The American education system is broken and here's why

Published March 20th, 2019 | Alberto DeJesus

You wake up, go to lecture and listen to someone speak for an hour or so. You do that a few times a week so that after having covered a few chapters in the textbook, that is either outdated or excessively long, you can be sat down in a room full of others with a pencil in your hand and a 4-6 page packet that asks you an assortment of questions, of which you have to bubble in based off of what you remembered from what you've studied. In American University, you follow that same schedule for four or more classes for a total of eight semesters. Upon completion, you are awarded an arbitrary level of prestige documented on a piece of paper and a commencement ceremony.

Why do people go to college? Is it because it is the societal norm? Is it because people need some sort of 'official' validation of their skills for the field they want to enter? Is a bachelor's degree in your field a badge of authority? Is it because the student doesn't want to disappoint his or her parents? If anyone answers yes to those questions, then this only reveals one of the many problems embedded in the American education system. The story is different for each individual, but regardless of the reason lets discuss that major issues with how higher level education is structured in the United States.

First, let's start with how you get in to college. There are approximately 5,300 colleges in the United States. To start you have to apply. How do you know where to apply? You apply to colleges based on how much you are willing to pay, how far you are willing to go, and your general interest in the school based off of what you have read on it, people you may know that go or went there, and by visiting the school. More importantly, you select schools based on who you think may accept you, and how you determine that you might ask? You look at the historical data provided by third parties or the institution itself to see if you fall within range.

The things a college will look at when deciding to give you an acceptance package are your overall high school performance and a standardized exam that takes a general inquiry on your math, reading, writing, and reasoning skills. Most students take something called the SAT, which no longer stands for anything due to a lawsuit that questioned the true standardization of the exam, or the ACT. The way a college defines overall high school performance is through something called a grade point average, scaled usually out of 4.

All of your information is then compiled into an online database that the institution uses to receive your application. Applying to only one competitive American university is risky, since there is no guarantee that you will given admittance, so the online database is controlled by a third party that facilitates a general application to be submitted to multiple schools. The application I used when applying to college was called the Common Application. There are also less common applications such as the Coalition Application, but most colleges are registered and use the Common Application. This is where you assemble the list of colleges of where you are going to send out your application.

Issue #1: the college doesn't meet you. Imagine getting married without ever seeing the person you married or buying a car or house that you have never even seen pictures of. Unless you are applying to an elite or Ivy League institution, the college doesn't interview you. I believe interviews are such an important aspect of the process and less than a fraction of a percent of American universities follow this practice. Out of the five or six interviews that I had, the most memorable was my interview with Harvard and MIT. Both exceeded two hours, simply because I have a lot to talk about, and where such insightful experiences that helps not only the school but the student determine whether if the school would be the best match. Its one thing to read and hear about a school and take a visit, but its another when having a one on one session where it's about you and the school.

Your application is a compilation of text and should it be intriguing enough to the admissions committee, that opens the opportunity to an admittance into the institution.

Issue #2: it's too early. A majority of the students are still trying to figure what they want to do with their lives and to put an entire decision that will have a significant impact on the trajectory of their career in their hands at the age of 18 is a big problem. To start college well after high school isn't common and almost seen as taboo. Some argue that college is where you figure that out, but my counter would be why should someone have to do that at someone else expense, since college is usually paid by family or friends. And even if you could take out all the loans yourself, why should you be 'figuring it out' at your own expense. Because as far as I'm concerned its not an investment until you know what you're investing in.

Issue #3: it's expensive. The U.S. student debt is in the trillions and the average tuition cost is well over $30,000 per year and that doesn't include the micro expenses that students have to take on per semester which could include books, parking, and food (let's be honest, the food even at the greatest institutions isn't comparable to what we are used to eating).

Issue #4: essential lessons are excluded from the pricey four year education. You've heard it many times, college doesn't teach you how to do your taxes, how to use credit cards, manage debt, money, negotiate a salary, and many other essential things that would be helpful to the masses.

Issue #5: you're probably going to have to do a masters or doctorate. As more and more students are going to college the bachelor's degree because a less distinguishable advantage in the job market. The bachelors degree is becoming another high school diploma. To hold a competitive advantage is tough.

Issue #6: the actual delivery and assessment of material is centuries old. As Sal Khan, from Khan Academy, says the system we have in place is outdated. Even for students that score above 80% and even 90% on any course exam, there is still 20% or 10% of the material missed by the student. Its never formally addressed and that 20% or 10% compounds over the course and come to find there is so much missed. Mr. Khan proposes a mastery based system where students should only move to the next piece of material until they have demonstrated 100% mastery. The first paragraph of this article outlines how this is done.