University reform: Demand driven system has devalued degrees and made some feel like failures

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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161 Responses

  1. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    This is, unfortunately, both predictable and expected. Just having more people with college degrees does not mean the middle class jobs will follow. You just have more people fighting it out for the same positions.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Goodhart’s Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

    I suppose we could argue over whether something like a “Liberal Arts Education” is a good in-and-of-itself that ought to be provided to everyone whether or not it actually results in people getting more/better jobs… but that might open the door to the question of what a Liberal Arts Education actually consists of and whether the degrees that currently fall under the umbrella categorization of “Liberal Arts Degree” actually provides the things that a Liberal Arts Education consists of and that’s a good way to get accused of wrongthink.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      If a LAE is such a fundamental good, then it should be provided for.

      Or, at the very least, it should be so affordable that acquiring one is not a potentially ruinous expense.

      But I’m pretty sure we can all see exactly where that road will lead.

      PS I’m glad the article calls out the degradation of the social value of vocational study.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        For what it’s worth, I think that a Liberal Arts Education is a good in and of itself.

        I just disagree whether a degree in video game criticism indicates that the recipient has received a Liberal Arts Education.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          That would require standardizing somewhat the definition of a LAE. A person could arguably get a LAE that had a focus on video game criticism.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            A list of things that a person who received a LAE should be able to do.

            Or, I suppose, 80% of those things. 70% if we’re feeling generous. 90% if we’re talking about elite schools.

            What’s on the list?

            I find myself hesitant to even start to write it.

            But, lemme tell ya, prospective hirers know, more or less, what’s on that list. And they want people who can do about 80% of those things. 70% if they’re feeling generous. 90% if they’re elite prospective hirers.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I agree with you but I think that there are far fewer people with “video game criticism” degrees than people tend to imagine. Most LAE people still get degrees in Comparative Literature, History, Sociology, etc. Asian and African Studies are valid fields of study.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Sure. We can swap out Comparative Literature, History, Sociology, etc for “video game criticism” in my above paragraph and I’ll stand by that new paragraph too.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              So what do you consider to be a Liberal Arts Education?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Off the top of my head?

                There are two very, very big ones:
                The ability to read a document and learn from it (for example, if it were a document explaining how to do a task, to take this document and then accomplish this task by following its instructions)
                The ability to write a document that someone else could learn from (for example, if it were a document explaining how to do a task, for them to take this document and then accomplish this task by following its instructions)

                After that, there are some lesser, though still important, ones:
                The ability to search for and find documents (for example, documents that explain how to do tasks)
                The ability to do a decent sniff test on an untested document and be able to say whether it’s likely to be helpful
                The ability to do a decent sniff test on two different documents talking about the same thing and be able to tell which one is more likely to be accurate and/or useful

                If someone graduates college without having the first two mastered and a decent grasp on the next three, college has failed them.

                I suppose that there’s another skill involving something like the ability to remember to take a deep breath and then ask something like “is there a document that talks about this?” but that’s a really, really hard one to learn. It might be outside the scope of what college can teach.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                After we hammer those down, we can argue about the extent to which Dead White Males need to be part of the curriculum but without a foundation that hammers those five things down quite flat, the degree (whatever it’s in) is not worth the sheepskin it’s printed on.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                These are critical reading, writing, and thought skills but they have been considered products of a liberal arts education and not an education in itself.

                I think that a liberal arts education needs to consist of art, literature, history, social and natural science, math, and language.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If a student leaves a college without the ability to do those five things, it doesn’t matter what art trivia, literature trivia, history trivia, social and natural science trivia, math trivia, or language trivia they happened to memorize long enough to make it past the multiple choice exam.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, it’s far from obvious to me why any of the areas of study discussed, from History to, yes, Video Game Criticism, would necessarily not involve learning to do those things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                it’s far from obvious to me why any of the areas of study discussed, from History to, yes, Video Game Criticism, would necessarily not involve learning to do those things.

                Did you read my argument as if saying “I just disagree whether a degree in video game criticism indicates that the recipient has received a Liberal Arts Education” is the same thing as saying that studying these things necessarily does not involve receiving a Liberal Arts Education?

                If you did, would you mind if I used that as an example that makes my point?Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Jaybird: Did you read my argument as if saying “I just disagree whether a degree in video game criticism indicates that the recipient has received a Liberal Arts Education” is the same thing as saying that studying these things necessarily does not involve receiving a Liberal Arts Education?

                Necessarily? No. But I did read it as suggesting that a degree in one of those subjects is, somehow, a particularly bad proxy for having learned those skills, and that people who have degrees in the humanities and social sciences are particularly worthy of skepticism.

                If you did, would you mind if I used that as an example that makes my point?

                My degrees are in math and physics, so I don’t think it’s fair to blame my lack of reading comprehension on the humanities classes I assiduously and successfully avoided taking in college.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t want to say that it’s a *PARTICULARLY* bad proxy.

                I would, however, say that it’s an unreliable proxy compared to its reliability in the past and, as time goes on, is becoming more unreliable even as it becomes more expensive.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I’ll admit that my knee jerk, cynical assumption is that it’s always been a bad proxy for actually knowing how to do anything useful, and the real problem is that it’s also becoming a bad proxy for social class.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I think Jay has the right of this. Any liberal arts education should teach you certain skills regardless of the focus. These skills should include how to read deeply and analytically, how to write persuasively and explanatorily, how to research and use primary and secondary sources, and how to properly use rhetoric in oral arguments.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                I think that a liberal arts education needs to consist of art, literature, history, social and natural science, math, and language.

                Math is shockingly useful and versatile in modern society in terms of building a career. The others, not so much.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Not everything in an education has to be or should be about getting a career.

                History and literature are about being connected to the world and people.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Language nearly as much so. Perhaps it was my career path(s), but even in the most technical jobs, there were always papers to be written, presentations to be given, sometimes to inform, sometimes to persuade. Neither is a replacement for the other; they’re complements.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                If you mean reading/writing, then agreed, if you mean foreign-language, then which one?Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                Actually you should learn the foreign language in High School. In most parts of the US it would be Spanish today. Better yet start in the 5th or 6th grade all be it the nativists would greatly object to this idea. But if folks from the Netherlands can learn many languages US kids could also. (one could consider French in New England however)Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Actually you should learn the foreign language in High School.

                I tend to agree with this… but there are a limit to how many “must have” subjects there can be, and this tends to hit the radar as 2nd teer. It would be nice, it’s not actually necessary if they know English.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                No, seriously. Neurological development says if you ever wish to learn another language, you should learn a second language early. The earlier the better, but by high school at the latest.

                Learning a second language while your brain is still developing makes it much, much easier to learn more languages after full maturation.

                Call it…laying the neural groundwork to learn more languages. It’s not a case of “Oh, they’re all romance languages so learn one and you have a leg up on the others”. It’s a case of literally wiring your brain to assimilate new languages faster and more fully.

                Some things we teach because you need them as an adult, some we teach because we consider them important for citizens, and some (like a foreign language) we teach in K-12 because it’s the only time to lay the proper neural groundwork.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                I’m pleased to see a list that broad. Of late, I’ve seen too many opinion pieces written by (usually) history or political science professors who assert that it is critical that the hard science and engineering types take courses in those fields, but that requiring history or political science majors to learn even algebra is too demanding.

                My time on the state legislature staff further convinced me that anyone who gets out of a four-year college without some exposure to engineering and systems is missing something critical for living in today’s world. Far too many of the decisions made by the legislators suffered from lack of any understanding of how the world works. Not at the level of physics or chemistry, but at the level of massive software systems and incredibly complicated machinery.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                @michael-cain

                I admit that my alma mater only offered engineering via a joint program with RPI or Columbia. I don’t think many people took this as an option.

                My biases and preferences are still for the arts and humanities and I generally dislike sneers against theatre majors for obvious reasons. I’ve met many cool engineers. I have also known a few too many math and engineering majors who think that mastery of math and engineering is the only way to show intelligence.

                SLAC like mine are probably for a very self-selecting bunch, just as much as Caltech or MIT.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                If you tried telling most people that “theater major” was a synonym for “spy training” I think they’d be suddenly a lot happier about it.

                One seems a lot more “useful” than the other. Dunno why.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                I try hard not to sneer at any field of study.

                That said, and related to one of my other comments here, in this day and age almost everybody will be required to build spreadsheets at some point, and many of those will grow to significant levels of complexity over time. I admit that I’ve said more than once something like “Your spreadsheet would contain far fewer errors if, somewhere along the line, you had taken an introduction to software engineering concepts class.” Is that a sneer?

