Our College Problem: Payscale, Return on Investment, the Arts and Humanities and College Graduate Overproduction

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62 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    I have some issues with the PayScale.com list. My alma mater (Boston College) ranks 92nd on the list. And while I don’t particularly care where it ranks on the list, comparing it to, say, an engineering school is simply an apples-to-oranges comparison. Two of BC’s four undergraduate (I assume this only entails undergraduate degrees*) are nursing and education. Very few people are going to come out of those programs with huge ROIs. As a Jesuit institution, we have a number of alumni who pursue callings with meager financial returns but which provide other forms of return of high value to them. Comparing us to Stevens is just silly and ultimately of little value. The theology major who wants to do missionary work in El Salvador is never going to look at Stevens. And the engineering major who wants to work in a state-of-the-art lab isn’t going to look at BC.

    * If we include graduate programs, we get a bump from our law school but probably dinged by our lack of medical school and our graduate school of social work.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

      This is a great point and I tried to bring it up in my article.

      I am a bit surprised that half of BC’s undergrads major in nursing and education for some reason. Maybe I shouldn’t be.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

        Sorry… I clicked the link and commented before reading on.

        I should clarify… Though half of BC’s colleges are nursing and education, they are smaller than either the Arts and Sciences school or the business school. I don’t remember exact numbers, but they probably made up 1/3 or so of the undergrad population. A&S was just what it sounds like, basically covering all the liberal arts majors… everything from chemistry to theology to English to economics.

        There is also a “night school” (College of Advancing Studies), for lack of a better term. It offers undergraduate degrees and some full-time matriculated residential students will crossover and take classes in it (I did), but it is generally see as its own entity, with most kids not even knowing it exists.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Kazzy says:

      As a Jesuit institution, BC also has an actual price somewhat lower than the sticker price for most attendees, too.

      There are four big problems with these lists. They’re such big problems that they usually lead to analysis at this level of the data being basically useless.

      #1: They are treating two lists as listing of independent variables, when the actual question is the dependency.

      Okay, so MIT ranks high, and engineering ranks high. Well, the real question isn’t “Is going to MIT worth it?” or “Is being an engineer worth it?” but instead, “Presuming I want to be an engineer, is the degree I’d get from MIT worth that much more than the degree I’d get from San Jose State?” Because if engineers make $N +/- X% and the X isn’t dependent upon whether or not you go to MIT or SJSU, going to MIT is stupid (economically speaking).

      #2: They aren’t correcting for post-graduate variance.

      Okay, so graduating with a degree in engineering ranks high, and graduating with a degree in art history ranks low. Is that because engineers make a lot of money being engineers and art historians make little money being art historians, or is it because engineers have a tendency to stay being engineers and engineering is a high value job, and art history majors often do something other than art history after they graduate and it takes a couple of years for them to get established doing that thing, whatever it is?

      Because the problem, in that case, might not be, “art history leads to low incomes” but instead “we don’t offer the right core classes to art historians such that after they graduate, they can become HR folks or entry-level accountants or salespeople or whatever.”

      #3: There’s no accounting for post-graduate education

      So going to Harvard ranks high, is that because you’re going to Harvard or because N% of Harvard grads go onto get a Master’s degree in something and M% of Lower Michigan Mining Tech University take their Bachelor’s degree and go straight to work? If N is significantly higher than M, and you correct for this, does it turn out that “getting a Master’s degree dwarfs where you went for your undergrad” in terms of earning potential? If that is true, is it actually the case that it’s easier to get into grad school as a Harvard grad? Because if it isn’t, hey, maybe getting your undergrad at Podunk U for $12k inclusive and then going on to get a MBA at NYU for $40k is a massively better deal than going to Harvard for four years at $50k a year and then getting your MBA at NYU for $40k.

      #4: If everybody goes to college, going to college is no longer a useful marker for determining future worth.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Patrick says:

        Re: Jesuit tuition.

        Not necessarily true. My law school is connected to a Jesuit university. They used to seemingly teach working-class San Franciscans who were the first in their families to attend university and were generally Irish and Italian in background. The children of cops and firefighters. Now the law school is an expensive as any other law school and so is the undergrad which has a reputation for teaching slightly underachieving children of the American rich and rich foreigners whose parents want them to have a degree from an American institution. There was a scandal over admitting undergrads who clearly were not very good at English.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Patrick says:

        Well, I did say “for most attendees”. Which I’d contend is probably still likely true.

