Morning Ed: Education {2018.02.20.T}

Will Truman

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

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90 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    I will say this, even though I’m doing philosophy:

    The notion that studying the humanities is what makes us human is one of the most stupid things an intelligent person can say. Here is why: If studying humanities makes us human, what about everyone else who does not? Perhaps it is studying something in the university, but that still leaves the vast majority of people who don’t go to university. What are they? It is this kind of supercilious response by humanities grads that gives people the impression that they think everyone else is subhuman. Clearly studying the humanities does not help people become more self aware.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Murali says:

      The notion that studying the humanities is what makes us human is one of the most stupid things an intelligent person can say.

      It’s also a clickbait-y headline that has little to do with the text of the piece.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

        Click-baity headline sets the tone for reader. It’s a call to the faithful, who don’t need to hear the argument contained within, and repellent to the contrary, who should.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          A headline also needs to grab though and this is true whether it is the NY Times, Slate, Breitbart, or the Chronicle of Higher Education. One of the main critiques of academic writing is that it refuses to make itself approachable by being concerned with such things “trivial” things like style and pleasing prose.

          There is an interesting contrast between the L.D. Burnett article and the Caplan and other End of University pieces. I’m sympathetic to Burnett because she is defending what can’t be quantified and saying it has value or worth. Caplan and others say that most people don’t value these things and we should stop pretending that they hold worth except for a minority.

          But they are both critiquing the idea of a university as a place for resume polishing but with different results.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            I agree with Burnett that there is value in the unquantifiable. The modern problem is that the unquantifiable has a hard time justifying it’s value against 6 figure education debt.

            The humanities would not be in such crisis if the cost of education had not inflated beyond reason, and that inflation is on the institutions themselves.Report

            • Jason in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              *That inflation is on the states themselves.Report

            • Murali in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              More importantly, the liberal problem is that the unquantifiable has a hard time justifying its value to everyone. Tangibles like money and specific rights are more concrete. We want these things whatever else we may want (or at least if we don’t want them, we can dispose of them if we already have them). To put it another way, what’s the difference between saying that our public education system should do X because of some intangible value X has and our public education system should do X because God told us to?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Murali says:

                Well, it wasn’t God, it was… (opens the list of authors and thinkers that Burnett lists…)

                So less imaginary, but your point is clear.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Murali says:


                But isn’t there also an issue of why should people care about something it is tangible? Isn’t that just enforced social conformity?Report

              • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Because people need food shelter and the internet? And you need money to pay the bills? So its not so much enforced conformity so much as the tools that are extremely useful for almost anything people may really want. For instance if you want solitude to meditate, the tangibles can really help with that. money and secure property lets you purchase land and build an ashram. Secure non-interference prevents people from disturbing you while you meditate etc. Suppose you want to save the rainforest. Money could allow you to buy a patch of the rainforest. Even if you couldnt get the government to save all the rainforest, you could save at least your own patch of it. That’s better than nothing.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Murali says:


                One of my big issues with “neo-liberalism” (as much as the term gets abused/overused) is that it does seem to enforce social peace via corporate conformity. There is something implicit in it as saying “Social divisions and cultural divisions are just too big. Let’s make everyone a happy money making machine!!! And corporate worker bee”Report

    • Pinky in reply to Murali says:

      The author doesn’t say that studying the humanities is what makes us human. She says that the content of the humanities is what makes us human. There’s a big difference. Everyone can have some access to the content of the humanities without academia as it exists today.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Murali says:

      ” If studying humanities makes us human, what about everyone else who does not?”

      They fail the Gom Jabbar?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

      All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
      –Saint Oscar

      I’d merely say that the Humanities give us stars to look at during the daytime.Report

  2. fillyjonk says:

    I worry pretty intensely about “the end of the university” (or, more likely: what I would think of as “a transformation into something no one will recognize.”) I am just less than a dozen years from being able to retire with full benefits, and I really do not want the last few “career” years I have to be spent being a poorly-paid “tutor” to some rich brat or having to learn to deal blackjack and work at one of the casinos here….

    But there are big changes being proposed. My concern, as I think I’ve stated before, that it will lead to a very bimodal system: Elite schools for the rich/connected/crazy smart 1% of the population, and then everyone else is shunted into for-profit online programs that might be okay for the super-aggressive or super-with-it, but which will badly serve the first-generation college students, the shy, people with certain disabilities. But no one will care because the elites will still have their Harvard, and we’re bringin’ back mining jobs and factory piecework, and all the scrubs can do that instead of trying for a degree….

