Still, real estate loans out to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) Mr McGeever’s figures are based on data from AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, …

Do employers take the University of Phoenix seriously when considering an applicant’s resume?

I do and I don’t.

I think the University of Phoenix is one step above a scam, its courses are overpriced (I’m assuming here that they’re roughly equivalent to accredited college courses available at your local comm-tech, and not ‘courses’ of questionable value), its accreditation certainly didn’t come from the same regional accreditation agency that accredited Harvard and MIT, and I automatically question the value of any product that is far and away too reliant on aggressive sales and marketing done the way the University of Phoenix does it. (Like many sellers of big-ticket items which some might wonder if they’re worth what you’re being asked to spend; if they get your e-mail address, plan on some daily spam in your inbox; if they get your phone number, plan on getting repeated calls until you scream at them to not call you again, or — more likely — block them…)

On the other hand, I think even reputable, accredited, conventional colleges and universities have for the last 50 or so years become such a money racket that, if the Mob isn’t mixed up in it, it’s only because they missed what could have been the biggest opportunity for themselves since Prohibition and the illegallization of drugs. Higher education is something people have to have, and conventional, accredited colleges and universities abuse the privilege. Tuition is high (there’s no way you’re going to convince me that it bears any relation to the institution’s actual costs, and that there isn’t a lot of waste built in), the fees never end, the price of the textbooks is exorbitant – and this was all true when I was in college thirty years ago.

Now it’s much worse, and the prevailing student debt burden is now a national scandal. Why shouldn’t it be? The institutions know you have to have higher education, so they can name their price, have you fill out a financial aid form, clean out your pockets, clean out your parents’ bank accounts, pocket the proceeds from a second mortgage on Mom and Dad’s house, load you down with more student debt than would pay for a new home of your own regardless of your eventual income after you graduate – and bill the government for the rest. I wish I could rent hotel rooms to people at such prices and on such terms.

So, yes, there are going to be alternatives – and we badly need alternatives – to conventional higher education. The current business model of traditional colleges and universities is unsustainable, and they can’t disappear soon enough. They’ve have so had it too good for too long, that I want to see some of the weaker ones sputter and die as they deserve. I look at a college campus – especially the campuses of small, private, liberal arts colleges – and I try to imagine neat things you can do with it when the college goes out of business and you can buy its campus cheap at an auction (see Michael Forrest Jones’s answer to What would you do with $10 trillion? How would you structure a society, determine ownership or assets, education, housing, energy, art and R&D?).

But I digress.

Something I look for in an employment applicant – particularly a front office applicant and even more so a management applicant — is an inclination to be on purpose with their lives, doing things to advance themselves, or to be a contribution to others; on their own initiative, in their off-time. Trying to start a part-time business, doing church, charity or volunteer work, building or making things, taking night courses, serving in the reserve or National Guard, being a volunteer fireman or EMT, even a second job – things by contrast to hanging out in a bar all the time, or watching TV, or playing Zynga games on Facebook. Taking classes – either online or in a conventional classroom setting – is certainly among the more respectable and potentially useful of these activities.

I know one individual who pursued a degree from Ashworth University and stayed on it until she earned the ‘degree’. I’ve seen some of her course material and it’s respectable: I considered signing up for some of their courses myself five years ago when this was all happening. I don’t expect that an HR type who knew that Ashworth University was strictly an online ‘institution’ would find that so respectable. But the first time I needed to hire a hotel manager, this woman was the very first person I called (and not just because of her ‘degree’). The effort, commitment, and dedication she showed by staying on it (both in terms of work involved and financial sacrifice involved – funny thing about Ashworth: I shopped their courses, and if you want to take them one by one for your own advancement or enrichment, you get a better price than you do if you pursue a ‘degree’ program, but we’ll come back to that) to completion is respectable in itself, and she is more educated than the average individual who has pursued no post-secondary education, and in areas that we find useful. So yes, I don’t take Ashworth (or the University of Phoenix) too seriously, but I take Gerri or someone like her very seriously.

However, for her or someone like her, I would certainly recommend Coursera instead.