        I went to LMU, and our financial aid recipient number was at 82% when I was there. Of course, that tells you nothing about how many kids were on a ride vs. partial scholarship vs. loans… but the post-graduate debt load compared to, say, USC was still known to be smaller.

        Typically the numbers for financial aid are available on the college’s web site. They often don’t offer analytically useful numbers, but they’re there.Report

      • Glenn Gould in reply to Patrick says:

        Okay everyone. Sing this to the tune, (M-I-C..K-E-Y)….

      • Mo in reply to Patrick says:

        @patrick #0 They are not controlling for students. MIT has a high ROI because MIT is full of kids that could get into MIT. Does it matter if that same student went to Georgia Tech or even ITT Tech? According to studies by Krueger and Dale, the answer, at least with regards to the likes of Georgia Tech) is no. Payscale doesn’t split off school’s ROI from the student’s. Hold things like major and SAT score constant and then get back at me.Report

    • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      BC ranks 15th, if you bother to select “with financial aid” and “offcampus”
      [as a sidenote: I don’t know how in the hell this works, because my alma mater is in the top 15 without financial aid, and oncampus. We have horridly overpriced on campus living, so removing that should make it’s place go up, but it does not.]Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

        I’m not sure what the “off campus” thing means. But BC guarantees on campus housing for 3 years to all students and 4 years to some. It is a very campus-centric school. People only go off campus because they have to. And most do it only their journal year. So if you are looking at people who are full-time off campus, you are looking at a very small and atypical subset of the student body, presumably those in the night school/College of Advancing Studies.Report

    • Peter in reply to Kazzy says:

      Two of BC’s four undergraduate (I assume this only entails undergraduate degrees*) are nursing and education. Very few people are going to come out of those programs with huge ROIs.

      Nursing pays well, so I don’t quite agree.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    I like the pivot away from “more people to college” and “less people to college” and towards more specific questions. Which college? Which majors? Which career tracks? Which people? College boosters like to point to the wage premium for college degrees, though we ought to be looking more at the marginal students and whether they are benefiting. If you’re going to get into the University of Michigan, then chances are that college is right for you. The question is about kids going to Eastern Michigan University. Or lower. A lot of which do belong in college, but many of which may not.

    The question of why one goes to college is another matter. On a personal level, I’m content to let people sort that out among themselves. I only consider it a problem if people have no real interest in college but the wage premium but are not actually setting themselves up to reap from the wage premium. There is also the question of how much we should subsidize the self-actualization aspect, but arguably at least those who are going for self-actualization (or intellectual curiosity or whatnot) probably do belong there.

    From there, we still have questions about what sort of college experience we should provide for whom. And what we mean about “college” anyway. The hard part about these questions is that we confront them in the abstract (we have to) when ideally we would confront them in the personal (which we probably can’t).Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think Indiana University is an interesting choice of school to study because it is not as good as University of Michigan, Cal, UCLA but is probably better than Eastern Michigan University. It is in the middle-ranks of flagship and public universities.

      I think that public universities are largely a social good. I don’t buy that all the innovation comes from private enterprise. There is a school of thought that a lot of innovation and advancement comes from government institutions which can work on 20-40 years of studying something and don’t need instant payoffs like business. Plus I think the situation would be worse if it were only private universities in terms of inequality. There is something nice about a ground-breaking study of the lives of ordinary soldiers during the American Revolution coming from a scholar at a public university.

      I’m a big believer in Res Publica as The Public Good and this includes scholarship in my mind and the encouragement of scholarship among citizens. Why shouldn’t a farm kid discover a love of Homer in a Freshman comp class Missouri and become a Classics scholar? How could it say anything bad about a nation that something like that happens at a government institution?