                When I was a manager at Bell Labs, I regularly put “Toastmasters” (the Labs had an excellent local club) on engineers’ development plans and told them, “I not only care that you do good math and write good code, I need you to be able to speak about it, too.”Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                but that requiring history or political science majors to learn even algebra is too demanding

                Actually, it probably is. College level algebra is a wash-out class to a lot of people.

                From my perspective (several semesters of calculus, diffy q, linear algebra, etc) it’s an easy class.

                But I’ve known quite smart people who couldn’t hack it — or required a great deal of tutoring, effort, and a lot of stress to scrape through it.

                I’ve not met many people that can’t hack, oh, a English 101 and 102 or History 101 and 102.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Perhaps I was unclear — not college-level algebra as in groups, rings, fields, etc, but high-school algebra.

                Not to put too fine a point on it, but back in the day (when I started college, and dinosaurs ruled the Earth (particularly, I think, higher ed)), the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska wouldn’t accept you unless you had already passed the state’s standard second year high-school algebra or its equivalent. Well, some departments might let you in, but the college said you were “deficient in preparation” and had a year to fix that or get booted.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                High school algebra is a bit different than college algebra.

                I actually do use a great deal of basic algebra (and some geometry, oddly) in my day job — but it’s simple stuff and so ingrained that I don’t even think of it as algebra. A = B/(C+2) and X is between 0 and 10, so given 0.1 < X/A < 0.9, what are the constraints on B and C….scratch paper, two minutes and a quick test case and I'm done.

                And now I'm wondering what exactly IS in college algebra that isn't in high school algebra (I had Cal I via AP tests, so I never took college level algebra) since I'm considering picking up an engineering degree and would rather retake my maths than trust that I recall differential equations after 20 years. (I could probably do Cal I with little problem, but the more advanced forms of integration I've forgotten.). I simply don't use them and haven't since the late 90s.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I tutored college algebra. It’s basically high school algebra, just for college students. (Aka: you failed algebra four times, and you’re trying it over again).Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                It’s basically high school algebra, just for college students.

                Although in my experience, taught at a much faster pace. My rule of thumb used to be that the college version would go about twice as fast: the material from a traditional (not AP) year-long high-school pre-calc class would be covered in a semester.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                That is more or less a definition of the difference between a college class and an HS class foreign language is another good example, 2 years in college is roughly the equivalent of 4 years in high school.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                (I could probably do Cal I with little problem, but the more advanced forms of integration I’ve forgotten.)

                In some ways, this is a tough time for universities teaching applied mathematics. On the one hand, if I’m hiring you as an applied mathematician I expect you to set up the problems: expressing it as integrals or systems of differential equations or optimization or whatever. OTOH, with some rare exceptions where you’ve done some nifty trickery and reduced the problem to one that’s trivial [1], I expect you to hand it off to a piece of software to solve. And back in the first part, to have thought about what kind of sanity tests should be applied to the solution the software gives you. Mathematica is better at symbolic integration than you or I will ever be. Unless you’re in the kind of software business like @oscar-gordon , the commercial software packages represent orders of magnitude more invested time in getting things right than I can afford to pay you for.

                [1] One of the reasons I got hired at Bell Labs was that during the interview process, one of the interviewers was showing me the applied math problem he was currently struggling with. Instead of the allotted 45 minutes, after I suggested a particular way to transform the problem — it was a type of problem on which I’d spent a lot of my graduate time — we went down the hall to a conference room and spent the next two hours on the white boards reducing his problem to one that was trivial. I found out after I had started working there that his write-up for the interview was: “(1) Make this guy a really good offer. (2) Find some way to get HR to let us pay him a consulting fee for this afternoon.”Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Nice. And that tracks my experience with our engineers and how they solve problems.

                Although our chief engineer has been pushing really hard for his engineers to develop “quick and dirty” real world tests to validate model assumptions.

                He does materials work and analysis of problems (“it broke. Why did it break? Oh god, is it all going to break?”) and he’s found customers will grudgingly accept a lot of math, knockdown factors, and safety margins, but what really makes them happy is if you can rig up a test to validate at least some of your numbers in addition to an explanation of why it broke.

                (Which is often “The part was old/fatigued” or “there was a load/stress nobody noticed” or “Whatever moron designed this was, in fact, a moron”. Although it’s mostly defects or unanticipated loads or stresses more than idiot designs. The critical stuff passes through enough design reviews and enough separate people that it’s rare for something obvious to slip by)Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Heh, as the Liberal Arts guy in the Tech Field… I’m pretty sure hacking English 101 is exactly what my tech peers did.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I tested out of freshman comp (yay ap). So I had to take a “harder” english course on Poetry. Yep, fun times.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                My university made us take a math test to avoid the taking the easiest math requirement possible problem. I placed just right above my competency level in college level pre-calculus. Did all right in high school pre-calculus but not so good at the college level.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Evil. I like it.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Predictable.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                I might put it as the ability to take a written document and teach yourself what the contents mean. How many folks will stay in the same field for a whole Career? Even starting in 1976 I started out in Geophysics with a major oil company, moved gradually into the computer side and ended the Career in Enterprise Architecture in the IT department (28 years). It might also include learning from seminars and the like (not courses which do some spoon feeding.

                As to the humanities there are lots of books out there that one could read. I have been reading about the history of the steel industry which is involved (plus today there is youtube to learn from as well, for example how to make iron using the old bloomery method.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                So what do you consider to be a Liberal Arts Education?

                Arts 491- Protest Tactics; Giant Papier Mache Heads Reconsidered T-Th Rm. 120 Mumia Hall;

                Urban Planning 350- FEMA Camps; Design and Theory
                MWF Rm. 639 Indigenous People’s Union

                Literature 462- Advanced Political Correctness; Vocabulary, Outrage, and Microagression Tactics
                T-TH LGBTQ Safe SpaceReport

              • Avatar North says:

                Damnit Chip! SHHHHHH! Not where the libertarians can see!! *hushes frantically*Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                You owe me a new keyboard, @chip-daniels .Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Truth. Game design generally requires a masters.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I think one problem is that education like nearly everything else is something that we got very good at. We have a lot of studies on how to educate the masses effectively compared to the past. It isn’t perfect but we definitely know how to it better than they did in Middle Ages like we know surgery better. So our techniques are more effective and the costs are lower. The thing is that this doesn’t translate into jobs. How do we determine who gets educated and who does not is going to be a tricky question.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The question of whether it translates into jobs is different from the question of whether it is a good in and of itself.

        What are we going for? What is our goal?

        If our goal is to make people more employable, there are a handful of things that we will want to do (and I’m not certain that our schools are actually doing those things).

        If our goal is to make people receive a Liberal Arts Education, there are a handful of things that we will want to do (and I’m not certain that our schools are actually doing those things).

        The Venn Diagram of those two sets of things have a lot of overlap, mind. So they’re not exclusive sets of things.

        I’m just not sure that the set of things that our schools are doing have a lot of overlap with either set of those things (let alone the set of things that overlap between them).Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Education is about both. Its about giving people a good liberal arts education so they can be self-actualized humans and good citizens. It is also about giving them employable skills. You can focus more on one thing than the other but it is always about both.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Sure, fine. I agree.

            I’m just not sure that the set of things that our schools are doing have a lot of overlap with either set of those things (let alone the set of things that overlap between them).Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            Its about giving people a good liberal arts education so they can be self-actualized humans and good citizens.

            @leeesq

            What do you mean by self actualised humans? There are two ways of defining this. One way is by giving a formal definition which doesn’t impose any actual content to the expression, but gives it sufficient description that everyone or nearly everyone agrees that its good. When pressed on what achieving it will involve, no one agrees. Another way is by imposing substantive content probably involving Authenticity(tm) or some robust capacity to rationally choose one’s ends which Humeans think doesn’t exist and which some communitarians think is not necessarily good.

            Similar problem afflicts the notion of good citizen. Ask a certain type of lefty and good citizenship probably involves but is not limited to things like correcting inequities and civil disobedience to protest injustice. Ask a certain type of conservative and good citizenship may involve things like keeping your head down, obeying the law (except perhaps when religious requirements are at stake) or maybe even some kind of military service. Ask a certain kind of libertarian and the answer will involve something like not violating other people’s rights (and disobeying the law when it requires you to do so). Not only is there immense disagreement about what constitutes good citizenship, there isn’t even an agreed upon core. I’m hard pressed to think of any one alleged component of good citizenship which either is not disputed. Also, were we to stipulate the meaning of good citizenship, it would not be clear that being a good citizen is part of being a good person.

