The Most Useless Job Advice in the World

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152 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    Who said the tradesmen don’t go to college?

    “There are plenty or many tradesmen who love to read and are into art but I can’t think of an educational system that has done so or taken the children of college educated people and turned them into tradespeople.”Report

    • Kim in reply to Kim says:

      Encouraging kids to start working with Habitat for Humanity. Discover whether they like working with their hands. Or join Americorps, or half a dozen other cool life jobs.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    It does not tell young people what they should do instead.

    “Don’t do cocaine or heroin.”
    “What should I do instead?”

    Some things are just bad. To be told “don’t do heroin” ought to be enough without having to be told “instead, you should get three parts orange juice and two parts vodka. The first one will taste a little bit rough but by the time you’re 60 years old, you’ll be calling it ‘My Vitamin C’.”Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    What do we do with these kids?

    There aren’t great answers to this. Though I think “Business” is broad enough that it doesn’t require the specific mentality that sTEm does. If a young person says something like “I’m not an engineer. I just don’t have it in me” I can understand that. If they say “I don’t have business in me” I am (a) not sure what that means, exactly, and (b) if it means that they don’t want to work in a dreary cubicle filling out paperwork, that does sound entitled to me. I mean, if they can find something else to do, then great, but doing so is kind of on them.Report

    • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      If someone says I’m not an engineer, I’m going to think they’re probably a bit scatterbrained and slipshod.
      If someone says, as Saul does above, that math and science aren’t the way his brain works, I’m starting to get a little scared…

      If someone said they’re just “not into business” I’d say that they’re either:
      1) like me, someone who’s not terribly good at being political.
      2) someone with little tolerance for bullshit (Blaise had a great story about a boss of his bilking people out of money).Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

        Out of curiosity, why?

        If you push people to STEM who don’t want to be in the fields, you will only have more drop outs and more unhappy and not good engineers. And as I said it should really be sTEm that politicos are talking about. They don’t want a nation of Carl Sagans. They want a nation of app developers who can get venture capital and snag IPOs. There are also plenty of people with advanced degrees in biology or chemistry who find that they can only get jobs that pay 30,000 USD as lab assistants or at least I’ve heard stories.

        I like reading about science especially the history of science. I think being forced to take engineering instead of Sources of World Drama and Traditional Japanese Literature and Social and Political Philosophy would have made me very depressed and unhappy.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        I recently encountered a bunch of libarts folks throwing money at a completely implausible idea (With Good PR), that some decent sciencegeeks were trying to tell them Wouldn’t Work… And naturally the libarts folks responded with cliche quotes and appeals to authority…

        I’m not saying that everyone needs to go into STEM! I just think everyone ought to have enough training in basic problem solving on a variety of levels (and math and science are one of them! — can you tell me why bread rises? how about a biscuit?).

        And one or two courses in STEM wouldn’t kill you. Just like one or two courses in Word Politics won’t kill most people (um. getting kicked out for asking better questions might cause you to fail World Politics….)Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

        I once knew a guy who thought that everyone should be forced to take macro and micro economics until they understood the subjects.

        By which he meant, people should take micro and macro economics until they agreed with him on issues of economic and fiscal policy. He thought taking these subjects would turn everyone into a fiscal conservative and anti-welfare person like he was.

        This is called very wishful thinking. Problem solving can be taught in ways that are not STEM specific. Law is an exercise in problem solving. So is how to stage a show with a very small budget. Do you have a minimum in set design and go for lights? What do you do when a playwright in your program writes a play with ten male characters and you only have 8 male actors in the entire program?*

        I keep on reading about Silicon Valley apps that seem largely ridiculous but generate lots of venture capital like an app that just says Yo generated 1.2 million in venture capital. Most of Tech 2.0 seems dedicated to solving the social problems of college educated 20 somethings in urban areas. This is what politicians are boostering when they talk about STEM. They are not imaging a nation of astrophysicists looking into the origins of the universe because there is not capital in that.

        *For whatever reason MFAs for directors, playwrights, and designers tend to have a good gender balance. Acting programs seem overwhelmingly female always.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Kim says:

        Well, I’m pretty convinced that everyone should take enough macro so they can fairly describe and apply (in a general way) the diferent theories.Report

      • Citizen in reply to Kim says:

        What ever happened with Blaise? I was wandering the hermit forest and when I came back he was gone.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        … you… can teach logistics without STEM? No, you still need math. Graph theory if nothing else.
        People have need of a “necessities” class on a lot of subjects. Including Economics — and Law (not that I know what goes in the Law bucket, other than “cops are allowed to lie. you have the right to remain silent. use it at all costs”)Report

      • North in reply to Kim says:

        @Citizen I’m not sure exactly, I know there was some sort of fooferaw and he departed. It’s too bad. I understand he was caustic and mercurial but the dude could write.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Blaise said something stupid (Kazzy would say racist… yeah, that kind of stupid), and went out in high dudgeon, refusing to apologize for what he had said.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kim says:

        I once knew a guy who thought that everyone should be forced to take macro and micro economics until they understood the subjects.

        By which he meant, people should take micro and macro economics until they agreed with him on issues of economic and fiscal policy. He thought taking these subjects would turn everyone into a fiscal conservative and anti-welfare person like he was.

        I can’t speak for that guy, of course, but I agree with this (and also statistics and some basic science courses), and not because I think it will turn everyone into libertarians, but because it will reduce the popularity of stupid, economically/statistically/scientifically ignorant policies on both sides of the aisle. I disagree with left-wing economics like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong on a lot of issues, but at least their leftism is informed by economics.Report

      • James K in reply to Kim says:


        I once knew a guy who thought that everyone should be forced to take macro and micro economics until they understood the subjects.

        By which he meant, people should take micro and macro economics until they agreed with him on issues of economic and fiscal policy. He thought taking these subjects would turn everyone into a fiscal conservative and anti-welfare person like he was.

        Yeah, i hate when people do that, there’s enough confusion between economics and ideology already, the last thing I want to see is people magnifying the distinction. However, there are some economic analytical frameworks I think everyone should know because knowing them makes you a more informed and therefore better citizen (one of the foundational principles behind a Liberal Arts education), and if I get time later in the year I will hopefully be able to run an OU course on the topic.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Kim says:

        As much as I am a supporter of liberal arts education in general, I fail to see how one can say that the humanities are necessary for a well rounded education but anything involving math or science is not. That…..seems to be pretty much the opposite of what a liberal arts education is supposed to be, and indeed cuts out an awful lot of the liberal arts, as James suggests with his point about Econ. And really, Ec101 or statistics should be mandatory; I cannot fathom how you can perform any kind of meaningful real world analysis without a basic understanding of at least one of them.

        Learning how to solve specific problems in theater is a far cry from learning how to spot, analyze, and solve problems in general.

        A liberal arts education isn’t supposed to be about learning more about stuff you already love; it’s supposed to be about helping you understand the world around you.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:


        I don’t think a liberal arts education is superior to a STEM education. Nor do I think a STEM education is superior to a Liberal Arts education.

        I also don’t think STEM is the cure-all many make it out to be.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

        I fail to see how one can say that the humanities are necessary for a well rounded education but anything involving math or science is not

        I don’t think… is anyone saying that?Report

      • Matty in reply to Kim says:

        Funny I went into business aka self employment partly because of a low tolerance for bullshit. Customers make demands sure but they don’t demand the level of control my past employers have and if one did, there’s always the next customer.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kim says:

        I think being forced to take engineering instead of Sources of World Drama and Traditional Japanese Literature and Social and Political Philosophy would have made me very depressed and unhappy.

        Comments like this really baffle me. It’s as if you think the point of your educational experience is limited to, or circumscribed by, what make you happy, what keeps you from being depressed. And the baffling thing about it is that it begs all the questions people are asking about wanting, paying for, attaining, and using a college degree. It assumes that a degree has some inherent or instrumental value which can’t be challenged and *given that* the only relevant criterion that matters is studying things that make a person “happy”.

        This type of view is so disconnected from reality I can’t even get my mind around it, actually. It confuses getting a degree with an end in itself (ie., being happy) with the instrumental value (if any) which results from studying certain types of disciplines. And on that score, if the purpose of a liberal arts education is to develop or promote “well rounded” individuals who can speak intelligently about the world they live in, being able to converse in the languages of science, math, econ and statistics are absolutely within the core disciplines they ought to be exposed to. I don’t know how anyone could think otherwise, actually.

        Unless the college experience is just an elaborate and very expensive form of baby-sitting.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        I think being forced to take engineering instead of Sources of World Drama and Traditional Japanese Literature and Social and Political Philosophy would have made me very depressed and unhappy.

        Again, we’ve got a price thing going on here.

        When I went to college a million years ago, I was able to pretty much keep up with the price of college by working at a restaurant and paid for my tuition with a check from a checking account that I filled from my job.

        As such, I can totally understand wanting to take awesome classes that leave you feeling happy, well-rounded, and classically educated.

        From what I understand today, colleges have such things as “social scenes” and are a lot less Spartan than the one I went to and there’s no freaking way that I could ever afford to keep up with my tuition with minimum wage plus tips.

        As such, I’d need to take out loans and I’d need to pay off the loans that I took out.

        Which, I imagine would make me much sadder than taking something that could get me a leg up when getting employed than something I could study on my evenings and weekends.

        You know what is *REALLY* depressing and unhappy making? Being told that the position isn’t really looking for a Traditional Japanese Literature expert as much as one familiar with the boring stuff they taught in the grey buildings that you never went to.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:


        I think Saul meant being forced into an engineering program and out of his theater/liberal arts program, not being forced to take some math & science within the liberal arts program.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kim says:

        I think Saul meant being forced into an engineering program and out of his theater/liberal arts program, not being forced to take some math & science within the liberal arts program.

        Well, if that’s what he meant his comment is even sillier than I thought.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

        You know what is *REALLY* depressing and unhappy making? Being told that the position isn’t really looking for a Traditional Japanese Literature expert as much as one familiar with the boring stuff they taught in the grey buildings that you never went to.