      I agree on your last paragraph.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        I suspect that’s exactly why they chose IU. It’s a good school, but not too prodigiously good. I’m a huge fan of public colleges as myself, my wife, my family, and her family all went to public colleges. If I were king, though, I would probably want colleges in general to be more selective than they are (and preferably cheaper for the selected). Route those with unrealized potential through community colleges.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        It was also their employer at the time 🙂Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to NewDealer says:

        Except how often does the farm kid major in Classics because it’s his true calling to be a classics scholar, and how often is it because his best subject in high school was Language Arts and he’s just running on inertia?

        I went from the sort of high school where you’d find that farm kid straight to one of those flagship engineering schools that populate the payscale.com list. And at no part in the processes did I know what I was doing. I had no real sense of what happens after graduation, of what career prospects were like for somebody in my major, of what grades I was supposed to be getting to be successful post-graduation.

        It’s all well and good if the guy truly wants to be a classics scholar, but most of the folks who are graduating with humanities degrees are there because of inertia, and aren’t really set up to turn those humanities degrees into a rewarding or high-paying job.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

      Here is an example of the kind of short sighted thinking that comes along with STEM and other practical major boosterism.

      A guy mentioned that he loves history and solves his love for history by reading non-fiction. He also loved art and went to the local museums at least once a month but he still patted himself on the back for majoring in something practical and utilitarian.

      He didn’t seem to think about who work the history books that he loves? Where and how did those writers learn to do research and develop their specialties or how to generate an idea for a book and sustain an argument in an engaging manner for 300 pages. He also didn’t think about the preservation of research materials and where this was done. The guy just wanted to sneer at humanities majors.

      The same guy also did not think about who makes the artworks that hang in museums and who curates the special exhibits (people with art history degrees).Report

  3. Shazbot3 says:

    Sorry to go off on a tangent.

    Some thoughts:

    Disputes about choice of college and choice of major is a distraction from the real underlying issue.

    IMO, the real issue is as follows. By far best predictor of success of a child, teen, or college student is succesful parents. There are myriad reasons for this. Nepotism and networking of the rich to get rich kids jobs. Rich kids giving their students an edge in test prep with tutors and test services. On and on.

    But if we don’t engage in collective action to “do something” (vague, I know) the resultant inequality will (we can argue this) become horrid.

    Advising kids or incentivizing them to not go to college or only do STEM degrees ain’t gonna fix that problem. (We can argue this, too.) For one thing, if you flood the STEM field, like law was flooded, you decrease the value of those degrees (along with making a lot of subpar, not so intersted and talent3d) engineers.

    However, it is also true that the current college system, which is supposed to create a meritocratic test (by accepting deserving students, and by helping deserving graduates get better jobs) doesn’t really do much to solve the problem either. (It did during post WWII, to a degree, I would argue, and it does, to a degree, help in other countries.)

    I would argue that making changes in the college system won’t help this problem. The rich will find a way to adapt to whatever changes made in the system to buy their children an advantage. It is just human nature to use all your wealth and power to help your kids.

    Instead, we need to mitigate the effects of the inequality later in the system. Increase social security, medicare for all, increased welfare benefits, etc. Also, make a solid humanities education affordable because all people should have a right to access a good education in the wonders of art, math, philosophy, history, literature, science, and languages.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      If my law school was any indication, this is who goes to law school:

      1. Liberal arts majors who are generally smart and hardworking but saw the writing on the wall for academia.

      2. The children of lawyers.

      3. My joke was that lawyers were too nerdy for business school but not nerdy enough for medical, engineering, or other science schools. Except the patent lawyers.

      Now the question is whether we have too many children of lawyers becoming lawyers and too many upper-middle class people who can send their kids to college and beyond. This has been called elite overproduction and might be a bad thing


      In general, I agree with you and it is the point of Paying for the Party. A person from a well-to do family can party for four years and take a joke major and still land a job because of family or Greek life connections. A person from a poor family, not as much.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      By far best predictor of success of a child, teen, or college student is succesful parents. There are myriad reasons for this. Nepotism and networking of the rich to get rich kids jobs. Rich kids giving their students an edge in test prep with tutors and test services. On and on.

      Shaz, I know that you didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive list, but the two examples you supply are both examples of embedded privilege, not merit.

      Just an editorial note.Report

    • j r in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      The problem with you comment is that you start with a certain positive assertion about the nature of privilege and that leads you to a particular set of normative conclusions about what we ought to do.

