Summary: It’s sad to read long articles about our military, so often grossly inferior to an analysis by Martin van Creveld written decades ago. Our difficulty learning (our broken OODA loop is perhaps America’s greatest ill. Links to other posts about our broken OODA loops are at the end.
Today we examine a chain of articles about the education of American military personnel. All fumbling around in territory van Creveld covered brilliantly and thoroughly in Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance (1990).
- “Marine Can’t Recall His Lessons at For-Profit College“, Bloomberg, 15 December 2009
- “Quote of the Day – Degree Mill Edition“, James Joyner, Outside the Beltway, 15 December 2009
- “Markets in Everything“, Megan McArdle, blog of The Atlantic, 15 December 2009 — How the military encourage diploma mills.
- “Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Read McArdle: Keep the Military Dumb edition”, Thomas Levenson, the Inverse Square Blog, 28 December 2009 — Parts One and Two. (no excerpt provided)
“Marine Can’t Recall His Lessons at For-Profit College“, Bloomberg, 15 December 2009
Marine Corps Corporal James Long knows he’s enrolled at Ashford University, one of at least a dozen for-profit colleges making money off active-duty military with subsidies from American taxpayers. He just can’t remember what course he’s taking.
… For-profit online colleges are taking over higher education of the U.S. military, lured by a Defense Department pledge of free schooling up to $4,500 a year for active members of the armed services, costing taxpayers more than $3 billion since 2000. The schools account for 29% of college enrollments and 40% of the half-billion-dollar annual tab in federal tuition assistance for active-duty students, displacing public and private nonprofit colleges, according to Defense Department and military data.
The shift is leading to educational shortcuts and over-zealous marketing, said Greg von Lehmen, chief academic officer of the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, the adult-education branch of the state system and one of the earliest and biggest providers of military education. “In these schools, the rule is faster and easier,” von Lehmen said. “They’re characterized by increasingly compressed course lengths and low academic expectations. One has to ask: Is the Department of Defense getting what it is seeking?”
“Quote of the Day – Degree Mill Edition“, James Joyner, Outside the Beltway, 15 December 2009
I taught some online graduate courses, aimed mostly at overseas military officers, at Troy when I was teaching full time at their main campus. Trying to treat it as if it were a legitimate graduate class was a constant source of frustration. Students simply didn’t have the time to do the reading and research — they were, after all, on active duty in a military with a high operations tempo. But they’d been led to believe that the courses would be easy — there wouldn’t be much work and they could do it at their leisure. The school got a lot of money, paid its faculty quite generously, and the students got the credentials they wanted. Those of us who resisted the degree mill model were messing up that model. (I’m reliably informed that the rigor has picked up, although not to the level one would expect in a traditional on campus graduate program even at Troy.)
But the military is as much at fault here as the degree mills. They quite literally treat college education as a check in a box. A master’s degree from Harvard or one from Walden both get officers over the “must have master’s degree” hurdle for promotion to lieutenant colonel. And, since few officers are given the time to attend classes at a real school, the incentive to get a dubious degree in the little spare time available is powerful. The same is true, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the federal civil service and for teachers in many school systems across the country: It’s the degree that matters, not the learning.
The obvious solution is to start allotting time for people to go to school, if getting an education is really important. The less obvious solution is to quit rewarding the attainment of educational credentials if, as it would seem, a bogus degree is as valid as a real one. To the extent that the skills imparted by higher education are valuable to an employer, they should be apparent in actual job performance. So just reward people who do their jobs well and don’t worry about what degrees they have.
“Markets in Everything“, Megan McArdle, blog of The Atlantic, 15 December 2009 — How the military encourage diploma mills.
I get the impression that the primary market for diploma mill degrees is in various branches of the government. The civil service system, the army, and various local departments like teachers, all automatically reward you with higher pay if you get a degree. Since they don’t distinguish between the caliber of the schools, the obvious solution is to find the easiest course you can. Undoubtedly this happens in private organizations too, but since the purpose of a degree in the private sector is signalling rather than box-checking, there is some incentive for gravitating towards higher-quality degrees.
The obvious thing to do is either end the box checking entirely, or set the quality bar much higher. The problem is, realistically many people (like active duty military) do not have time to get a real degree. And the people who already have bogus degrees from diploma mills are senior, and therefore, have some power with which to block such an initiative.
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Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop):
- News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
- Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
- The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
- The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
- We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
- The decay of our government, visible for all to see, 3 June 2009
- A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
- Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
- DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009