There’s someone else that I’d like very much to bring on board with my company as soon as I can offer her something big enough to persuade her to leave her present job. (Indeed, I told the first ones, when this one shows up, she’s going to be worked in at a high level, probably, eventually, a vice president, and you may be reporting to her even though you were here first, but don’t take it the wrong way: the first thing you’ll notice about her is she knows her stuff, she can teach you – and me, too, many of her strengths are in areas where I’m weak or sloppy – a lot of things you’d take a long time to learn on your own, so you should be okay with it.) She has the opposite problem. She has pursued the American Hotel & Lodging Association requirements to earn a CHA – a Certified Hospitality Administrator – designation, as well as several other AHLA merit badges. Within the hotel business, a CHA designation is so well respected that, on your business cards, it fits after your name, like M.D., or Esq., or JD, or if you’re Catholic, S.J. Earning a CHA is no easy or quickly-done undertaking. It’s taken her years. She’s one of less than a dozen people on the planet who I’ll concede can maybe run a hotel as well as myself or better. And she has, long ago, completed all of the requirements for her CHA but one: she doesn’t have a four year college degree. So, they won’t give her her CHA designation until she acquires what they feel is sufficient experience to rate an exception. I have so lost respect for the AHLA over this that Beechmont will probably never be an AHLA member company.

Education is only part of what a reputable, accredited college or university sells. The other part – what many (perhaps too generously) call the experience – is what I (perhaps too cynically – yes, I dropped out even though I’d have liked to have stayed with it because money was always a problem) call pedigree, something signifying agreement that you were chosen by a reputable institution of higher learning, and that you participated in their academic program and campus life, performed there as expected of you without asking too many of the wrong kind of questions, and could afford to pay for it all; something signifying agreement that your investment in higher education is worth more than a diploma from Don Imus’ “Close Cover Before Striking School of Ministry and Heavy Machinery”. I’ve actually had it described to me as four years of living in a dorm, four years of playing and getting along well with others, socialization, proving you can “stick to one discipline for four years”

(“Hey, asshole”, I once said to one regional manager from AMC Theatres, who gave me that as a rationale for requiring a college degree for any theatre managers that they hired, as a “screening device”, “I’ve spent ten years working for Carmike Cinemas as a theatre manager. That doesn’t count as ‘sticking to one discipline for four years’?”** Of course, I was much younger and more hotheaded at the time, and was ventilating freely because it was clear that the requirement was inflexible and I wasn’t going to get the job no matter what. But still, no apologies, even now. What do they require a four-year degree in? No college or university in the country has a degree program in running movie theatres, and the graduate of any program in public venue management that does exist somewhere will be going to work for someone like MSG or Spectacor, not wasting it running a ten-plex movie theatre for thirty grand a year give or take. Am I supposed to agree that I’m more ignorant than a mindless so-and-so like this AMC character who thinks that way, because I don’t have a four-year degree?)

Whatever you think of the value of that experience, the pedigree, whatever; you don’t get it from the University of Phoenix, or Ashworth.

Not that their tuition or fees take that into account: for a long time my big criticism of online education even from accredited institutions was that they realized a tremendous cost savings from providing courses online, but do not pass the savings on. Like I said, it’s a money racket. Making large amounts of money for the institution is what providing education is for. It’s not what you learn, it’s how much you work and sacrifice (or have someone to sacrifice for you, which is what really counts). A Yale education, I’m told, isn’t really better than what you could get at, say, Winston-Salem State. The value of a Yale education is that you get to network with a bunch of other rich, well-connected future alums with whom you’ll be connected and who can help you in your later career and life.

My big criticism of way too many hiring managers and HR types, however, is that pedigree, not education per se, is way too much of what they look for – indeed, all they care about. The most important part.

Let’s face it. A liberal arts degree is a degree in “I went to college”. Even the most staunch true believers in liberal education can’t credibly deny that a liberal arts degree doesn’t send you away with a whole lot of immediately-usable job skills. (I’ve actually heard an administrator at one university in the University of North Carolina system say, the purpose of college is to teach you beauty and truth, not to get you a job.)

