“College is not for everybody”

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Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.

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133 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Like Murray, I agree with John Stuart Mill’s sentiment that “Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.”

    What does that actually mean?Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Education has moral as well as economic value.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        I was looking for something a bit more falsifiable. I see this claim made a lot, but the details are always elided, so it’s neither clear to me what exactly is being claimed, nor how that claim might be evaluated. Maybe I’m just overlooking something, but the transformative power of the liberal arts just isn’t as obvious to me as it seems to be to many others.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Great post, Tim.

          I have mixed thoughts on the moral value of education.

          Today, becoming educated does not require attending a university. As CC mentions, it will become easier and cheaper to get alternative education in the future. This is a good trend.

          In the past, those going to universities were the privileged class. They could afford to spend money and time on the higher things in life, while the hoi polloi worked their butts off.

          Today, if someone chooses to get a strong intellectual and moral foundation, they should accept responsibility that this doesn’t guarantee them a job, and they should not protest in the park to relieve them of their debts.Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Roger says:

            I like that insight. I try to go easy on the disillusioned recent grads. The culture and economy changed on them pretty sharply, and they’re only still teenagers when they start college for heaven’s sake. Not unreasonable for them to expect to join the privileged class, and then find great disappointment when they learn that in many ways they’re worse off than last generation’s hoi polloi.Report

          • Avatar Gorgias in reply to Roger says:

            Except that we were fucking 18, we colored within the lines and took the path that assholes like you told us to take, we worked hard, dared to take on the debt, got our degree, and found that the conventional wisdom that you were promulgating was worth even less than our degrees.

            Five years ago the sanctimonious douchenozzles were telling us to keep the nose to the grindstone and keep chasing the American dream. Four years of all nighters later, you have the temerity to mock us for following your advice. The fuck do you want from us? Damn right we’re angry- you lied to us to stoke your own ego and to affirm the choices that you made in life, and you’re still doing it.

            The irony, of course, is that your generation’s pathological protection of their economic privilege can only redound upon the,- who the fuck do you think is going to pay for your medicare and social security when you retire? It could be, would be the people in Zucotti Park- we would really rather it be- but it won’t be if you substitute sanctimonious moralizing for real solutions.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Gorgias says:

              +1 to Gorgias’s comment. As I said in previous discussion regarding the corruption of the American Dream; those who worked hard, played by the rules, today are the ones getting screwed. And they are getting screwed not because they did things that were wrong by the conventional wisdom, but expressly because they played by the rules as written while behind the scenes, another group of powered, moneyed individuals were changing the rules.

              Then there’s the elderly and retiring. “Investing in a 401(k) instead of having a pension, you can make better money in the stock market than you could in a savings account” – yeah. How many 401(k)s got wiped out, how many wall street bankers lined their pockets and laughed at those who played by the rules and took what they were told over and over again by the conservatives was the “smart play”? How many people here and now will still lie and claim that “social security reform to private savings options” isn’t conservative code for another way to bilk the elderly?

              Part of it is a lie told about the American Dream. The American Dream was not about magically winning the lottery and assuredly becoming a CEO or a Senator. The American Dream was building a family, providing for them, and giving your kids a leg up in the world that you didn’t have.

              Today, the American Dream is to die without leaving your kids a mountain of debt to clean up. Sad, isn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Lyle in reply to M.A. says:

                On the 401k meme if you followed John Boogle’s advice you are not that badly off. If you thought that you could beat the market you lost. The S&P 500 is only down 10% from its high now.
                Of course the way the law currently is to die means that beyond whatever you may own i.e. your estate, its just tough for the lenders.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Lyle says:

                That’s cold comfort when your family albums, personal heirloom jewelry passed from great-grandmother down, moderately carefully (or maybe a little expensively) framed wedding photos, or other effects of personal significance are being auctioned off for the lenders because your estate was inadequate for your debts.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to M.A. says:

                Um…selling photo albums to pay debts?

                Setting aside the dubious notion of someone buying another person’s wedding photos, how the hell is that even going to make enough money to be worth it? I mean, to pick up on a recent post here, you could spend the same amount of time picking beer cans out of the garbage and make more money at it!Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Gorgias says:

              Heh. I never thought that about college. It was a place to get wasted and put off adulthood. What changed?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Amen, brother.

                What changed it that it got so %$#^ing expensive.Report

              • I blame the educational-industrial complex, of course. It stole their money, stole their futures, and left them only with a skullful of angry leftist mush with which to deal with it.

                I got no money, I got no useful skills, I got debt I won’t pay off until I’m 70. What to do, what to do??

                Eureka! Protest! That’s the ticket! Let’s go occupy something! None of us knows how to play an instrument, so let’s have a drum circle. Anybody got some weed?

                Heyy, this is almost as good as college, except they had clean bathrooms at college. Except that they had bathrooms…Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                There you go stereotyping again. Can you give me a “Pee Partiers” meme? Perhaps “dirty stinky filthy hippies”?

                And if possible can you do it in Rush’s voice?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to M.A. says:

                Not stereotyping. That’s what angers you. I’m pulling my material right off this thread, brother.

                And the educational-industrial complex is indeed the real villain here. You and yours are the ones who speak with the same incoherent voice, using the same terms, kicking the same conservative bogeyman. Their voice, their bogeyman. You don’t even have your own bogeymen!

                Corporations! Conservatives!

                I visited my college back in the ’90s. One of my old profs dragged me in to address his class. Said they weren’t like my bunch—they were much smarter, they were in college to score trophy wives, BMWs.

                The creepy thing was that they weren’t insulted. They just gave me this knowing nod. And I bet they did get what they wanted, a nice place to sell out their MBAs for BMWs.

                So yeah, I hear you guys, as if you’re the first generation who had to figger out how to make a living instead of find someone to sell out to. Or are you looking for “fulfillment?”

                What is your chosen profession? Who pays for you to do it? If it’s “fulfilling,” 9 chances out of 10 it’s the government, directly or indirectly.

                Y’know, widget-making is an honorable profession. Always has been. Do you know how to make a widget? Just trying to help a brother out here.Report

            • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Gorgias says:

              When I was 18 years old, back in 1992, I recognized that my friends who were getting degrees in recreational managment and human sexuality were not going to have jobs when they were done. I did my homework at the ripe old age of 18 into what kinds of jobs came from what degrees and I made sure before I spent a PENNY of money on college that I could answer the question “So what are you going to do with that degree?”

              So while I have some sympathy for those who did get royally screwed in this economic downturn, that sympathy fades when they elect poetry majors and people with degrees in ancient antrhopology to complain about lack of job opportunities. Getting a well rounded basis in intellectualism is a good thing with college, yes. But not at the expense of having something marketable when you’re done.

              I was offered the same “tainted” bill of sale you were….Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

                Except that even in the “good careers”, the ones you can answer “so what are you going to do with that degree”, the new-grads are right now having trouble finding jobs.

                The elderly, their nest eggs destroyed by wall street greed and corporate raiders, aren’t retiring. Advancement up the ladder stops when the people in the jobs aren’t retiring or moving out.

                And it’s really hard to find a job when you’re fresh out of college with no work history and there are people with years or maybe over a decade or two of experience in the same job you’re applying for, who are willing to work for the same wage that you are.

                that sympathy fades when they elect poetry majors and people with degrees in ancient antrhopology

                See, here’s the thing. Most of the people who are complaining aren’t people with those degrees. They’re working class people. Even the story of the guy who “quit as a drama teacher to go and get an MFA in puppetry” – you do realize he had a plan? He was a drama teacher. His goal was to expand his skills in artistry, set design, prop design, have the MFA to buttress his BFA, and then come back to be a better and more rounded art teacher.