      What if your priors are wrong, though?

      You focus on the ways that the wealthy purchase all sorts of advantages for their kids, but you leave out the most important things that people pass on to their children: their genes and their work habits. How do you socialize those things?

      There is an error that people commonly make by asserting that good things only lead to more good things. We tend to like meritocracy, so we assume that meritocracy leads to positive outcomes. And in many ways it does. In all likelihood, however, meritocracy also leads to an even more hierarchical structures than systems based on inherited wealth and influence. Assortive mating gives rise a cognitive elite that never existed in the days when all you needed was the right family to get into the Ivy League. How exactly does more welfare fix that?Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        What would you have us do? Genocide?
        [I do not mean to impugn your honor by lumping you into the conservative bucket.
        Tell me what you actually would like to see.]Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        1.I think there has always been assortive mating and have yet to see evidence that contradicts the point. The old system would be that the guy and gal would meet at college. She would work to put him through medical, law, or business school, and then become the housewife. Even if a college-educated guy married a woman without a college-education, I doubt she came from a different socio-economic background and her parents probably helped put forward for a downpayment or a college fund or giving the husband a job at the father-in-laws firm, etc.

        If anything, I think we have more assortive mating now and then in the past. I am willing to see evidence that says otherwise though.

        My grandmother did not go to college. My grandfather received some college education but dropped out because of the Depression. Both were first-generation Americans and the children of Jewish immigrants. I suspect this level of similarity has always been common. The more assortive mating happens now because you have more couples where a woman goes to college and perhaps her spouse did not. She’s a lawyer, he’s an electrician on seasonal work, they are both the children of Latino immigrants, etc.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        That should read “assortative mating” and it definitely happens more now than in the past and definitely among the high-acheiving. People used to marry generally within their community and to people of like families. Certainly there were differences between spouses in terms of education and income and profession. Now, however, more people are meeting at schools and at work and within social circles that are divorced from the places that they come. So, you have the highest achieving people from all over the country going to certain schools and working in certain professions/firm and living in certain cities and marrying each other and raising designer children.

        The questions stands: how is a more robust welfare state going to reverse that? What help and guidance can a government bureacracy provide to a working class kid that can help him or her outcompete Tyler or Madison, who have been learning Mandarin since the womb and taking practice SATs since first grade?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        People used to marry generally within their community and to people of like families.

        People marrying people of like families is assortive mating. The class difference between a doctor marrying the daughter of a doctor who is a nurse and the doctor marrying the daughter of a doctor who is also a doctor does have repercussions when you talk about combined incomes and whatnot, but marrying by family involves marrying by class.

        In any event, it seems likely to me that the doctor who used to marry the nurse but who marries the doctor is, at least in terms of social class and overall family wealth, marrying relatively close to the same person.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        The children of two wealthy families in one community is a degree of assortative mating. The top few percentage points of a percentage inter-marrying at elite universities and firms is a whole other level.

        Once you think about what I’m saying, this should be fairly non-controversial. Introducing more meritocracy into a system will, after a certain point, tend to increase the amount of stratification and decrease the amount of social mobility within a society. Chris Hayes just wrote a book about this last year or so.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        I don’t disagree with your broader point. I think assortive mating has risen (studies have been done on it, leading to that conclusion). I think the doctor-nurse/lawyer-secretary aspect of it is over-stated. Which, to be fair, is not what you were stating. I guess I was bringing my own baggage to the conversation. 🙂Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        jr, I’m really having a hard time grasping your concept of assortative mating. I can’t see why the son of the leading lawyer and the daughter of the leading doctor who knew each other from the local Episcopalian Church in a medium size city in Ohio is any less assortative than a lawyer’s son and doctor’s daughter meeting at university and getting hitched up. Can you please explain?Report

  4. Shazbot3 says:

    All that said, if I were king, I’d push to make a change in college majors. I’d get rid of a lot of specialization. Just have one general degree that allowed some tailoring to student interests that required a student learn:

    Near fluency or at least ability to translate another language
    Solid persuasive essay writing skills
    Critical thinking, deductive logic, rhetoric, and fallacies
    Basics of statitistics and inductive reasoning
    Research skills
    Basic knowledge of history of philosophy
    Basics of english literature
    Knowledge of some world literature, e.g. Russina lit.
    Basics of one aspect of history, e.g. Ancient history, U.S. Constitutional history, etc,
    Basic knowledge of one art, practical or theory behind it, e.g. art, art history, or dance
    Basic knowledge of the history of science and math as it relates to philosophy
    Knowledge of some current political and ethical disputes and what influential figures say, e.g. disputes over abortion, libertarianism, animal rights etc.
    Knowledge of theology of one major religion, or comparative religions
    Basics of psychology: especially psychological development and organizational psych
    Basics of economic theories
    Basics of one contemporary science: bio, physics, etc.

    A choice of two of the following practical skills:
    Basic teaching skills and educational theory
    Book keeping and accounting basics
    Communication, speach, and business presentations
    Basics of finance and more economics
    Film and video creation
    Counseling and basics of psychological motivational interviewing
    Web design
    Basics of IT
    Culinary arts

    The thing about a basic degree like that is you could still go to grad school in the humanities, social sciences, or whatever afterwards. You would have some catching up to do, but not much. I did grad school in philosophy, and I didn’t learn much philosophy in my undergrad that these generalist students I am imaging above wouldn’t I caught up fairly easily. No worries there.

    Maybe I am proposing too much learning. If so, make some of the basic abstract knowledge a “choose of the following,” e.g. choose either a theology or art class” But I don’t think so.

    My generalist students wouldn’t qualify for engineering jobs. If they wanted to do a STEM grad degree, they’d need one more year of courses. No biggy. Med school would require some pre med stuff, but not much.

    These generalists have the skills and knowledge required for life and citizenry in the modern world. You could say high school is supposed to do a lot of these things, but it just doesn’t for most kids.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      You seem to almost be going the St. John’s College route:


    • Patrick in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      What’s weird about this list?

      Near fluency or at least ability to translate another language
      Solid persuasive essay writing skills
      Critical thinking, deductive logic, rhetoric, and fallacies
      Basics of statitistics and inductive reasoning
      Research skills
      Basic knowledge of history of philosophy
      Basics of english literature
      Knowledge of some world literature, e.g. Russina lit.
      Basics of one aspect of history, e.g. Ancient history, U.S. Constitutional history, etc,
      Basic knowledge of one art, practical or theory behind it, e.g. art, art history, or dance
      Basic knowledge of the history of science and math as it relates to philosophy
      Knowledge of some current political and ethical disputes and what influential figures say, e.g. disputes over abortion, libertarianism, animal rights etc.
      Knowledge of theology of one major religion, or comparative religions
      Basics of psychology: especially psychological development and organizational psych
      Basics of economic theories
      Basics of one contemporary science: bio, physics, etc.

      I don’t have a problem with any of it, mind you.

      I don’t see any of this as requiring a four year degree. It’s basically a reasonable core.

      Perhaps this speaks more towards, “High school should be a six year program” than what college should be.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Patrick says:

        Yeah, the idea would be a three years core college curriculum.

        I originally wrote “fluency” in a language, mind you. Maybe I should add that back in to show that I am aiming at a lot, too much more than too little.

        And maybe I shouldn’t have written “basics” so many times. The idea would be to go beyond what a lot of students get in their 1.5-2 years of core classes, by extending it to three years and making it more comprehensive and more difficult.

        And then the final year would be the practical stuff, say one semester learning chef stuff, one semester learning the basics of psychological counseling.

        But you get the idea. The details are up for grabs.

        But yeah, it wouldn’t be that big a change from what we have now.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Patrick says:

        I don’t know the details but IIRC Canadian high school is 5 years but people in the 5th year are given a bit to a lot more autonomy than your normal high school student.

        Can any of our Canadians tell us about this?Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Patrick says:

        Well, Ontario is different from the rest of Canada with the optional year at the end. Grade 13. (Or was when I grew up in Canada.)

        Canada allows some tailoring of your high school schedule, but I don’t think it’s that different here. In Canada you can choose to take Math 10 (grade 10), Math 20 (grade 11) or Math 30(grade 12). 30 is sort of like the AP class. Or you can do an easier track: Math 13, Math 23, Math 33. (The remedials are like 14, 24, 34 IIRC). And you can move between the tracks in certain circumstances.