            Or maybe this is something that people are to figure this out for themselves. But then you are into the realm of should people really figure out for themselves what being a self actualised human and good citizen involves?* In addition we might think that the only point at which people start to get competent at figuring out complex questions for themselves is around the time people have gotten a graduate degree in that field. In this case graduate degrees in philosophy hardly seem like the basics that people must have to be self actualised persons and good citizens**

            The bottom line is that there are multiple conflicting things that people want out of education at least as it pertains to citizenship and personal character development. To suppose that there is even some basic toolset (apart from basic reading comprehension) that is necessary for this end does not seem to hold up on inspection.

            There is a further problem with thinking that a liberal arts education is necessary to become a self-actualised human being/good citizen. A high school education hardly seems to be what we call a liberal arts education, at least not the typical high school education. Instead, what is meant by a liberal arts education involves at least some undergraduate level courses. Yet clearly even given the most liberal education funding, more than half the population cannot hack college. i.e. if your conception of good citizenship is something unachievable for half the population, its less likely that there is something wrong with them than that there is something wrong with your conception of good citizenship.

            *A certain kind of facile western bourgeois answer to the question of what being a good citizen/self actualised human being involves is figuring it out for yourself. Again, the same analysis for other kinds of answers to these questions applies: lots of people disagree. And there are significant assumptions baked into the notion that it is good to find things out for oneself.

            **Whatever you might have been told by the philosophy department at school, thinking that a philosophy degree is necessary to be a good citizen requires a certain a) blind conceit and b) failure to appreciate the nature of moral requirements vis a vis citizenship.Report

    • When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

      Which is everything you need to know about 21st-century finance.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      @jaybird’s Goodheart’s Law point is important. And it is important in a number of different places.

      When we talk about a liberal arts education in the classical sense what we mean is a basic foundation in a number of general areas: literature, math, arts, sciences, etc. One of the problems is that as we get more advanced in the specialization in various fields of knowledge, the value of knowing the basics gets smaller. Personally, I still think that there is tremendous value in being familiar with a basic level of familiarity with the knowledge and methodology

      However, there are an increasing number of fields where the specialization at the far end of the field are having deleterious effects at the near end. Go find somewhere on the interwebs that a bunch of undergraduate fine arts majors are talking. Can you relate to what they’re talking about? Can you even understand it? There are a lot of areas of study where kids aren’t learning to think critically, but are learning some theory about critical thinking. The difference is important. And the result is that there are lots of young people who can sound very intelligent and knowledgeable about various topics, but don’t know how to react when they come across someone who doesn’t share their priors. That this is annoying is the lesser problem. I can’t help but think that it makes them to some degree less employable.

      Even at the top of the food chain, the kids with the most elite educations who get hired at the bulge bracket banks/top strategy consulting firms/white shoe law firms, what you find is that these are the kids who could consistently outperform the measure. A lot of that is correlated to raw cognitive ability and the conscientiousness to work hard, but it’s also about the willingness and the ability to learn a system and execute on it without asking too many questions of that system. So, what you get is that the elite institutions are full of people who exhibit a certain kind of group think that makes meaningful reform difficult.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Say rather that the basics have changed.
        Computerized Modeling physical systems is much more important now than being able to do work by hand.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I’m sure I’d equally fail understanding the technobabble of fine arts students as much as I would fail understand the technobabble of [insert hip STEM degree of the month] here. And believe me, both sides can sound like they know everything at 23 – go look at Reddit in any thread about college costs before you’ll find some douchebag recent graduate talking about their six figure salary at some tech company and making fun of English majors.

        Note I don’t think most STEM majors are this, no more than I think most English majors are folding clothes at The Gap.Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          @jesse-ewiak

          The point of my comment was not to degrade fine arts relative to STEM or whatever else. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really care what people study. Every field of study has a path to gainful employment and personal fulfillment, some paths just require a bit more work than others.

          The point of my comment was to say that, in the contemporary world, where every field is getting broader and deeper by the moment, the sort of broad knowledge conferred by a liberal arts education is becoming increasingly alienated from what’s going on at the far end of every field of study. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it can be a problem for those who are then taking that knowledge and trying to apply it in other fields.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    So, to recap:

    Automation and offshoring have led to a loss of blue collar jobs for those without degrees;

    The solution is to retrain these people for higher skilled careers requiring college education;

    Massive numbers of people follow this advice;

    Leading to an oversupply of college graduates for whom there are no jobs.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Perhaps, but you need numbers. Is there unemployment? If so, where*? Is there a growth in immigration/guest worker visas? If so, where? Are there people who are underemployed relative to their education/experience? If so, where?

      If you are at nearly full employment, educating people does not make more jobs available.

      Ideally, people who are educated will be flexible enough to be successful across multiple career options, although I’m starting to think that this is one area western education is sucking hard at (getting people to understand how to sell themselves across multiple career options).

      *where both in a geographic sense, but also in a demographic sense.Report

  4. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    This is critical:

    “We have provided them with a strong foundation to contribute to the economy — as they are doing — and will increasingly need to be able to do, if they are to be successful in a career that will increasingly be marked by technological breakthroughs and disruption.”
    Ms Thomson said universities were often criticised for not turning out work ready graduates but said there should also be discussion about whether businesses were asking more of today’s graduates.

    She said part of the problem may be that businesses could no longer afford to give graduates the time to adjust to their roles, or to give them old-fashioned on-the-job mentoring.

    “Which leads me to repeat — that universities have a far broader role in society, and for our students, than being a degree factory for jobs.”

    Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      “businesses could no longer afford to give graduates the time to adjust to their roles, or to give them old-fashioned on-the-job mentoring.”

      Let’s be clear here. The vast majority of companies could afford this, they’ve just offloaded the cost on to colleges and future employees because they think they can get away with it.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Another one of those magical moments when Jesse & I agree on something.Report

        • Let’s be clear here. The vast majority of companies could afford this, they’ve just offloaded the cost on to colleges and future employees because they think they can get away with it.

          If the NBA and MFL can get colleges to run unpaid apprentice systems for them, why not everybody else?Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Isn’t it also possible they CAN get away with it because of the reserve army of the unemployed semi-employed, and underemployed?

        The general chronic softness of the market for labor means workers have to resort to ever-more desperate measures to win favor with employers.

        Its not enough anymore to learn a skill; now, we have to have continual education, a perpetual treadmill of education and certification to stay in the same place.

        I contend that very few jobs really truly demand formal classroom education, but instead most could be learned on the job, my job included. Until recently, a person could sit for the Architectural License Exam without any formal training whatsoever, and a friend of mine got his license in that very way.

        But if there are masses of strivers for every select spot, why bother? Let the taxpayers pick up the tab.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          A comment which reminds me of this particular study.

          From the introduction:

          Among its findings, the Commission notes that the illegal workers are estimated to account for as much as one-third of total immigrants in the United States, and that illegal immigration has tended to increase the supply of low-skilled, low-wage labor available. The Commission found also that about six in 10 adult black males have a high school diploma or less, and are disproportionately employed in the low-skilled labor market in likely competition with immigrants. Evidence for negative effects of such competition ranged from modest to significant, according to the experts who testified, but even those experts who viewed the effects as modest overall found significant effects in occupations such as meatpacking and construction.

          Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            Wasn’t NAFTA and offshoring supposed to reduce immigration by shifting the jobs to where the people were, rather than moving the people to the jobs?

            How is it that the global trade structure has improved the supply of manufactured items, yet hasn’t been able to improve the demand for labor?

            Its almost like it was never designed to.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Wasn’t NAFTA and offshoring supposed to reduce immigration by shifting the jobs to where the people were, rather than moving the people to the jobs?

              I don’t ever remember hearing that argument made during the NAFTA debates. Is that accurate?

              More to the point, tho, is this: NAFTA was supposed to raise the standard of living for the statistically represented median income earner in the US (while also padding the profits for the investor class, tho that wasn’t mentioned with as much frequency or vigor) by allowing capital and repatriation of profit to move more freely across borders, which would entail (even on the premise offered us) that cheap illegal labor would be in even greater demand post-NAFTA since more Murkins would have more money to spend on things like lawn care. Or meat packing. Whatever.

              How is it that the global trade structure has improved the supply of manufactured items, yet hasn’t been able to improve the demand for labor?

              Capital flexibility (heh) actually DOES improve/increase the demand for labor*. Just not in high-wage countries. They see a decline in relative wage rates.

              *{Adding}: high demand for labor is revealed by a decline in wage rates.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Improving the economies of 3rd World nations via global trade was in fact sold as a kinder, gentler version of Build A Wall And Moat With Fricken Sharks to keep Those People out of our country.