                Ask someone who goes to get a teaching degree and teaching certification who then finds out that every school district in the state has a hiring freeze due to 3 consecutive rounds of 5% or greater budgeting cuts thanks to “conservative” leadership in the state capital who don’t value education. Was their degree wasted?

                Here’s a thought: a Poetry major – which is likely to be a “Creative Writing with focus in Poetry” – is in a great position to get certified as an English teacher. Provided that we aren’t screwing the school system so hard that there are no jobs for English teachers available. A degree in “recreational management” is a perfect start for someone to go into work in parks and recreation management, running summer childrens’ sports leagues, working on keeping public spaces tidy, or even moving up into park ranger or zoo employment. A degree in “human sexuality” sounds an awful lot like someone whose next step is in psychology counseling, or it’s a pre-med degree headed for medical school.

                A closed mind dismisses those degrees as useless, and chasing “hot” degrees isn’t all that bright. What happens when you graduate with a Computer Science degree and the last job vanished from the USA when Microsoft relocated their HQ to Beijing or Kolkata six months ahead of you?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to M.A. says:

                sheehs. I knew someone within the past four years who is trying to get a degree to be a music teacher. I pray for her.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Kimmi says:

                Music teaching used to be a very wide field, back when people recognized the need for music – more to the point, for children and adults alike to understand it, know how to play it, sing it, appreciate it.

                Let too many heartless, emotionless conservatives into government and they’ve destroyed the school system for anything but “STEM preparation.” How many public schools have a functioning music program of any kind any more? How many an art program? A working wood/metal shop?

                Getting a degree to be a music teacher isn’t a problem, but your friend should expect that she’ll probably have to make her own way as a private teacher for a while before she finds a steady job with any public or private school. Maybe one day that’ll change again, if we can get our school administrators out of “oh crap budget cuts, have to make sure the kids score well on their SATs, don’t give a damn about anything else” mode.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

                You know what, I’m sympathetic to people who got screwed and did their due dilligence. Rec management was a HUGE program at CMU and I only mention it here because I did have a friend who was getting RecMan with HumanSex. Sex and Fun were, literally, her major and minor.

                And ya-know I get the whole hiring freeze thing. We only hire teachers here when there’s a crisis (someone quits). Short of that we’re in a constant state of layoffs. So yeah I understand people saying “I wanted to…”

                But I also still see a lot of people getting History degrees. I love history, but the truth is that we graduate a lot more history majors than there are jobs that ~use~ history. Philosophy is a great area to study and I think taht we should make more of it mandatory to everyone at ever level of education because, dang it, things like “Ethics” and “Ethical reasoning” is pretty fishing essential. But how many Philosophy majors do we need?

                And are colleges doing ~any~thing to warn people that they’re aiming for degrees in saturated fields?Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

                Colleges do things to warn people that they’re aiming for degrees in saturated fields but there’s always a time lag.

                Philosophy degrees? Here’s a college’s list of suggestions.

                Here’s a list of suggestions for history degrees: link.

                Now are all of these precisely, exactly what you think they would be? Remember that for some states, “teaching degrees” mean that you get a major in some subject, a minor in education, and then an education certification for the grade level you’re going for. How many of those “history majors” as you say are aiming to be teachers, and their history major is incidental to getting the minor and certification to go teach? How many of them want to work in museums, or historical societies as researchers?

                As for philosophy majors, how many of them are moving on and heading straight for a master’s or doctorate of some sort? Or into a legal program, where a philosophy and logic background may be a great help? Maybe into a masters or doctorate in political science? Again, you make it sound meaningless, but it may not be. And I agree with you about how important ethics and ethical reasoning are; why is it we don’t have it as a requirement for at least a semester at the high school level? Jokingly, we might wind up with a few less conservatives if the kids had a better ethical grasp.

                It might be an oversaturated field, but I don’t think it’s as oversaturated as you’re indicating. Which is part of the problem we can get into here, you can name a “useless degree” and then we can start discussing what it may be useful for, and 5 years from now it may be a hot degree because half the field retired of old age while nobody was looking.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

                Side question, piecing a few things together here. Not sure which CMU you mean, but you say you graduated in 1992 – things were booming. Public parks at a pretty good clip, private amusement parks were making money hand over fist, Six Flags expanding year by year, vacation cruise lines adding routes. Seems like RecMan would have been a reasonable field with good hiring chances, wouldn’t it?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

                Given the massive tourist industry in Michigan (still doing pretty well) I don’t blame too many people for going after RecManagement.

                But I also look at that and wonder why they weren’t going for a more general business degree. I mean if you want to run a recreational business isn’t there going to be a lot of overlap with general business that would make the general degree more applicable over a broad area?

                Of course for me I could have just gotten a Physics degree and minored in say “history” but there are a LOT of history teachers and very very few physics teacher jobs. A math Major actually set me up to be highly employable comparitively speaking.Report

              • Avatar Walter in reply to A Teacher says:

                “But I also still see a lot of people getting History degrees. I love history, but the truth is that we graduate a lot more history majors than there are jobs that ~use~ history.”

                Is that why you Americans are so proficiant at it?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Walter says:

                That and we don’t have much history to learn. 200 years is pretty easy to memorize.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Walter says:

                Yes. Also why we seem to keep repeating it for some reason. The Tea Party insanity reminds me of the Goldwater crazies trying to dissolve any social program they could find.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Walter says:

                That was an exceptionally substantive and intelligent comment, M.A.Report

              • Avatar Anderson in reply to A Teacher says:

                As a history major currently in college, I don’t think it’s as hopeless for our lot as you imply. Some of the positions people have gone on to, graduate school notwithstanding, are, off the top of my head, corporate lawyers, policy analysts, journalists, and the foreign service. Granted, I go to a small liberal arts college where there are no pre-professional degrees and everything graduates with a B.A.or B.S., so it’s not like one has a choice. But I think the greater point is that you pursue what you love and are skilled at in college. Specifically, in my experience, you learn to write long papers fluidly, explain information well, use research, and complete complex tasks efficiently. All of which can be used in fields outside “being a historian.” Clearly my path is not meant to be universal–4 year school is NOT a good use of money for everyone–but I think one gains by pursing what their skills/passion are, not where the “hot money flows” are. At least in undergrad.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Anderson says:

                Yeah and I think that as long as you have a goal for that history degree that’s something.

                But a) I have to imagine there is a better prep for, say, law school than just a pure history major and b) there are still a lot of people who want to get a history degree because they “love history” and they don’t think one whit about what to ~do~ with it. So they graduate and then march on Wall Street because there aren’t enough history jobs.

                I mean, I love history too. I love math a lot more. I’d live to sit and just do Math all day. But … well.. not practical. Had to have a plan.

                That said, you’re right about the things learned in any liberal arts BS or BA: Paper writing, arguing, organization, research methodology. These are good things to learn and I won’t, on purpose at least, undermine them. Apologies for any offense taken.Report

              • Avatar Jib in reply to Anderson says:

                It just depends on how much debt you are taking on. Seriously. That is the only issue. You can major in underwater basket weaving and still do well if you get out with no debt. But wrack up $50k in debt and not even a CompSci degree wont save you.

                Run the numbers in a spread sheet and you will see what I mean. Assume you save 10% of your salary but first you have to use that money to pay off your debt and then you can start saving. Assume 5% return on what ever you save. Run the numbers out until you are 65. You can make significantly less money per year and still end up wealthier AS LONG AS YOU HAVE NO DEBT.Report

              • Avatar Gorgias in reply to A Teacher says:

                If you have not graduated within the last five years, at the height of stagflation, or during the Great Depression, you can kindly shut the fuck up. You know what it is like to graduate today in precisely the same way that someone who stubbed their toe once can sympathize with an amputee.