        To you. It’s clearly somewhat unhappy making to Saul as well since he’s talking about this problem in this post, but I think it legitimately would have been more depressing and unhappy making to him not to have taken roughly the path he did. Ie., what you see as more depressing and unhappy making is to him not as much so (though somewhat) as what you see as less so. That’s how people are.

        Meanwhile, there always have been and always will be people with theater degrees who need decent day job and/or alternate career paths. If anything, there should be fewer and fewer going forward as the price of degrees really will push more and more people out of less-remunerative paths of study. So it’s a reasonable ask. And the issue is that, right now, the economy is not producing opportunities for people with less-specialized skills as much as it used to. Saul’s saying, please give these folks a look. And the rest of us should be trying to figure out what it will take for the economy to start producing decent jobs for educated people willing to work again.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:


        In the sense that no one is trying to force that on him?Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Kim says:

        FWIW, Stillwater made my point better than I did.

        Also, jr’s point strikes me as being entirely irrefutable- who exactly guaranteed anyone a job if they got any sort of degree? Why should someone who knowingly took only courses in arenas that teach specific skills that are known to be in low demand, but that are fun to learn have a right to expect that they will be just as marketable as someone who took a set of courses that teach skills known to be in high demand (or at least are generic, well rounded, skills useful for the overwhelming majority of career paths) but that are perhaps less fun or more outside of one’s comfort zone?

        What’s more, how is only taking courses you find enjoyable any different from spending your college years partying? I don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with doing either- so long as you don’t then complain about how hard it is to find a job when you did everything you were supposed to do.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        What is a reasonable timeframe to be upset about not having learned liberal arts things at college instead of stuff that looks good on a resume?

        My answer is “the time it takes to get a goddamned library card” and I don’t understand why another’s answer wouldn’t be within an order of magnitude.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kim says:

        Who exactly guaranteed anyone a job if they got any sort of degree? Why should someone who knowingly took only courses in arenas that teach specific skills that are known to be in low demand, but that are fun to learn have a right to expect that they will be just as marketable as someone who took a set of courses that teach skills known to be in high demand (or at least are generic, well rounded, skills useful for the overwhelming majority of career paths) but that are perhaps less fun or more outside of one’s comfort zone?

        They shouldn’t, and no one expects a theater major to command outside of the theater what an accounting major does. They just expect, or hope, to be employable in a decent job that pays significantly better than minimum wage (though much less than what a first-year accountant might make) and that uses some of the skills they’ve picked up along the way (critical/creative thinking, writing, basic computer literacy, etc.).

        As to a job guarantee, I would actually prefer an income guarantee. But of course lots of people think we should guarantee everyone a job. In any case, we should certainly be working to guarantee everyone a decent job, certainly within a reasonable allowance for short periods of legitimately short-term unemployment. That’s what the Fed does; it’s what the government should do more broadly. We work to guarantee, or near-guarantee, felons jobs, because not to do so is bad for society. We don’t perfectly achieve the guarantee, but we work at it. We should do the same for theater majors. And for everyone, and for everyone, we should be working to make it so that job makes best possible use of her skills.

        Or: we could just give everyone a decent income and let the job thing work itself out. Though I actually think even then we should be working to help everyone realize greater prosperity and human productivity. But that productivity I think could take more different kinds of forms under those conditions (or, it could remain largely focused on being tradable for money).Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

        @stillwater @jaybird @mark-thompson

        Michael Drew is making my points much better than I am on this sub-thread.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Kim says:

        @michael-drew I’m just not seeing why someone who majors in something so specific- but enjoyable- should have a right to expect they will be more employable than someone who doesn’t go to college at all, nor more than someone who parties through college and graduates with a D average, if they graduate at all.Report

      • Roger in reply to Kim says:


        “In any case, we should certainly be working to guarantee everyone a decent job, certainly within a reasonable allowance for short periods of legitimately short-term unemployment.”

        I would support a program where everyone was paid a minimum by the state dependent upon working for someone which individuals and businesses could bid at or above by co-funding. This would eliminate poverty, effectively guarantee full employment, eliminate welfare for able bodied people (which is soul destroying for current and future generations), and would enable people to be productive to both themselves and others.*

        * to reduce the chance that current hires are replaced by this plan I would suggest the program be capped at one hire per person or business per one hundred current employees or similar.Report

      • Van_Owen in reply to Kim says:


        An Econ 101 OU post would be fantastic.

        I washed out of Econ at my University. I like to say that I lacked sufficient quantitative abilities. Maybe I just hate drawing curves. But I definitely learned a few concepts that I still regularly apply in my day to day life and understanding of the world. For my money, Comparative Advantage and Sunk Cost are two big ones that can make a huge difference in the way you perceive and analyze problems. Simple things, but they help me.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

      I don’t disagree. I have plenty of friends with liberal arts degrees who eventually got business careers of various sorts. I do think HR should stop just looking for business majors though and say “Hey maybe this Renaissance Studies major is really smart and hardworking because she had to study Lating and Italian at advanced levels for her major.”Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        If the rest of the freaking world has to put together a decent portfolio of “stuff that’s relevant”… why shouldn’t libarts? ;-P I definitely disagree with ruling people out of jobs because of major, but… you’d better be able to Market if you’re going into Marketing, and show me you can work some double-book accounting if you want to be an Accountant.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “If the rest of the freaking world has to put together a decent portfolio of “stuff that’s relevant”… why shouldn’t libarts?”

        because entitlement.Report

      • Marketing probably isn’t the best example as it’s my understanding that it’s kind of a bum major as far as quasi-vocational majors go.

        I actually sort of agree with @saul-degraw here. I think the practicals of business majors are overrated. If I were hiring, I might actually look at some people with majors that indicate things other than practical knowledge (for an entry-level position, I mean). But things being what they are, I would be hard-pressed to let Lain choose such a major.

        (Apart from the ways of the world, the main reservation I would have with a liberal arts major is concern that they are inclined to “Do what sounds interesting” and that could be a problem with aspects of whatever job it is that aren’t interesting. Business majors, at least, demonstrate an eye-on-the-ball mentality. This would possibly be something to suss out during the interview process.)Report

      • I dunno – looking at the statistics that Will posted awhile back in the education symposium (available here:, I still don’t see much evidence that liberal arts majors are significantly looked down upon by employers. I said this when Will first posted it, but by and large both he majors with the greatest difficulty getting hired or making a good salary AND the majors that meet with the greatest success seem to be highly specific majors that look to teach a particular set of skills. In the middle, there’s a wide range of majors that are either pure liberal arts or look to teach fairly generic business skills.

        The latter seem to perform slightly better on average, but only slightly, and if you also consider subjects like mathematics and the other hard sciences (e.g., biology and physics) to be liberal arts (I do, since they traditionally were classified that way and heavily emphasize critical thinking) in addition to being STEM majors, then liberal arts actually do a reasonable amount better. And economics, which is very much a pure liberal art (despite its claims to the contrary), albeit with a good amount of math mixed in, does extremely well.

        To use Saul’s examples, History majors had about a 6.5 percent unemployment rate and $50,000 median income, while business majors had about a 6 percent unemployment rate and $56,000 median income. That’s certainly a difference, but not a particularly large difference, and I think it can probably be explained entirely by differences in post-graduate career choices by people most serious about their choice of that major. For instance, someone who majors in English or History is probably a lot more likely to be interested in becoming a teacher or a writer or something of that nature where you’re not exactly trying to become wealthy. I’d also wager that someone who is unlikely to be a very good employee is slightly more likely to be an English or History major than a Business major (though there are surely no shortage of lazy Business majors as well).

        My main point, though, is that the difference in employability of most majors (other than those geared towards a specific career path) is pretty negligible. What employers seem to value is just that you come out of college with a degree that certifies you have some set of generic skills.

        But the point is that the difference in numbers between these types of majorsReport

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m having trouble finding it right now, but I remember seeing a paper that looked at salaries for different majors controlling for student quality (SAT and high school GPA, or something like that). I remember that business did very well (either best or second-best).

        What you have to keep in mind is that business majors are, on average, not the sharpest tools in the shed. It’s often the default for people who either don’t know what else to do or who couldn’t cut it in STEM. But a business degree adds a lot of value and allows them to punch above their weight, salary-wise. Same with other vocational majors like criminology and nursing.

        On the other end of the spectrum, English majors tend to be a pretty sharp bunch, but an English degree adds very little value. So an English majors and business majors might have similar salaries, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the choice won’t have a big impact on any particular individual’s salary.Report

      • @mark-thompson touches on something else I haven’t fitted in to any of my other comments. A lot of this is indeed context-dependent. The better the school you get into, and the better of a student you are, the less particular you need to be about your major. If Lain goes to Harvard, I barely care what she majors in. If she goes to City U, on the other hand (and not in an Honors College sort of thing), then it’s a different matter.

        Notably, though, with the exception of education (and one SW/CJ) all of the money-sink majors/schools are Arts/Humanities degrees. So if you’re going to Florida International University, Arts/Humanities seem like a particularly bad idea.

        I still probably air on the side of caution here. Short of Harvard (Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc.), I will care what Lain majors in (though double-majors would be negotiable). Not that it would be my call to make. Clancy is even more hard core about this stuff than I am.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        How would you feel if Lain gets into a prestigious liberal arts college like Wesleyan or Vassar? Not quite HYS level but close. How about Cornell or Brown?

        Does majoring in English at Harvard really make more sense than majoring at English at Cornell or Swathmore?Report

      • If up to me I might make allowances beyond HYPS. I’d probably do a lot of research on the specific school. It would take convincing to get Clancy to even agree to Harvard (though I would try) for anything. Clancy decidedly did not go the route of an elite school, though she could have. I’d lobby Clancy for Harvard, though, in a way that I probably wouldn’t for Reed.

        Harvard is Harvard. I don’t see a Swathmore degree in the same light. But I don’t know terribly much about Swathmore, so I could read and find out more and be convinced otherwise. My inclination, though, is that short of HYPS (and I’m not positive about the P or the S), I would more likely favor taking a full ride to a state school and running with that.