    (We’ve partnered with one of those programs. We are ALL apprehensive about it – they get a big cut of the money and it’s not clear what they are doing for us, but some in the admin are all in on it, and are swearing that having most of the student body take most of their classes online is the “future” and based on what I’ve heard from my students, I do not think that is what students want or what will benefit them most.)

    Part of the problem, at least in state schools (which tend to be the non-elite schools, or at least have the non-elite prices) is that state legislators see us as expendable in bad budget times – or worse, we’re an undesirable influence. My state legislature gives lip service to ‘an educated populace’ and then underfunds education to the point where many K-12 systems are on a four-day week to try to save money, and state universities keep having to ratchet up tuition (which prices some people out of the system: already I have people skipping class because of “work opportunities I can’t pass up” meaning “I need the dough”) or let people go. I’m already bracing for five years hence when a colleague retires that I will need to pick up his two specialist classes, and will be carrying a 5/4 load instead of the 4/3 I carry now….because I doubt we’ll get that full-time position back; we’ll be told to hire an adjunct, and when you can make more as a dental hygienist or even a Corps of Engineers employee than adjuncting…it’s hard to find good adjuncts.Report

  3. j r says:

    From Ed7:

    More broadly, the explosion of student debt in America was orchestrated by deliberate government policies, which were justified on premises that have proven to be false.

    This is exactly why student loan debt forgiveness ain’t likely to happen anytime soon. And if it does happen, it’s likely to be in the form of some scheme that is equally as pernicious as the current arrangement.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Ed1: I find that college career centers are either super amazing or useless with nothing in between.

    Ed2: I am not seeing this either. There was a crisis in dentistry in the 1980s and a lot of dentistry schools shut down. Fewer law schools than theorized shut down. The only caveat here is that the student debt issue is getting bigger and bigger but most people still pay their loans. The issue is scammy for-profit universities.

    Ed8: The problem is that we have no clear vision on the purpose of education. Is it babysitting? Is it to turn people into thoughtful citizens? Good worker bees? All three? Something else? I suspect Caplan is right and most people go to university for economic advantage rather than learning. This can be true at the upper echelons just as much as at large mid tier schools. Where it is less true is at tech schools, the SLACs (hard to get into but not elite enough to be connected to the Wall Street pipeline), and art school.Report

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Ed9: This comes across as ‘Who the Hell is Kevin Drum to write about lead’? Historically the major source of lead in the blood was in leaded fuels phased out in the early 90s. This appears to have to do with the potency of the inhalation route of exposure versus ingestion route. The change reduced lead levels in the blood by more than 80% by 1999, and studies have suggested that could have raised IQ levels 3 to 4 percent. So a large part of what that line graph is showing is declining lead through air exposure (including from factories who were required to reduce lead emissions as well).

    And water is not even the second most significant source of lead, that would be leaded paint according to the EPA and there were increased efforts to inform people about those hazards and interventions triggered by blood test in the 90s.

    So what Drum’s line graph is showing is (a) incredibly low lead levels in Flint on an historic basis, (b) a strong suggestion that water hasn’t been a significant source of lead, and the small blip in 2015 might be from increased testing anyway, and (c) very little possibility that it would cause 3rd grade test scores to drop 23.1 percentage points in 2015, particularly when test scores throughout the state dropped 20 percentage points throughout that year because of a new test.Report

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    I think its interesting that both Caplan and Verbruggen both hypothesize about an imaginary world without public support for higher education, yet ignore the actual historical examples where it existed.

    First, they both accept without question that education is primarily a “job skills” enterprise.
    Yet this is only a recent phenomenon of the past century or so.

    Most of our major universities began their life as divinity schools, teaching the most esoteric subject of philosophy, and they were primarily finishing schools for gentlemen.

    That is, they were signaling centers offering the credentials of pre-modern life, where job applicants were screened on the basis of who knew Latin and Greek, and could communicate the intricate code of manners which distinguished higher classes from low.