                For fuck’s sake, you graduated in 1996! You have a pretty short memory if you can’t remember that tech boom nonsense. I can’t think of many more fortunate cohorts- maybe in the 50s and 60s if you got a career going before the postwar boom slowed down. You did not work a day, you were not more virtuous, to justify your historical good fortune. Maybe you’d still make it today, but there are surely some non-zero number of your generation who, at the margins, cut it in your era of lax standards and greater margins of error but would find themselves shit out of luck in the aughts. Their attitudes are identical to your own. The temptation to blame others for their own misfortune applies to the virtuous and the viscious alike.

                The truth, of course, is that those who took the safe majors are as fucked as the ones who mastered the liberal arts, and the undergrads as screwed as those continuing their education. We live in a world where geology PhDs are over the moon if they make 15,000 dollars a year as a teacher’s assistant, where those recently passing the bar count themselves lucky if they can find an unpaid internship. The vast majority of both wind up at Starbucks- if that- alongside the puppetry major, though they probably have more debt and got less from their education than the allegedly irresponsible one.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Gorgias says:

                I am trying very hard to respect your point of view and you’re doing precious little to make it easy. How about you take a few deep breaths before continuing to respond?

                As I said I sympathize with people who are honestly screwed who did more than blindly follow the system of “Go to College, Get into Debt, Graduate with ~A~ degree, Profit”. Even during the “Boom” of the 90’s as you call it I knew better than to just go to college and get ~A~ degree. Getting a good rounding was a good idea, but so was having some kind of plan for after graduation. And for those who did go in thinking “hey there are a lot of jobs in law right now, that sounds like a field I’d like” and got screwed because times changes, I do feel bad.

                But there are several factors at work and the issue is not so simple as to march around banging drums pointing fingers blindly and spewing obscenities. Feel free to keep going like that, but I suggest perhaps you find some new ones to use. Have you tried British Slang?

                For example: Is someone out of work because the their field is shrinking with the stagnanent economy? If so, how do you blame “the system” for screwing them? No one could predict mass unemployment and really when things level out again, there should be work.

                For are they unemployed because they went into a field that was collapsing? I understand the blight of the buggy whip makers and feel bad for those who chose that trade as the Model T’s rolled out, but it’s a simple fact that times change and we have to adapt to the changes.

                Or are they unemployed because they wanted to go into a field that is already profoundly competitive in ways that they didn’t understand? Poets are a great example of this. Being a professional poet takes remarkable talent and either luck or connections. Same with being a professional novelist. And yes a poet can try to get a job teaching creative writing but teaching isn’t about poetry. Teaching, oddly enough, has a completely unique skills set all it’s own (one that’s shifting wildly at the moment away from teaching to resource management and paperwork filing).

                So don’t think me an ass but there are a lot of points on this graph to consider. In some cases I’m more sympathetic than others and I am supportive of the sentiments of the OWS movements. But I also think that there ~is~ room for the kind of personal responsibility that so many seem so anxious to throw off. We can’t move forward as a society if our only efforts are finding others to blame.Report

              • Nothing worse than trying to sell out when nobody’s buying.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

                A Teacher,

                I’ll step in with some observations here. First – Gorgias, yeah, tone it back a little. Some of us are on your side, some of us have had the same experience you’ve had hunting for work in a crappy period for employment. When I mentioned teachers looking for work recently – did I mention that one of those people is a good friend of mine who went back to school to get teaching certified after his previous job was outsourced to India?

                For example: Is someone out of work because the their field is shrinking with the stagnanent economy? If so, how do you blame “the system” for screwing them? No one could predict mass unemployment and really when things level out again, there should be work.

                Speaking from observation, we have a problem still. The “been out of work for a couple years” crowd tend to get leapfrogged by the fresh-graduates crowd. HR departments look down on people who’ve spent 2 years trying to find work without finding it. Remember the “unemployed need not apply” job listings news stories a while back?

                For are they unemployed because they went into a field that was collapsing? I understand the blight of the buggy whip makers and feel bad for those who chose that trade as the Model T’s rolled out, but it’s a simple fact that times change and we have to adapt to the changes.

                If you’re going into a collapsing field, that’s rough, but there are not so many “collapsing” fields today as there are fields being predated on by asymmetrical trade inequities or by shortsighted greed. For instance, chronic overwork of the existing workforce making unemployment in general worse than it should be.

                Or are they unemployed because they wanted to go into a field that is already profoundly competitive in ways that they didn’t understand? Poets are a great example of this. Being a professional poet takes remarkable talent and either luck or connections. Same with being a professional novelist. And yes a poet can try to get a job teaching creative writing but teaching isn’t about poetry. Teaching, oddly enough, has a completely unique skills set all it’s own (one that’s shifting wildly at the moment away from teaching to resource management and paperwork filing).

                I would observe here that human resources hiring has seen a fundamental shift. 20 years ago, if you applied for a job with some pretty good experience and writing on your resume, you got the eye of someone in HR who could examine it and interview.

                Now, if you can’t check off every little tick-box on the job description, your resume never gets to a human being, it gets dropped silently by the computer. And nobody ever believes the “well, we don’t have any openings now but we’ll keep your resume on file” automated bullshit.

                Oh, also: bullshit like this brought to you by conservatives.

                So don’t think me an ass but there are a lot of points on this graph to consider. In some cases I’m more sympathetic than others and I am supportive of the sentiments of the OWS movements. But I also think that there ~is~ room for the kind of personal responsibility that so many seem so anxious to throw off.

                If you look at what’s happening today, new grads even in STEM fields are having trouble finding work. For some of these new grads, the only reason they’re in college now is that it’s their second degree, because they had to “go back for job retraining” after getting laid off or fired.

                Are there some people who went into a program without a clear thought of what they’d like to apply for when they got out? Sure. Are there likewise people who went into a “hot” degree only to find out that 4-5 years later, it’s oversold because so many people thought it was hot? Sure. And the colleges can only do so much prognosticating. They can tell you what the hiring rates for their degrees are, based on surveying of graduates – of course, law schools are well known for lying about that. They can tell you what the field saturation is, again based on surveys, maybe. They can give you a list of highly placed alumni. They might even have a job placement program or career fairs arranged to help their grads find employment.

                But they can’t do it all, nor can they be 100% reliably right 5 years down the road. And it’s also true that in some universities, certain degrees are where the fail-outs from the STEM fields transfer to in order to avoid going home empty-handed; they’ll switch to a non-STEM major thinking that they’ll repair their GPA to transfer back in, and either just tough it out to go home with something or else discover that there’s something in the classic “liberal arts” that excites their passions a lot more than boring STEM major classes.

                Is that “personal responsibility”? Or something else?Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

                So, 3 links was too many? Or is it linking to Youtube?

                This would be easier to avoid if I understood the rules.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to M.A. says:

                Two links is good, 3 or more puts you in moderator purgatoryReport

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

                And I get that.

                And I ~Am~ sympathetic to people who did get screwed through no fault of their own.

                The ones I’m ~not~sympathetic are the ones who sluffed their way through high school, demanding that teachers bend over backwards to get them through, provide extra help at every turn, extentions on home work, with parents who demanded retests, and “best effort” grading and for the most part didn’t do a lick of work on their own. Then they go off to college and don’t spend an ounce of thought on what to do while they’re there. They nag their professors for more support material, threaten TA’s to have grades curved (happened to my wife; she was threatened), and for the most part can’t be bothered to get to class unless they’re stoned, drunk or both.