        Cost would also be a significant factor. With a full-ride scholarship, she gets to do what she wants. The larger the tab, the more conservative the recommendation (excluding H and maybe YPS).Report

      • @will-truman It’s not arts and humanities in the bottom tier of majors, it’s really just “arts” and specifically the type of art majors that to my knowledge are less about being traditional liberal arts education and more about teaching how to be an artist. So while they’re technically in the liberal arts domain, they seem to have more of a vocational goal.

        I just don’t see where there’s a statistically meaningful discrepancy between an average liberal arts major and an average vocational major in terms of employability and salary expectations. The operative word there is “average,” of course. But the types of vocational majors that do well are, as I said, quite specific and narrow and, more importantly, very difficult majors in which to reach graduation.

        As for liberal arts colleges versus other types of colleges, I’ll just say that my experience is that their graduates tend to do extremely well. One aspect of that, I think, is that especially for smaller liberal arts colleges, there’s often a very strong alumni network. If you graduate from a school with 30,000 undergrads, then you’ve got lots of alumni out in the real world and in high places, but there’s not much of a reason for those alumni to be interested in your resume just because of your school. But if you graduate from a small liberal arts college, it’s (a) often very easy to track down alumni and figure out who’s in position to help you in a given field; and (b) most such people will be willing to at least help you out, if not bump your resume to the top of the pile, based on no reason other than the common bond of having graduated from the same place.

        Take a look at this, and you’ll hopefully see what I mean:

        Note that liberal arts colleges make up only around 10 percent of the schools surveyed, but they’re heavily represented in the top 30. More importantly, Wellesley College (which is the median liberal arts college in the survey), is in the top 30 percent of all schools, meaning that the median liberal arts college has a significantly higher average salary than the median college overall.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Graphical Arts in particular are suffering from a Global Glut caused by the Soviet Bloc. And because art isn’t particularly language specific, it’s somewhat interchangeable.

        I expect worldwide graphic arts wages to head upwards, sooner or later. Too much supply right now.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        it’s been my general impression that girls schools tend to lead to folks getting make work after college. I have the impression that a good many of the liberal arts crowd gets “assists” from their parents after graduation.Report

      • @mark-thompson I didn’t supply a link to what I was talking about. It’s here. Looking specifically at university/major combinations that are significant financial losers. But the majors are Art, Humanities & Art, and so on. Not the sorta-vocational you’re referring to (except Education and SW/CJ, as mentioned). Most of the universities there are what we would not consider top-tier. Which is a big part of my point: it’s there where it matters the most.

        The better the college, the less it matters.

        My comments with regard to liberal arts colleges are (mostly) unrelated to the fact that they are liberal arts colleges and more related to the fact that they are private schools with private school tuitions. It’s… no surprise to me that concentrations of people smart and/or wealthy enough to go to private schools tend to do well. This is the logic I apply to Harvard. It’s possible that I should include more schools into that category than I do. I am admittedly very (lowercase-c) conservative on the subject.

        I also agree that there is a lot of broad brushing here on my part. My interest in general is less “art vs science” and more to do with the applicability of the degree more generally. I agree with Saul in general that STEM is actually a misleading tag, though I’m not sure I would agree with you about biology being a liberal arts thing either. But categorization belies the broader issue, which is the extent to which a major can be applied to a career and how well applied it tends to be. The big thing I want from Lain is what she plans to do with her degree, and whether or not her degree plan is the best way to accomplish that (Mathematics isn’t bad at all, though Mathematics and Computer Science is better). If an argument for a particular major – any particular major – can be made, I definitely support hearing it out.

        And this is what nonetheless makes me wary of “History”, to pick an example. Double-majors are negotiable, however (my sister-in-law wanted to major in French, they compromised with French/Finance… which worked out very well). It would also be dependent on other factors. I do share @brandon-berg ‘s suspicions about self-selection when it comes to business degrees: Namely, my impression is that business does tend to be a “default” degree that is going to attract a lot of lackluster students in the same way that a general degree called Art will, and I think that is dragging it down.

        Back to the broad strokes (which I can’t avoid here because that’s from which the data is presented) there is this, which touts humanities grads making more money than professional degreed individuals… but only because they go to grad school, which changes the cost-benefit analysis. And, notably, I suspect “professional degrees” there include a lot of the sort of number-dragging lower wage vocational degrees like social work.

        Back away from the broad strokes, the specifics do matter a good deal.Report

      • @kim That wouldn’t shock me, but I should say that I only know of one person from my graduating class for whom family connections were relevant for their first job; I know many for whom alumni connections were relevant, though. The one person who used family connections, as I understand, wound up doing very poorly. I do know one other person from a different graduating class for whom family was the sole avenue, but to say he was the exception would be an understatement.

        For what it’s worth, I do know a good number of people who went to big schools and relied on family connections for their first jobs. These people are doing quite well for themselves nowadays.Report

      • A kid of family friends went to a private school that is reasonably well-regarded, though not as well-regarded as Mark’s school and perhaps not as Saul’s. I get the feeling it is sort of how Saul described USC. Not the least of which because said kid complained that nobody there was serious because everybody there had a job at Daddy’s firm when they graduated.

        It was one of the things that made me sort of glad that I didn’t attend such a school. Which I wanted to, when I was younger, for reasons I can no longer recall. The folks basically said “No private schools.” Having gone to a high school with a lot of fairly wealthy parents, and having been extremely frustrated by the material wealth of the people that went there, I did much better by going where I did instead of one of those schools. (the “those schools” being the rich private schools in the south, not private schools or SLAC’s in general).Report

      • @will-truman I’m not so sure about that, actually. I’m also hesitant to read too much into that major-specific, school specific data, which seems to have incredibly small sample sizes. For instance, Murray State only has 175 grads included in the survey, enough for a reasonable sample size of the school’s overall average ROI, but at a school with this many majors (, only a handful of which can be said to be “arts” majors, it’s hard to imagine that you’ve got a sample size of more than 15-20 students.

        But beyond that, as I indicated above, the generic “arts” major (which I assume consists mostly of majors like theater, music, and studio art) seems to be something that I’d view as quasi-vocational – it seems that the focus of this group of majors is usually more on “how to make art” than on “how to think critically about art.”

        That’s the important distinction for me – it’s the difference between teaching an important skill that can be used in just about any field and teaching you how to get better at something (where that something can be a hobby, as in the arts, or an actual set of skills, as in business or marketing) that you hope to turn into a career.* If your major is the latter, vocational (or avocational, for that matter) sort, then you’re either seeking specific skills for a high demand field (ie, engineering), generic skills that fit most fields (business, marketing), or specific skills for something that’s a borderline hobby. If it’s the latter, then at all but the most elite schools in that field, your career prospects are going to be really poor – you’re not learning any generic skills, you’ve already probably demonstrated that you’re anything but a prodigy in that field (or else you’d have gotten into Juilliard or some such place), and you’re hoping to do something for which there’s very limited demand but boatloads of supply, including lots of people willing to do that type of work for free.

        None of which, of course, is to say that the difference between liberal arts and vocational is unimportant in the specific even if I think it’s unimportant in the general. I have no doubt in the least bit that some majors, most often vocational majors, are more likely to be successful coming out of a given school than the average liberal arts major at that given school. I’d also wager that at many lower tier schools, where there are almost no students who’d be called “elite,” liberal arts majors do especially poorly, though I’d also wager that in those situations they’re not doing poorly because of their major but instead are doing poorly because those majors have a reputation for being especially easy, and they’re the types of people who’d choose a major because it’s especially easy. Basically, I think Brandon greatly overestimates the likelihood that someone majoring in English is a sharper student than a business major at a lower tier school.

        *I confess that this probably seems like shifting the goalposts a bit since these majors historically would be viewed as liberal arts; but for me (and my alma mater drilled this into my head since this was the justification for them refusing to approve a course my professor wanted to teach), the difference between a liberal arts and vocational-oriented education is in whether it’s trying to teach you how to think or whether it’s trying to teach you how to do.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I think you are partly correct, in that HR is often too interested in the credentialing to see past it to what else might work.

        That said, if a person gets a degree in Renaissance Studies, part of getting that degree is an understanding that their foot is going to have to get stuck in doors with a bit more effort than they guy with an MBA.

        I have a friend with a MA in Medieval German Lit. He is now one of the managers at an internet analytics company, and has written a book on IP Network Administration with Linux (or something like that, I forget). It took him quite a bit of work & personal networking to get anyone to look past his MA, but he did it.Report

      • @mark-thompson The numbers correspond with my pre-existing beliefs, so I weigh the numbers accordingly! More seriously, I think that might help explain one school or another, but it’s a common pattern across schools including large and small. I do think it would hold up with better numbers.

        I see the distinction you’re making between Critical Thinking Liberal Arts and Art-Vocational. I think it’s a valid one. Especially in terms of what it gives the student when they’re going through. And we are definitely in agreement about Art-Vocational usually being a pretty dubious investment. I actually believe that CTLA does impart valuable skills and I am actually kind of dubious on what has been imparted on the average business graduate (which was what I was actually getting at when I entered this subthread).

        So we might agree on this (or might now): The average business degree is overvalued and the average CTLA degree undervalued.

        Where we may disagree is that I am not sure that employers recognize the CTLA-AV distinctions. One of the things I would honestly worry about is HR putting them in the same pile, where they don’t belong. Some of the numbers supplied suggest that this either doesn’t happen or self-corrects along the way. I’m just not sure that isn’t the product of other factors. Specifically, of today’s business graduates being the General Studies graduates of yesteryear.

        I’d also wager that at many lower tier schools, where there are almost no students who’d be called “elite,” liberal arts majors do especially poorly, though I’d also wager that in those situations they’re not doing poorly because of their major but instead are doing poorly because those majors have a reputation for being especially easy, and they’re the types of people who’d choose a major because it’s especially easy.

