"The widespread use of high school diplomas and college degrees as employment screening devices by employers has led to a belief that increasing education will increase opportunities, and/or that the reason for escalating educational 'requirements' is a corresponding increase in the knowledge necessary to perform a given job. The well-organized education lobbies exploit these beliefs to the fullest. In fact, however, educational 'requirements' are often used by employers who are wholly unconcerned about the specific content of the education, but who regards a diploma or degree as an indication of the job applicant's willingness to persevere and his grades as a rough index of his mental capability. The educational requirements are a hurdle which eliminates enough job applicants to narrow the employer's choice down to manageable proportions. By making it possible for more young people to go over a given hurdle, society also makes it necessary for employers to raise the hurdle in order to weed out the same proportion of applicants. The result has been an upward spiral of credentials and requirements with more and more young people being forced to endure more and more years of education that they do not want in order to qualify for jobs where the education is not needed. As more and more jobs have been put beyond the reach of those without the necessary credentials, whether or not such individuals can do the work itself, those ethnic minorities who are not traditionally oriented toward formal education are particularly hard hit." Thomas Sowell, Race and Economics, 1975, pp.231-2. America's mania for educational credentials has been accelerating for quite a long time.
As the academic job market worsens (was it ever good?), graduate students are angry, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Don't expect a protest march in the streets burning Ph.D. gowns, but the blinkered view of some tenured faculty about the job market must drive a grad student nuts.
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Dr. Troy Camplin observes that the center of gravity for the rebellion in Egypt seems to be un- and under-employed college graduates. The Egyptian government concluded that having a large number of college-educated people would be good since having more “human capital” is beneficial. The trouble is that there isn’t any direct relationship between the number of people who have college credentials in a nation and the creation of productive jobs that call for the skills and knowledge imparted in the classrooms.
By and large, until say, 1945, the expansion [of education] was fairly harmless. Unfortunately, however, there came to be established the misconception that being in school was the only appropriate was of being educated. Now, the majority are being cruelly miseducated and hoaxed; they will not get jobs relevant to what they have been put through.
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I comment on the recent, wonderfully iconoclastic New York Times piece on law schools. Students are lured into law school in much the same way they’re lured into college — easy government money to pay for education that is supposed to lead to great careers. But just as there aren’t nearly as many high-skill, high-pay jobs for BA holders as we are led to believe, there are not nearly enough legal jobs for all the people who are getting JDs. To keep the good times rolling, some schools utilize deceptive tactics to make it seem as though graduates are very likely to find lucrative legal jobs. Many won’t. The root of this problem is state regulation mandating that prospective lawyers must go through an approved (i.e., long and costly) educational experience known as law school. There is no reason for that mandate. Legal education ought to be opened up to free-market competition and discovery.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Troy Camplin discusses his rather unsatisfactory experience as a Ph.D. who can only obtain adjunct teaching positions. He sees his situation (staying at home with his young children because day care costs more than he'd make by teaching an array of courses) as evidence for the Austrian school's explanation that government actions can distort people's decision-making and lead them into costly mistakes -- such as taking out lots of governmentally backed student loans to get degrees that don't pay off. There are plenty of interesting revelations in this piece, including one where Camplin was told, "Now, we aren't saying that you should dumb down your course...." when that was just what the administrators wanted him to do.
In this LA Times op-ed, economics professor Shirley Svorny (Cal State Northridge) argues against the idea that if a state puts more kids through college, that will provide it with an economic boost. While the bigwigs in California's higher ed system want people to believe that, she says that "the state's prosperity rests on public policies that encourage economic activity, not on heavy subsidies to higher education." But won't the added knowledge from college make workers more productive? Svorny rebuts that notion, observing that "artificially low fees attract some students who simply aren't suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along." I would add that even for students who do study diligently, getting a college degree may be of little economic value. There is no automatic link between the number of sharp and highly educated people in a state and the creation of high-skill jobs.
Writing at the CCAP blog, Christopher Matgouranis shows how badly the U.S. has oversold college. He gives some Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the prevalence of college degrees among those working in occupations that most high school students could easily learn. It's worth mentioning that this is not a recent phenomenon either. College grads have been spilling over into "high school jobs" for many years. See, e.g., Pryor and Schaffer's 1999 book Who's Not Working and Why. Obama wants to substantially increase the number of Americans who get college degrees, but what does he think they'll be doing?