                And there they get whatever degree they can finish and they don’t think about what it cost until they try to get a job with the degree they did get. So what do they do? They find someone else to blame. Again.

                So to those who did it all right and put in thought and time and really gave a damn. Good on you, and how can I help you?

                To the rest…. nope no sympathy.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

                The ones I’m ~not~sympathetic are the ones who sluffed their way through high school, demanding that teachers bend over backwards to get them through, provide extra help at every turn, extentions on home work, with parents who demanded retests, and “best effort” grading and for the most part didn’t do a lick of work on their own. Then they go off to college and don’t spend an ounce of thought on what to do while they’re there. They nag their professors for more support material, threaten TA’s to have grades curved (happened to my wife; she was threatened), and for the most part can’t be bothered to get to class unless they’re stoned, drunk or both.

                In my experience that is a pretty small percentage of the population, but during high school we called them “the football team.”Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

                Sorry but it’s growing. A lot.

                Being honest it’s not all of them but either I’m getting older and less tolerant, or there is an ever growing sense of entitlement and immediate “Drop everything and give me personal attention and explanation”. I’ve got kids who won’t do anything for 45 minutes and then get in my face about explaining things to them personally 1-1.

                Then there’s the ancedotes of parents of college students calling and asking to talk to professors to argue about grades…. Someone get Rose to back me up. 🙂Report

  2. I think something this discussion is missing is the idea of college as just another stepping-stone in the education system of the future.

    Unlike Murray, Krugman (I believe), and some others who’ve argued that society could benefit if fewer individuals wasted time and money getting college degrees that they’ll never use, I think what we’ll see over the next several decades is more-diverse organizational structures for college – i.e. more comprehensive night and continuing education programs, specialized degrees without general requirements, more use of Internet and other information technologies, self-selection and organization of courses, elimination of huge amounts of wasteful overhead (like admissions departments), school-organized internships such as those offered by a lot of five-year accounting and engineering programs, etc.

    The end result of the watering-down of the value of a college degree could be that a college degree becomes just another step in the educational process. Ultimately some sort of specialized advanced degree will be required to work certain jobs – the kinds that are rapidly being created – like the technician’s jobs you mention.

    I just think that the future economy could just as easily require more and not less education, especially since people are working longer nowadays. As demand for knowledge for jobs shifts rightwards and the types of legitimate programs offering that knowledge and the technologies they use diversify, we’ll see a huge price drop that will see people like Abraham sticking it out and stretching a Bachelor’s Degree over a few years and a few thousand dollars rather than giving up on the whole thing.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      In my industry, I see more and more specialized certifications from professional societies.
      Makes them a bit of money from selling books and memberships.Report

      • Yeah, I think this whole advanced degree market is in the early stages, so there are a lot of dead ends still floating around. At least in my current sort-of industry (translation), being part of various guilds is bound to get you business opportunities, and completing some of the courses offered by the guilds is bound to get you more. I could see this process being highly formalized in the near future if only as a way for companies to insulate themselves against something disastrous coming from the chaos of the international Internet economy.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          So, back to the guilded ages?Report

          • Isn’t that basically how it works now? When I got back from Japan, I interviewed for a few “safety” jobs with large corporations doing more or less exactly what I did in Japan. All the interview questions centered around my knowledge of jargon unique to American industry and my familiarity with prevailing formalities. Needless to say, it was made fairly clear to me that my Japanese experience was no good here if I didn’t know what the word “deliverables” meant.Report

    • I’ve wondered about whether that’s true, that “the future economy could just as easily require more and not less education.” I think that’s true of the sciences, engineering, and other technical skills. But it doesn’t strike me that we need more liberal arts people. And again, I’m not down on the liberal arts. My concern is about presumptions. If you’re speaking to a class of high school seniors who have to decide whether to go to college, go to trade school, or just go to work, what do you tell them? Obviously, there are those who are already decided and don’t need your guidance. For example, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was absolutely certain I wanted a career, not a trade, and certainly not just an unskilled job. So as undecided as I was, I was not undecided about college—that was a yes. And there are those who know they are just done with school: four more years is most definitely not something they would volunteer for.

      But what do you tell the rest of them? Some of these kids have real talent that school just doesn’t recognize and reward. Do you tell them to take more of it anyway? Abraham’s story suggests that’s the message he got. Instead, someone should have told him to consider that, if you have a positive attitude and a good work ethic, and like dealing with people, you can go very far in the service industry without a college degree.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    It is possible to work full time and go to college. All three of my siblings did so. It took them each around 8-10 years to graduate, but they all did well and left college with no debt.

    That said, what we have in the radio discussion is the classic confusion of statistical averages and individuals. We cannot say that because college graduates on average earn $X more over a lifetime, that this particular person will earn more if they get a college degree. To do so is to commit the ecological fallacy.

    It’s quite simply true that not everyone should go to college. Not everyone is cut out for it, not everyone has the particular type of intellectual interest that will make college valuable for them, and some people will go to college, get deeply in debt, and still not come anywhere near the average increased lifetime earnings (since it’s an average, it necessarily means some will be below average).Report

    • I was going to respond, but you took the words right out of my fingertips.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

      True, but identifying at age 17 who those people will be is a non-trivial problem. It would take a pretty put-together 17 year old to apply Murray’s method in the last few grafs thereReport

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Dan Miller says:

        I almost wrote something along those lines. I agree. It would be great if we could reliably distinguish at that age between those who will benefit from college, and those who won’t, but unfortunately there’s just no way.

        But encouraging everyone to go to college is a step away from that, rather than toward it.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Dan — very true. But something along the lines of Murray’s analysis is what advisers and counselors ought to be offering young people. Not statistical averages.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Identifying those kids in most public high schools which have been all but destroyed by 3 decades of conservative policies is difficult, sure. There’s no steering, there’s no meeting with counselors to pick electives, there’s no discussion of which electives will serve a kid best who wants to go into business, or medical, or engineering, or some other career. There’s nobody willing to tell a kid that maybe they’re more suited to getting certified as an auto mechanic or diesel mechanic, or maybe they should look at apprenticeship for plumbing or electrical contracting or construction.

        Half these schools don’t have a guidance counselor. Maybe they have one shared among 2 or 3 school districts, who spends all his time trying to deal with bullying and discipline cases.

        Flip over and look at private schools, where there’s a lot more money put into the system. Kids get whole major-path designations. They get by-semester counseling by a team of advisors on what electives to take, what to look at on their entrance exams, whether they should add an extracurricular or apply to an honors society to make their college application look better.

        BlaiseP said “While it is not universally true that more money makes for a better school, less money has never made one better.” This holds true. If we tried funding our public schools like private schools, and placing the same support infrastructure to steer the kids towards career paths and help them identify what they want to be in life, think what the difference would be.

        But it would require spending money to achieve educational and support parity. And wouldn’t those conservative private school elite parents – who yanked pasty-white WASPy Billy and Susie out of public school to get them away from the hoi polloi – scream about the cost in taxes.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Gee, if only there were this comprehensive, national testing scheme, let’s call it something like the Scholastic Aptitude Test and it could produce a score which doesn’t indicate IQ per se, but rather collegiate aptitude.

        If only the “fairness” crowd hadn’t completely watered down the test to make sure everyone got “a good score”.