        I agree with this. We may differ, however, on how far up it reaches. Florida International is not a bad school. Neither are East Carolina or Louisiana-Lafayette. Even though the aforementioned numbers may be sketchy, and may be more along the lines of AV rather than CTLA, I would put my money on a business major from either school over a history major at either school. I’m not sure how much further up it goes from there.

        I should also add that at some of these middle-tier and lower-tier schools, I am not sure how well the CTLA programs actually impart what they are supposed to impart. However! The same goes for business schools, and for business schools I am increasingly suspicious that it goes higher up the ladder. Some of my cynicism in this regard drives my skepticism towards expanding college access for its own sake. I think there is a point of diminishing returns, not only because of the credentialism component, but in terms of who is getting what out of it. I think there is a qualitative difference between what the average Leaguer went to college for and what the average borderline college attendee goes to college for, and I think a lot of what you get out of it depends on what you are there for. (Speaking only for myself, I got a lot more out of my liberal arts classes than my tech classes because tech was job preparation and liberal arts tickled my brain.)

        This is all kind of meandering from the central conversation, but it all ties together in my mind.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

      Who do you consider to be working in business? Is anybody that works for a for profit corporation in any white-collar or pink-collar capacity in business? Aren’t self-employed in business? Saying that they should go into business is so vague that its practically useless.

      There are actually lots of potential careers available. People inclined towards entertainment might find happiness in the hospatality or tourism industries. Musicians can always give lessons. Ideally, one should propose an alternative that makes sense when compared to a person’s actual interests.Report

  4. dragonfrog says:

    That sounds like how grad school should be. Shortly after my wife gave birth (without any medications), she remarked that it hadn’t been nearly as painful as grad school. She also did her MFA in theatre.

    I think there was a mentality among some of the faculty that a graduate program should involve breaking the student down in order to build them up. My wife, under stress, tends toward a stiff upper lip – smiling and saying everything is fine, right up to the point of insomnia-induced hallucinations. The profs apparently took this as a sign that she needed to pile on the workload, and the harsh criticism of her results.

    There were far-too-long stretches when she slept and ate only because I cooked dinner at home and brought it to her at school, so she could spend the commute time working and grab a few hours of sleep curled up under her desk. It took several years before she actually wanted to work in theatre after graduation.

    Obviously it doesn’t have to be that way – her undergrad experience was so good she decided to go into grad school…Report

    • Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

      Harsh criticism in the fine arts can often be used as motivational material (and distract people from potentially terminal depression)…

      That description of “FoodBringer, Savior of the Overworked” sounds suspiciously like the video game industry…Report

    • dhex in reply to dragonfrog says:

      “There were far-too-long stretches when she slept and ate only because I cooked dinner at home and brought it to her at school, so she could spend the commute time working and grab a few hours of sleep curled up under her desk. ”

      bro daps. they were the worst of times, they were the worster of times.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I very much get the sense that my own sorta-graduate studies (post-baccalaureate credential) are being made logistically difficult because the course creators fear they’re insufficiently intellectually challenging–to the point, even, that the busy-work is getting in the way of actual learning.

      Some college programs are less about making students better and more about weeding out the students who aren’t already good.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    What advice do you wish you got?

    I mean, here’s the advice that I ended up following, even if I never got it:
    “Jaybird, IT will change every twenty minutes. It’s better to be a mile wide and an inch deep because just as soon as you become an expert in something, they’ll make it obsolete. Be a jack of all trades in IT rather than a master of anything. Learn applications, learn operating systems, learn backups, learn system security. But not too much, because they’re going to pull the rug out from under you the second you settle down. Master the art of reading README files and manpages. Get big picture ideas of how things work together because that will help you more than being an expert with any given tree in the forest. And it doesn’t matter what you get your degree in. Nobody will care except for the people who will want to mock you for getting one in philosophy.”

    “Oh, and, by the by: you’re going to end up working with computers. Just so you know.”Report

  6. Roger says:

    “It is unconscionable to ask someone to go into significant debt for just the chance of a middle-class life. … What do we do with these kids?”


    Do kids really have to go into debt for a chance at a middle class life? A dual income family at average non-degreed wages pays well into middle class income. Further, a community college followed by at home state college is still in reach with minimal support from parents with a part time job in many states. Going into debt is often more a choice than a necessity. A bad choice in many cases.

    I am not sure why you are asking what “we” do with these kids. Shouldn’t you be asking them what they are doing for their fellow man which rewards them as cooperative and productive members of society? Society is a cooperative affair, and the implicit contract is that we contribute to the welfare of others in exchange for what we desire. Did someone not tell them this?

    Granted, there is wonderful value in pursuing theater and literature and other liberal arts for their own sake. But these are luxury goods. They are the things we buy with the proceeds of our earnings (or our parents’ earnings) which we earned by serving our fellow man.Report

    • zic in reply to Roger says:

      Granted, there is wonderful value in pursuing theater and literature and other liberal arts for their own sake. But these are luxury goods. They are the things we buy with the proceeds of our earnings (or our parents’ earnings) which we earned by serving our fellow man.

      Are they really luxury good, though? I understand that most people think they’re non-essential (and I’d argue that there are alternate paths then college serious artists can take to master their art form). Just because art is something people consume in ‘play time,’ doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that it’s non-essential.

      My grandmother grew flowers as well as vegetables, it would be easy to look at her subsistence garden and suggest that the flowers, beautiful as they were, were non-essential, too. Yet she knew those flowers were essential to growing enough food; they attracted the pollinators, who also just happened to pollinate the peas and the beans, and the flowers presence in the garden, though they took up precious space, increased the yield of food.

      I don’t want to emphasize the value of arts education vs. other kinds of education, but I would challenge the notion that art is non-essential any day of the week. When our livelihood shrinks, and our expandable income erodes, we don’t forego art so much as we find humbler and less expensive ways of partaking of it.Report

      • Roger in reply to zic says:


        Artistic expression does not require a six figure degree.

        Just to clarify, I think artistic pursuits and self actualization are the cat’s meow. I gave up a lucrative professional career to pursue art and surfing and learning, and have zero regrets. Wisest thing I have ever done.

        I similarly am in total support of someone going in debt to get a literature degree if they do so with their eyes wide open that it will probably not be a lucrative endeavor. The romantic error is assuming something is wrong with society if artistic expression and self actualization are not perfectly aligned with economic payoffs.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:


        The problem here is the brush; ‘english lit degree’ is a brush-stroke to painting the concept of liberal arts and arts education in general, and it does so in an ugly way.

        Music school’s the same; you can’t making a living doing that. Yet my sweetie’s music students are going on to work at places like Apple and Google and gaming companies. They’re getting venture money to start their own businesses. They’re not never-gonna-be rock stars. Most painters I know also work as graphic artists. There’s a tremendous amount of art that people are paid to make; and paid well. It can be an excellent investment in your future.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        What gaming companies, zic?
        Fine arts make a fine living — so long as someone’s willing to Make A Living making art for Everyone, rather than the Select few.Report

      • Roger in reply to zic says:


        I have no argument with that at all. Once I hired someone I never gave another thought to their background or credentials. Just their performance.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @kim I don’t know; Austin, they go to Austin.

        @roger thank you, yes I knew this. And someday, I wish to share tales of saxophone. I get to hear tenor played most days, soprano less often, it’s a difficult instrument, particularly in a land where most of the musicians only play in guitar keys.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:

      How would you feel about life without Dexter Gordon?

      Society has a funny relationship with art and artists and has had for all of human civilization. I think there is something innately aesthetic and desiring of art in the human mind and it is part of what makes us human. Look at the cave drawings found in Europe and other places. Aesthetic objects are among the first expressions of wealth. If people did not care about aesthetics or art or entertainment we would all live in a brutalist landscape and everything would be designed for function.

      Yet numerous cultures have created their own variants of music, literature, dance, painting, theatre, etc. We also want everyday items like forks and plates to be aesthetically pleasing.

      Hence I think art is very important to human survival and well-being whether we recognize it or not. Yet artists have always been among the most disrespected and mocked people in history. The reasons marginalized groups were able to make fortunes in entertainment is because those were seen as fields that “respectable” people did not enter.Report

      • Roger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        But I didn’t present an argument against art. I presented an argument against six figure debt in pursuit of art appreciation while hoping/wishing it is cost effective.

        It would be great if society paid us all to play sax, paint, write or throw balls. But there are other things which are less fun or romantic which need doing just the same. Wages and salaries are manifestations of other people’s needs as expressed in markets. We apparently need more actuaries and fewer literary majors.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Roger says:

      What we do with them is amend the bankruptcy code to make interest but not principal on student loans dischargeable in a Chapter 7.

      What we do with them is take away the free, loosely-regulated Federal money that powers the positive feedback loop of tuition inflation.

      What we do with them is make colleges accepting Federal grant and loan money give entrance interviews to students with real data about career results and debt management.

      I wrestle with making loans and grants available conditioned upon a demonstration of academic ability so that people less likely to achieve financially successful careers don’t get swamped in debt in the first place. Maybe we do that, maybe we don’t. I’m not sure how much additional importance I want to see assigned to SAT scores or how strong those scores are as predictors of ability to handle student loan debt later in life.

      There’s other things we might do with them that would help, too, like making sure there is adequate health care and adequate housing opportunities and an environment that won’t bake and boil them to death. But those are a bit more generalized sorts of concerns, not specific to college kids.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko I’m gonna number these because you didn’t:
        1) I have really come around on this. I used to be very skeptical of dischargeability of student loans, and would be if there weren’t some time period to prevent people from discharging on graduation, but I’m open to discharging both interest and principal.

        2) I agree, though I think this is easier said than done for a number of reasons.

        3) I’d be interested in the logistics of this. “Southern Tech” accepted 10,000 (first year freshman) students last year and enrolled thousands I could see such a requirement causing disruption of what is presently a very broad process. Kids apply to a whole bunch of schools, schools accept a far larger percentage of students than they expect to attend, etc.