Many – I’d say most – degree programs have higher practical value, and indeed require a course of study that is necessary for their intended purpose. I’d feel a lot more comfortable being operated on by a surgeon who I’m confident knows what he’s doing, even I can practice law without having attended an accredited law school, and all of today’s civilization advancements are being done by STEM majors…

I don’t know who hires creative writing majors, although I’m aware there are people who do. I know a recently retired hotel manager whose degree was in rural studies – the anthropology of hightiders, hillbillies and hooters, I used to kid him. There are a lot more communications majors than there ever will be jobs in radio, TV and newspapers to be had for them. I myself have a degree in architectural technology that qualified me to be a night auditor in a hotel at the then not-much-more-than-minimum-wage of four dollars an hour (Michael Forrest Jones’s post in WWMD: What Would Mike Do? The hotel blog ).

But I’m supposed to have equal respect for any four-year degree that shows up because it’s a (::angelic choir hitting a high note in the background::) . . . degree! Yet, in all too many cases, it’s nothing more than a testament to:

  • Mommy and Daddy had the money to bankroll it, with enough left over maybe for you to party for four years while you were there, so you obviously came from a good family. (Chance are, though, I’m not going to be as liberal as Mommy and Daddy about holding the hoops low enough for you to step through without much of a jump, or nearly as single-mindedly dedicated to your ‘career advancement’ and notion of success on their terms, or any terms at all other than my own. They may be committed to you, but why should I be?)
  • Despite growing up in poverty and having absolutely no funds to pursue it (or in my family’s case, not planning ahead for it at all), as well as perhaps other expenses you couldn’t ignore; you scraped by on Pell grants, student loans and even food stamps, you somehow finagled food, shelter and money as needed for never-ending fees, textbooks and other costs without making it too obvious that you were having money problems and thus didn’t belong there; you had the determination and persistence, and the problem-solving skills to overcome adversity, you were able to deal with the discouragement that comes with things always having to be just a little harder for you than for the other boys and girls, and you were able to manage the distraction from studies involved in having to all the time be begging and crawling for financial aid and grants and part-time jobs, to see it through and succeed in the end. (Although I’m skeptical that being the live baby who succeeds in eating his way to the top from the bottom of the large pile of dead babies in the classic ‘dead baby’ joke is a virtue that doesn’t carry an offsetting cost in terms of psychological damage that isn’t sooner or later going to be acted out in some way . . .)

The days are long gone when you could actually work your way through college with part-time jobs, and cover much of it by saving ahead from summer jobs when you were in high school, like guys in my family did back in the early sixties. That hasn’t been much of an option since before the late seventies, when my time came, although I’m told it was more doable then than it was now.

Why do it? IT’S OFFICIAL: College Students Learn Next To Nothing – yet the same article concludes, “even (and especially) in today’s tough labor market, Corporate America agrees that, ‘yes, college is worth every penny as most employers consider a college degree a prerequisite for employment’.” Sounds pretty mindless to me. And unsustainable.

So, in making a hiring decision, I’m going to look at the alternatives when it comes to higher education — Coursera, military training, technical training from the local comm-tech, Skillshare, Udemy . . . either you can do it or you can’t, here’s how you can show me — because the alternatives are taking over, and I don’t think the day that they take over completely can come soon enough.

But I’m going to be looking at a lot of other things, too. I look at the entire person (that is, the person, not the pedigree). Holding it against someone because they don’t have your kind of degree (or giving them credit because they do, regardless of what they actually learned in the process), is about as ignorant as discriminating against (or in favor of) someone because of their race, ethnicity, religion or lack of one, or whether they’re straight or gay. (Indeed, I’ve written it into my own company’s non-discrimination policy.) Your education, and the form and manner by which you acquired it, is only one part of your potential value to me as an employee, and an even smaller part of what you are as a total human being.

I don’t expect others to take the same approach, although I wish they would; and I certainly don’t expect the HR profession to follow my lead; but I’ve spent fifty-four years now on the planet being accused of having no regard for standards set by others, so that’s nothing new; and frankly, I have better things to do than to lead them. And was it Gandhi who said “be the change you wish to see in the world”?

