The Greatest Pyramid Scheme of all Time?

An Investment that doesn’t always pay

College can be an excellent investment that propels graduates into high powered careers. Plenty of my colleagues finished their undergrad degrees with starting salaries similar to a tenured professor’s pay. The old promise of a better, financially secure life for college graduates is still true for engineers. The same cannot be said for the liberal arts. Today, liberal arts education is functionally identical to a pyramid scam!

A Pyramid Scam?

Pyramid scams work by requiring new recruits to pay a membership fee to their recruiters. If the recruit then manages to sign up enough new recruits, the recruit is promoted and gets a share of the membership fees. Recruits who fail to generate enough new recruits get nothing. Some variants of pyramid scams involve a token transfer or goods or services to disguise the nature of the scam. Participation trophy degrees are the token service that covers up the liberal arts pyramid scam.

The availability of meaningful career opportunities outside of academia distinguishes legitimate education from pyramid scams. For example, the average engineering graduate has little to no trouble finding meaningful employment. There are numerous employers ranging from defense contractors to the oil giants and equipment suppliers. While engineers thankfully can and do take teaching jobs, this is not necessary to an engineering career or even the highest paying career option. The service provided by engineering education has legitimate value outside of training more engineers.

In contrast, history and literature majors have far fewer options for employment in their field. On average, they could work as librarians, high school teachers and similar low prestige jobs. The pinnacle of a liberal arts career is to be a tenured liberal arts professor. But there are far more liberal arts majors than liberal arts jobs at all levels. This makes the top of the field dependent on the tuition of new recruits and extremely competitive. In simple terms, the best positions in the field are funded by the recruitment of excess members who have a near zero odds of attaining a good position in their field. This is the basic structure of a pyramid scam.

What’s the value?

But what about the transferrable value of an education? In the days before participation trophy degrees, a good liberal arts education was valuable. It taught critical thinking, provided a rigorous academic background, and signaled that graduates were both smart and motivated. Grade inflation and the gutting of academic standards mean that most liberal arts degrees provide very little value now. Many liberal arts graduates are in jobs that do not realistically require any degree. The return on investment for liberal arts degree is declining with some programs going negative!

Liberal arts education is effectively a debt driven pyramid scam. It provides extremely limited utility to the average graduate from the average university. The skills are non-transferrable and participation trophies from all but the most prestigious schools have limited signaling value. The pinnacle of a liberal arts career is the tenured professor. The continued employment of the liberal arts faculty requires them to recruit far more students than will ever be employed in the field. A lucky and morally suspect few become liberal arts professors. The vast majority end up with nothing tangible to speak of besides student debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. The liberal arts pyramid scam trades the future wellbeing of innocent students for the decadent and privileged lifestyle of its increasingly useless faculty.

The Deplorable Doctoral Candidate is an engineer, climate skeptic, entrepreneur, critic of academia, and occasional blogger. You can follow him on Twitter:

In Support of Free Speech – Colorado Senate Bill 17-062

The free exchange of ideas and debate are the foundation of academia. When ideas are heard and challenged, students have the opportunity to learn and grow. Generations of young scholars sharpened their wits debating their classmates. Today, this tradition and its educational benefits are under attack across America. In the name of shielding hypersensitive millennials from the pain of debate, disagreement, and hurt feelings, university administrators are cracking down on free speech. It is time to push back against this encroachment.

Speech codes at modern universities go far beyond constitutional limits on speech, such as libel and slander. Hurt feelings are all it takes for legally protected speech to violate university policy. Academic administrators use catch all definitions that can be contorted to include almost anything. Labeling a hyper sensitive, perpetually offended student a special snowflake could be interpreted as creating a hostile atmosphere. That’s enough to get student suspended on some campuses. Don’t even think about phrases like “suck it up, buttercup!”