        4) Ideally, we could take kids who are on questionable qualification and say “Look, we will front you the money to attend community college for a year, but you would need to prove yourself while there.” I have visions, in my ideal world, of differentiating kids by that method. Offering low tuition to kids who are clearly ready for college, and offering something else for the others that give them a chance to prove that they are ready. I’m uncomfortable with just saying “You crapped around in high school and so you’re done” but am also uncomfortable saying “You crapped around in high school, but here’s a bunch of money to attend a university that doesn’t care.”Report

      • Roger in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “You crapped around in high school, but here’s a bunch of money to attend a university that doesn’t care.”

        I would go one step further. If I am not mistaken, over half of all kids are trying college. I do not get this. Why would we be promoting getting below average intelligence kids to pursue intellectual pursuits? Seems like a total waste of resources. The funnel is too big already. There are countless productive enterprises which do not require 16+ years of schooling.

        Don’t get me wrong, anyone should be able to enter college if they can pass the qualifications, and these may go beyond high school grades. But if they have failed grades, low test results and such, they probably should not be directed to pursuing intellectual pursuits as a career option.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        1. Yes, a waiting period is clearly a part of this reform. I’m surprised (a bit, not a lot) to see support for discharging principal too. Maybe that’s needed, but for the time being, discharging interest payments alone seems like a good balance between protecting the creditor’s interests and relieving the financial stress on the debtor.

        2. If elected I will also trim the fat out of bureaucracy, reduce fraud corruption and waste, and apply common sense solutions to lingering governmental problems. More seriously, understanding the root of the problem is a big step towards solving it.

        3. I guess there’s no reason that this would need to be a one-on-one sort of interview, although obviously that would be the most effective.

        4. I know this seems cruel, squashing peoples’ dreams and all that. But it may be a greater kindness than it is a cruelty. And people who insist can spend their own money pursuing stuff the government might not subsidize after we apply predictive metrics to particular situations. My big concern is finding good metrics to apply, as opposed to doing this sort of thing at all.Report

      • How about saying student loans can be dischargeable only after 10 years since the beginning of repayment, and all amount defaulted and all interest cannot be dischargeable?Report

      • zic in reply to Burt Likko says:


        For women, that’s the child-bearing years exactly — the ten years after college. I would examine potential solutions with that in mind.Report

      • dhex in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “Ideally, we could take kids who are on questionable qualification and say “Look, we will front you the money to attend community college for a year, but you would need to prove yourself while there.””

        the good news is that there are a number of slacs that have guaranteed transfer programs with local community colleges. that said, most are not paying for the community college tuition, just guaranteeing admission so long as certain academic criteria are met.

        it’s great for the students and it’s very great for the colleges, which get well-prepared students who are generally a little more focused, have better discipline, and are a little less, uh, rambunctious in their offsite activities.Report

      • @zic
        I do think my plan is better than the current system, but you bring up a good point I hadn’t thought about. Maybe a shorter time, say, 5 years? Or maybe some of the interest and defaulted amount being dischargeable?

        I have a hard time thinking of any plan that is all of the following: is politically acceptable, discourages people from simply declaring bankruptcy one or two years out, and honors the fact that people are least likely to be able to repay their student loans when they’re right out of college, which includes those years that for women are the prime child-bearing years.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko What we do with them is take away the free, loosely-regulated Federal money that powers the positive feedback loop of tuition inflation.

        @will-truman I agree, though I think this is easier said than done for a number of reasons.

        I agree with Will, excet that my view is that as you start to pick through those reasons you start to realize the reasons are, or are inextricably tied to, the very reasons you had to extend the aid in the first place, which were good ones. To a rough approximation. But I’m open to someone who can disentangle it better. I’d be interested to see what you had to say about the reasons in more detail, @will-truman .Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @michael-drew Basically, my concern is that colleges become increasingly segregated based on the ability to pay. The University of State would be able to absorb whatever penalties that would accrue. If we set an annual cap of subsidies, they’ll be able to raise prices to whatever point they start running into enrollment problems. So only those who don’t need loans, or need less of loans, will be able to attent UoS. State State University would do the same, at a lower point. University of City relies more on student loans, so they take the financial hit. The gap between the prestige of UoC and SSU grows as SSU gets more money for ever-nicer facilities and UoC doesn’t. Then you University of Northwest State, which is even more dependent on student loans… you get the idea.

        The end result is that colleges are increasingly selected based in good part on the ability to pay. The facilities, faculty, and so on of the schools that cater more to the middle and UMC get better and better, while the other don’t.

        Some degree of differentiation between schools is a good thing. I have mentioned repeatedly that I think that one of the problems in higher education is that every school is angling to be the next tier up even if that’s not exactly who they should be serving. But the reason we do student loans is that we don’t want this differentiation to be along class lines, however much we can avoid it.

        I mean, something is going to have to give. I’m not convinced that it won’t be the sort of thing that Burt advocates here. But the particulars matter a lot and I see a lot of potential pitfalls. I have my own preferences, which are surprisingly similar to Morat’s, but they’re likely to be politically impossible and objected to on both the right and left. So I don’t know where that leaves us.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I basically couldn’t have said it better myself, @will-truman . The point I’d add is just that those reasons are basically the reasons we started offering the aid in the first place.

        I think my solution would be to finance all higher education on a subsequent ability-to-pay basis. X% of your income for 25 years or until paid, perhaps a sliding scale as well. Basically do away with the fiction that it’s a debt obligation of a normal kind and set up a more orderly income-based lifetime payment system. I’d be okay with exploring making the terms somewhat better for certain programs over others, etc.

        The issue @north raises in the thread is really the rub. Ultimately schools can’t be both exclusive to some extent and not exclusive at all. We can admit people based on aptitude, but you’re still dealing with all the ways class and culture are tied up in that. But managing the cost bar better I don’t think makes dealing with that problem any harder, or not that much so I think we should do that.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        …I haven’t followed the whole thread. Is something like that what Morat suggested?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        My idea is mentioned on #4 above, which is similar to comments that Morat has said. Which is making college more affordable but doing a better job of differentiating between student potential. I’d also want a low-cost option for those we’re not sure about readiness on, but where they have the opportunity to catch up and or demonstrate college readiness.

        Basically, something along the lines of “If you get out of high school with a demonstration of Aptitude-Level X, then we’ll make college affordable to you. If it’s below that point, we’ll help you out with community college, MOOC, or something comparatively inexpensive to see if you can get up to ALX.” (I’d probably look favorably on kids with Aptitude-Level Y, below X but within shooting distance, getting some special help at community college or wherever, if they have achieved ALY despite economic or social disadvantage. Which would cost money, but might still be a pretty solid investment.)

        North and I are of a similar mind on the subject more broadly.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    “What do we do with these kids?”

    I’m sorry, but I can’t read this without it being in the voice of Eric Cartman’s imitation of Jaime Escalante.

    But really, on this, “we still have no idea what to do with the huge amount of kids who are really good at school but not geared towards STEM or business, ” – admittedly lacking hard data to back it up, I still think they is a high correlation between people that are ‘good in school’ and people that are going to be ‘good at life’.

    In other words, I don’t think we have to worry about such people. Rather, I would be concerned with the kids that are not ‘really good at school’ – *that’s* who the system is failing, at all socioeconomic levels except the very top, and especially failing the bottom two quintiles.

    It is also sufficient to mitigate the “unconscionable” amount of debt if we were simply able to get tuition and room&board costs more in line with what they were (at state universities) in the merely the early 90s, when a resident full time student (and or their parents and/or their Uncle Sam) paid about 6K in then dollars (10.5K in today’s dollars) per year. (instead of figures some 80% higher.)Report

    • Roger in reply to Kolohe says:

      I have no clue why education is expected to be remote, why it includes expensive semi pro sports teams, why it requires an expensive resort atmosphere overlooking the Pacific Ocean and why it supports a massive bureaucracy.

      Real education would not be one tenth the cost of whatever the heck it is private colleges are selling today. This is one FUBAR market.

      We should experiment with requiring any university getting public aid to offer minimal fee (virtually free) cost effective education without the luxury goods attached to it for some number of students.

      I could design something on a napkin in twenty minutes that would be better than what we have now.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Roger says:

        “education is expected to be remote”

        So kids can become adults away from their parents.

        “expensive semi pro sports teams”

        The only semi-pro sports teams tend to be major sports. Those often pay for themselves and then some, particularly when they are successful. In most cases, it’s entirely financially rational for colleges, and indeed the better objection is that colleges are making significant money by exploiting students.

        “why it supports a massive bureaucracy”

        Here we agree. Crazy how profitable businesses generate massive bureaucracies sometimes.

        As for the rest, I doubt it is anything like that easy. Professors cost money, as do classrooms/equipment/libraries and other things that even your limited view of college would seem to require. I think you’re over-estimating the impact of inefficiency.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:

        College Athletics were a part of American life long before either of us were born. They were around before the first sports teams. There are novels for young men around the turn of the century about Yale College Football.

        I’m with you. I went to a Division III school that lacked a football team. Hence our t-shirt declaring us undefeated in football since 1865. But it is probably wishful thinking to imagine university sports is going to shut down overnight if ever. They are part of American culture and people love college football especially in areas where there is not a professional team to follow.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        I was thinking of this very thing in response to James Hanley and Michelle’s symposium post, namely that students have votes with their wallets to pursue college-as-adult-summer-camp instead of college-as-higher-learning.

        They pay more for lower quality teachers because they want artisan bread in the food hall. Sure, there are other forces at work, but that seems to be the gist of what we’ve collectively decided. If/when employers put less of a premium on four-year, brick-and-morter degrees and focus more on actual skills and knowledge (which I think is happening, slowly; for instance, online degrees are far better regarded down than a decade ago), we might see the broader trend shift.