Michael Mandel notes in this post that among recent college grads who have employment, the greatest number have government jobs. They probably produce little or no value; what they do may in fact impede the creation of value by others -- but they have what they probably consider "good" jobs. Another large category is the hospitality industry. Some 33,000 more grads are working in restaurants and hotels. Their jobs probably don't pay very well and could be done by most high school grads, but they ARE producing value.
Writing for Huffington Post, Anya Kamenetz compares the huge level of student loan debt to the housing bubble. I'm glad to see understanding that we have oversold college spreading, but Kamenetz misses the role of the government in the college bubble, just as leftist writers turned a blind eye to the role of the government in the housing bubble. There would have been no housing bubble if it hadn't been for federal policy pushing home-ownership as if it were a good investment for everyone and making unrealistically cheap loans available. Similarly, government officials, starting with Barack Obama, keep telling young Americans that they need to go to college (otherwise, they're letting not just themselves but the nation down, says BHO) and enabling even the most academically weak, disengaged students to get into college with financial assistance from Uncle Sam. Kamenetz makes it sound as though the bad actors are all in the for-profit sector: "Someone with experience in the for-profit college marketing business told me that the same online sales geniuses who used to work for mortgage brokers are now employed by for-profit colleges. Their business is the same: fill out the forms, get the money, consequences be damned. Will we stop them this time?" Ah, but you'll find lots of kids drowning in their student loan debts who went to public colleges and universities as well. Those schools are just as eager to lure in warm bodies to fill the dorms and school coffers, just as eager to keep them enrolled even if they are learning little, and just as eager to slap educational credentials on them and send them into a job world that many will find as hospitable as Antarctica. The trouble is not the profit motive; non-profit institutions are no less hungry for revenue than proprietary ones. The trouble is that government policy makes it easy for people to misjudge the ratio between costs and benefits, leading to a profusion of decisions that borrowers later regret. Letting students escape from their debts in bankruptcy, which Kamenetz favors, only deals with the symptoms. I say we should attack the underlying pathology.
I'm pleased to introduce Jason Fertig as a new contributor at NAS.org. Dr. Fertig is an NAS member and assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana. Dr. Fertig brings a depth of perception and lively anecdotes from his own experience in the classroom to speak to some of the most real issues in higher education today. He has written three articles for NAS so far:
More Millennials Need to Work at McDonalds advises recent college graduates: get a job, anywhere. Real Sustainability: Saving Our Sense of Culture asks, "Are we failing to hand down our cultural legacy to the next generation?" Dangers of Credentialing the College Degree: A Real-Life Example is a case study that illustrates the popular idea that students are entitled to get a passing grade - even if they don't earn one.
I especially recommend the third article, which received attention from blogs such as Phi Beta Cons and Joanne Jacobs. Also check out his essay at the Pope Center on the gap year, The Gift of Academic Maturity. Fertig spoke about the gap year this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio. You can look forward to more NAS articles by Dr. Fertig in the weeks ahead.
One of the most depressing articles I’ve ever read in my entire life describes the problem American students face when pondering a career in science. For years, the conventional wisdom was that our education system was failing to properly educate our children in STEM subjects (science, tech, engineering, and math). However, this article in Miller-McCune directly challenges this assumption. The authors contend that the real problem facing American students is a lack of careers in science. The case they make is compelling: Although the number of graduates receiving Ph.D.’s has increased, the number of job opportunities has not kept pace. This trend is particularly noticeable in academia, where young Ph.D.’s spend years as post-docs, with only a small chance of ever landing a permanent position as a professor. Indeed, the average age of a scientist who earns his first independent NIH grant– a huge milestone in the medical science field– has risen from a researcher’s late 20s/early 30s to the ripe old age of 42. One of the biggest causes indicated in this article is the flood of foreigners who are willing to take post-doc positions. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that a massive increase in labor supply will both eat up opportunities and drive down salaries. Post-doc positions, which were once viewed as prestigious, are now treated as temporary, cheap labor. With such a dismal prospect for career advancement and compensation, it’s no wonder that American students would rather get an MBA or MD… or to forgo higher education altogether.