        If only 17 yr olds could take a test like that and talk to a legitimate councilor rather than the tenured union don’t-cares who proliferate at our high schools like dandelions in an unkempt yard. If only those councilors could point out that (on the old test, not the new “feel good” test) that a combined score of 790 was simply insufficient to seriously consider a college career, what with the further evidence of C’s and D’s on the report card. But that’s not the way it works today, now they just bring up the diploma mills on their computer who will happily take gov’t money for that ne’er do well and devil take the hindmost, whoops, the devil already has.Report

        • Avatar M.A. in reply to wardsmith says:

          I’m sorry, you started out strong but then went into tinfoil hat land on “tenured union don’t-cares.”

          I have yet to meet one, so could you direct me to where you believe they can be found? I imagine they look like a unicorn or a sasquatch.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to M.A. says:

            Would you like a link or just a quote?

            “A study conducted by Public Agenda in 2003 polled 1,345 schoolteachers on a variety of education issues, including the role that tenure played in their schools. When asked “does tenure mean that a teacher has worked hard and proved themselves to be very good at what they do?” 58 percent of the teachers polled answered that no, tenure “does not necessarily” mean that. In a related question, 78 percent said a few (or more) teachers in their schools “fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions.”

            Admittedly, the reference doesn’t directly address councilors. To get there, one needs to know “how things work” in public schools. Bad Teachers (a fine movie by the way) get “promoted” to student councilor, where they make more money and can even be less competent. Your mileage may vary, perhaps you personally had an excellent student councilor at your school so all this bitching and bellyaching about bad conditions and conservatives ripping off your future is some kind of anomaly. Or maybe not.Report

            • Avatar A Teacher in reply to wardsmith says:

              Sorry. Not where I work.

              Now it’s true that Tenure is not an indication of hard work. It’s an indication that you’ve been there long enough to be afforded a more involved process to be dismissed. Likewise I challenge you to find ANY job where you can’t get a majority of people to say that “a few” of their coworkers don’t work very hard but instead “go through the motions”.

              Also, of our counseling staff at my building, every last one of them has a master’s degree (or higher) in counseling. I believe all of them have classroom experience, but not one of them was a bad teacher who got “promoted” into the office to advise students. Further they work EXTREMELY hard for students to set them up for success.

              So I work in a very very strange place or your data, well… sucks.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

                When asked “does tenure mean that a teacher has worked hard and proved themselves to be very good at what they do?” 58 percent of the teachers polled answered that no, tenure “does not necessarily” mean that.

                58 percent said that it “does not necessarily” mean that. Not “does not”, “does not necessarily.” Could be that tenure is simply based on years of service in some schools, rather than years plus a certain number of satisfactory performance reviews? Could be that certain teachers believe that other teachers got a pass because of favoritism or office politics?

                In a related question, 78 percent said a few (or more) teachers in their schools “fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions.”

                78 percent believe that a minimum of one teacher – out of the entire staff – is not as qualified as they are, or is personally distasteful to them. I agree with A Teacher here – psychological studies have shown time and again that people will rate-down the job performance of people with whom they have personal disagreement, regardless of actual job performance.

                So 78% of teachers don’t get along with at least one other teacher in the school? In other news water is wet, the sky is blue, and cherry-picked vague statistics are useless.

                Bad Teachers (a fine movie by the way) get “promoted” to student councilor, where they make more money and can even be less competent.

                You’re basing your understanding of the public education system on… a movie? Written by the same guys who came up with Year One? All of a sudden I understand so much more about precisely how disconnected from reality conservatives can be.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to M.A. says:

                You know what tenure is in Texas?

                A three year contract. We don’t have tenure. The teacher’s union? I think I, personally, have more power over the schools through my mere existance than the Texas Teacher’s Union, which is so toothless that even Republicans feel sorry for it. (Not that they’d let it have any power. At all.).

                Tenure’s a BS argument. It’s a side-show, brought up by people who don’t want to argue facts on the ground. “OMFG! Tenure protected this one bad teacher! ERGO WE HAVE TO REPLACE SCHOOLS WITH COMPUTERS” or whatever their actual desire is.

                Charter schools or home schooling or whatnot.

                Like somehow education is the only field in the WORLD that employs time-servers and people who, really, ought not to be holding that job.

                Every job I’ve EVER had was full of those freakin’ people. In a right to work state, which meant all that it took to fire you was a signature. Time servers, wastes of space, people who should have been replaced by anything — anyone! — and all at a much, much higher rate of pay than, for instance, Texas teachers get.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

                How do they do when ranked against California?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Morat20 says:

                Morat, my source says you’re wrong. You are welcome to submit your own source and we can play competing sources, but until then wrong is where you stand. Texas grants teachers tenure after a mere three years. In colleges across this country there are PhD’s who would gladly trade places with the tenure speed of a Texas teacher. Bottom line, if you’re a bad employee in virtually any business in this country you can get fired, and the ratios are pretty good. Even private school teachers are fired at a rate that is an order of magnitude greater than the public school rate. Admittedly, firing a union employee at say, an airline because he was drinking before flying off with a plane full of passengers is difficult also, but is not AS difficult (nor costly) as firing a teacher who consistently shows up drunk to teach a class full of students.

                The common denominator here? Unions. If Texas suffers from anything here it is too many different teacher’s unions, they would have more power if there were fewer of them.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to wardsmith says:

                I dunno, let my ask my wife:
                “Honey, do you have tenure?”
                “No. We don’t have tenure in Texas. I have a three year contract, since my principle thinks highly of my skills and I’ve been teaching for a decade now”.
                “Well, there’s this guy on the internet and he has a link to an obviously unbiased site called “Teacher’s Unions Exposed” which I am sure is entirely factually and not at all there to grind an axe, and his source that says you have tenure.”

                Since, obviously, that won’t convince you — you have the notoriously unbiased “Teacher’s Union Exposed” website on your side, chalk full of unsourced statements, let me direct you to a recent news article. Since it’s from the liberal media, it’s probably chalk full of facts and other lies.

                http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/public-education/budget-crisis-may-cause-teachers-lose-jobs-some-ar/

                Nope! Texas doesn’t have tenure. A relative handful of schools still — with their oldest employees — offer a ‘continuing contract’ which merely automatically renews. Information here:
                http://www.tsta.org/for-members/legal-information/information-for-teachers/rights-under-types-contracts

                What does firing a teacher with a ‘continuing contract’ ential? Well, you know, firing him or her. The teacher can appeal, in which case an independent examiner (set up by the state of Texas, not the union) reviews it.

                This is exactly as difficult as firing a teacher mid-year, and merely requires cause. But not to worry! The days of actually needing a reason to fire teachers is rapidly coming to an end, since virtually no one has these contracts anymore and they weren’t widely used even when they were more common.

                I DO like the way you blamed the unions both ways, though. Obviously the teacher’s unions are all powerful. And if they’re not, it’s because their unholy power has been spent fighting amongst themselves.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to A Teacher says:

                A Teacher should know better than generalizing from a specific. There are many states that have tenure and there are some states that don’t. In general the tenure argument is a sideshow because the REAL issue of this OP is that under performing students are encouraged to go on to college where they will have their asses handed to them because they are not smart enough and/or were insufficiently prepared. Instead of talking with high school or grade school teachers on this, we could ask professors like Dr. Hanley or my brother about the quality of new students attending today’s universities. Virtually every college has more students enrolled in remedial English and Math courses than other Freshman classes. Based on students signed up for “bonehead math”, you’d think there was big payback. Unfortunately while 1/3 of all incoming college students require remedial coursework to even attempt to compete, 1/2 of them never even graduate. I’ve even made it easy and am linking to pictures instead of hard to read scientific studies, what with all the statistics and formulas that the great unwashed don’t have a clue how to decipher. Realize I respect you for being “A Teacher” in this day and age. However the system is rigged, broken and corrupt. It is past time to change it.