        But folks shouldn’t complain about crushing debt and limited job prospects when they spent four years going to football games, luxurious dorm parties, and campus improv shows while being taught by TAs.Report

      • dhex in reply to Roger says:

        re: athletics:

        even on the d3 level, the recruitment bonus and aftereffects of engaged student athletes is huge. they give more after they graduate, on average, than non-athletes, and also give in larger percentages.

        so it pays off down the line. generally.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        @nevermoor @kazzy
        “But folks shouldn’t complain about crushing debt and limited job prospects when they spent four years going to football games, luxurious dorm parties, and campus improv shows while being taught by TAs.”

        This. I have no problems with expensive dorms, artisan restaurants, views of La Jolla, first rate stadiums, and three bureaucrats for every teacher. But that is not what I think we owe kids when offering them an education. The ones we fund or support should go to education without the fluff.

        Let’s face it. We funded fluff with our grants and aid for decades. That is what we got. This is absurd, and the fact that people now take it for granted is kind of sad.

        People who want to go into debt or have rich parents should be free to go to resort living universities. We should only fund education focused education. This can be accomplished by only supplying aid to schools proving frugality or by requiring any qualifying school to offset expensive ed with bare basic degrees at extremely low cost.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Roger says:

        I suspect we are not going to agree on the point of college, but in my view the point is to turn children into at least somewhat well-rounded adults. That means learning to live on your own, learning self-discipline, learning to socialize, learning to date without parental input, etc. It also means learning to think critically, write, and tackle difficult challenges that require a significant level of skill and perseverance. I think doing all of that pays off both for someone’s life, for the public (everyone votes), and for the narrow employability test this discussion seems to be focused on.

        Given that, I never minded large lectures that were followed up by TA-driven discussion groups. Hell, most of those TAs were brilliant. I got a lot from playing sports, and (less frequently) from watching others. I certainly got a lot from the parties and communal meals that we seem to be so busy sneering at.

        And if I had emerged from all of that into a world of a-historically immense unemployment (particularly for those under 25), and therefore been forced into a job I was qualified for four years earlier, I’d be pissed too. Particularly if I was paying a ton more for school because the generation before me happily consumed cheap public educations and then refused to keep funding them while bragging about how they worked through college and emerged debt-free.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Roger says:


        I’m guessing the 1861 date is a reference to your alma mater’s founding.

        However, I think it would have been more clever if they had used 1869 instead.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        Particularly if I was paying a ton more for school because the generation before me happily consumed cheap public educations and then refused to keep funding them while bragging about how they worked through college and emerged debt-free.

        The thing is, that’s far from the only reason. Which is one of the reasons that people are looking at administration, athletics, facilities, Veblen goods, etc. The per-pupil state spending has fallen by about $2,500 per student per year since 1987. If only college tuition had raised just that much.

        Also, it’s worth noting, that this would only apply to state schools in any event.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:


        Certainly out-of-state flagship state university tuition is an important price-point around which private colleges develop their effective tuition offers to applicants.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        I’d be surprised if it factored in very heavily, since out-of-state tuition isn’t what most parents are looking at. And my understanding is that state support for out-of-state students has always been pretty marginal, so I’m not sure how much cutting state funds for state schools would have really played much of a role there.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        I agree that colleges can and probably should be more than just a suite of classrooms. But does my alma mater need a state of the art panini restaurant? And if students think it does, they shouldn’t blame anyone else for the crushing debt. Amenities are a huge driver of tuition inflation. Not the only one, but a huge one. They have to be paid for. Where do you think the money should come from? Who should be on the hook for the panini press?Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Roger says:

        Isn’t that the John McCain government waste fallacy, though? Sure that specific thing isn’t the core mission, but it’s not useless (college dining halls are competing with restaurants, and schools legitimately care about it.

        Also, that panini grill is a teeny tiny drop in the bucket, and doesn’t move tuition either way.

        The big expense, which is certainly fair, is administration glut. No idea how to solve it, but it looks like a universal problem.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

        Wisconsin, for example, is an option that lots of East Coast families consider alongside various other private and public colleges. I don’t think it’s the only quality state school that effectively competes as an option against private schools. As such, I think out-of-state tuition probably plays a role in setting the offers that private colleges make to less-than-wealthy families applying.

        Your broader point about the marginal effects of state aid reductions is not one I’m challenging, though. But I would say this: at a place like Wisconsin, in the context of straightened state budgets, out-of-state tuition is an important source of revenue. Wisconsin has definitely to some extent followed the nationa trend of the luxurification of the college experience (though not remotely on the level of some colleges, I don;t think). My sense is that this has been in response to the need to compete on that basis for the out-of-state dollars tha they have always relied on.

        That being said, I don’t feel any tug of this notion that college ought to be some Spartan or monastic undertaking. There’s no reason a college shouldn’t build nice dorms for its students imo if it can do so without saddling matriculants under six figures of debt for an undergrad education. It’s also okay if the nice dorm doesn’t get built. As long as it’s kept within reason, though, I don’t see any reason students shouldn’t complain about having to go into six-figure debt to attend a good college. Students aren’t the ones choosing how nice the dorm that gets built is going to be. They might not get the nice, new dorm if the situation were such that they didn’t have to go into such debt to go to a good college, but in that case they also might never have known what they missed out on.

        And all that said, I don;t think it’s actually in evidence, in this thread, that nice accommodations (“fluff”) actually are what’s driving skyrocketing tuition prices. It could be that these are relatively marginal expenditures meant to soften the blow to students and families of the tuition that is going to be charged in any case with or without them. Bread and circuses, as it were.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        I tend to think of facilities as one factor of escalating costs, among many. Along with administration, athletics, Veblen, and so on. I don’t know that you can look at any particular thing as the sole cost of the problem. Including state support, which is the doorstep on which Nevermoor seems to be putting things.

        I’m just not close to being convinced that lack of state support is driving up out-of-state tuition (which has historically been considerably higher precisely because of minimal state support for them) is allowing private schools to raise their prices. Even as a minor factor. I’d be more inclined to see it the other way – places where private school is more prevalent an option being places where public schools spend more and charge more – though the effect there is probably minor and so rife with confounding factors that I’m disinclined to put too much weight on it.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

        I’m just not close to being convinced that lack of state support is driving up out-of-state tuition (which has historically been considerably higher precisely because of minimal state support for them) is allowing private schools to raise their prices.

        I thought I was clear that I wasn’t trying to convince you of that. I’m just saying that out-of-state public tuition competes with private. My sense is that private tuition has gone up so much that it’s allowed public tuition to go up a lot and still be a relative deal.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        Gotcha. Sorry, I misunderstood. Yeah, I think that could be playing a role in out-of-state tuition. Or in-state tuition, for that matter. Of that, I’m really not sure.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Roger says:

        I think the problem is that state support is allowing IN-STATE tuition to skyrocket, taking away the option to get a great education (in some cases like Cal/UCLA/Michigan, even world-class) at low rates that one could realistically earn while being a student.

        The link above shows total cost of attendance in the UC system going from $647 for residents in 1975 to $13,181 in 2011. The $647 is $2,705 in 2011 dollars. And that’s only mandatory charges, not the full cost. That means that even in-state students are going to need debt / scholarships / family support to go to public colleges, and that’s a shameful public failing. Particularly, as I said above, when coupled with scolding by the folks who gladly paid $647 and worked it off to emerge debt free.

        I agree that there are a couple big buckets required to fix this, including trimming admin, but there also just plain needs to be more higher-ed spending (which, at least in CA’s budget, means either reducing incarceration spending or raising taxes). I think it’s a huge abdication of responsibility to have allowed things to get here, and none of that failure is on the part of current students. No matter how much we seem to want to criticize them.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        According to CBPP, between 1987 and 2012, per-student expenditures in California have fallen $2600 a year. That’s not nothing but is an increase of $2600 really what we’re complaining about? Is it even close to what we’re complaining about?

        I don’t really have an objection to putting back the $2600 that was lost if we knew it would go towards cutting costs. But my impression is that the problem is far, far greater than $2600 a year. (And that’s California, you’re example, a state that has cut state expenditures more than most, or at least many. Appropriations in Texas are up since 1987… and so is tuition.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        I should also add that the per-student numbers provided typically don’t account for the fact that college enrollment has increased as a portion of the states’ overall population. So restoring per-student funding would actually take a bigger bite out of a state’s budget today than it did then.Report

    • nevermoor in reply to Kolohe says:

      First of all, a cut of $2600 between those two years is actually a cut of $5,255 because of inflation. Which is a lot of money in and of itself. And given that CA in-state mandatory costs are up more than $10,000 against inflation (over a somewhat longer time horizon), we’re already talking about more than half the problem.

      I’ll again concede that university admin overhead (both public and private) is another problem. I don’t have the higher ed policy chops to know how to fix that part of it.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to nevermoor says:

        I don’t know if that’s true, actually. The $2600 figure comes from CBPP. Given that they are making the argument for state funding, I assume that they have adjusted for inflation. [Added: Confirmed, CBPP was adjusting for inflation.)Report

      • nevermoor in reply to nevermoor says:

        Could be. Source wasn’t linked and I didn’t find the cited number on a quick search.

        I know there are other cost drivers, but in the end I think that society (and, particularly, the parts of society that benefitted from prior generations’ support) owe current students who meet school selection criteria an opportunity to earn an affordable degree in the UC system. Which is a bottom-line belief about student charges rather than a top-line belief about per-student spending.Report

  8. North says:

    I struggle with this post primarily because of two of your assertions. I agree that university doesn’t have to be work training and it’s probably a good thing if kids go to university to learn non-technical thinking skills and expand their enlightenment and understanding. My problem is in the same post you talk about kids being financially wrecked by going to school. I’m okay with someone majoring in puppeting or what have you, I’m confused where they then are indignant that they’ve graduated with a degree with no useful financial purpose and a load of debt.
    I suppose once could take the angle that university should be free. Frankly I doubt we’d benefit much by turning universities into grungy high schools which is, of course, what they’d be once they were free (and everyone then accordingly started going to them).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to North says:

      Maybe if we made them mandatory?Report

    • nevermoor in reply to North says:

      I think the complaints are that when there are reasonable rates of employment, people who have proven a capacity for creative thought and reliability by graduating can usually find a reasonable job. We haven’t been there for a long time, and it isn’t recent college graduates’ fault.