    Spotted Toad alludes to this:

    “You can learn much the same stuff as at Harvard, probably better taught, by enrolling at your local community college, supplementing with online materials, and then transferring to a state university after two years. Relatively few strong students take this approach, and fewer still will get Harvard-sized salaries for doing so. But it’s curious to call this a fact about education rather than a fact about Harvard and the place of elite institutions in our labor market. Our white-collar economy is a mysterious blend of genuine productivity, ideological indoctrination, the power of institutional affiliation and the limited circle of trust that exists within narrow social castes.”

    The mad scramble to earn credentials and signals that Caplan criticizes existed long before universities existed, because job placement has never been about measuring actual learning or abilities, but has always been about that mysterious mix of social skills, networks, and signals.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      You made the same point that I did but more elegantly and intelligently. Caplan believes that his proposals will lead to a brave new, freer and more libertarian world. In reality, we have plenty of historical examples of what life is like where education for most people is non-existent or limited and restricted to the practical subjects while the affluent have access to a much more elaborate education. These are the hierarchical societies that existed in Europe before the 19th century, where people generally stayed in the class where they were born and their material standards did not improve in life. America and Canada were like this to a greater extent than we would like to admit to.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Here is the thing I will say somewhat in Caplan’s defense. I think there are a lot of people who are elitely educated on paper but they don’t seem to have gotten much out of their educations except socio-economic status. I’m not talking about college students in general but people who went to the top of the top universities and exceeded there as well.

      And I think a large part of this is because we have turned a college education into a near or absolute necessity for such things like job security or any chance at achieving the upper-middle class and beyond. Or maybe it is just the way people have always been. My grades have always been erratic in school but people have always complimented me for the depth and breath of what I know in terms of art, history, literature, etc. Other times they have been surprised when I give opinions about art like it is something to have an opinion about instead of just an entertainment for a few hours.

      But I am not sure I consider myself to be super-intelligent. I’m not even sure how to define intelligence per se. I think what I do is achievable for most people but the thing is that you just need to read instead of spending most of your downtime watching TV.

      The idea of reading for pleasure/knowledge seems to escape many people though. I have heard people say many times “If I can read a book, I should be working.*” I don’t know where this idea comes from but it is alien to me and seems random and not connected. But often the same people can justify spending 2-3 hours a night watching TV and/or playing video games.

      But I suspect that you and Caplan have agreeing overlap and so do I but we respond to what depresses us differently.

      *If someone really wants me to shut down, they should say “Why can’t you use all your knowledge for something useful like finance?”Report

  7. LeeEsq says:

    Ed8: Even assuming that Bryan Caplan is mainly right, I think that the results of his argument against education will not be a libertarian paradise but a hierarchical system that places disadvantages on the poor and working class. Wealthy and upper middle class parents will still educated their children in private schools and universities more or less resembling what we have now. This will signal to employers that when all is done they are well-educated, disciplined young adults that can handle responsibility. Children from poor, working class, and lower middle class families will make do with Caplain’s stripped down education and maybe an apprenticeship if they are lucky. They won’t have access to either an impractical college major or even a practical higher education in medicine, science, law, architecture, or engineering.

    Caplan’s proposal can work but it can’t work with the type of free market society he envisions for everything else. Your either going to need to find a way to prevent UMS and wealthy parents from setting up a private school system that resembles what we have now publically or need a lot of social democracy to ensure kids from poor, working class, or lower middle class backgrounds don’t get too screwed. That means universal healthcare, pensions, mandatory vacations, and laws against education discrimination. I’m sure Caplan won’t go for either.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’ve never seen evidence that such a hierarchical society isn’t exactly the paradise libertarians yearn for.

      Tall poppies and all that.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Years ago I was on a usenet group, remember usenet, where the science fiction author Steven Stirling participated. He has all sorts of bad opinions on some subjects but we did have some pre-mature libertarian educational abolitionists in the usenet group. Mr. Stirling pointed out that if we get rid of public education than at least one-third of people will never learn how to read because their parents would never get around to it.

        The best faith reading you can give to extreme libertarians like Caplan is that they are extremely naïve people that think you can have the benefits of modern civilization without the coercion of society and the state. The maximum bad faith reading you can give is the above, they are intellectual hacks for wealthy aristocrats and their proposals will lead to a more hierarchical and authoritarian society than a free and egalitarian one.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Caplan is an academic, and this is his spherical horse.

          Simple as that.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

          What is interesting to me is how much the conservative/ libertarian worlds lean on the Golden Age theory, and how often they reference it directly or obliquely.

