Indiana Daily Student

What's in a degree?

Wow. These last four years have flown by, and in a little more than a week I'll have a college degree (two actually -- a B.S. and a B.A.).\nBut what does that mean? What does having a degree truly amount to at this time and place?\nCollege ain't what it used to be.\nOne of my professors recently bragged that he received an A on a paper "when A's used to be hard to get." He was not joking. Grade inflation has become a major concern among universities -- about half of all college freshmen today have an A average compared to 18 percent in 1968. Either students' mental capacity more than doubled or standards lowered in the last 38 years, and I'm willing to bet it's not the former.\nProject one inflated grade over four years, and it makes the degree practically worthless because it does not in fact state that the holder is necessarily qualified -- he might have just had lenient professors.\nOver-specificity is another problem. Professors teach their specialized (sometimes over-specialized) research area, and departments have no specific requirements other than, for example, "two courses in Western European history." Now, I've taken many history courses, including "Empire of the Tsars: Russia in the 19th Century" and "Italy in the Renaissance." Both of these courses were interesting and valuable, but how can taking a hodgepodge of microscopic history courses give anyone a true grasp on the totality of history? The student's historical knowledge just becomes an assortment of random facts about very specific periods.\nI don't mean to pick on the history department, but it best illustrates the widespread problem of departments granting degrees with only a very diffuse, compartmentalized knowledge of the field.\nThen there's the elephant in the room -- the leftward ideological slant of the academia, which few acknowledge, but everyone knows is there. A recent survey of 1,643 full-time professors at 183 universities revealed 75 percent describe themselves as liberal (87 percent at "elite" universities).\nThis is a huge problem. Where does education begin and indoctrination end? Are the two mutually indistinguishable? If professors and graduates -- whose degrees and research give them authority -- are clouded by their political leanings, then how can anyone rely on any word they say? Every academic work will be second-guessed by a public skeptical of bias.\nI was admitted into the University of Chicago -- no mean feat for a high school student -- but I chose to come to IU because of scholarships. I didn't see any reason to pay more for one diploma over another. That is sad. "Elite" universities in this country, once the best in the world, have now become virtually indistinguishable from any other university because the above problems are even more marked there. The prestigious names of "elite" universities are the only vestige they have of a once-vibrant academic past.\nA degree isn't worth what it was 40 years ago, so we go to more school to qualify ourselves (I'll be going to law school), and we are not putting our knowledge to use until we're close to 30 or even older.\nAs I don my cap and gown, I'll wonder what my diploma's worth will be 10 years from now -- and take pity on future generations of students.

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