In response to my last post — on the Toronto Star expose of disreputable high-school “credit mills”, our most frequent correspondent explains how a commitment to academic integrity necessitates that we extend our vigilance beyond our personal practices as teachers, and towards the trends taking place in both our educational workplaces and the larger educational system within which they are situated:
The Toronto Star has done a great service by giving wide publicity to this issue. Unfortunately, it is only one of a host of related concerns about the quality of education at all levels.
I urge college educators to become alert to all sorts of institutions including allegedly postsecondary schools which grant “degrees” and might easily fool unsuspecting admissions personnel and other authorities into granting advanced standing for dubious credits.
Even more, however, we should be vigilant about our own practices. When the colleges were first established in the late 1960s, there was a common purpose and something of a common set of standards across Ontario. In the intervening forty years and more, we have witnessed a growing chaos, now reaching its most intense level as Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology have been tossed into the world of competitive marketing.
One superficial aspect of that is the “rebranding” of institutions as they call themselves all sorts of new names, advertising what they take to be their strengths. Another, more serious, innovation is the plethora of certificates, diplomas, degrees, “articulated” programs in which colleges and universities offer joint programs leading to the awarding of a college diploma and a university degree, and what are commonly known as “postgraduate” college programs. Moreover, as colleges get into the “business” of cooperating with private sector firms to offer “designer” courses to meet whatever “need” the corporate sector may demand, a further confusion will inevitably occur.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not necessarily objecting to any of these particular innovations or to adaptive change in general. I am just warning about what can happen when market-driven modifications in academic programming become the determining factor in educational philosophy and practice.
We might all benefit from reading a little about this sort of thing. As a start, I urge that we pay attention to a book published the late and much lamented Professor David Noble of York University. His Digital Diploma Mills (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2003), parts of which are available on the “Net,” is a commendable exploration of one element of this overall trend.
Call it the commodification of education, the “dumbing-down” of curriculum or any other catch-phrase you please, the upshot is that we are caught in a profound alteration of what it is to be a college, and it may be time to insert the concept of academic credibility into the mix, before the entire system is put at risk.