        Same with Bio, Phys, Chem, Eng, etc.

        And you can fall behind or get ahead of the game in the series. If you’re ahead of the game, sometimes you can get free periods in Grade 12.

        But it isn’t that different. IIRC. I am old and robotic.

        Other parts of the world are very different, though.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Patrick says:

        Also, in Canada the 9th grade is usually thought of as junior high, not high school, so high school in most of Canada is actually three years (10, 11, 12).Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      Near fluency or at least ability to translate another language

      If you were king, I would work my best to depose you.

      This is a near-useless skill in the United States. English won.Report

    • Major Zed in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      @shazbot3 Perhaps if the eighth grade education of today were what it used to be then your agenda could be accomplished in high school.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Major Zed says:



        That exam is a bit of an urban legend and generally seems to be used by grumpy types who would rather complain than anything else. Current 8th grades probably have technological skills that would amaze 8th grades in 1895.

        The questions are different but there is a difference between “I can’t answer these off the top of my head” vs. “Students were much better educated in 1895 than they are today.” The norm back then was for most people to stop at the 8th grade if not before and I can dig through the historical record and find plenty of evidence of rural schools where the students were being taught by teachers scarcely older than the students.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Major Zed says:

        There is no knowledge of the arts, of literature, of math beyond arthmathtic. When I was in 7th grade biology, we were learning about photosynthesis and the parts of a cell. Did these 1895 students read Shakespeare? Know about Greek mythology? Study a foreign language? My school district started foreign languages in the 6th grade. How about computer program?Report

      • Major Zed in reply to Major Zed says:

        My bad. I should have gone to Snopes first, which is what I usually do when I see something interesting on the internet.Report

  5. j r says:

    Here are my thoughts: We don’t need to spend any time thinking about what the right number of college-educated people in a society is or what the preferred basket of learning is that ought to comprise said college education. It’s an interesting thing to think about it, if you enjoy thinking about these sorts of things, but it’s not necessary. It’s not necessary, because there is no a priori right number of college-educated people or right basket of learning. Whether people pursue higher education and what they study is a personal choice that is a function of an individual’s preferences, abilities, and willingness to pursue this or that course of study.

    Here is what we do need to do:

    1. Start getting rid of the of distorionary and outright destructive set of bad policies, counterproductive subsidies and restrictive regulations that allow the market for higher education to continue being the goat rope that it presently is.

    2. Start helping those students who weren’t lucky enough to be born into an upper-middle class or otherwise high-achieving family to face up to and negotiate the set of decisions that one has to make when conemplating post-secondary education.

    We don’t need a five-year education plan. We need a market that runs on sensible incentives and individuals who can make sensible decisions.Report

    • Shazbot3 in reply to j r says:


      I’m curious what this means: “Start helping those students who weren’t lucky enough to be born into an upper-middle class or otherwise high-achieving family to face up to and negotiate the set of decisions that one has to make when conemplating post-secondary education.”

      Shouldn’t we be working on changing and mitigating the inequality of opportunity (not inequality of outcome, mind you) in the system insteading of telling people to just “face up to” the crappiness of inequality?

      I mean we don’t need to have a system with this much inequality of opportunity. We didn’t in the past and other countries now don’t. So why shouldn’t we change?

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

      I’ll take my comments off the air and let you respond without me replying. I seem to just get in ugly confrontations over equality, so I’ll just leave it at that as you seem to be one person I haven’t offended yet.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        I think he is saying we can set up a system that teaches first-generation college students how to navigate the college system. This is information that many upper-middle class people get from their parents, older siblings, cousins, and friends, etc.

        Example: The rich women in Paying for the Party selected the Party dorm because their siblings and friends told them about the dorm and what happened there. The working-class students were thrown in. The rich women were also told how to navigate or request out of the party dorm. They also probably learned which professors were hard graders and which were easy graders, and all sorts of other things.

        There are probably ways to teach this kind of stuff to first-generation college students. Perhaps give them a tutorial two weeks before orientation about the ins and outs of college life, etc.