      If I were them I’d be mad too.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to nevermoor says:

        Could it be in part a factor of higher graduation rates? I can see two ways this might play a role:

        1. Lowering of standards has weakened the bachelor’s degree as a signal of intelligence and conscientiousness.

        2. There are only so many jobs where a degree is helpful, and once the number of graduates exceeds that number, it’s no longer possible to guarantee a good job to all of them.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to nevermoor says:

        Er…a product of higher graduation rates. Higher graduation rates would be a factor.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to nevermoor says:

        I think that right now it’s a lot of #2. Because there are so many missing jobs, you see experienced people desperate for entry-level jobs, which means entry-level people are screwed.

        I don’t think the latter is as big of an issue, because most individual schools aren’t getting significantly larger so a degree from any school means about the same thing. Or at least that’s my initial bias. Could be proven/disproven with data.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

      What nevermoor said.

      Tuition is naturally going to raise in price but it has raised to such an astronomical degree that it should shock the conscious and for public universities, I think they should be as low cost as possible and seen as a public good.Report

      • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’d agree Saul, but let’s face it.. the vast lions share of the blame for that lies in one place; the universities, their administration and faculty.
        Policy wise our options are to increase funding (which the universities have proven infinitely capable of absorbing without producing much benefit); increase lending (see increase funding only add angry indebted graduates to the mix); or decrease funding by reducing either of the former.
        My own university experience suggests to me that only the latter most option has much prospect of forcing the universities to change.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I think it is a combination of things.

        States started defunding things like California’s Master Plan and Universities decided it was better to be semi-autonomous than receive good state funding.

        Stuff like this worries me:

      • nevermoor in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This. I think a lot of it is people who benefitted from state-support then decided that taxes should always drop and inmate populations should always rise (at least in CA, I won’t pretend to know the story in other states). Then shrugged their shoulders when that hurt higher-ed funding.

        CA built one the best public university system in the world, in part as a promise that the most deserving Californians could get the training they deserved. Both for them and, as Saul says, as a public good. Now we wonder whether those students should bother going because the price is too high.Report

    • Matty in reply to North says:

      You can of course avoid the problem of everyone going if it’s free by setting barriers other than cost. British Universities had free (OK funded) tuition at an undergraduate level for decades along with grants for living costs and the proportion of people going was lower than it is today.Report

      • North in reply to Matty says:

        True but then you’re only letting a tiny fraction of the people go and you also get tangled badly in other issues like affirmative action, diversity quotas etc…Report

      • Matty in reply to Matty says:

        @north Very true. The policy died because it couldn’t be matched with growing demand for more graduates both from the job market and politically. There was also a lot of class stratification even without fees as parents could game the exams to by hiring private tutors or moving near a better secondary schoolReport

  9. Kazzy says:


    I don’t want this to come across as too personal an attack, but this piece really bothered me, for two main reasons:
    1) It fits into a broader theme you tend to discuss of criticizing society for not properly affirming your personal choices.
    2) You come across as remarkably tone deaf about your own privilege (while simultaneously taking subtle shots at those you perceive as having more privilege).

    You are in your early 30s with an bachelors and two advanced degrees. That you chose to pursue degrees that are not currently in high demand in the job market is not society’s fault. That the economics of your decisions are worse than those of people taking more “utilitarian” paths is not society’s fault.

    You seem to have had every opportunity to be remarkably finacially successful: you’re bright, have a supportive family, grew up with means, and had abundant access to education. Unfortunately, you seem to have made choices that fulfilled one set of goals (namely those related to what I’ll refer to as “being cultured”) but not other (making money)… And you seem upset about this. You want a company to value a history major the same as a marketing major… But why? Because you like history? Because that’s “romantic”? “Civilized”? The marketing major brings skills and value the history major doesn’t.

    Society doesn’t owe you anything. In fact, it’s given you plenty.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yeah, Saul. Don’t you know that this should be called the Check Your Privilege board?

      Don’t make this mistake again… -_-Report

      • I tend not to like admonitions to privilege-checking, especially when they’re used against me! But I do think @kazzy is saying what some of us are thinking. I have written and erased at least a couple comments on this thread and the post on adjuncts that wanted to say the same thing as he said, although not nearly as nicely. So I guess I’m free-riding on Kazzy….letting him say what I’m thinking but also letting him take the heat.

        It’s important to acknowledge where one is lucky. One reason is tactical. Acknowledging privilege makes one’s the reception to one’s argument. If one acknowledges that there are indeed reasons for the way things are the way they are and that one enjoys certain things others, like a first-gen “business major” student, might not, one’s discussants have a better sense that one sees the bigger picture.

        Another reason is that acknowledging privilege makes this type of argument stronger. It’s more intellectually honest to admit the structures from which one has benefited.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        I wouldn’t have been so inclined to discuss privilege had Saul not initially made it an issue. He said: “Being an artist was always tough and likely a hand and mouth existence for all but the very lucky or those born into a large amount of wealth and privilege.”

        I don’t know all of the details of Saul’s life, but I do know enough to say that he was born with a good amount of privilege. He’s white, grew up in a major urban area, is well-educated, comes from a family of well-educated people, and was positioned such that he could get into a highly competitive SLAC and attain two different advanced degrees. There are certainly people with greater privilege than he, but it is off-putting to hear him comment on those people who are successful only because of their immense privilege while ignoring his very own privilege.

        I don’t want to get into a pissing contest over who has what privilege. I have a shit ton of privilege. I’m just not particularly sympathetic to Saul’s “plight” and think he’d be well-served to stop seeing himself as a victim with a society that refuses to see the world as he does as his tormenter.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

      But why? Because you like history? Because that’s “romantic”? “Civilized”? The marketing major brings skills and value the history major doesn’t.

      I used to be a person who had a lot of contempt for “business majors,” even a couple times criticizing in front of a class I TA’d for the fact that anyone would major in business. I was wrong then, for a lot of reasons:

      1. Why should I criticize others for making a choice different from mine?

      2. I want a good job and good pay as much as the next guy or gal, why should it offend me that others have the same goal, but have a different way of arriving at that goal?

      3. It’s not wise or right to criticize one’s students in that way. Most TA classes are introductory classes, the vast majority of which are non-history majors and a large number, sometimes a majority, are some sort of business major. For me to assume the bully pulpit and make the captive audience listen to me rant is inconsiderate and a waste of what they’re paying for.

      4. Since I haven’t studied marketing or accounting or any of the business disciplines in any depth, how am I to know that they aren’t *real* skills, as I as a liberal arts major used to believe? I’m sympathetic to Saul’s idea of apprenticeship programs–because I think they would open more opportunities for more people without the “tax” of having to pay for college–but I really don’t know if it’s true that business skills can’t be taught in college. (I do strongly suspect that some skills, such as accounting, probably need the type of training one can usually get only in a university-like setting. )Report

  10. Matty says:

    It was not so long ago that Classics was considered the top degree in English Universities. The civil service, banks all preferred Classics graduates even though it was unlikely that an ability to translate Latin or discuss Plato would be required for any of the roles.

    The point was that having done the course signaled that you had something in common with the hirers (who were also Classics graduates) and they preferred working with ‘people like us’ over particular skills.Report

  11. ScarletNumbers says:

    I believe the acronym for small liberal arts college is SLAC, not SALC.Report

  12. Saul Degraw says:


    Re: Point and Purpose of a University Education

    I think there is a long standing unresolved tension about what is the point and purpose of a university education (or education in general) in the United States and maybe in other countries. The tension is between whether the purpose of an education is to create a well-rounded citizen with a wide base of knowledge and a love and curiosity about the world or is an education meant to give a person skills that will make them economically useful for the large economy.

    The idea answer is probably a little of column A and a little of column B but there does seem to be a lot of hostility between each side that causes finding a solution to be impossible. I am on the side of liberals who dislike the Common Core and Michelle Rhee’s “reforms” because it seems like education is just being put at the service of corporations and used to create drones and worker bees without critical thinking skills or curiosity. The other side would make the accusation that people like me are “disconnected from reality” and not paying attention to the globalized market place.

    My parents raised me to believe that the end goal of an education was to show academic mastery in a subject. They did not care about the subject but it was culturally important in my family to achieve an advanced degree of some sort. Not necessarily a PhD* but at least a professional degree or a Masters. I think there is a very complicated and very Jewish reason behind this line of thought that is always hard to explain to others.** I do know that when I tell some people that I was expected by my parents to attend and finish graduate school, they think they are hearing the worst thing in the world. My parents are rather proud of my cultural knowledge and for better or for worse told me at various points that business is not a proper academic field of study. Though my mom did once say she thought I would be a math and science kid instead of an art kid for some reason. My parents did send me to science camp a lot as a small kid until I discovered theatre in the 8th grade.

    On the other hand, I know people whose parents took a much more utilitarian stance on education and were seemingly given the opposite advice and told that they could only major in business/accounting, STEM, pre-med and the like. These are not necessarily kids who were from working-class families and/or the first in their families to attend college. Many were from the same upper-middle class professional background that I grew up in. And they react with marvel that anyone would choose to major in anything but business/economics, STEM or be interested in said fields.

    I think the idea of turning college into a place that trains people for nothing but the workforce destroys the idea of education and turns university into nothing more than a glorified vocational school. And STEM still does not really mean STEM because if a kid said he wanted to major in astrophysics, I am absolutely certain that many politicos would say something like “Why don’t you major in computer science and go create a very cool app that can get a great IPO?”

    The idea of a liberal arts education as being detached from reality is not really true. There are people who make it so though. A smart person should be able to pick up the skills of business on the job instead of majoring in marketing or supply-side management.

    *My uncle did his ABD and this is the highest level of achievement in my family. My paternal grandfather also did the Masters-JD thing like me.