I look forward to the day when what

  • possession of a four-year degree, of questionable value,
  • acquired at the costs of a lifetime of sacrifice on your own part and that of at least one other person,
  • slashing your family’s net worth by half give or take, paying exorbitant costs and fees,
  • all for a credential that does not qualify you for an entry-level job in your chosen line of work that the degree is supposed to support (if your chosen discipline even supports a specific line of work, and if you’ve even bothered making a choice),
  • and leaves you in debt that you have no idea at your young age how you’re ever going to pay;
  • simply to prove that you can get a certain institution to accept you, because it’s ‘what society expects’,
  • and because you’re naive enough to kid yourself that life is fair and the rewards will be automatic if you jump through the hoops and do what you’re told (even if your major was art history);

says about you more than anything else is “you’re a dumbass who insists on doing things the hard way for not always the best of reasons” — the same as I’ve frequently been held in contempt in the past for not having “prepared myself'”, or “applied myself” to a more conventional higher education path.

(Of course, I’m biased. I’ve lost count of the night classes and con-ed courses I’ve taken, and CEUs I have piled up here and there, and even the Coursera courses I now take as I have time, but I’ve never combined them all into anything that would exchange for a four-year degree anywhere.)

Would my way work better? Probably: it works for me and the people to whom I’m accountable, which is all I care about.

Would my way ever work perfectly? No. Nor will anyone else’s. Even the Son of God Himself – who literally had no need of reference checks, who “did not need anyone to tell him what a person was like. He already knew” (Bible Gateway passage: John 2:25 – Easy-to-Read Version ) – couldn’t pick twelve guys to spread His message and carry on His work after He was gone without getting a Judas in the bunch. So I don’t expect to exceed His 91.6% success rate, although I make a game of trying to come close (Michael Forrest Jones’s answer to After an interview, do potential employers send out rejections first or give out offers first?).

But if I did look for pedigree, like the hiring managers and HR punching dummies which I love so much; then no, I wouldn’t take the University of Phoenix and its competitors very seriously. I’m going to look at the degree holder, not the degree . . .


* – Here again, my usual disclaimer about human resources, resume-writing, career management, interviewing, etc.: all of my advice works great, if I’m the person doing the hiring.

The same goes for anyone else if they’re doing the hiring, no matter how different their values, or advice on the subject, might be from my own; and anyone who says differently is a liar and the truth is not in him. There is no magic bullet. There is no ‘one way to do it’ that decision-makers will consider themselves bound by, although one thing some HR people are good for is trying to find common denominators among such decision makers.

Hiring is always an individual, subjective, personal decision; which is always going to be influenced by the values (whether sound or not, or conscious or not) of the person making the choice, and his or her reasoning (whether sound or not, or objective or not); and no matter how much we try to layer the process with group interviews, and letting more than one person go over the candidate, etc., in order to keep the process objective; in the end, that’s what it will always be.

If I frequently seem to come off like I feel that the entire human resources profession is not much more than Chicken Little junk science, practiced by the sort of alpha males/alpha girls you knew back in high school who never since outgrew getting to decide who’s ‘cool’ or ‘in’ and who’s not, whose staffing calls generally work out no better than hiring decisions made by people not in the HR field, and often not much better than random luck-of-the-draw at that (In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal | 5 Surprising Facts About How Google Hires ); that’s why. (And the facts that even Google admits that much of what they’re known for doing in the area of HR doesn’t work, and that not even Jesus Christ could get it more than 92% right, doesn’t help the cause of professional human resources management.)

** — Late note, April 17, 2016: AMC Theatres buys Carmike Cinemas to create largest chain: That mix of company cultures ought to work like a dandy. AMC has for more than twenty years required a four-year degree to be a theatre manager; at the time I worked for Carmike, very few Carmike managers had one and most of them started out as teenagers popping popcorn and worked their way up, and learned the business from the ground up. (One of the things I loved about the theatre business, and the hotel business back when it was a characteristic of it, and the military [especially the Israeli military which unlike the U. S. military is all mustang]; and the only good thing I can think of to say about the fast-food business; was that these are — or were — some of the few remaining vocational fields where you could do that: nobody hands it to you on a plate for having grown up a privileged college boy, but anyone could earn it if they worked for it.) Either those people will have to be ‘grandfathered’ in, or there’s going to be a lot of bad feelings between the AMC people and the Carmike people . . .

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