                Again, as Matt Taiibbi noted, no one ever sold trade agreements with the sales pitch that “We promise that you will get laid off!” or “Trust us, those Bangladeshis will thank you for your sacrifice!”

                Has anyone noticed that whenever the phrase “labor shortage” is mentioned in reporting, is done so as a negative, like it is a terrible problem to be solved?

                Where is the political push to raise wages, to deliver more of the wealth of our ever-increasing productivity into the hands of the workers?

                This is why I sneer at the circular logic I started with upthread, where people smugly assert that those steelworkers just need to learn a valuable skill like law or something; then when millions flood into doing just that, we hear about an oversupply of lawyers.

                There always seems to be this unquestioned assumption that workers are somehow doing something wrong, either studying puppetry or refusing to study at all and preferring old fashioned manufacturing jobs, or somehow just being lazy and demanding to be paid instead of interning for free.

                Or that if we could only be more like Bangladesh and remove the nanny state government regulations that prevent 12 year old girls from stitching soccer balls for 14 hours a day, somehow the good jobs would come back.

                No one wants to look at the idea that our global laws and regulations and political choices are tilted towards the finance sector and deliver unearned wealth to a tiny sliver of the citizenry.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Improving the economies of 3rd World nations via global trade was in fact sold as a kinder, gentler version of Build A Wall And Moat With Fricken Sharks to keep Those People out of our country.

                I couldn’t find evidence of this from around the time of NAFTA.

                I did find a number of links from 2013 that were saying “oh, they made this promise and they made that promise!” but when I found a document from the era in question? They weren’t making those particular promises.

                Instead, they were acting like Communism had only just very recently fallen and we needed to introduce Free Trade to Latin America before it was too late.

                And it wasn’t framed as “lest they come here and provide domestic help”.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Agreed; immigration was trending upwards through the 80s and accelerated through the 90s and 00s. For immigration as an “issue” NAFTA may or may not be a contributing factor to a trend that pre-dates it.

                Still, though best summary of what the goals were is right there in the signing statement from 1993. And, as Taibbi points out, many of those issues are very salient today, and, arguably a measure by which we might start to evaluate our global trade policies.

                As Rhetoric its really quite lucid: Challenge, Approach, Solution, Objectives.

                Our agenda must, therefore, be far reaching. We are determining that dynamic trade cannot lead to environmental despoliation. We will seek new institutional arrangements to ensure that trade leaves the world cleaner than before. We will press for workers in all countries to secure rights that we now take for granted, to organize and earn a decent living. We will insist that expanded trade be fair to our businesses and to our regions. No country should use cartels, subsidies, or rules of entry to keep our products off its shelves. And we must see to it that our citizens have the personal security to confidently participate in this new era. Every worker must receive the education and training he or she needs to reap the rewards of international competition rather than to bear its burdens.

                Pursuant to this thread, I don’t think we know what we mean by re-training workers, and pursuant to the technocratic thread, I don’t think we know how to measure “success” because we don’t pass incremental legislation… we pass legislative objectives, or more accurately, we pass incremental legislation to benefit a small constituency with the sales pitch to benefit the people paying for it. So, we’re not even honest about what the measure of success is. I have no doubt the Mr. Clinton is very happy with the success of NAFTA and is more than happy to pass along its failures to the obstructions of his opposition party. As politics, NAFTA is pretty masterful – he sells the above vision as *his* contribution, knowing full well where the benefits will accrue, doing so with opposition votes knowing that they won’t deliver on the objectives and will bear the brunt of the failure. Genius.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I am recalling the arguments and discussions I experienced, as polite conservatives that i knew and heard and read discussed global trade and immigration.
                Obviously my recollections are not the ones that get recorded for posterity, so my viewpoint is parochial.

                So if the design intent of our global trade structure was as written above, does anyone here think we are making even incremental progress towards it?

                Are we avoiding environmental despoliation, are workers progressing towards secure rights, and so on?Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                On the bright side, now that we have the internet you can never escape your recollections.

                But, yes, I rather agree… I absolutely think we should evaluate legislation based on goals/objectives. We really don’t. I’m not sure that NAFTA specifically is good or bad, I think that our move towards “Globalism” now has internal rules and logic that doesn’t really align with our stated goals/objectives… but they are probably generating good outcomes for some constituencies – are they the constituencies we wanted? Are they getting a disproportionate share? How would we know? That’s kinda the nut Trump found – blind squirrels and all that.

                On Immigration, I’m leaning towards thinking that we didn’t improve Latin American lives so much as crater some key [agricultural] markets which very likely increased immigration to the US and Mexico City environs. Somebody is probably happy with this.

                There’s also the weird stat that we were expecting NAFTA to be a net Export gain for the US, but it has become a big Import deficit. So, someone is likely happy with the results… but that’s sort of the point… human affairs are so complex that we tend to turn a nob here not realizing that we just pulled a lever there.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              This calls for some primary sources:

              Here’s a fun paragraph:

              If the U.S. Congress votes down NAFTA next week, Japanese companies will swarm over Mexico “like flies on a June bug,” as Mr. Clinton puts it, and set up a threatening beachhead in America’s back yard. NAFTA must be approved to thwart their sinister plans.

              And here’s this one…

              Nor can there be much doubt that the still fragile flowering of free markets and democracy in the hemisphere will be severely weakened if the United States turns its back on Latin America by voting against NAFTA. The risk is of a relapse into protectionism, poverty, anti-Americanism and dictatorship.

              And the conclusion…

              Outside America, the fear is that if he fails he will send a message around the world that it is politically suicidal to espouse free trade. That would not just be bad for America, it would be a “bad deal” for everyone else, too.

              Seems like the justification, at the time (that is from 1993, I’ll point out) didn’t mention immigration.

              Check it out yourself. It talks about the importance of Free Trade, the importance of the free market, and in setting an example for France (called out by name).

              I found a bunch of stuff from 2013 talking about what they said in order to sell NAFTA (and immigration did feature prominently in those)… but that link there is the only primary source from the time period in question that I could find that talked about why we need to pass NAFTA.

              And immigration didn’t even get mentioned.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Perot:”We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It’s pretty simple: If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor,…have no health care—that’s the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.

                …when [Mexico’s] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it’s leveled again. But in the meantime, you’ve wrecked the country with these kinds of deals.”

                I wonder if the plan was to bring Mexico up to $6.00 minimum wage and the U.S. down to $6.00. At that point immigration isn’t driven by wage rates. I think it would be a big stretch to meet Mexico at $4.25 right now.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m reading that argument as saying “corporations are going to relocate their factories where it’s cheaper!” rather than “they’re going to smuggle unskilled labor in unbeforeseen numbers!”

                It’s about corporations emigrating rather than people immigrating.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Because Disney I haven’t kept up with the comments on this post, so I apologize if someone else has said this.

          Isn’t it also possible they CAN get away with it because of the reserve army of the unemployed semi-employed, and underemployed?

          I’d say no. Not because that state of affairs doesn’t exist, but because that state of affairs by itself should not affect how the academy behaves.

          AFAIK, back in the day, Universities taught people the fundamentals and assumed business would handle teaching the specifics as they mattered to that business. What I think changed was an underlying assumption about who/what is a primary factor in landing a job. Back in the day, if a University bragged that top firms hired their graduates, it was a signal that those graduates were so well educated (and networked) that they could convince a top firm to hire them. The graduate was the primary factor in securing employment at a top firm, meaning that the person was already top tier, and the education merely enabled that person to achieve greater success. Now, it seems that the message is that the university is the primary factor, and the person is not as important.

          This may seem a distinction without much difference, but I contend that it matters in how the academy interacts with business and how it markets itself to students. Back in the day, the customer of the University was the student (&/or their family). Now, it seems that the customer base has expanded to include potential employers, so the university can market themselves as a place where top firms recruit heavily. This means the curriculum is at best influenced indirectly by the stated desires of corporate recruiters, or worse, influenced directly by corporate gifting with a quid pro quo. This is not just about marketing for brand recognition, but also as a way to help drive graduate employment stats.

          So if a school wants to be able to say Boeing recruits heavily from their engineering program, they are going to shape their curriculum so Boeing finds the graduates attractive, perhaps even going so far as to have something of a pipeline (lots of internships & co-ops, easy hiring process, etc.).

          In short, because schools are constantly competing for more & more students, they’ve allowed themselves to be heavily influenced by employers, possibly to the detriment of academic rigor. Also, for whatever reason, I think schools have gotten very lazy with regard to teaching graduates how to market themselves to employers (perhaps because the school has decided that the graduate should just be able to trade on the name on the degree, or they don’t want students to get the idea that the name they paid a lot of money for is insufficient).Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    She said the removal of caps on student numbers and the introduction of a “demand driven” system, had led to unintended consequences.