    **Judaism has always emphasized a more formal, joint, and bookish education than protestantism. The way to study Torah in Judaism is always with another person or group and always in debate. Jews love debate (“Two Jews, Three Opinions” as the joke goes.) I think this translated into being more comfortable and seeing a lot of importance in formal education. We lack a Martin Luther saying “read it on your own.” This is why I think self-study is important (and I still read a lot of history and such to learn more) but can’t embrace it fully. I’ve been told by others that it would have been better to study something practical like supply-side management at school and do drama on my own. I strongly disagree with this view and was raised this way for better or not.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      See, I just don’t get this. It assumes what other people are questioning. Repeating that *you* don’t question it doesn’t render the questions and underlying issues invalid.Report

    • A smart person should be able to pick up the skills of business on the job instead of majoring in marketing or supply-side management.

      Maybe, but maybe not. I’ve never studied marketing or management, “supply side” or other kind. I do suspect, though, that a smart person, as a general rule, would just “be able to pick up” accounting without training.

      I don’t think I agree with your parents’ assertion that, say, marketing or management aren’t legitimate academic disciplines. I think they could be and potentially are. I imagine there are different theories of marketing or management, and certain epistemological problems and opportunities that are involved with those theories, and to me, that’s all an important part of what makes up a legitimate academic discipline.

      I like your “a little from column A” and “a little from column B” statement. I also think it can, and should be, both, otherwise college becomes merely a training camp or a rich-person’s culture club.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I think there is a lot of agreement on “college is not for everybody” and there should be ways to the middle-class or a decent life without a college education. The real debate becomes about who and what college/university is for.

        In my platonic ideal, business subjects can and should be taught by apprenticeships because studying business in university is a fairly new concept and it seems like if there are only in college and they see a degree is a kind of paper key to the world of business, these are the people who should not be in the world of college and university.

        Based on Obama’s unconsciously off-hand gaffe/jokes on Art History majors, I am guessing that there is a good contingent of people who think that business should stay and people who want to study art history should be sent to the trades because it will make them more useful. There is an anti-intellectualism behind this side that I just can’t support.

        Again, I consider it a sign of a wealthy, advanced, and civilized society that we think of college as being something that is good and universal and it is nice to allow people in their lives to spend sometime in intellectual wonderland before settling down to decades of work and career building. This would be just as much part of the post-work society as anything else and close to a Star Trek utopia. Instead there is a great unease that seems to be caused by this idea. Perhaps there is a part of our psychology that is really uneasy about a post-work society and Star Trek utopia?

        People will spend most of their lives working. I see no problem with giving a few years of studying being the primary purpose and a lot of time to dream and be Ferdinand the Bull. My goal is to give more people this as an opportunity rather than send more people to a full-time workforce earlier. Let the young be young and all that.Report

      • I, too, am intrigued by the idea of apprenticeships, provided they are truly open and not just getting in the business because dad’s golfing buddy has an opening. But you really haven’t answered my point about accounting.

        Not being an accountant, I speculate here, but I imagine accounting is a lot like the legal profession because studying law in university is a fairly new concept and it seems like if there are only in college and they see a degree is a kind of paper key to the world of law, these are the people who should not be in the world of college and university.

        Maybe some of the business skills really do require university-like study or really do count as an academic discipline. I also think, and here you might agree, that one point where the liberal arts hold the most promise from a utilitarian point of view is that they potentially do a good job at teaching writing and teaching logical thinking. They’re also good, in theory and potentially, at conferring a certain degree of cultural capital that non-middle-class or non-upper-middle class people often lack.

        Keep in mind I’m someone who’s pursued a liberal arts education the past 17 of the last 22 years. Although I’m cynical about a lot of what’s claimed for the liberal arts and about academia itself, I do buy that liberal arts study can be a good thing in itself. I do question how many resources we should pour in that direction when there are people who have a hard time even putting food on the table or paying rent or paying for health care. I think a better mark of a “wealthy society”–or a “good society,” assuming those terms are meant to be synonymous–is one that takes care of those problems first.

        That might be a false dilemma. Maybe we can have both without sacrificing either. Then okay: I’ll so stipulate. But to a large extent “we” (“as a society”) already do value liberal arts education. There are state-supported and state-subsidized universities in which liberal arts majors still exist. Maybe they’re not as well-supported and as well-subsidized as we’d prefer, or maybe there are ways to reduce costs that need to be and haven’t been explored, but if we’re going to say it’s worth the effort to pursue those reforms, we need to justify liberal arts. And that will probably have to be done on utilitarian grounds and not on the grounds that liberal arts are life-fulfilling of themselves in the way that you and I find them to be.

        And at the end of the day, maybe you’ll find that there are aesthetics and life-fulfilling aspects that can be gleaned from the study of, say, accounting or marketing. Not having studied them in depth, I for one hesitate before saying it can’t be done and that some people might have the same joy of determining costs or markets that you and I do when it comes to the arts.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Ok, different example: Say you want a high paying job at a large tech company and then to create your own “disruptive” app.

        Obviously you need a CS degree, but here’s the thing: you aren’t learning the code you’ll be deploying at your job. You’re learning how computers work, how to think about algorithms, and how to write code in intentionally inefficient and demanding environments that require you to cross all your ts and dot all your is. Then, you’ll get to a tech company and apply those skills in a sophisticated/streamlined/often-proprietary environment.

        In other words, your “STEM” CS degree is to software development work what a liberal arts degree is to a lot of non-software development business jobs.Report

      • @nevermoor

        I don’t have any problem with looking at it that way. In fact, it goes pretty well to the “utilitarian” argument for liberal arts. I do think a lot of liberal arts programs fail to live up to that potential, however, but perhaps for reasons not entirely their fault.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I’m not even convinced the program is failing. I’m not finding good pre-recession numbers, but here’s at least anecdotal support for the idea that the problem is that we had a terrible recession.Report

      • I don’t have any real evidence, either. So we’re both relying on anecdote. By “fail to live up to promise,” I mean a few things.

        One, the standards just aren’t there. Many of the liberal arts majors, like English, History, Poli Sci, Sociology, and Philosophy are easy to graduate with with a B average. Good grades in those fields just don’t require that much effort. That’s not to say that all people who get good grades therein don’t deserve them, just that the one who puts in only mediocre effort can often get a B or even an A. A lot of liberal arts grads don’t know how to write well. (By the way, I’m not talking about SLAC’s here. I’m focused more on larger schools. Perhaps SLAC’s really are better in that regard, as my friends who’ve graduated from them never tire of telling me.)

        Two, I think some of the professors in many of those programs are quick to make promises about the value of “critical thinking” to some undifferentiated thing called “business.” Those professors need to be honest about how challenging entry can be. They need to encourage people to take more entry-level jobs to work their way up, or take internships, or teach them how to network.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      A smart person should be able to pick up the skills of business on the job instead of majoring in marketing or supply-side management.

      Maybe, although there are people with decent verbal intelligence who are nevertheless bad with math. But why hire the history major when you have another candidate who already has proven abilities and acquired skills in a more relevant domain?Report

      • @brandon-berg

        I think I agree, at least with some qualifications. However, what gives me the most pause about “A smart person should be able to pick up the skills of business on the job instead of majoring in marketing or supply-side management” is an assumption I read into it. It seems to assume that business is by definition just a lesser thing, and maybe not just anyone can do it, but certainly a literature major or historian could step in because they’re just so much more talented.

        Business can be hard. It’s also varied and the required skills change from job to job, business to business. I personally believe a strong liberal arts education can give one the background to do well in many of those jobs. The big catch here being “strong.” Just because one has majored in a liberal arts field doesn’t mean that one really has acquired the writing and thinking skills so often associated with them. The quality of the school and the student matters a lot, and the degree itself and the grades are only proxies.

        But it depends on the person and the job. And while I suspect a lot of business disciplines, as academic disciplines, suffer from a lot of hubris and a mistaken self-assessment of their own practitioners’ competence, I would not want to write business grads off entirely, and I would understand why many employers would prefer a business grad to a history grad.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I’ll back up @gabriel-conroy . I don’t think I could just step in and figure out business, at least not excel. People who are good in those areas, marketing, management, etc., have talents I do not have, and I would do their jobs poorly.

        I’m very smart, but smarts in this case would likely hinder more than help.Report

      • LWA in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Business is about many things. Technical knowledge like math or engineering is certainly part of it.
        But business is not about the craft work. Business is, literally, selling things to people.
        For almost any good sized business, the top echelon of people don’t engage in the craft work- they don’t balance the books, they don’t make the widgets, they don’t track manpower or budget projections. They hire people to do this for them.

        The chief skill and talent of the upper echelon is to manage people, and persuade people.

        Humanities are a good way of learning about people, how they think, and how to persuade. A person who is good at math, only, is a good candidate for a job. they just aren’t a good candidate for promotion. A person who is good at math, and has a well rounded knowledge of the liberal arts, is probably a better catch.Report

  13. Fred says:

    The engineering graduate says, “How is it done?”
    The management graduate says’ “How much will it cost to do it?”
    The liberal arts graduate says, “Would you like fries with that?”Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Fred says:

      This joke is patently false. Most liberal arts graduates do not end up working in minimum wage service jobs. This history major gives legal advice of a living. Others teach, work for non-profits or museums or even go into the corporate world of business and international finance.Report

  14. nevermoor says:

    Another cost from skyrocketing tuition. Vox’s estimate is that 10%-20% of admitted HS graduates don’t show up for freshman year and “Overall melt rates tend to be most pronounced among students from low-income backgrounds, students who live in communities where there are not a lot of college planning supports or information available.”

    Want to bet that at least some of those kids would be showing up if their in-state public school cost $2,000 instead of $13,000?Report

  15. Jim Heffman says:

    When I went to college as an aerospace engineering major, everyone said “oh that’s too bad, you’ll never find a job in today’s market”.

    Then 9/11 happened, and family friends with kids were calling me and asking what their kid should do to prepare for their aerospace engineering college degree.

    Now we’re back to “oh, you’re an aerospace engineer? That’s too bad, I hear the job market for that is terrible…”Report