          Notice how all their outlets like NRO or the Federalist or the assorted think tanks and papers that get issued use artwork of that quill pen and ink variety, of portraits of Burke or Locke, or reference the classical canon of literature or music.

          They are steeped in that pre-modern world yet seem shockingly ignorant of it.

          They might toss out an idea of abolishing Social Security or doing away with physician credentialing, without bothering to look at the actual empirical data available of what the world looked like without it.

          If anyone needs to learn the lessons of Chesterton’s Fence, its those guys.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Where I teach, somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the students (depending on year) are first-gen college students. MANY of these students have gone on to have more promising careers than they would without a shot at a BA or a BS. And so I get really prickly when some person who has never walked in the shoes of one of those folks (I figure: Caplan) says “Oh, we need to abolish public education and state universities, things will just sort out fine” which I assume means the wealthy and well-connected will still get education and will keep the power, but the plebs below them will be even worse off and have less shot at gaining any power or financially improving their lots. Land of opportunity, indeed.

      I will note that my mother came from a working-class background, went to a state university (and was first-gen college student), and wound up earning a Ph.D. and teaching college. And that her kids probably achieved more academically and career-wise than they might otherwise because of her example.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I have to admit that I find Vox’s point of view nearly as idealistically bad as Kaplan’s opinion. You can’t have a mass education system that turns out millions upon millions of enlightened citizens. Most people aren’t that intellectually inclined. I view mass education like Winston Churchill perceived democracy. Its the least worst.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      According to that link, here’s the basic argument:

      But here’s my basic argument: Education is a waste of time and money because so much of the payoff for education isn’t really coming from learning useful job skills. Nor is it coming from students savoring the educational experience. Rather, most of what’s going on is that people are showing off — or, as economists call it, they are “signaling.” They are trying to impress future employers by showing how dedicated they are.

      What we have now is a situation in which a ton of people go to college but many of them don’t get a great job when they’re done. Or they get a lot of education, fall into debt, and then get a mediocre job. Contrast this with the idea we have about college, which is that you receive valuable training, acquire useful skills, and then you’re rewarded with a good job afterward.

      This always comes back to “What is the point of college, again?”

      With the ugly, ugly followup question of “And how much is that worth?”Report

      • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

        What if the point of college really is exactly what it appears in these cases: that it sorts and certifies a lot of potential employees in a way that is useful for employers.

        There seems to be an implicit assumption on the part of Caplan et al. that, if this is the case, college must not be worth a ton of money.

        But that seems to be a complete non sequitur. There’s nothing magical about sorting and certification that dictates that they aren’t valuable.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to pillsy says:

          And if you separate schools and the state as Caplan proposes and have everybody rely on private schools from education from pre-k to graduate school, it will be worth even more money because more people will have to quite schooling earlier than they do in this system. Caplan’s argument is looking really underhanded, pernicious, and anti-democratic at this point.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Absent reading the book, I’d be cautious about assuming that the two reviews are accurately describing what Caplan is proposing.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Caplan stated in the Vox interview that Saul posted that he wants to separate schools and the state like religion and state are separated.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

                You can’t separate schools and state any more than you can separate religion and state.

                This is like those people complaining about Kaep kneeling during the National Anthem saying “get politics out of Football!”

                Politics were *ALWAYS* in football. You just liked the politics that were there before.Report

          • pillsy in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Whatever Caplan’s motives, there’s a critical flaw with the argument he makes in the linked Vox interview:

            This is why cutting education across the board is the only way to level the playing field, because it changes what the degrees mean and the way employers think about who’s worthy of being interviewed or hired. In a world where no nurses have bachelor’s degrees, hospitals can’t say, “We only interview nurses with bachelor’s degrees.”

            It’s not like ending subsidization of post-secondary (and secondary) education would mean that zero nurses would have bachelor’s degrees, because all of the nurses who now have bachelor’s degrees would conspicuously fail to disappear in a puff of smoke along with their degrees.

            I haven’t read the book, but the case that Caplan puts forth in that article is quite poor, and I’m a bit disappointed the interviewer didn’t hammer a bit harder on its weak points.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

          There’s nothing magical about sorting and certification that dictates that they aren’t valuable.

          I don’t think that the argument is that a thing isn’t valuable.

          I think that the argument is that you shouldn’t buy something that is worth $20,000 for $80,000.