    Universities were now pumping out an oversupply of graduates, making it hard for some to get jobs despite spending significant time and money on their education.

    Ms Thomson also noted that the value of vocational study had also been eroded, with people forced to consider going to university “or be labelled a failure”.

    I disagree that those two outcomes were “unintended”. A consideration of pure market principles alone would reveal that those two outcomes would result from colleges engaging in a demand-driven (ie., financially and institutionally rewarding) “race to the top”. Which isn’t to say that those outcomes were intended, either. Neither is the case. Seems to me universities determined their respective policies based on market principles applied to a “demand” economy, and these potential outcomes were merely discounted or ignored because normatively they’re outside the paradigm in which the initial “demand-based” decisions (eg, to expand enrollment) were made.Report

  6. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    The original college degrees were measurements of wealth, intelligence, and social status. The new college degrees need some underlying value to have value, and all to often they don’t.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Not quite.

      Colleges were originally meant to train the clergy. Law and Medicine soon followed.

      After that they became finishing schools for the rich and remainder so until the 19th century and really well into the 20th. There was a Havard President in the 19th century who cursed at educating “the stupid sons of the rich.” He modernized Harvard. Well into the 20th Century, the “Gentleman’s C” was considered the the ideal grade.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I also never understood the libertarian sneer against a mass educated class.

      I agree that there are problems now but a well educated society should be a goal for advanced society.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I also never understood the libertarian sneer against a mass educated class.

        I already know that there won’t be an answer to this, but what “libertarian sneer” are you talking about? Show me a libertarian making an argument that reasonably resembles what you’re talking about.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I think it’s one of those things where he’s holding up what he calls a modern and updated replica of an original Duchamp readymade and people snicker and say “that’s just a pisser, dude” and he’s arguing that we’re sneering at Fine Art.

          If we don’t agree on what consists of a mass educated class (for example, if we look at a (noun) (noun) (noun) studies major and don’t see a particularly educated person while he sees someone who is holding a $125,000 degree from an elite school), it’s possible that he sees Libertarians sneering at a mass educated class while Libertarians see themselves sneering at people who aren’t even close to educated but still calling themselves educated.

          He’s kind of begging a question there.

          We need to hammer out what a “mass educated class” consists of and then we can hammer out what “libertarians sneering at a mass educated class” consists of.

          Because I’m pretty sure that we might agree that libertarians are sneering at *SOMETHING*.

          It’s just that libertarians don’t agree that what they’re sneering at involves people who have been particularly educated.

          (See also what the word “fancy” means in certain parts of the country.)Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            I think there’s a bit of denial, a number of the libertarianish have poo pooed the idea that everybody should have a college degree. The “college-is-not-for-everyone-some-people-should-go-to-trade-school” schtick, while not exactly following from libertarian principles, is something that you have said, j r has said, Oscar has said, even I have said something along those lines. I have even questioned the need for everyone to think critically etc. So its just a bit precious to suddenly wonder what Saul is talking about.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Saying “college is not for everyone” is *FAR* from being a, here, let me cut and paste this:

              libertarian sneer against a mass educated class

              It’s acknowledging that college will not, in fact, benefit everyone who goes. It will not, in fact, be worth the price tag for everyone who goes. It will not, in fact, be worth the time investment for everyone who goes.

              Is that what Saul was referring to? The idea that college might not, in fact, be right for absolutely every single freaking person on the planet as being a libertarian “sneer” against a mass educated class?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                The idea that college might not, in fact, be right for absolutely every single freaking person on the planet as being a libertarian “sneer” against a mass educated class?

                Well, if by “College is not for everyone” you mean “college is for maybe half the people who currently attend it*” then yes.

                *Given that IIRC 30-40% of americans currently attend some college, half of that is 15-20%. This is no more Trump’s-share-of-the-popular-vote minority, this is not even opposition-share-of-popular-vote-in-Singapore minority. This is inching on ron-paul’s-popularity-in-republican-primary territory.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Are there other things that I might mean when I say “College is not for everyone”?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Let me replay the dialectic here:

                OP: Large numbers of college students are graduating with heavy debt and without the job prospects to pay off said debt.

                Background assumption: 45% of people aged 25-29 have some college degree (associates and above).

                Jaybird: College is not for everyone

                I’m pretty sure that the maximal size of the set {not everyone} is the set of people who have graduated with a degree and have the economic prospects to pay off their college loan in a timely manner. Let’s call the size of this set k. Let’s call the size of the set of everyone n. I’m pretty sure k << n-1. I'm pretty sure that k < n-k as well.

                Look Jaybird. You may very well be right about for whom college is worth the cost for. I’m inclined to agree. Just own the damn point.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The damn point I’m owning is not only the point you’re telling me that I need to own but also the point that the product provided by the colleges is not uniform across them so that the college education that you received is not going to be the same quality of college education received by everyone going.

                Would you say that your college education/degree puts you in the bottom half of college education quality, so that most college educations out there are better than the one that you got?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                @jaybird

                Oh, I agree with you on the substance. But from the point of view of a person like Saul, it can look like a sneer. The point, which I agree with you on, would not be inaccurately characterised as elitist (in at least some senses of the word). Just because a point is elitist doesn’t mean its not true or well justified.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And now I’m wondering how I could have better communicated that I understand, from Saul’s perspective, how these elitist points might look like sneering.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How do you feel about the point that there are college educations out there that are not worth the price paid for them?

                Would putting more people into college increase the percentage of college educations worth the price paid?

                Would it decrease them? I think it would decrease them.

                Would the increase of raw numbers of people who actually got educations worth the price paid be worth the increase in percentage of people getting educations not worth the price paid?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                My own opinion is that it’s people’s own damn money to waste however they want. Some people are well served by attending a third rate college. There are places in the world where going to a third rate college in the states gives you decent job prospects. But those places are probably in some third world country. Of course if the state is funding this then we might want to look more closely on ROI. If it were my own kid, I would make sure that the university he or she was going to would be one which got her what she wanted. But hopefully, I would have done a good enough job as a parent to ensure that she had the grades to get into a top college.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But we’re not talking about whether people should be able to spend their money however they want.

                My elitist point is that they shouldn’t be pressured into purchasing stuff that won’t be worth the money they spend on it in order to get a diploma that won’t deliver to them the outcomes promised. Let alone go deep into debt to be grifted thusly.

                Do they have the “right” to go into debt to get a worthless degree?

                Sure.

                But I don’t find that point to be interesting.Report

            • Avatar j r says:

              So its just a bit precious to suddenly wonder what Saul is talking about.

              I know exactly what Saul is talking about. My question was posed to find out if he knows the difference between the actual “maybe college is not for everyone” point and the straw man that he constructed.

              Is there anyone willing to make an argument as to why getting everyone a Bacherlor’s degree is worthwhile goal? And I mean worthwhile in the sense of forgoing other present policy goals and not worthwhile as in, “yeah, that would be a nice thing to have.” I would legitimately like to hear the case. Personally, from the standpoint of both building human capital/human development and from equality concerns, we would be much better off expending our efforts on getting secondary education up to par. If I understand correctly, one of the biggest hurdles to increasing community college graduation rates is that so many community college students show up needing remedial classes and those classes don’t count for credit, so it extends the amount of time that these students have to spend in the program, decreasing the likelihood that they will ever graduate.

              As others have pointed out get everyone a college degree is not the same as work to make sure that everyone is educated. And the more you try to make the two mean the same thing, the less meaningful that college degree becomes and the less likely it is to signal that the person got a an actual education. This is why people criticize for-profit colleges and universities, right?Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        I also never understood the libertarian sneer against a mass educated class. I agree that there are problems now but a well educated society should be a goal for advanced society.

        Agreed, but some letters on a piece of paper and a $100k debt doesn’t make you “educated”. Education is supposed to let you know more about how the world at large works and how to make good choices in society.

        That should include:
        1) Reading and Writing… although one *hopes* the high schools do this.
        2) Physics (the very definition of ‘how the world works’).
        3) Statistics (it’s very hard to make sensible choices without this).
        4) Logic (ditto, lots of bad ideas are out there, knowing why they’re bad is pretty key).
        5) Economics (ditto, and yes, money is important)

        Some of these are on how-to-evaluate-information and some of them are backbone on how the world works. But as far as I can tell it’s possible to go through college, get your degree in ‘being-indoctrinated’, skip most everything I just mentioned, and after that you can parrot whatever you ‘learned’… and then be totally shocked that the world doesn’t actually care and you’ve got $100k in debt for a min-wage job.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          I notice that the subjects relating to how to deal with other people are not in your list.

