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Stuff Learned Beats Time Served
Beating Back Credentialism

The federal government’s rigid hold over college accreditation—and its built-in bias toward “time served” credentialism—is one of the major obstacles standing between our current bloated, unaffordable higher education system and something leaner and more widely accessible. Over at RealClearScience, the physicist Tom Hartsfield describes a promising framework for replacing the competition-squelching system we have with something more suited to students’ needs and employers’ demands, especially for STEM jobs:

Instead of restricting the teaching of accredited courses to colleges, why not let individual instructors gain accreditation for particular courses?

The philosophy is simple. The most important qualification for a job is qualification itself, not the calligraphed paper that represents it.

If a job requires some knowledge of biology, it often demands a degree in the subject. Why not, instead, ask for just the particular set of biological knowledge germane to the task?

One applicant to a job opening could present an entire preciously expensive degree showing their breadth of knowledge. Individual accreditation would allow a second applicant to instead present a smaller, leaner, more targeted package of professionally certified skills to compete with the first at a much lower cost.

The fact that college tuition is rising at more than twice the rate of inflation even as the average wages of college graduates stagnate reflects the failure of the existing higher education system to deliver skills and knowledge efficiently. Hartsfield’s proposal—circumventing the higher education cartel entirely and accrediting individual experts to teach specific skills—would make learning more targeted to students’ practical needs, and much, much cheaper.

The four-year brick-and-mortar college, complete with its special amenities and general education curriculum, would and should still exist under a reformed accreditation system. Hartsfield’s proposal would merely lead to the proliferation of more low-cost alternatives for students who want them, restrain tuition hikes at the four-year schools, and perhaps sink some of most poorly-performing institutions. This agenda will naturally be resisted tooth and nail by America’s massive and well-funded higher education establishment. But it is the best path forward for students and for our economy at large.

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  • Fat_Man

    Take it a step further. Why accredit the courses? Aren’t the exams the only thing that should be accredited. What difference does it make if you sit through a bunch of boring lectures, or read a book? If you know the material, and can pass the test, you should get the credit.

    • GS

      Since the idiots are creative and ingenious, no book could have all the answers to their [idiotic] questions, but a suitably qualified live instructor can. I would attack the problem from a completely different angle: the course load in a vocational system is much heavier than in the “librul idukashian” setup – and I would be jacking it up dramatically. It would naturally lead to the winnowing of the field.
      Here is a translation [from their website] of a relevant part of the [mandatory] curriculum administered at Moscow U chemistry department to all of their students. The choice of major/specialization there is done at the moment of enrollment, education duration is 5 years, and the measurement unit is a “contact hour” – the time a student spends in the presence of an instructor. It includes lectures, labs, seminars, classes, and recitations:
      Inorganic chemistry [year 1] 864 hours
      Analytical chemistry [year 2] 756 hours
      Organic chemistry [year 3] 864 hours
      Physical chemistry [year 4] 720 hours;
      plus a plethora of the smaller subfields like colloidal chemistry and polymer chemistry, in the range of 100-360 hours each. The total course load for the “professional disciplines block” is around 4500 hours there, and with the supporting disciplines like physics and calculus – around 6500 hours. From what I was able to observe while TA’ing in P’ton graduate school, the undergraduate course load in the United States is anywhere from 5 to 10 times smaller. If one could absorb that much info on one’s own – more power to him or her, but this is the kind of information load I would be asking from an applicant at an outside exam.

      • vepxistqaosani

        You’re an elitist and obviously not a true American at all. You’re bent on restricting college education only to those bright, ambitious, motivated, and disciplined enough to learn anything and everything thrown at them. Stupid and lazy kids deserve college educations, too, you know!

        Moscow U would never fly in America.

        Or, as my grandfather put it when I discussed my high-school course load with him in the early 1970s, “Education in this country started going downhill when they stopped requiring Greek in high school.”

        • GS

          Your grandfather was absolutely correct. Cast not your pearls before swine lest they trample on them with their feet… [this pertains to your “Stupid and lazy kids deserve college educations, too, you know!”]. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy elitism. As Socrates taught, every thing [and that of necessity includes the elitism] is good in its own place and for its own purpose[s].

          • Jim__L

            Life is getting to be crap for the non-elites these days. Hence Trump.

          • FriendlyGoat

            As though THAT will provide a life solution to people whose lives are crap. Get to self-identify with a man who has a jet? Check. Get to self-identify with a man serially married to three hot women? Check Get to self-identify with a man who is famous for firing people? Check

            Developing enough sense to know that being a hanger-on to such an elite dude does not make the hanger-on an elite too? Uh, no.

          • Jim__L

            The elites in Washington have failed to prevent these peoples’ lives from being crap — MFN for China and unlimited immigration are very popular for elites.

            I socialize with a lot of Silicon Valley 10%er types. Their “average is over” attitude practically begs for revolution.

