Musings on Buying Degrees

Since people can pay their way through school, is having a degree still a useful metric for testing competency?

While pursuing an option to break into freelance writing I came across a company that created writing content for their clients. I was interested, and instead of researching the company first I went to the site and went through their testing and introduction. I passed the grammar test and began going through the company’s introduction, which pressed the importance of using academic writing. I felt like I was back in college.


It was while going through the introduction that I made a startling discovery - the clients of this company were students, and the job was their homework. Here I was, face to face with an opportunity to do the work for students (even as far as showing the working out of algebra problems) thereby depriving them of learning for themselves.


After all, the clients were paying for it, and an entire company of employees were openly talking about the types of clients they had, the type of course work they had been engaged to do, and how difficult it was if the client wanted amendments made to their work before the writers could get paid for it.


Frankly, I shouldn’t have been surprised. If a demand exists, then the supply will come. Think about how easy it is to tap into that market! There was a time when the grades we were given were based on one or two tests during a semester, but now they depend more heavily on course work (essays, group work, etc.), with the weight of the final exam contributing 20-50% of the overall grade. So a student using such a service can pay for up to 80% of their grade on any course. They might not even have to show up for the exam, depending on what mark they had going in.


A few years ago, a scandal broke out in one of Jamaica’s top universities where fake degrees were being purchased. Apparently, this practice continues today (see article here). You can buy a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree for a third of the price, and for none of the time it takes to acquire it. You can even pay for Upper First, Second or Third class honours. People can leave the “hallowed halls” of higher education as intellectually helpless as they entered it. Not to mention, they would also have the entitlement mindset that the money that bought them their education would continue to buy them their positions in life.


But what if they have a legitimate reason for not wanting to go through the rigours of earning the degree? The TV show Suits gave us a perfectly practical reason for a formal law education being wasted on a superior mind. In the show, a young man with a photographic memory pretends that he’s attended Harvard Law School in order to work with a top lawyer who only hires Harvard graduates. He already possessed the requisite competence in the subject of Law, but the law firm assumed that this could only come from the degree.


I’m already skeptical about formal education and the esteem that we place on it but I will have to tell you about that another time. I’m sure that at least some of the people who have purchased their way through their education, did so because the degree was beneath their ability and they simply needed the ticket to accelerate their way forward. They would rather do that than endure the time it would take to get a degree on things they already knew.


Was education created for people or were people created for education? If education is created for us then what should it look like and how should it serve us? Do we still need to go to formal institutions to be validated as having the required knowledge to excel in our workplaces?




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