          You don’t think that philosophy and literature and art have useful applications for a business and political environment in which people from vastly different cultures and experiences need to cooperate voluntarily on complex projects?Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            To be honest, the philosophy courses that I took as an undergraduate were interesting, but they weren’t useful in the sense of understanding group dynamics. One of the history classes was a total waste, while the other was valuable (the former focused on who won which battle 300 years ago, and whether it occurred in June or July; the latter on the social structures of that time and how people lived within that structure). I would dearly love for all engineering and science programs to include group dynamics (for various sizes of groups) course(s). As a specific thing, not something that leaves the student trying to synthesize from introductory humanities classes.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter says:

            I notice that the subjects relating to how to deal with other people are not in your list. You don’t think that philosophy and literature and art have useful applications for a business and political environment in which people from vastly different cultures and experiences need to cooperate voluntarily on complex projects?

            Econ had a class which detailed how other cultures’ basic assumptions about time/law/money/relations/religion were different, how to deal with them, and what all that meant in a practical sense in terms of making multi-national project work.

            The case studies had some real howlers. The auto company which sold the ‘Nova’ in Mexico… and ‘Va’ in spanish means ‘go’ so No-Va means “No-Go”. The oil company which presented to Saudi officials it’s proposal in an expensive pig-leather folder… which resulted in both the binder and the proposal being burned and the company officials ordered out of the country.

            How many classes in philosophy/literature/art do you need to have to get the same thing?Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              What separates a successful CEO or successful entrepreneur from a failed one?

              Mastery of spreadsheets? Skill at logic? Grasp of monetary policy?

              How does one learn the art of capturing what people dream of, to inspire them and handle the tricky waters of interpersonal relationships?

              “I don’t know if anybody’s ever told you that half the time, this business comes down to ‘I don’t like that guy.”

              Roger Sterling , Mad MenReport

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              Did your econ class leave you feeling qualified to upbraid the Yakuza?
              If not, I think it might need some tweaking.
              (actually, the class would probably be fascinating. Powerpolitics via time is always interesting, but much less so if nothing’s meant by it).Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Chip,
            “You don’t think that philosophy and literature and art have useful applications for a business and political environment in which people from vastly different cultures and experiences need to cooperate voluntarily on complex projects?”

            Where the fuck you gonna learn which country believes you should fleece the bottom feeders? What fucking class teaches that?
            Where you gonna learn which places think “burning down peoples houses” is good for some jollies?
            How about where rape is considered a bit of a game, and goes fucking unpunished?
            Or incest?

            I suppose if you really did have some decent courses, we might learn something.
            But that would require a willingness to actually discuss humanity, not just what we want to pretend to be.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              Where the fuck you gonna learn which country believes you should fleece the bottom feeders? What fucking class teaches that?
              Where you gonna learn which places think “burning down peoples houses” is good for some jollies?
              How about where rape is considered a bit of a game, and goes fucking unpunished?
              Or incest?

              Well, I certainly didn’t learn any of that in philosophy. Nor did I learn any of that in the art history course I took. Must be literature.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Giggling at pyrite does not mean that the giggler thinks that precious metals are worth giggling at.Report

  7. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    A lot of these discussions devolve into what people should be studying, but I think that misses another key variable. Colleges do a reasonably good (although certainly imperfect) job of skimming the applicants who are best qualified and most likely to succeed in and benefit from a college education. Increasing the number of people who go to college will almost certainly result in each expansion including more and more people who probably won’t do well there or won’t benefit all that much.

    Just on that basic assumption, it’s clear that a lower percentage of college degrees increases the value of a college degree simply as an indicator that the person is bright and motivated. If you skipped the educational process entirely and just went from admission straight to issuing a degree, a college degree would still be valuable for that reason. As we issue more and more degrees, that portion of the value slowly dwindles and we’re left with the value value of whatever you learned while you were there. And the credential value has historically been a very big piece of the value pie. If it weren’t, the “sheepskin effect” would be much smaller and people with 3.5 years of college would do almost as well as people who got their 4 year degree.

    I think it was Will Truman who said a while back that the fact that a “rush” stamp on a package in the shipping center makes it go out faster doesn’t mean that putting a “rush” stamp on every package will improve shipping center throughput. A lot of the people pushing more and more education for economic reasons are confusing the stamp for an actual improvement in speed.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    What is the point of the job “Fireman”?

    There are two schools of thought:
    1. You need a guy who can, among other things, pick up a 180 pound sack of potatoes, throw it over his shoulder, then climb down a ladder.
    2. It’s a government job that should be available to everyone regardless of whatever prejudices the recruiter has about gender

    If there isn’t a fire, #2 is a position that is fairly easy to argue for. You might have some pro-forma smaller sacks of potatoes that can be carried down ladders… but, for the most part, it’s not about carrying things down ladders.

    So too with college degrees. If you see the point of the degree as employment preparation, why wouldn’t you give college degrees to absolutely everyone who manages to successfully get approved for a loan?Report

    • Avatar pillsy says:

      If you see the point of the degree as employment preparation, why wouldn’t you give college degrees to absolutely everyone who manages to successfully get approved for a loan?

      Because you want only people who can afford to go to college without those loans to get the jobs those degrees qualify them for?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        To what extent has the ready availability of college loans made it easier for a person to afford to go to college?

        I mean, like, let’s say you did a timeline from 1900 to today. What would the trend lines look like between “affordability” and “ease in borrowing money to go”?

        If it turns out that even as it becomes easier to borrow money to go to college that, for whatever reason, college becomes less affordable, is that indicative of a failure of some kind?

        I mean, if we don’t want to discuss whether the relationship between the degree and the qualification actually exists at this point.Report

        • Avatar pillsy says:

          To what extent has the ready availability of college loans made it easier for a person to afford to go to college?

          That seems like a difficult question to nail down. There’s a lot more people going to college, of course, and many of those people clearly would be unable to attend college if not for the loans. On the other hand, college has gotten much more expensive.

          However, I can’t help but notice that spiraling tuition costs are one mechanism that will make it harder for people to get college educations, even with loans [1], and that will tend to make a college degree indicative of coming from a particular class background. This isn’t the only “qualification” that could (once did, may again) serve as an effective class marker; unpaid internships are another.

          [1] After all, they must be paid back, and there is a degree of risk involved beyond that in that people who fall to complete their degrees.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Well, I mean, it’s certainly possible to look at the original article aaaaaall the way up there at the top and conclude that we used to complain about not enough people are going to college and so degrees are overvalued by the market… but now TOO MANY people are going to college and so degrees are undervalued by the market!

            It’s always possible to find something to complain about.
            “We’ve extended lifespans by 20 years.”
            “But people will need to eat during those 20 years! They’ll need shelter! They’ll need health care!”

            I’m willing to look at how awesome it is that more kids are going to college in general… until I look at the whole “Liberal Arts Education” thing and get back to the firefighter analogy.

            Does a degree indicate that the person in question can pick up a 180 pound sack of potatoes and proceed to climb down a ladder?

            If the degree does *NOT* indicate that, I suppose we can ask whether it used to indicate that.

            If it did, once, we need to ask “what the hell happened”?

            If it never did, well, there you go. We just need to figure out the best way to measure whether someone can carry sacks of potatoes down ladders prior to a fire actually starting.Report

            • Avatar pillsy says:

              Does a degree indicate that the person in question can pick up a 180 pound sack of potatoes and proceed to climb down a ladder?

              I don’t think it’s all that plausible that a degree has ever indicated that with any high degree of probability. I think a degree once may have indicated that either (a) had the right class background or (b) you could carry that metaphorical sack of potatoes. Now I’m not sure it’s much good for indicating either, but before, I’m not sure it indicated (b) when it indicated (b) on the basis of the actual education received over the course of obtaining the degree.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, I’ve heard the argument that college doesn’t make you a banker. It does, however, make you clubbable and it is The Club that will make you a banker.

                So that would be (a).

                But if a degree signals neither (a) nor (b), we’re stuck with wondering why in the hell are degrees devalued? (The answer is right in front of our faces.)

                My hypothesis:
                If you don’t have (a), you better pretty friggin well have (b) if you want to be employable.

                And the people who don’t have (b) even after getting a degree may very well have a point that the people who have (a) don’t have (b) either, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t have (a), you better pretty friggin well have (b).

                And if a degree no longer can reliably be said to signal the presence of (a) and/or (b), then we’ll find ourselves saying that degrees are worthless.