                Do I blame the public school systems? Hell yes! Do I blame the gov’t that established those public school systems? Hell yes! Do I blame the unions who would rather throw a Michelle Rhee under the bus than institute changes that would only be to the benefit of the students they are supposedly here to serve? HELL YES! When it costs over $100K to fire a bad teacher, with stressed budgets being what they are what do you think happens? When a governor DARES to stand up to a union and faces a recall election what do you think happens elsewhere? The system is already captured by corrupt crony capitalism of another kind. Just as corrupt as what Blaise and others blather on about, but they don’t tilt at this particular windmill because it is bent to the left rather than the right. I would happily become a teacher, except in my state the teacher’s union demands 100% fealty and there’s no way I’d join that corrupt entity. I volunteered for a time at the local Community College but they have unions too, and were upset that my “tutoring” classes were drawing far more students than the tenured (and unionized) professors were. I just wanted to see students prepared, they just wanted to keep padding their nests. The students’ outcome did not enter into the discussion.

                M.A. I will talk with you when you actually read the linked-to article rather than cherry-pick exclusively from the quote I provided. Right now debating you would be bringing a gun to a fistfight since you haven’t bothered to educate yourself on the facts in evidence. Again, I don’t blame you, I blame your schooling.

                P.S. The Texas schools that are doing badly? Check up on their Hispanic student populations. The sad fact is, those kids aren’t doing well in standardized tests because their English proficiency is insufficient. Of course pointing out the obvious fact is probably going to get me accused (again) of being a racist.Report

              • I thought you said the standardized tests were watered down: “If only the ‘fairness’ crowd hadn’t completely watered down the test to make sure everyone got ‘a good score’. ”

                Perhaps if people go to school who (presumably) don’t speak English as a native language and who therefore have less robust verbal skills (in English), maybe it’s more of a problem than just government bureaucrats. Maybe it’s multi-dimensional. Maybe there are actually people who are doing a hard job, some of whom are phoning it in and some of whom are making difficult decisions in situations where nobody comes out clean.

                Still, the real and only problem is tenure and those darned unions.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                Pierre, the “watered down” tests are the SAT and ACT. The OP is talking about college preparedness and lack thereof. The comment I replied to above by MA was asking why there wasn’t a way to determine who could succeed in college. THAT was the original purpose of the SAT, but Google “Declining SAT scores” and see all the scholarship on the subject for the past 40 years (which coincidentally is how long the SAT’s have been declining). The “solution”? Make the test easier. Right now you get 200 points for putting your name on the test, even if you get EVERY answer wrong! That’s called watered down.Report

              • Well, who cares if it’s watered down, since the SAT is used for ordinal evaluation of candidates anyways.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to wardsmith says:

                Right now you get 200 points for putting your name on the test, even if you get EVERY answer wrong! That’s called watered down.

                That would be called “watered down” if it were a change. It’s not.

                It’s also not strictly speaking true (see http://www.snopes.com/college/exam/sat.asp), but that’s a more involved discussion.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith says:

                Michael, it is indeed a change from WAAAAYYY back when I took the test. Then again, in those ancient days the highest score you could possibly achieve was 1600, I’m guessing now but believe the current test goes all the way to 2400. Back in my day there was no such thing as SAT prep courses, you could only take the test once, (although you could take the PSAT, which we called the “practice” SAT_) it was only offered twice a year and damn few got a 1600. I got a 1585 on my PSAT as a junior but blew the real one. Showing up an hour late for a test that started at 8:00 but my flyer said started at 9:00 didn’t help. They admitted the flyer was wrong but wouldn’t or couldn’t give me extra time so I didn’t get the 1600 I was shooting for. Even though Yale had already accepted me, I didn’t go there because I was embarrassed about an SAT score in the upper 1200’s, albeit that I had a pretty good excuse. Eventually I took it again and got my 1600, but only after no one (including me) cared, and I was already in college. Nowadays you can even use graphing calculators. In my day the only calculators you could buy did simple arithmetic functions, it was a big deal if they did square root, needed an outlet and they were disallowed anyway. Before 1995 the tests were apparently harder as this quote from the SAT wiki shows: “For instance, the Triple Nine Society accepts scores of 1450 on tests taken before April 1995, and scores of at least 1520 on tests taken between April 1995 and February 2005… [and this] The older SAT (before 1995) had a very high ceiling. In any given year, only seven of the million test-takers scored above 1580. A score above 1580 was equivalent to the 99.9995 percentileReport

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to wardsmith says:

                Michael, it is indeed a change from WAAAAYYY back when I took the test.
                If you say so. Not a change from when I took it in the 70s (and we made jokes about getting 100 for your first name and 100 for your last name.)

                Then again, in those ancient days the highest score you could possibly achieve was 1600, I’m guessing now but believe the current test goes all the way to 2400.

                Right. There used to be two parts, each scored 200-800. Now there are three parts, scored the same way. The new one requires you to write an essay, which to me is the opposite of “watered down” from pure multiple-choice.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith says:

                ahh… we’re all a little bit racist. likewise, we’re all expected to deal with it. And call other people out when they’re totally off base.

                I’ve known people who failed algebra, who were designing new forms of mathematics (Duck Soup!) before they managed to pass the subject. And wound up majoring in physics.

                That bloke never learned anything taught in class — always had to make it up himself — a truly global thinker.Report

        • Avatar Lyle in reply to wardsmith says:

          That is of course the way it works in Germany today and in the UK 30 years ago, a test at 12 determines what you will do. It was regarded as profoundly unamerican to adopt such a system here.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    While I agree with a broader sentiment that questions the number of folks who go to college and do not make worthwhile use of their time there, I think the conclusion that two many folks go to college, many of whom would be better off by not going to college is overly simplistic.

    First, college is about much more than acquiring vocational training and/or the appropriate letters after one’s name to qualify them for a given profession. I studied education as an undergrad, reasonably certain that I wanted to be a teacher. However, going to liberal arts school, I took a variety of courses that had no direct relation to teaching. I took philosophy, theology, poetry, science… none of which had real impact on me as an early childhood teacher. But they had a profound impact on me as an individual. I likely would not be able to keep pace in many of the conversations here without the knowledge and experience I gained in these courses. Considering how much enjoyment I derive from my time at the LoOG and the personal growth that comes with it, there is a clear quality of life component to one’s education that goes beyond dollars and cents.

    Using Murray’s example of the plumber (which he conveniently angles in such a way that the ideal route for the student in question is supposed to seem obvious), there are a number of lingering questions. Why can’t the student still become a plumber after going to college? Would he be an even better plumber, possibly capable of self-employment and/or running his own business with the skills gained there? How is he supposed to know at 18 that he would be an average middle-manager but an exceptional plumber? Eighteen-year-olds are far from a finished product.

    I think the caller alludes to a broader issue around class, thinking of it more in terms of “social class” than “economic class”. He is right that non-college options are rarely offered as viable. In fact, they are often used as threats. “You don’t want to flip burgers for the rest of your life, do you?!?!” I think our education system as a whole would be well served by offering opportunities to explore and consider all life paths. Right now, we have a one-size-fits-none model, with may kids going to college because “that’s what you do after high school.” If this is you reason for going to college then, yea, you are probably going to college for the wrong reason and probably shouldn’t go. But if you are going because you see it as an opportunity to better yourself individually or see it as an avenue to a lifestyle that you desire but might not otherwise be able to achieve, you should absolutely pursue it. Of course, you should also think about whether there are other avenues that might help you achieve that desired lifestyle, as the caller alludes to.

