Michael J. Salamon

The Degradation of Higher Education

I am a devotee of education. I believe strongly that knowledge and learning are of primary importance and should be a lifelong quest. Until recently I leaned into the idea that the more prestigious the school someone attended the more likely they were to be better educated. I personally never attended an Ivy League college, but I did attend some highly ranked universities and had professors who were at the top of their fields. I recall many of their lessons and remained in touch with some for many years post school. I value those lessons and experiences still, but I now question what has become of the acclaimed college education process.

A study released this year by Opportunity Research, “a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization located at Harvard University” concluded that “highly selective private colleges currently amplify the persistence of privilege across generations.” Essentially the findings from their “big data” analysis indicated that attending an Ivy League college in the US confers only a small and essentially insignificant impact on students’ long-term income, somewhere in the range of only about 3%. So, if you come from an upper-class family with a legacy at an Ivy League school your ability to be accepted at that school is greatly enhanced and your post academic networking connections are amplified which in turn may allow you to earn 3% over someone who attended a public university ( Essentially there is no overwhelming financial benefit to attending an Ivy League school.

Another recent review which questions the fundamentals of Ivy League education found that 80% of the grades at Yale are all A’s. Grade inflation seems pervasive at the Ivies but when the overwhelming majority of students’ grades are all A’s they are bloated beyond the point of meaning. When asked about the grading at Yale one professor stated, “We are simply being dishonest to our students.” A hiring manager at a large financial institution told me that their organization no longer seeks new hires from the top three Ivy League schools because their transcripts “don’t reflect their level of knowledge and does not support their apparent arrogance.” The dishonesty in grading may no longer afford graduates special consideration upon graduation.

And when testifying before a United States Congressional committee on the topic of antisemitism on their campuses three Ivy League presidents could not unequivocally state that harassment of Jewish students on their campuses calling for their genocide in any number of ways may only be considered harassment in certain contexts, or as the president of Penn, Liz Magill, said is a “context-dependent decision.” In fact, all three of the university presidents that testified used the “context” excuse for not actively acting against antisemitism on their campuses. The context defense they used would not apply if the same threats, however, vaguely, were made to other races or minorities on their campuses. Only after intense pushback from donors, alumni, Holocaust museum boards and directors , and a social media outpouring of disgust for their equivocation did the president’s backpaddle and attempt to clarify that calls for genocide are possibly a violation of free speech on their campuses.

The vaunted Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the cultural philosophy which is allegedly designed to promote fair treatment for all, seems to apply to Jews only when those in charge of promulgating the principle are pressured by outsiders to include their Jewish students.

What then is the benefit of an Ivy League, or even any large US, or highly valued European university education – because the same issues exist on the continent as well – if you are Jewish? You will likely receive an over inflated grade; you may have a broader network of upper-class acquaintances, but not a much greater income and your life can be threatened without consequence if you do nothing more than attend classes.
All these changes in the world of higher education are signs pointing to the degradation of societies civic boundaries. As I have written (Historic campus antisemitism, 20/10/2023, ToI) when antisemitism rears up among college students history suggests that it reflects a greater ill in society that spread beyond the campuses. I still believe in education, but I no longer have faith in the vaunted university system in the States to be moral and just for Jewish students. That does not mean that Jewish students should avoid a university education. They and their parents must be significantly more selective as to where and how they go about getting that level of education. It is no surprise that I am hearing more and more from the Americas and Europe that college age students are applying to schools in Israel.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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