It doesn’t matter where the speech occurs. Universities try to police all student speech. Did you post a controversial opinion on Facebook? Or retweet Mike Cernovich and Ann Coulter? Or vocally support the President’s wall at a party. If the wrong person is physically present or sees it online, you could be in violation. All that matters to the university disciplinary committee is that snowflake ran to them crying.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (the FIRE) litigates cases more ridiculous than anything implied here every year. As of this writing, only one college in Colorado – Western State – has a good rating from the FIRE. Every other has at least one significant threat to free speech. This is unacceptable and betrays the spirit of college.

As a student at a college with a problematic speech code, I am excited by Tim Neville’s efforts to protect free speech. I am remaining anonymous because my college speech policy has extremely loose definitions. The wording is so broad and vague that my stereotypes of students could be twisted into an offense. The environment created by this ambiguity and looming threat is unhealthy and profoundly contradicts the values of academia. In a rational world, expressing this opinion should not be cause for concern. Senate Bill 17-062 will be a major step towards restoring reason and common sense to Academia.

The Deplorable Doctoral Candidate is an engineer, climate skeptic, entrepreneur, critic of academia, and occasional blogger. You can follow him on Twitter:

How Draft Deferrers Ruined Academia and Why They Promote Useless Degrees


The rot of grade inflation and useless degrees began in the Vietnam era. The Selective Service allowed men to defer the draft if they were enrolled in college and making progress towards any degree. The theory was that educated soldiers are better soldiers and that some could be recruited as officers after their degree.

There was no limit to deferrals. If someone kept making satisfactory progress
towards a degree, undergraduate or graduate, they could defer the draft.

In theory, an engineering or mathematics PhD who was in college too long to be drafted was still valuable to supporting the war effort. The strategic purpose of the deferral was subverted by the anti-war left who used it to avoid the draft and forever eroded Academia’s standards.

Liberal anti-war faculty members wanted to keep students in college and out of the draft. In the days before grade inflation, this was easier said than done. Colleges had high standards and only about 15% of awarded grades were As. It was virtually guaranteed that some students would flunk out and be drafted.

This was an unacceptable outcome to many faculty members and they reacted by lowering their standards. Between 1963 and 1973 the percentage of As awarded approximately doubled while the number of Cs and Ds declined sharply. The faculty did not care about the personnel needs of the army, the integrity of academia, or the utility of the education.

The compromising of standards forever altered the culture of academia. It lowered expectations and devalued the utility of the degree. The expectation became that most students would pass most classes if they showed up. Anyone who at least tried deserved a B! Good grades became the expected participation trophy.

Draft deferrers didn’t care what they got a degree in so long as it was easy and kept them out of the war. They flocked to easier degrees in the humanities. Universities filled classrooms for ideological reasons and became hooked on the tuition money from hollowed out degrees. Even after the war, the focus on academic expectations and degree utility never returned. Instead, colleges began upselling participation trophy degrees as a golden ticket to the middle class.

Perhaps the greatest achievement left wing anti-war faculty was the permanent politicizing of academia. The precedent was set when academic standards were lowered for political reasons. It signaled the accepted political views and attracted like minded students who would go on to become the next generation of their fields.

When everyone agreed, ideas were not challenged and intellectual development was stunted. Why go to great lengths debating when everyone knows the right answer? The result was a generation of poorly trained humanities graduates without the interest or ability to engage with other ideas. The world’s problems were the West’s fault.

As the colleges replaced retiring faculty and expanded, they began hiring the draft deferrers and their peers into the humanities. The deferrers wasted no time in making the right opinions known and stifling meaningful debate. They did nothing for the utility of the degree or to increase the academic standards since that would cut off their own income. The deferrers had become the academic establishment and lived on the tuition money of new students.

The events set in motion by academia’s abuse of college deferment caused catastrophic rot. By lowering standards to keep men out of the draft, academia started a downhill slide in rigor and made academic policy explicitly political.

The deferrers lack of interest in the degree as anything more than a status and participation trophy lead to a hollowing out of the humanities. This was compounded when deferrers themselves became professors and further politicized the humanities.

Academia’s decision to put politics ahead of integrity has caused immense damage and is a major contributor to today’s college bubble.

The Deplorable Doctoral Candidate is an engineer, climate skeptic, entrepreneur, critic of academia, and occasional blogger. You can follow him on Twitter: