Sunday, August 2, 2009


I'm a bit hard-headed and that probably explains, more than anything else, why I didn't finish college. I used to get in arguments with professors and students alike about the role of the university and what I expected for my money.

College, to me, was all about getting an education and then using that education, along with all of my other resources, to make something of myself and contribute back to society. Many of the other characters in the university system thought college was for something else entirely.

I was in the computer science program at the University of Maryland and one of the required course tracks was Calculus for math majors. The first day of class the professor told the class that only 20% of the students would get a grade of C or better, the required minimum grade to advance to the next class. I raised my hand. I don't remember if I used the words "how dare you" or not but I was furious. I explained that I had paid good, hard-earned money to get into the class and I presumed that the vetting process I endured along with my previous education had prepared me to sit in a college-level Calculus class. I pointed out that a success rate of 20% represented a dismal failure on the part of the school and this professor in particular. The explanation was that this was a "wash out" course in order to weed out, apparently 80%, of those who wished to be engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

I didn't have a problem with the course being difficult or the requirement that we were expected to build a strong mathematical foundation in order to be considered computer scientists. I had a problem with the guild-like mentality of controlling the number of entrants into the field.

On the other hand, I also got into arguments with the students who were there for something other than an education. In one computer science class, again on the first day, a student asked if the examinations would be cumulative. I couldn't contain myself and yelled out, "No, you're expected to forget everything once you've been tested. What a moron."

Alas, college just wasn't for me. I took as many of the computer science classes I could and left the school to make a living and did fairly well in the job market.

Then, just this morning, I read this article. A woman is suing her school because she graduated and is unable to find a job. She feels that her money and time were wasted in college and the college has failed to live up to its side of the bargain and find her a job.

I don't know this woman and it would be unfair of me to call her a moron but it certainly is tempting. I can understand her frustration in not being able to find a job but I am completely unable to comprehend the sense of entitlement she apparently feels her degree bestows upon her.

If she went to college to get a job then she got in the wrong line; she should have queued up with the job applicants rather than at the admissions line.

I find this story particularly galling because it shows just how far askew we've become in our expectations of guarantees of success rather than guarantees of opportunity.

Welcome to the school of hard-knocks.

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