The Value of a Degree

I recently placed a 24-hour poll on Twitter, asking how much people would be willing to pay for a series of seminar lectures (apart from the seminar).  I gave three options: $20, $40, and $80.  It garnered a meager 46 votes (from 2300 impressions), telling me: the majority would not pay anything.  As it was, 25 of the 46 votes (54.3%) were for $20, while 15 (32.6%) were for $40, and a scant 6 (13%) voted for $80.

One honest soul admitted that he pays much, much more (the equivalent of $533) for the courses he takes with Holy Apostles College, an accredited school from which, presumably, he is earning a degree.  If I sold 100 of my seminar series at even the highest proposed price, I’d make the modest sum of $8000.  If I sold 100 at the price from Holy Apostles, I’d make a comfortable living for a year.  Now, I do not begrudge Holy Apostles anything; it’s a fine school, with fine faculty, doing a fine service.  Moreover, accreditation is expensive to get for one’s school, and the infrastructure needed to attain it requires considerable other costs–as well as those needed to run a full program.  Moreover, I am not terribly concerned at the moment with selling my lectures–indeed, such would only be to finance the real education that the Lyceum offers, which is participation in its daily life (seminars included).

Rather, I want to think this through: why do we esteem the degree, the accredited degree, so highly?  Once upon a time, it perhaps distinguished one’s education as not having been conducted at the hand of hucksters or cons.  Now, arguably, many of the most lauded institutions granting accredited degrees are the biggest cons of all.  Once, perhaps, it was a sign that a group of peers had esteemed the education given as meritorious.  Now, it signifies that one has mastered jumping through administrative and financial hoops which serve principally as a deterrent to the non-compliant, to unlocking the mechanisms of gatekeeping, rather than any sign of qualification.  Once, the degree showed one’s qualifications for the world of work–and to some extent, it still does, but given the rapid changes which continually alter our workplaces, and the instability of careers generally, even this has a diminished value.

So why do we keep buying into the idea that degrees, that the certifications of an academic industry concerned far less with real education and far more with profit, are necessary?

And why do we continue to value real education so little?

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