        And maybe some frank advice about GPAs and majors and how some majors like Fashion Merchandising are better for people with connections. It isn’t fun but it might work.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Shazbot3 says:

        There’s a program called “AVID” that does some of that. Focuses entirely on first-generation college students (well, technically they’re high school students on track to be the first college students in their families) and works with them for a long time to teach them everything from note-taking to scholarship applications to how to budget and equip a dorm room.

        And there’s a LOT they don’t know — the unwritten rules of application essays, how to determine which schools to apply to (heck, even that you not only can but SHOULD apply to many colleges).

        I’m only aware of the stats for the local version of the program, but their “going on to get a degree” rates are pretty darn solid, and the scholarship numbers they bring in are very, very good. Not everyone gets college paid for, but pretty much all of them are getting at least half a four year degree paid for.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to j r says:

      I certainly agree with you on #2. That would help a lot.Report

  6. Lyle says:

    Actually I contend that the point of college is to teach a person how to learn without a teacher. Be it from books journals or experince. If you recall in many areas of STEM the half life of knowlege is far shorter than a career. (A worst case is IT). So you need to be able to learn without being spoon fed in a class. Then with the vast number of books on various subjects out there that the author is paid to write (such as Shelby Footes on the US Civil War,T. R. Ferenbach Lone Star, Maury Klein on historical development of transport in the us, Bernsteins A Splendid Exchange, etc. you can find history, and reading enough you find that teachers just teach to make the points they want to and were the facts do not conform to the theory they are discarded. Or looking at the history of machines there are many books such as the most powerful idea in the world.
    If you have taught your self how to learn then you have the main lesson. (Of course by its very nature a Phd, Program by forcing one into areas where there are no courses does this.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Lyle says:

      One of the goals of Ordinary University, as far as I can tell, is to get people to slap themselves on the forehead and say “I *CAN* learn this stuff on my own… I have the entire internet RIGHT HERE!!!”Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        I was hitting myself on the head far before OT and the Internet thank you very much. Now i’m married so i don’t even have to leave the real world for cranial contact.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t see anyone teaching acting via Ordinary University or Set Design or Heart Surgery or even a discussion of Renaissance Europe yet or how to do psychoanalysis and interact with patients/clients or how to cut hair or do furniture making.

        I am skeptical of autodidactism and even if it were largely possible, it still doesn’t solve the problem that most employers are looking for credentials including non-standard employers. It seems to be a dream of lots of people to have a massive rebellion against universities and a whole generation or two that decides not to go. I don’t see this happening or understanding why it is desirable.


        This is a list of alumni from the very prestigious graduate writing program at the University of Iowa. All these people felt that they would become better writers by attending Iowa. Whose is to say whether they were wrong?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        It depends on whether you see bullshit like poetry as worth studying in its own right, I guess.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Jaybird says:

        New Dealer hits upon how we have overload credentialism with learning. A degree means both.
        With the rate of change in knowledge much of what we know now will be obsolete in 10 years particularly in the STEM area (take Medicine as an example), not so much in humanities however. So there is the getting the first job credential, and then the need to teach yourself to remain employable. (Since employeers are less willing to provide education, meaning journal reading in your area as an example, or attending conferences)
        So the creditial is a good start but gets stale rapidly, and requires keeping up. Now in medicine its continuing education requirements for this as an example. More and more fields are perhaps moving that way with CEU requirements but then after getting the lessons you have to combine them with your previous knowledge.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:


        I think there are numerous ways to interpret the issue.

        1. People think history, political philosophy, sociology, art history, drama, poetry, or whatever are things people can study on their own so college/university can be used to study something utlitarian and relevant like STEM, Business, Finance, Accounting, etc.

        2. This discounts that most famous artists studied at the equivalents of art school or university during their time. Michealangelo went to an academy founded by the Medicis. J.M.W. Turner went to the Royal Academy of Art. Rembrandt had an apprenticeship. There are very few famous artists without some form of formal training except outsider artists like Harvey Darger and Grandma Moses and Joseph Cornell. Most of these artists are not discovered until late in life or in the case of Darger, after they die.

        3. The study something practical ignores that we need people who want to do art full time for our media empires and lives.