    The question becomes, going back to Murray’s example, one about goals and priorities. Is the student interested in middle-management simply because of the perception that it will provide a higher salary? If so, he should think more carefully about the decision. Or is the student interested in the interpersonal work of middle management, does he enjoy being part of a larger institution, does he hate working with his hands? If so, then middle management is clearly the option he ought to pursue.

    In a nutshell, yes, there are probably too many kids going to college. Or at least too many kids going to college for the wrong reasons. The extent to which this has become a case because alternative routes have been stigmatized or otherwise set up as less than desirable is a real concern and a damn shape. But simplistic reasoning that relies solely on a dollars-and-cents analysis misses the point of education as an end to itself and something that, when pursued properly, resonates throughout a person’s whole life.Report

    • Avatar Aaron in reply to Kazzy says:

      Murray also assumes that interpersonal and management skills are irrelevant to success as a plumber. And he ignores the physical aspect of manual labor and how that may play into a career choice.

      I suspect that part of the problem is that Murray’s exposure to plumbers doesn’t extend much beyond BLS statistics, or having somebody charge him “$200, can you believe it,” to plunge his toilet. His book was published as the housing boom collapsed, and as I recall some of his advance writings meant to help publicize his book seemed premised upon the assumption that the housing boom would continue and that pretty much anybody who wanted to do so could develop the necessary skill set to make six figures a year working on the homes of rich people.

      I was talking to a mechanic, just yesterday, who is about my age. He was expressing that he’s reaching a point at which his body simply cannot take the daily stress of his job. That’s not because he’s petite or weak – it’s because of cumulative injury. What does he do on his time off? Side jobs. Will he be able to do his job for roughly another quarter century until he is eligible for Social Security retirement? I very much doubt it. If only we could all have it so good….Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Aaron says:

        I had a friend who worked construction as part of a union. For many folks in that field, there is a reverse earning curve. When he was 25 and strong as an ox, he’d work double shifts, all at time-and-a-half overtime, and bring it over 6 figures a year. But this was unsustainable long term. He simply couldn’t physically manage that for 40 years. He had to sock much of his earnings away for when he eventually was reduced to regular full-time, non-overtime bolstered work and from there down to part-time. Even if his base salary increased, it wasn’t going to outpace what he did when he was young.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Aaron says:

        Aaron,

        Good observations. But the decline in opportunities for non-college grads is shared with the decline as to college grads, too. I don’t know that one decline is steeper than the other, which is probably the relevant question in determining whether Murray’s analysis busted with the housing market.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

      “college is about much more than acquiring vocational training and/or the appropriate letters after one’s name to qualify them for a given profession.”

      Except that we almost always hear is “go to college ’cause you’ll makes the MONEYS”, and the “expand your mind” thing is tacked-on at best.

      And, y’know…there are plenty of books in the local library and you don’t have to pay thirty-five thousand dollars a year to read them.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        “Except that we almost always hear is “go to college ’cause you’ll makes the MONEYS”, and the “expand your mind” thing is tacked-on at best.”
        This is part of the problem.

        “And, y’know…there are plenty of books in the local library and you don’t have to pay thirty-five thousand dollars a year to read them.”
        There are plenty of ways one can become educated. And we all value education differently. Some might find that college is the best way to educate themselves and that $35K/year is a small price to pay. If so, they should go that route, by all means.

        Of course, I didn’t pay for my undergrad (I was a bit of a trust fund baby in that my late grandmother had set aside our inheritance to pay for our college) and I might be singing a different tune if I had been the one CTCing.Report

    • “Why can’t the student still become a plumber after going to college? Would he be an even better plumber, possibly capable of self-employment and/or running his own business with the skills gained there? How is he supposed to know at 18 that he would be an average middle-manager but an exceptional plumber?”

      This was my principal objection to Murray’s example. I, too, was curious how Murray could know that the individual in question lacked interpersonal skills, or how the 18-year old could.

      The “flip burgers” example you allude to–which I heard with some frequency in middle school and high school–really rankles me now. I usually took it to mean that such jobs were easy and unchallenging. When I was 16 and had my first job (at a fast food place), I found that “flipping burgers” can be hard, especially if it’s really busy, 10 or 20 people in line (some of whom are nice, some of whom are rude, and most of whom are somewhere in between), and you’re out of burgers, and the fries aren’t done yet. It does get to a point where you can zone out and kind of go on automatic pilot, but there is a skill involved. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for advancement, but there are some. And general managers can make a lot of money. I know one who made mortgage payments and helped put her husband through college, all while raising 3 kids, on her general manager salary.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        “I, too, was curious how Murray could know that the individual in question lacked interpersonal skills, or how the 18-year old could.”

        Unless I’m misunderstanding, Murray created a fictitious person for his example. I’m sure the fact that this fictitious person fit his logic perfectly was merely a coincidence.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    First, college is about much more than acquiring vocational training and/or the appropriate letters after one’s name to qualify them for a given profession… I took philosophy, theology, poetry, science…they had a profound impact on me as an individual.

    I agree wholly in that value. But it’s also one of the reasons why not everybody should go to college. Not everyone is interested in that, or will benefit from it. They’ll find it a frustration, and will pay through the nose for something they do not (in some cases cannot) value.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

      I agree entirely. As I said elsewhere (I believe in response to DD), everyone is going to have their own priorities and their own value applied to seeking those priorities. Some will place a premium on being well-rounded and will gladly pay through the nose for it. Others see no reason to do so and wouldn’t pay a dime. Another set of folks will fall in the middle, wanting to seek that but through other, cheaper means. No route is objectively and universally right… just right for the individual.Report

  6. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    When I read example like Mr. Murray’s I feel compelled to ask about the person who doesn’t excel at anything. What about the person who will never be a first rate anything? What should they do? What space does society have for them?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      Those that are good at nothing should try their hardest to be born in a world where the law of compative advantage holds true, and where the overall standard of living is high. Welcome to America!Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      Writing books about how stupid black people are. There’s always money in that.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      What about the person who will never be a first rate anything?

      Not being first-rate isn’t really the problem. As Roger notes, the reality of comparative advantage is a great thing for us many second and third raters.

      The real issue is that some folks are 5th or 6th rate, and there’s nothing they can do about it. I don’t mean folks who are mentally retarded (let’s assume them as an obvious case, that at least for purposes of argument we all agree are deserving of assistance). I mean the people who are functional, but just don’t have enough smarts to succeed, or lack the ability to make good decisions so that they are constantly making choices that set themselves back. People who can perform menial labor competently enough, but can’t hold a steady job, etc.

      What’s to be done with those folks? It’s easy to disdain them as idiots, but that’s exactly the problem–they’re idiots (of a sort), and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.Report

      • While I’d object to your use of the ratings (I mean really, Surprise may only be a 6th rate, but she’s the finest 6th rate in the world…) on a more substantive point.

        I think it’s worth noting that most people don’t go into professions that are their first fit in terms of talent or inherent ability. For those with the most opportunities they fall upward. That is they keep trying at various things until they find that thing they’re good at, and pays well.

        For most people of course, economic security is such an important priority that they’ll stick to the first thing that pays adequately and provides an assurance of long-term income. This in turn means the master dishwasher is kind of an illusion (since that master dishwasher is off being an average accountant) and instead that sort of work is left for people who can’t hold down any other profession which leads to non-skilled labor being devalued as a type of labor asset.