          “You’re saying that it isn’t worth anything!”
          “No. I’m saying that it’s worth $20,000.”Report

          • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

            But why are we so sure that it’s worth $20 000 instead of $80 000?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

              Because it takes you 30 years to pay off the $80K.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                It takes you that long to pay off a house, too. That doesn’t seem to be strong evidence that houses aren’t worth it.

                If we’re looking for signs that it’s not worth it, we’re more likely to find them among the people who don’t pay their loans off than those who do. Even then, though, it gets pretty slippery, and there are other possibilities, including that on average it’s worth about what it costs, and people who gain less from the certification process [1] are subsidizing those who get more.

                Now it’s easy to see a ton of problems with this approach, but none of those problems amount to showing that the whole thing isn’t a net societal benefit. Caplan, at least in the Vox interview, takes a societal perspective.

                [1] Because they don’t get certified! The modal person who can’t pay off their loan didn’t get their degree at all.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

                Educations and houses is a really bad analogy, but here goes…

                You aren’t buying a house, you are building one.

                First thing you do is buy a plot of land (choose a school). Then you have to get contractors, and permits, and plans, and materials, and everything else. Or maybe you go with a builder home.

                Either way, at some point, you have to rely upon the quality of the workmen and the contractors to fashion for you a home of appropriate quality for the price. There is a whole lot of dependence on other people for the finished product, and if one or more workmen screw up in major or minor ways, the final value could be impacted, or worse, the structure could quickly become unlivable without major refit.

                These days, homes come with warranties, and there are consumer protections against homes that are cheaply built, etc. Education has very little protection against a crap instructor, or useless career guidance, oversold promises, or any of the many ways that an institution can damage your education for you, without even touching upon your efforts to succeed. The buyer assumes ALL risk.

                That risk is not appropriately priced.

                ETA: When you buy a home, it is common to get a home inspection. Getting a home inspection isn’t required, but banks might offer less favorable terms, or insist on a larger down payment. The results of the inspection are often used by buyers to insist upon concessions from the seller, to help mitigate some of the risk of the purchase.

                Our School Inspection system is nowhere near as good.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I just jumped at the first example I thought of where you have a very long term payment schedule. But yes, the analogy isn’t very good.

                But if we’re talking about something that substantially increases your lifetime earnings, it may well justify a cost that’s several times your yearly wage, meaning that paying it off over the course of many years via loans is required.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:


                Sure, IF it increases your lifetime earnings sufficiently to cover the debt while also allowing you to not be a wage slave to service the debt.

                This is the problem. Once upon a time, a BA/BS almost guaranteed an advance in SES for a modest financial investment (the good old days of being able to pay for school by getting a summer job and/or working part time during the school year). The primary cost was in the effort involved to complete the required work. The risk, if any, was that if you failed to do the work, you’d waste money for no gain. Very rarely did the awarding of a degree not confer a positive financial gain.

                These days, you get the cost of effort as well as a substantial financial impact, and the earnings prospects are not as rosy except in the STEM and Business sectors. There is considerably more risk involved because both the costs have skyrocketed, and employers are looking for more specific skill sets[1].

                The schools refuse to assume any of that risk. It’s all on the student, and that risk is not priced. It’s not priced by the school (who has a strong incentive to not price it), or the student (who probably has no idea how to price it), or by the lenders (who also have no incentive to price it).

                [1] We probably should also talk about how employers have just given up on any concept of OJT for new grads.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to pillsy says:

                If we’re looking for signs that it’s not worth it…

                We tend to find “not worth it” when we’re looking at “rent seeking”. If you NEED a degree in order to do ‘whatever’, then it makes sense for the college to jack up the price way higher than it would be in a competitive market.

                A lot of the cost of college seems to be to support a large bureaucracy which students don’t need or at least don’t need to this degree.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

              If you don’t like the exact and specific numbers that I pulled out of my butt, that’s a good objection.

              Okay. I’m 100% willing to walk that back as long as we agree that I’m not saying that it isn’t valuable. That’s good enough for me for the moment.

              I’ll just say that it makes a lot of sense to spend a lot of money for a degree that will get a person a job that makes a pretty good salary and it makes a lot less sense to spend a lot of money for a degree that will get a person a job that will make them a pretty crappy salary.

              If the goal, however, is to become enlightened, I’d say that there are online resources that can be used for a hell of a lot less money (even FREE!) than the cost of a college degree and will work just as well as a course that makes you read the same books.