            Hence Trump.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You are living in a part of America—–Silicon Valley—-that is a bit of an anomaly. I’m of the opinion that a majority of the 10%ers—-the “elite”——in America are actually conservatives. It’s true that there is left-coast money from tech flaunting a haughty-looking left-coast arrogance WHERE YOU LIVE and I would not deny that you probably see too much of it. But, to my mind, nearly everyone supporting a “Club-for-Growth” mentality, a “U.S.-Chamber-of-Commerce” mentality, a “Grover-Norquist” mentality is an “elite” too. Plenty rich, planning to stay that way, and purposely oblivious to the realities of the lower half of America. It’s one reason I don’t like the word “elite” to describe a group of people—-we often don’t know who is being talked about when we use the word.

            Meanwhile, the core of Trump supporters don’t seem to know that they are being played into the very hands of the right-side “elite” even as they think they’re having a revolution. It’s a big con which may become apparent if/when Donald is actually nominated. We will all then get to watch money come out of the walnut-paneled suites to support him—-BECAUSE, AS ALWAYS—-that money will be considered an “investment” in a new round of high-end tax cuts.

          • Jim__L

            – FG, please recall that I’m not actually against high-end tax increases.
            Neither is Trump if (yuuuuge IF!) his words on the campaign trail can
            be believed. Nor am I a Trump supporter, per se. I can see a situation where he might be the lesser of two evils (if he were running against someone who had clearly committed multiple felonies that endanger American lives and international interests, for example), but I’m with the people who figure that he is not the particular brick that badly needed to be heaved through the window of the GOP establishment.

            – The elites that are getting their way are in fact the Silicon Valley elites. That is blatantly obvious from their social priorities — “Christianity is borderline illegal in Northern California”, to quote a keen observation from a show about SV. Silicon Valley companies are corporate, certainly. But that doesn’t mean they’re Conservative — far from it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I will stick with the belief that while you see a particular scenario in Silicon Valley—–and it IS real there and maybe in some other tech enclaves—–that much of the rest of the country is mostly living with other-minded neighbors. Kansans, for instance, have the Kochs from Wichita. Texas has T. Boone Pickens and a bunch of other oil magnates. Michigan has the Devos family of Amway. Arkansas has the Waltons of Walmart. Florida has Risk Scott of Columbia/HCA.
            Wisconsin had a single donor virtually “making” Gov. Scott Walker.
            Ditto one or two major donors “making” Rubio. I do know there is more than one flavor of “elite”..

            As for Trump being the lesser of two evils, I agree. You think he is preferable to Hillary (or Bernie). I think he is preferable to Ted.

          • Jim__L

            You’re describing the 1% — or even the less-than-0.01%.

            I’m describing the 10% — the products of “elite” universities and PC indoctrination. The ones that go to pizzerias, florists, and chicken sandwich places to try to get them shut down if they don’t toe the PC line. (So much for “living with the other-minded”.) The ones that think trade wars should be approached with unilateral “disarmament” on the part of the US. The ones that think that that literal disarmament is necessary in the face of Islamic terrorism. The ones that think that energy needs to be expensive, because their virtue signalling is more important than everyone else’s already-strained budgets. The ones that care more about simultaneously getting illegal immigrants hooked on government programs and low-paying jobs, than about making independent and self-respecting life possible for people who actually make up 90% of The People our government exists to represent. The ones who look at structural unemployment and say “Oh well, nothing anyone can do, we’re not going to bother trying since Hey, it doesn’t affect us!” despite the historical record saying creative and energetic entrepreneurs prove Luddites wrong every time.

            These are the jack***es who are making the government Destructive of the Ends that it is supposed to pursue — getting in the way in more ways daily. We’re into Abuses and Usurpations territory here, with the object of reducing us under the Despotism of the Harvard Faculty Lounge.

            The Establishment has failed. The worst part? Their ideological indoctrination and their navel-gazing insularity has made them deaf and blind to anything but their own fashionable problems, and utterly incompetent to even begin to contemplate solutions. A halfway-competent Establishment would have adapted itself, copied Trump’s core message and appeal, and delivered their own version. They can’t even manage that, which heavily implies that the core of the PC beliefs of the 10% simply can’t coexist with the interests of the 90%.

            The election of 2016 has the potential to be a purgative one. Something very new is beginning to happen. So much for the End of History.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Perhaps we will be fortunate and this revolution will come from within our system, but if the powers-that-be work to frustrate it, it will come nonetheless, and it will be very, very messy indeed.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Jim, this crowd you have fallen in with which believes we are to ridicule anyone who aspires to act like he or she has a college education does not edify your own level of intelligence—or mine. The “new” thing you think is beginning to happen is not new. P.T. Barnum lived a long time ago. So did Barry Goldwater. Suckers then and suckers now.

          • Jim__L

            There’s a difference between a real education (unavailable at the Ivies these days) and an indoctrination. For example, an education would give the elites the intellectual ability to adapt to the changing circumstances — the fundamental Middle-American issues driving Trump’s appeal. It would give them the ability to develop plans to address these issues, which have been in existence (and often solved) for decades.