        What’s even worse is that a lot of that non-skilled labor can now be filled with machines designed for that specific purpose that while having a particular initial outlay, will pay for itself over the course of many years, won’t quit on the job and as a result won’t require continual reintegration into your labor system. When that happens, what do you do with the folks who would have filled those positions?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          My dear sir,

          I most humbly apologize, and beg you will pardon my indiscretion.

          Your servant,

          James HanleyReport

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Nob,

          Patrick makes this argument too. Pretty convincingly.

          I still suspect that in a free market, as creative destruction reigns we will find other uses for the less skilled.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

            The weird–and I mean weird as inscrutable, not pejoratively–thing is that we’ve gone through this in the past, with exactly the same type of fears expressed. And it’s always worked out OK, even though people couldn’t, at the time, see how it would. So there’s reason to believe that this time it will, too.

            But of course past success doesn’t prove the inevitability of future success, and once again we’re in that position where we just can’t see how it will work itself out, so there’s reason to believe this time really may be different.

            Neither side’s belief is really unreasonable, but they’re mutually incompatible.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Roger says:

            Yes, there will always be those weird corners of the room that the Roomba never quite manages to get.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          most talented people went into finance, regardless of whether they’d be better at something else (look at Nate Silver, for god’s sake!)Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Nob-

          This is a great point, but I think it overgeneralizes a bit, and assumes a linear nature that is not always true. For example, I am sure there are jobs “below” my current space (teacher) that I’d be very bad at for any number of reasons. Not everyone is a master dish washer turned average whatever. Some folks would have made crappy dish washers, regardless of anything else.

          I also think we too often reduce this to simply dollars-and-cents. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m sure I could be doing something “better” than teaching. I’m sure I have the smarts and skills to excel in any number of fields, many of which are more prestigious and/or better paying that doing what I do. But I like doing what I do. No, I LOVE it. Work doesn’t feel like work. It is never a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. And besides simply being enjoyable, it provides a sense of purpose and meaning. I probably could find this elsewhere, but there is no guarantee of that. And why would I experiment with jobs for the possibility of finding something better when I’ve got a good gig right now? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it also provides a fairly stable living based on current circumstances, but I had no qualms with it back when I made peanuts and lived off EasyMac.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

            Get a real job, hippie!Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

              I stopped working at hippie schools two years ago! And I shaved my beard, goddamnit! But the long hair remains…

              I have had several people, family members among them, who’ve told me I’m “too smart” to be a teacher. I encouraged them to REALLY think about that statement and its implications. Then I kicked them. Would a hippy do THAT?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

        I support financial aid for those unable to work or add any value. Some people are mentally and physically challenged, and I refuse to live in a society which does not care for these folks.Report

    • We could always use dishwashers and street cleaners.

      And hey if that doesn’t pay enough, well they should just have worked harder.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Yes, hard wotk for an honest wage That is exactly what I expect. Being a barber or waiter in Chicago pays a hell of a lot better than being one in Vietnam. This is the glory of comparative advantage in a society of high productivity. With hard work, any able bodied person can prosper greater than the elite could two hundred years ago.Report

    • Avatar Aaron in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      If their family is sufficiently rich and connected, perhaps they can become President.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      Hey, Pirate.

      There was an essay of Scott Adams from a while back that talked about this.

      If you want to make a lot of money, you can either be one of the best in the world at one thing (e.g., Michael Jordan at basketball) *OR* you can merely be pretty good at two or three things (e.g., Scott Adams at drawing, making jokes, talking about business inefficiencies).

      This is one of the things that makes sense to me… and it’s certainly possible to move down the scale a ways and get to the point where folks like *I* am… pretty good at one thing, okay at two or three things, passable at five or six things. I can get a job that requires me to be able to multitask, talk to customers, talk to managers, talk to subordinates, talk to developers, talk to testers, and talk to hardware guys. (I’m like Leonard on Big Bang Theory. It’s my job to translate for Sheldon.)

      The fewer things that a person is good at, the fewer opportunities they have.

      There are a number of things that any individual can get good at, though, that will give a leg up against a surprising large number of people who aren’t good at them. (Personal hygiene, the ability to go to bed at a decent hour allowing one to wake up at a decent hour, the ability to delay drinking alcohol until after one’s shift is over, so on and so forth.)Report

    • Avatar karl in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      We deliver pizza.Report

  7. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    And we’re homeowners, and we have a young son, and we have a couple of dogs, and we live in the suburbs, and it’s all very, you know, American dreamy.

    The wisdom of Abraham (love that) is undeniable here: if one goes to college for the American dream, as defined by owning a home and property, there are clearly much easier and cheaper ways to accomplish that, which won’t cost years of one’s life. The problem with philistines like Smith is they can’t conceive of college in terms other than those, so their argument falls apart with the first puff of wind.Report

  8. Avatar Anderson says:

    Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet, but anyone been paying attention to Peter Thiel’s “20 under 20” fellowship. He basically pays talented students with a business idea 100,000 for two years so they can drop out and pursue their vision. 60 minutes did a story on it last week (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7409142n).

    Personally, I think his idea is great; venture capital is key for those without access to financing. What I don’t agree with, however, is Thiel’s jump in logic that says his program should show a way forward for a “less-college-centric” future. After all, alot of the kids who won his fellowship were at elite schools and would have done just fine regardless. The video has a telling moment when the winners say, “Well if I fail I can always go back to college.” It seems to me that 2-year schools, vocational schools, more connections between employers and high schools, etc…are a better way to think about college in a more efficient light, by not wasting human capital (and financial capital) on 4 year college for everyone.Report

  9. Avatar Someone says:

    Thanks for this post on a useful topic.

    I also want to highlight an interesting issue that heretofore I have not seen discussed, namely going to college with a criminal record. I believe that this issue has greatly increased in importance in recent years, driven by the increase in the number of firms conducting background checks.

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/4018280/ns/today-today_news/t/most-firms-now-use-background-checks/#.T779Vug9nvE

    Certain professions are generally off limits to people with felony records, such as law, medicine, accounting, and securities trading. So one should, at the very least, seriously reconsider preparatory education for these fields if one suffers from the defect of a criminal past.

    Education is a signal about a person’s fitness for a job. But if that signal will inevitably be lost amid the deafening roar of the criminal record alarm then it serves little purpose. Generally we would expect that companies that investigate a person’s academic background will also investigate their criminal background. A person with a criminal record would be most successful in industries that do not perform criminal record checks and these are therefore probably also industries that do not require formal education. You can own your own business in many different industries. Automobile mechanic, plumber, electrician, restaurant owner all come to mind. In this situation few will investigate you thoroughly. You have no connection to any one entity that is so strong that they would bother to investigate.

    This is niche issue but it is interesting to see even people with criminal pasts being herded toward educations that are in all probability entirely useless for them.Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Someone says:

      Unless you need to be bonded, maybe. Restaurant owner? If you want a liquor license you better be clean I would think.

      Our society isn’t real good a the whole “atonement and redemption” thing.Report

  10. Avatar Claire VanSusteren says:

    Interesting point, but you got her title wrong. It’s DR. Kathleen Smith, not Ms….

    🙂Report

  11. Avatar Christina says:

    I think the use of financial stats is just as sufficient yet much less complicated and predictive than the electrician comparison. I’m not sure it is for all, but I know it’s an investment worth the opportunity cost. What if the retail wife loses her job? Without that degree and strong networks, she will be right back in the entry level job. That’s the difference between having and not having the college degree. My last observation is the conversational language of the man questioned. He is not well spoken and a college education would expose him to expressing himself more articulately. I just hope his wife starts building networks (unfortunately not alumni based) and does not lose her job.Report

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