              And paying a lot of money for something that you can get for free is not wise.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, if the goal is to become enlightened, it’s probably not a cost-effective way to accomplish that for most people. I just don’t think that’s the goal for most people, and the benefits that accrue to society as a whole go well beyond the hard-to-quantify benefits of enlightenment.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                So I’m going to come back to my two questions:

                What is the point of college, again?

                And how much is that worth?

                (And there is not just one answer to the first question! There are dozens! But for each one of those dozens, there is also an answer to the second question. And I’m not sure how many of the second question answers are “It’s Priceless!” I’m pretty sure that none of them are. Well, except, maybe, the “find a lifepartner” answer to the first question. But surely there are other ways!)Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                The point of college is that it is a certification mechanism allowing employers to more easily find good employees. Those employees are good enough to command a higher wages.

                So then you just have to figure out how much the wage premium is worth over the course of the student’s career (properly discounted, et c.), and you’ve got a reasonable answer.

                This is obviously not a complete slam dunk of an argument, but it’s one that is not, I believe, obviously dumb. And if it’s correct, it essentially refutes Caplan right out the gate.

                Maybe he deals with it effectively in the book, though.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                The point of college is that it is a certification mechanism allowing employers to more easily find good employees. Those employees are good enough to command a higher wages.

                Not to get all Marxist or anything, but why in the hell should the employee shoulder that burden to the tune of… what’s the average price for college? Ah. Here:

                According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.


              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Maybe they shouldn’t.

                But that’s not really the argument Caplan is making.

                My main objection here is that I think Caplan is making a fatally flawed argument, and this leads him to make some bad policy recommendations.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                We have a seriously crappy set of policies now, though.

                If the point of college is to create employables, it certainly seems a monumentally inefficient way to create employables.

                Surely there would be ways to create employables that cost less than $40,000 (and that’s assuming 4 years in-state… prices go up from there).Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Maybe there are. But it’s not immediately obvious to me what they might be or how to get there.

                Indeed, it seems to be one of those hard problems that Caplan cites as a reason to just give up on the whole thing.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Here’s one of those articles about tuition growth outpacing inflation over the last 20 years. Doesn’t look like it’s turning around, either.

                Is it possible, in theory, for this trend to continue to the point where you’d say “okay, giving up might be an option that deserves to be on the table”?

                If the answer’s no, the answer’s no.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s barely possible.

                But just giving up creates a lot of additional problems that we don’t have now.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                I kinda see the problems we have in this arena as iatrogenic.

                And the cure is to stop treating the patient.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’ll probably like this article, which touches on Caplan’s book, but extends its focus well beyond education.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Thank you.

                That *WAS* a good essay.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

                The point of college is that it is a certification mechanism allowing employers to more easily find good employees.

                I think it fails to do this though.

                Speaking from my little corner of the world, a graduate with a degree in architecture or engineering tells you virtually nothing about their value as an employee.

                Mostly because the tasks that new hires are given bear little resemblance to what they studied. New hires are given tasks that need the ability to work in teams, interface with difficult and demanding people, and learn the business of interacting with clients.

                The actual core competency of designing buildings is handled by the senior people. Your GPA has a signaling value of very little to begin with, and drops to near-zero after about 6 months.

                If someone graduated 2 years ago and their biggest achievement on their resume is a 4.0 GPA, they aren’t even worth looking at.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                So, and this isn’t a rhetorical question:

                Why do you hire people with those degrees?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

                I don’t and wouldn’t.

                But firms do use credentialing as a filter, but just as a first through-the-door filter to sift out the first traunch. After that it is connections and interview and all that class signaling stuff.

                I disagree with their use of the degree filter but I suspect the real reason is that our job market is so soft, you can get a degreed graduate to work for peanuts anyway so why not?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “to work in teams, interface with difficult and demanding people, and learn the business of interacting with clients”

                I know way less about architecture graduates than you but fwiw, I can vouch that McGill’s program definitely covers the first two of those ad infinitum (besides being intellectually rigorous). I had a friend in that program and ALL THEY DID was work in teams. (And all of their professors were ridiculously difficult and demanding, to the point where no non-architecture people would take an architecture class or even talk to said professors if we could avoid it.) Of course, I also doubt she would’ve written a resume that featured her 4.0 GPA and not the rest of her accomplishments. (Girl had wicked business sense.)

                It’s possible things have changed in the last 20 years but I doubt it.