            But the indoctrination doesn’t allow them to use the same solutions we have used in the past. So… no solution.

            Hence Trump.

          • FriendlyGoat

            It’s not just a matter of the Ivy league places. There are plenty of people who just went to typical “State” and know the voices of conservatism these days are off in the weeds.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Silicon Valley elites (rarely in the valley anymore, but you get the idea) are far, far, FAR from Conservative, and in fact are largely indistinguishable from those in Hollywood, the financial elites on the east coast, and of course the clerisy in DC. They are almost universally liberal, socially and politically, and while they say the right words…all one needs to do is to watch their actions…

          • Jim__L

            Really? Not in the Valley? Because there are neighborhoods here that are more expensive than Beverly Hills.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I know…some of my former students are working at Google, and making more than enough to put themselves in the uppermost 5%

          • GS

            Trump has a broad-based appeal, though. Among the R voters he scores well across the idukashinal spectrum – from those with less than a high school and to those with the post-graduate degrees. So, with him it is wider. At least some of it is the recoil reaction to the years of obamery [and by extension to the R political elites who capitulated to it].

      • Jim__L

        I would agree with you, except — the point is not to winnow. The point is to build up as many as possible, to maximize the size of the skilled workforce.

        The “winnowing” point of view is highly exclusive, and very French in its approach. It is also a large contributor to Trump’s rise.

        As far as Moscow’s approach goes — cosmonauts were subjected to the sort of long hours of classroom lectures and test-taking you cite. American astronauts have mostly hands-on instruction. The approaches are different but both were effective in their own way. I think we agree the more, the better.

        Leave out the elitist claptrap, work to discover the best approaches to disseminate knowledge, and move on from there.

        • GS

          In my experience [40+years], the healthy elitism is a must. Draw the standard IQ Bell Curve [median 100, standard deviation 15]. Draw a vertical line at around 115. There is no point in disseminating advanced knowledge to the left of that cutoff, as the capacity to absorb and handle it is deficient or even completely missing there. To the left of it one could get a parrot, or an automaton trained to perform a couple of tricks.
          If one can cut it, I do not have any objections against examining that person and then credentialing him or her in accordance with the examination result, regardless of how and where the applicant acquired the [required large amount of] skills and knowledge. But if one cannot cut it, then I am all for demonstrating it at the exam and shooting that candidacy down.

    • Thom Burnett

      Fat_Man is correct that all that matters is the knowledge. If you have tests that measure that knowledge then passing the test could be the ONLY thing needed to be credentialed in that field. This would cut out a great deal of the college system waste.

      Current interests (colleges, HR departments, AMA etc) will politically resist, of course.

      • Jim__L

        Have you seen what lengths the LSAT has to go to, to prevent cheating?

        The only test worth anything is a job interview.

        • Thom Burnett

          You mean people don’t cheat in college for grades or lie in job interviews? When I taught at college the best students couldn’t get good grades because cheaters had such large and unchecked advantages.

          So yes, you give them some national level test like the lawyer’s bar exam and then check at interview time again. I want to cut out the college certificate as a necessary step. If they pass the exam then they don’t need to spend years and rack up debt.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Accreditation should be turned over to the Credit agencies, as everything the Government Monopoly does is wasteful, inefficient, expensive, and corrupt. Take the historical example of anytime the Government Monopoly or other Monopoly has been booted out of the way. For example: the breakup of AT&T which has led to “Smart Phones”, the breakup of the Airlines, which has led to a huge increase in air travel and prices a fraction of what they used to be. Now imagine the same thing happening to Healthcare, or the Post Office, and to Education. Instead of having the Leftists constantly demanding more money and power because “This time they’ll do it right”, the responsibility for as much as possible should be placed with the “Free Market”. It is the “Feedback of Competition” that provides both the Information and Motivation which forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in the free market. While the Government Monopoly like all Monopolies suffers from the same disease, the lack of the “Feedback of Competition”.

  • Jim__L

    I have a little bit of experience with college accreditation, from the student point of view. I was in a group of students being asked by accreditation professionals about the difficulty of various classes. “Is this drafting class really academically challenging enough to be rated a full 4 credit-hours?” they asked. The students replied, “Of course — we spend more hours a week completing work on the drafting projects than any of our other 4-unit classes.” Students use credit-hours to determine whether they have a full load of classes, from a workload point of view. A “minimum” load was 12 units during a quarter, and you had to get the dean’s permission to exceed 20 units.

    The specs here mean different things to different stakeholders, which makes the whole system a whole lot less useful.

  • FriendlyGoat

    We spend a lot of time blaming colleges for supplying what employers are still asking for——–credentials, the absence of which often just relegate resumes to the “other” pile on first screening.

    • Jim__L

      Thank “disparate impact” and Griggs for that.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Actually, hiring managers have all kinds of reasons for wanting to appear blameless in their selections. Avoiding lawsuits is only one. Covering their own butts in the event things don’t work out is another, and the comparisons of resumes as they appear “on paper” (online) is not insignificant in this process.

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