        4. No one has offered any solution to the credentialism problem which is palpable and plausible. Most of it is just magic thinking about too many people going to college without being able to say which universities and colleges should close down and why or who should and should not go to college. In my ideal world, the suburban kid who wants to party and major in business would get some form of apprenticeship and the kid who wants to major in history, art, or drama will go to college or university. I suspect many people would have it be the other way around.
        STEM, Medicine, and Law will also be part of the academy of course along with the social sciences. My list is not meant to be exhaustive.Report

  7. Peter says:

    My proposal:
    Divide all universities into three tiers. Tier One consists of state flagship and land grant universities, as well as private universities rated in the top 25% by a to-be-created federal rating panel. Tier Two consists of state directional and at-city universities, and private ones ranked in the second 25%. Tier Three consists of private ones in the bottom 50%.

    Students in Tier One universities have unrestricted access to federal student loans. Most of these institutions will continue in much their same fashion. Students in Tier Two are allowed student loans only if they major in marketable subjects, marketability to be determined by another (or the same) federal panel, taking into account changes over time and regional factors. The intent would be for most of these institutions to stop being full-line universities and recast themselves as a form of trade school. Tier Three students have no access to student loans. Most of these universities will shut down, which is exactly the desired effect.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Peter says:

      A somewhat intriguing proposition. Some qualms and quibbles.

      1. Where do conservatories and art schools rank? No one can argue that the U.S. has some of the best conservatories and art schools in the world like the Curtis School of Music, Juliard, Cooper Union, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Savannah College or Art and Design, etc. Do these get thrown in with the general schools or not? How does one determine whether Julliard is better than Curtis? RISD better than SCAD or not?

      2. How often does the list of marketable majors get revised? Does majoring in writing becoming marketable if someone can show how it will help them with a career advertising or writing other copy? Does French become marketable if someone wants to be a high school French teacher? How about physics or maths at their most theoretical? Wouldn’t this just lead to a glut of people with marketable majors and then have various “marketable” careers collapse? How soon should the panel react to market changes? What if petroleum engineering is no longer valuable because the oil boom ends?Report

  8. Kellven says:

    Really can’t explain how I got to this page, but whatever.
    Afraid you’re all missing the fundamental point here. The important questions aren’t how many people should we(philosophically) send to college, and the ROI/university brand/major matrix; these are questions from an individual perspective, and they’re only relevant to our world right now(which means they’re already irrelevant). The important question is what will be required for our civilization to survive the foreseeable future with respect to our education system.

    The real problem with the paralytic economic idiocy since the millennium isn’t exactly the resultant inequality; it’s that our basic political theory of economics no longer works. Our system simply isn’t capable of functioning in our world today, and the people in control are politically and ideologically incapable of forcing the system to adapt to survive.

    Every technical tool we need to implement automation to the extent of rendering nearly every single human being without extensive post-secondary education economically obsolete exists today, right now, it has for nearly a decade.
    The only reason this hasn’t happened is because it costs a flipping goddam fortune. The elite that control real capital aren’t actual technical types, and just don’t understand(and they’re too insulated from responsibility to be readily made to). Compliant politics, near-free foreign labor, and debt-fueled permanent emergency economic stabilization have so far insulated (most of) “us” from the nightmare of a massive slave population politely told to go die quietly out of sight as they aren’t needed anymore. Brutal efficiency and competition will force resolution, and it will do so far sooner than anyone realizes.

    The point of the wall of text is that the only people in our civilization with a future, any future, are the ones who are recognized by our economic masters as being capable of making decisions or otherwise performing some task that specifically requires an actual human being to be done efficiently; and our tiny elite of masters of course. In today’s terms, degree or die, just that simple.

    I could be wrong, our political overseers could realize we are going to have to swallow something resembling a universal basic income, and find the spine tell their bosses they have to pay up or face a civil war(and convince them that would be worse), but I’m not holding my breath. Or we could realize that a college degree, regardless of brand or major, doesn’t actually signify anything useful to a prospective employer whatsoever, but I find that even more unlikely.

    Or everyone could realize they should just nominate me Emperor, and it’ll all be ok. Either way, really.Report