrative and professorial financial concerns, are murdering the intellectual rigor higher education requires.
How can a professor do their job if they fail to challenge students to consider discomforting ideas? How can they avoid that without failing to encourage thought and growth? Serious thoughts about important things are, by their very nature, discomforting and disconcerting. And serious thought about important things is ultimately what higher education is all about.
Remember too, college degrees are subject to the very same law of supply and demand that applies to high school diplomas. The more plentiful they are, the less value they have. That's why it is now often necessary to get an advanced degree to gain the same competitive advantage that a bachelor's degree used to confer.
So how can we get out of this mess? Toughen graduation requirements at every level and reduce the number of high school and college diploma recipients. This will increase the diploma’s value and offer a boost to those who must depend on them for competitive advantage. It will also reduce the number of "students" who trouble classrooms by discounting learning and having no interest in reducing their ignorance. These drones just want that piece of paper.
This drastic solution to a drastic problem means fewer students, fewer teachers, fewer professors, and fewer institutions of higher education. Many jobs will disappear. Unemployment roles will swell with youngsters who are currently engaged in pretending to be students. Will this prove politically and practically unacceptable? Yes, it certainly will. That's why it won't happen. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. -GKC
For a more detailed examination of this and related issues See Dissecting School Benefits"