                In addition to that, I’m wondering whether it is a coincidence that this is happening right around the same time as college costing more than ever before.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Well, yeah. Because if college keeps costing more, eventually it will at least signal (a) again. As for (b), I’m not sure that college has ever done a very good job conferring it, but admissions standards, scholarships and the like screen for it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m not sure that college has ever done a very good job conferring it

                Did it used to do a better job?

                Is there a trend?

                Because, if so, we can ask about tipping points.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Just my two cents, Jaybird, but personally, I think a four year degree used to do a better job of signalling (b), primarily because the intellectually-based skill sets that made one employable strike me as converging onto the intellectual equivalent of carrying a sack of potatoes as one goes back in time. Not many people could do it. Think of it as an extension of the US’ cultural efforts during industrialization to get kids to actually Read, Rite, and Rith. Now, of course, not so much since (and this may be an incorrect assessment) intellectual potato sack carriers are a dime a dozen.

                Or $60,000 in debt a dozen, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I admit, my assumption was that degrees now had the equivalent of a lemon problem.

                But if I’m reading you right, what we’re seeing is instead the effects of having a glut of peaches?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I think I’m saying it’s a mix of the two: what was once a peach (moreorless accurately signaled by having a degree) is now effectively a lemon since the basic skill set college accords hasn’t really changed over the last 60 years. So a mix of market evolution and cultural stasis.

                Or maybe this is the way to make the point: I’m suggesting that the skills sets which made a person uniquely employable, in general, in the fifties and were +/- accurately signaled by their possession of a degree have now become so routine and ordinary that a diploma no longer signals anything uniquely important, since the market is glutted with people who can (intellectually) pick up a sack of potatoes.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Of course, one problem with updating curriculum is an attempt to “hit the hot field”. “Lawyers are in demand! Open all the law schools!” with predictable results.

                Currently it’s STEM, but I know a molecular biologist who made more money working as a secretary than with her degree. (And she had a degree from a solid school). She works at a private school now.

                She’s not the only person with a STEM degree I know not using it.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Add me to the list. I did molecular biology during my undergrad and am now doing philosophy for my PhD insteadReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There’s a joke about how America has the best high school education in the world, you just have to go to a 4 year college to get it.

                So what “educated” meant in 19(whatever but long ago) is ubiquitous to the point of invisibility…

                Hrm. This may tie into the whole issue of globalism and willingness to do on the job training and whatnot.

                And this means that, in the 19(whatevers), a business that wanted a guy had to pick from the 3 people who applied for the job and if it didn’t want one of those 3, there was no real mechanism to find a 4th guy to hire instead. The Want Ads. A radio commercial.

                It was a worker’s market (even though it didn’t even come close to looking it it to those who were selling themselves).

                And now the global marketplace has turned it into a global market for labor, even for those who are capable of lifting a sack of potatoes and climbing down a ladder…

                Hrm. Something to chew on.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Back in the day, a High School education was nominally sufficient to secure a middle class lifestyle. It didn’t guarantee it, but chances were good that you could secure one. I think that was actually one of the goals of the curriculum at the time.

                That diploma is no longer sufficient, so we either need to rethink the curriculum of High School to better prepare people, or if we can’t do that, we need to just accept that our modern economy requires more than what HS can provide if someone wants a middle class lifestyle.

                To date, in order to address the growing gap between the work a HS diploma can secure and the work that pays middle class wages, we’ve been telling kids to get a degree, which was once the domain of the elite, both professionally and socially. We completely ignored the middle ground education (and I give Hillary props for actually talking about that).Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          When you do your timeline, keep in mind that until 1975, the University of California system was tuition free, open to anyone who met the grade requirement as were the CSU colleges and community colleges.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Back then wasn’t the administration of the Universities of California largely done by the professors (on a rotating basis because it was a shit job) with a handful of administrative assistants?Report

            • Avatar Aaron David says:

              Yes, and it was a shit job the Nobel laureates especially did not want to do. The highs and lows of being a good school system. Academics loath admin, especially those who have go over for the salary (non union)Report

          • Avatar Autolukos says:

            It’s true that in-state students technically paid an “educational fee” instead of tuition before 1975, but the UC system has been charging all students since 1921.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              The fees were nothing compared to what is charged now. And keep in mind there was the GI Bill, which provided cash payments to veterans to assist with college expenses.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                The original tuition also wasn’t much compared to its present level.

                You might note that the GI Bill slightly postdates 1921.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Umm… 300 bucks in 1968 had the purchasing power of $2,077.91 in 2016 just based on CPI.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                yes, and how much does $1,560 of assistance purchase, adjusted by the CPI?Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                About 1/6 of what the VA’s calculator claims a three-year veteran attending UC Berkeley is eligible for under the current incarnation of the GI bill.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Great!
                So to recap:
                “Tuition” at UC until 1975 was very modest, amounting to $2000 in current dollars;
                Tuition today is about 12,000, six times higher;

                So Jaybird’s timeline would show that from roughly WWII to 1975, it was easily affordable to go to the University without loans of any kind;
                Since that time, tuition has gone up and affordability has decreased.

                The driver of college cost or affordability doesn’t appear to have been the cost of college loans, at all.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Just an idle question: what have rents for students living off campus done since 1975 in California? 10x? 20x? Tuition doesn’t feed you or keep the rain off.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                Depends on the area, of course.

                The best effort I’ve seen for San Francisco puts the nominal annual increase since 1956, when the current rising trend began, at 6.6%/year (over 10x increase), with the real increase running at 2.5%/year (a bit over 2.5x).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Correcting for Flynn Effect stuff, is a college education *WORTH* more today than it has been in the past?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                So what was the grade requirements back then? I mean, you can only pack so many students in a classroom every semester, so if the tuition was so affordable, how did the system decide who they had room for?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Relative few people were born during the Depression, even fewer during the war, so colleges didn’t have an enrollment crisis until the 70s.

                (The 90s were also a halcyon time of instituonal capacity because hardly anybody was born in the 70s, too)Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                Since the 1960 Master Plan, the guiding principle has been that the top 1/8th of graduating seniors should be admitted to UCs, the top 1/3 to CSUs, and all students to community colleges. How exactly this has translated to policy has varied over time, of course.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Yes this, and also that in the 50s and 60s, there was not the credential inflation we see today, where nearly every job demands a college degree.

                Plus, when there was demand for more campuses, the taxpayers obliged and built more.

                I guess the point I keep coming back to is that there was a strong public consensus that this was important, something worth paying for, and it got done.

                I do believe that prior to the 1960s college protests, the public view towards college and students was different.
                Education was still very much imbued with the New Frontier/ Age of Science sort of power.

                I think today there is a greater degree of scorn and dismissal of college and its worth which is reflected in our policy preferences.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                I think today there is a greater degree of scorn and dismissal of college and its worth which is reflected in our policy preferences.

                1) Colleges have increased their prices a lot since the 1960’s. It’s possible to think a $15k car is great while thinking the same car at $75k is a rip off. Return the cost of college back to what it was in the 1960’s and public funding instantly goes to back to close to 100%.

                2) The extra price of these colleges isn’t backed up by an increase in value, more like an increase in administration.

                3) Various wings of colleges swing really hard to the left, political indoctrination isn’t a “public good”. Nor is funding various leftist professors’ agendas. The right wing isn’t going to fund groups whose entire purpose is to support the left.

                4) There is a lot more demand for the public dollar. Some of the trade offs are going to be ugly. A dollar spent on college is a dollar not spent on pensions.

                5) Various wings of Colleges are terrible at having jobs available for their grads after they leave, this is especially true for the “academic track”.

                So yeah, there’s a “greater degree of scorn and dismissal”, but there’s a lot of room for improvement on behalf of the colleges themselves.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                Theoretically it is top 12%. They did get smacked down in the early 2k’s for taking the top 15% (really messes with budgets and this was a crisis period)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I mean, you can only pack so many students in a classroom every semester, so if the tuition was so affordable, how did the system decide who they had room for?

                I look at it the other way: there just weren’t that many people who wanted to enter those programs back in the day, in actual numbers (a guess) but in relative numbers. Hell, the fifties gave rise to the (now hackneyed) “first person in the family to go to college” American Dream thingy. That’s when the idea of college really began to set in, seems to me.

                Kolohe mentioned one reason for “low” enrollment rates, but another is that US industrialization only hit full stride during the post-WWII reconstruction era when the US was pretty much the only economic game in town. Hence, lots of economic growth which led to massive increases in higher-ed based economic opportunities.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                Yes, increases in enrollment have been dramatic: in 1958, the last year of data in the 1960 master plan (which, seriously, everyone here should read), all public institutions combined had a total enrollment of about 180,000 students, with about half in junior colleges (today’s community college system) and the other half split evenly between the UCs and CSUs.