                Mentioning this not as a defense of architectural students in general, but more as an observation that programs certainly do differ. I’ve noticed that a lot of times when hiring folks do have preferences for certain schools, it has nothing to do with “reputation” in the prestige sense and a lot to do with reputation in the curriculum sense – ie they know what the programs do or don’t teach, or think they know.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                I can’t speak for Arch programs, but Eng programs were really starting to move toward team approaches even before I started school. They had already gotten the message that the 4.0 graduate who couldn’t be a team player was of limited value.

                There was even talk of developing cross discipline projects with other schools (e.g. engineering and business students working together on graded projects – rather than just as part of extra-curricular groups).Report

        • fillyjonk in reply to pillsy says:

          I’m coming to think – having a Problem Person in one of my classes this semester – is that part of the point of college is proving you can complete something without whining, bullying your way through, or taking an inordinate amount of time to finish. Maybe it’s in part a maturity signifier, I don’t know.

          I suspect in the past more kids were “mature” in specific ways at a younger age because of how schools/life on the farm/whatever was run, but I see students that I just look at and go “There’s no way you’re ready to go out and work; it would be hell for your coworkers and your boss to have to deal with you.” And in some cases it’s people in their late 20s.

          Maybe there’s a cheaper way to winnow out the people who would be bad risks on the job, I don’t know. I do know that teaching college is how I keep body and soul together so I hope it doesn’t go away as an option, at least until I’m over 60 or so.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to fillyjonk says:

            I’m really not sure if kids in the past where more mature than present day kids. They were encouraged to look more mature but that was partly the dictates of fashion. My reading of history, shows that young people in the past could be just as immature and impulsive as young people are today. This was true for college students from privileged backgrounds or young people in the factories and mines. It takes a really hard life to outright eliminate youthful impulsiveness.

            Read the House of Government. Many of the anti-Tsarist radicals in early 20th century Russia were very young. They managed to combine real serious revolutionary activism and work with type of behavior people usually complain about in teenagers and twenty-somethings.Report

          • fillyjonk in reply to fillyjonk says:

            Depressing thought, after reading commentary here: Maybe the ONLY point of college is to keep people like me (too weird for the corporate world, too chickenlivered to become entrepreneurs, too misanthropic for retail/table-waiting work) from being chronically unemployed 🙁Report

  8. Michael Cain says:

    Ed3: The instructor is not necessarily doing the students any favors. Colorado’s community colleges teach a lot of remedial math classes. Those colleges all require students to take a math placement test if they enroll in a program with a math requirement (many of them). The placement test became a requirement because so many students who had passed in high school hadn’t learned enough to go on — their math grades were meaningless. At CC, of course, the students pay tuition for algebra and pre-calc.

    Somewhat related to @fillyjonk ‘s concern about adjuncts, the CC math departments survive only because they can attract enough retired tech people who will teach those remedial classes for a pittance. Over coffee one night one of the CC faculty observed to me that the system was insane: high school teachers were paid a living wage to (apparently) not teach math; CC adjuncts got far less for making up the deficiency.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Michael Cain says:

      So, the CC’s in CO don’t charge for remedial math, or don’t charge if you use them to move up in math?

      (Overall I agree with you second paragraph, it is truly an insane system.)Report

      • Last sentence of first paragraph — CC students absolutely pay tuition for remedial math.

        One of the interesting developments in post-secondary education in Colorado happened 15 or 20 years ago when the state legislature passed a law requiring the state four-year schools to accept credits for a bunch of low level courses taught at the CCs. The CCs were also required to teach to the same standards used at the four-year schools. The math classes included everything up through first-semester differential equations. As CC tuition is significantly less than tuition at a four-year school, lots of four-year students take their math requirement classes at the local CC.

        One joke left over from the days of testimony taken on the bill had a math dept head from a four-year school complaining that the CCs couldn’t teach (remedial) math as well as the four-year school. “Yeah?” supposedly answered the math dept head from one of the CCs, “I’ll put my retired engineer instructors up against your first-year grad student who’s still struggling to master English any day.”Report

    • I write a great deal about remediation.

      “high school teachers were paid a living wage to (apparently) not teach math; CC adjuncts got far less for making up the deficiency.”

      We’re not allowed to teach remedial math. I write a great deal about that, too. And those cC adjuncts aren’t making up deficiencies. They’ll get fired if they don’t pass most of their kids.