                Today, there are 240,000 students in the UC system, 460,000 in the CSU system, and 2.4 million students in the community colleges.

                The state’s population has only increased from 15 million to 39 million over the same period.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The rise in college completion has been much more dramatic. In 1940, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds (those born between 1921 and 1925) who had finished four or more years of college was 5.9. This increased about 2 percentage points in the 1940s, 3 in the 1950s, 5 in the 1960s, and 6 in the 1970s, to stand at 22.1 percent in 1980.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                I mean, you can only pack so many students in a classroom every semester…

                A dozen years ago, I started the PhD track at the University of Colorado in economics. One of the profs told me straight out, “You’re screwed. We normally take 24 people. This year there was a huge stack of applications from China, paying full international student rates, so the department accepted 48. The classrooms will be crowded and you’ll get a whole lot less personal attention than the faculty would like to provide. Exams will be marked up or down, no explanations. Sorry.”

                In any given semester at a large public school, there are a lot of seats that go empty.Report

  9. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @jaybird @oscar-gordon @stillwater

    Here is a thought I had about diplomas and over supply yesterday.

    We allegedly have an over-supply of degreed people. This includes in sciences like biology. From what I’ve read, it is very hard to advance in the sciences without a PhD and you still have a lot of people with PhDs in biology and related subjects who earn very little money a year.

    What does it say about society that we can produce an over-supply of people who have the intelligence, interest/passion and determination to receive advanced degrees in numerous subjects from History to Biology but not enough well-paying jobs for that level of educational obtainment?

    Is the solution darker than anyone wants to admit? Do we need to curtail educational interest in a majority earlier? Or do we need to work for a society where people are intellectually interested but also fine with working at jobs that don’t stimulate them intellectually? I know a lot of artists who purposefully take work they describe as “no-brain” because it allows them to use their mental energy for art. It is hard to say be a lawyer or trader, put in long hours, and then put on your artist hat (though some do it). is there an equivalent where someone is happy getting a PhD in bio and then being fine with working as a elementary-school science teacher or in a service job?

    A friend of mine worked in industry with her PhD in chem, decided to switch to academics. She could not get a tenure track position and ended up as an adjunct and working for Kaplan as an SAT and SAT II tutor. She is back in Industry.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      “Do we need to curtail educational interest in a majority earlier?”

      You are aware that there are ways of being educationally interest and intellectually curious other than degree-oriented programs, right?Report

    • Avatar Autolukos says:

      Is it a problem if people pursue interesting and rewarding degree programs that don’t translate into plentiful career opportunities? I quit before getting a PhD and am working in a field completely unrelated to my MA, but I certainly don’t regret grad school.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @autolukos

        I don’t regret getting my MFA and then going for a JD. I suspect a lot of people in MFA programs understand that the program will probably not launch them to super-successful careers in the arts except for a lucky few.

        That being said, I think that if there are stories about underemployed PhDs (including in Industry) it must be hard for undergrads. I suppose it depends on the alternative career program/result. If it is people with five or six figure debt making around minimum wage and at jobs without benefits, that is a problem. I am a squishy liberal who wants low-cost to free university education but that probably won’t happen in the United States. I don’t see this happening soon.Report

        • Avatar Autolukos says:

          Debt definitely changes the picture: in my case, my graduate studies were fully funded by the university, so coming out without improved career prospects was no problem. It would have been a very different story had I been taking loans.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Several ways to look at this.

      What are the goals? Do you want to make $X/year? Do you want a job in your field?

      Because it’s fairly easy to make $X/year if all you want to do is make $X/year.
      If you want a job in your field, it’s likely easy to get a job in your field.

      The problem always comes up when you want both of those things at the same time.
      “I want a job in my field that pays $X/year” is a tall order.

      I’m uncertain about how solvable that problem is.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      First off, this

      it is very hard to advance in the sciences without a PhD

      is very much a lie told specifically to populate PhD programs with candidates. This only applies to people who wish to advance through the academic ranks. In private industry, except for a small handful of positions, a PhD is a great way to price yourself right out of the market. A master’s degree will take you much further, unless your career goals include getting one of those comfortable spots where a PhD is a must have. My company is littered with PhDs, but we only have maybe 5% of our STEM positions where a PhD is essential. The rest of our STEM positions are fine with a BS or MS. About the only career benefit a PhD gives is it can serve in lieu of experience.

      Now if you want a PhD for the challenge, go for it, and no one will look down on you for doing it, but don’t expect a bump in pay or better promotions for it (unless it happens to align in a way that lets you take one of those 5% jobs).

      That said, I do think socially, we have over-emphasized STEM education in much the same way that we overdid it with business & legal education. I made a comment up here regarding how the perception of what a degree does for a person has changed. In short, we have moved from a degree allowing a person to fully realize their potential, to a degree credentially a person for a task. One of the results of this is that we have lots of people getting STEM, MBAs, & Law degrees in the hopes that they can get a middle class or better job, but who don’t really want to do that kind of work. It’s the modern equivalent of people who get the factory job because it provides well, but whose passion is not in crafting toilets or car parts. They do the work that the university requires in order to get the credential, but they don’t really want to be a lawyer, or a business leader, or an engineer or biologist, etc. They may not even know what they want, they just don’t want to live hand to mouth. They are not realizing their potential, and so they drift in the field until they (hopefully) finally get over the sunk cost fallacy that has ruled their career choices.

      Which hearkens back to a point I’ve made over & over, which is that American Higher Education has effectively given up a key part of the education process, which is career counseling and personal marketing. College departments, once a student has made a choice regarding programs, are loathe to encourage a student to change programs to one that is a better fit (because filling seats in the roster is more important), and I wouldn’t be surprised if faculty advisors are applying greater pressure to get their assigned advisees to commit to their department. Additionally, juniors & seniors aren’t really being taught how to market themselves. There is a lot of advice from “career counselors” that sounds like it comes scripted out of a book, but most personal marketing instruction is left to employers who show up for career fairs, who don’t really care to, or have time to do that. The career counseling office seems only interested in reviewing resumes for bullet points and format, arranging employer visits, and maybe holding half-assed mock interviews.

      Perhaps this sounds like I’m pulling this opinion out of my nether regions, but it comes from doing many, many interviews of people, both when I was a facility manager, and when I work(ed) on hiring committees at The Lazy B and where I work now. These kids are, generally, not able to sell themselves at all. Their resumes are usually buzzword salad, their interviews are weak, and they do the ‘deer in headlights’ thing so often it’s scary – and these are STEM grads! They should have it much easier than others because they got the big credential boost.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      What does it say about society that we can produce an over-supply of people who have the intelligence, interest/passion and determination to receive advanced degrees in numerous subjects from History to Biology but not enough well-paying jobs for that level of educational obtainment?

      This situation exists because it’s in the best interest of the University to have lots of PhD students working as slightly paid labor, doing research for their professor. That’s great while it lasts, but long term there’s no academic job there, and maybe no job at all.

      Self interest is part of every level of society, understand that and move on.

      A friend of mine worked in industry with her PhD in chem, decided to switch to academics. She could not get a tenure track position and ended up as an adjunct and working for Kaplan as an SAT and SAT II tutor. She is back in Industry.

      Industry loves chemists. Academics loves itself.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        This situation exists because it’s in the best interest of the University to have lots of PhD students working as slightly paid labor, doing research for their professor.

        I’d say this situation exists because individuals expectations have outrun the market’s ability to realize them. Or not, depending on which part of the market you focus on.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter says:

          I’d say this situation exists because individuals expectations have outrun the market’s ability to realize them. Or not, depending on which part of the market you focus on.

          I think it’s appropriate to hold an organization responsible for situations which it helped create. An organization does what is best for itself, be it the church, or the university, or a used car dealership. We get into trouble when we lose sight of that.

          Assume you’re thinking about getting into a high level PhD program.

          Is your so-called “advisor” going to tell you there’s no job for you and it’s a waste of time/money? Is the college? Are the job placement stats openly published and easy to understand? If a professor does tell his minions that they shouldn’t be there, what happens to “his” job and status?Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        This situation exists because it’s in the best interest of the University to have lots of PhD students working as slightly paid labor, doing research for their professor.

        Math departments are notorious for the number of first-year graduate students, not for research purposes, but to cover a lot of the contact-hours for the remedial and basic* math that the department has to provide for other departments. Foreign students in particular fill a lot of those slots because, under the visa rules, they can work for the university but not for an outside employer.

        * Basic used here to cover calculus, first semester of differential equations, and some form of linear algebra.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Ah, yes, the halcyon days of learning a complex & difficult subject from an (at best) bored TA whose command of English is marginal.Report