      Recent changes in remediation policy in some states mean that colleges will give credit for middle school math classes, while high schools aren’t allowed to teach middle school math at all.

      There’s nothing in my piece that penalizes students for this. In fact, my policy is explicitly designed to help with remedial issues.Report

      • And those cC adjuncts aren’t making up deficiencies. They’ll get fired if they don’t pass most of their kids.

        Not my experience at the local CC where I’ve taught math. “Don’t pass ’em from pre-calc unless they’re ready for calc,” were the directions I was given. State law here gives the CCs a big incentive to not give a courtesy pass: the state four-year schools are required to accept credits for a whole list of math classes taught at the CCs (up through first-semester differential equations), and lower CC tuition results in a fair number of university students taking math classes at the local CC. That business goes away if the four-year schools can convince the legislature that the CCs aren’t grading to a four-year standard.Report

  9. Aaron David says:

    Something apropos in this months Atlantic:

    The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Aaron David says:


      I read this article but I also wonder if it has to do with being a developing economy as well and/or authoritarian countries. Arts and humanities educations are usually frowned upon because:

      1. They cause people to question things;

      2. Math, math, math is seen as the rocket to higher wages.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Something the article doesn’t address (not sure it could!) is whether said curve is a downward slope, or an upside-down bell.

        It’s entirely possible that there’s an upward slope somewhere on the even-more-egalitarian side of “as egalitarian as the US and other such countries” where women are once again more interested in STEM.

        How would we know?

        (Some imaginary and/or future countries where women don’t routinely scuttle their careers if they complain about sexual harassment on the job… Perhaps even, totally blue-skying it here, countries where almost no one ever has to deal with being belittled or harassed because of not being white dudes of the appropriate ethnicity and class markers…. such that women would really be coming at STEM with a fair shake in the first place.)Report

        • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

          (I also think in such imaginary and/or future countries, a fairly significant chunk of men might have more reason to be less interested in STEM, because less pressure to Be The Provider and other such patriarchal notions.)Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Maribou says:

            It was definatley developing counties, that was the point. And, yes, authoritarian. Well, it was mostly non-western countries if I remember right, so the idea of humanities as we know them could (just spit-balling here) be different to a degree. Yes humanities make people question things, at least if they are taught well. If it is just regurgitation for tests…

            Like you, I would like to see higher wages for humanities focused people, but (law notwithstanding) I don’t think we are in an age for that.Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Maribou says:

            Yeah, I can see that coming, possibly a little farther along the slope/curve.Report

  10. Oscar Gordon says:

    Unrelated to education, but something to think about:

    Capitalism as an operating system, rather than an ideologyReport

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Interesting thought. I don’t know how much this will change things though. If we think about it as an operating system, we can still get into fierce and partisan debates about what upgrades are needed and to what ends.

      In some ways, this already describes where we are today. Liberals don’t want to overturn the capitalist ideology. Most Democrats, including those of the left-end of the spectrum, are pro-capitalist and pro-profit. But we argue that changes need to be made so it is not completely inhumane and people are not ruined by massive change (technological) or even just a down-turn.

      Conservatives tend to argue that these updates ruin the system just like someone who preferred DOS to Win 3.11.

      How is anything different than now?Report

  11. LeeEsq says:

    The same is true for socialism. I think the real answer is both, capitalism or any other economic system is both an operating system and an ideology. People who treat their preferred economic systems as operating systems rather than ideologies are more prone to success than those who see them as ideologies. During the late-19th and early-20th centuries, there were ferocious ideological debates between capitalists and socialists. Eventually, some capitalists began to believe that capitalism needed to be tempered by moderate socialism in order not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. In terms of the Ted talk, they updated capitalism to include a bigger role in government in making sure employees don’t get a raw deal. The more ideological capitalists opposed this tooth and nail though.

    Likewise, many socialists began to temper their socialism with capitalism in the mid-20th century. They decided that the state really didn’t need to own all the means of production. The market was something they could live with to an extent. Socialism was just an operating system to lead to equality. Ideological socialists, the Communists, believed otherwise. The market needed to be smashed.Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    For fuck’s sake…

    Not only can we not have nice things, we can’t even have shitty things.

    There is no bottom. And before anyone dismisses this as nutpicking, a State rep’s aid pushed this. He was (rightly) fired but it shows the real potential for harm with this fucking bullshit.Report