This piece in The Chronicle reveals what many higher ed critics of known for years -- getting a college degree is no guarantee of prosperity. In fact, many Americans with degrees live in poverty. Those who keep saying that the nation will get a huge productivity boost by putting more people through college ought to consider the possibility that we've already oversold higher ed. The glut of people with degrees who can't find jobs that pay even moderately well is good evidence that we have. Conversely, I wish I didn't have to wait days to get someone to work on my malfunctioning air conditioning here in hot and humid North Carolina.
I student of mine is applying for a job. Here is some of the verbiage on the job description page: "Strengthened by Diversity GCSU is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative-Action Institution committed to cultural, racial and multi-ethnic communities and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is expected that successful candidates share in this commitment." I note that they don't ask if the candidate is committed to quality scholarship, opposed to smoking, and being committed to rooting out obesity. How lacking in inclusivity!
By Adrienne Carlson It may come as a surprise to you, especially if you’ve always believed that online education is inferior to the traditional kind – there are certain careers where an online degree is your best chance of success. You may have heard that employers look down on online degrees, but not if you’re interested in a career in the following fields:
This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of accelerated online degrees. Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wall Street Journal ran a review of Professor Jackson Toby's book The Lowering of Higher Education in its December 23 edition. The reviewer, Ben Wildavsky, unfortunately buys into the standard line that college studies are highly beneficial and the country needs to encourage more students to enroll and graduate. Wildavsky asserts that keeping ill-prepared students out of college is "one trade-off we should not make" because "the indisputable benefits of college should be spread more widely, not less." Nonsense. The supposed benefits of attending and (maybe, eventually) graduating from college are highly questionable. Toby shows that many students enter college with feeble intellectual background and learning tools, then coast through without learning much of lasting benefit. (As I argued here, it's doubtful that students have any human capital gain from their college experience.) Moreover, there isn't necessarily any financial benefit from going to college, even graduating. Unfortunately, Toby didn't mention the mountain of evidence that college graduates often end up working in "high school jobs" that don't pay very well no matter what your educational credentials. (That's a point I have been making for years, for example, here.) Perhaps if he had, Wildavsky's belief that going to college confers indisputable benefits would have been shaken. In any case, it's hard to see how you could read Toby's book, which makes a strong case that many students graduate from college with an education in name only, and yet maintain that it's so beneficial that we must not cut back.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan contributes a piece entitled "Banks Don't Belong in the Student Loan Business." What he opposes is federally subsidized bank loans and I'm with him on that. Subsidizing student loans is no better policy than subsidizing home loans. Where we part company is in his approval of direct government loans, which he wants to increase so that more students can "realize the dream of getting a college education." As I have frequently pointed out, a college degree is what many students want. Relatively few dream of education. Low-cost loans entice large numbers of young people who gain little if anything in the way of lasting knowledge and skills into college, where they pile of debts they'll have a hard time repaying once they get into the labor force and get a job that most high school kids could do. Besides that, nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to lend money for this or any other purpose.
In case you missed it, there was a remarkable story by Eli Saslow in yesterday's Washington Post about the terrible job market facing recent college grads. Saslow's article illustrates the problem as it effects one individual. It's extremely well-written and is currently at the top of the WaPo list of most e-mailed articles.
Last Thursday, NRO published an article that took me aback, "Send More Students to College" by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. I have been arguing for years that we have oversold higher education and was surprised to see the title. Had I overlooked something important demonstrating that, to the contrary, we haven't done enough to promote it? Without having read it, I posted a brief skeptical rejoinder and after having read it, this lengthier counterattack. If you don't want to take the time for the posts, here's my key argument, as I wrote at the John Locke Foundation's blog: The central difficulty in the Winters article (and many others like it) is the assumption that because, on average, college educated people earn more than those who don't have degrees, college is responsible for adding the "human capital" that makes them more productive. Although it's true that on average the college educated earn more, that is in large measure due to the fact that over the last few decades, opportunities for people who ended formal education with high school to get into entry-level jobs that lead to high-paying positions have been steadily decreasing. That's because of credentialitis: employers screen out the presumably less reliable and trainable people who don't have degrees. Some young Americans go through college, learning a great deal, and augmenting their knowledge and skills considerably, but we also know that many others just loaf through college, taking easy courses that require little intellectual exertion and graduate with very weak skills in reading, writing, and math. If they get jobs that pay above average, is it due to the "human capital" they gained in college, which is awfully hard to discern, or is it due to the fact that they have benefited from the way employers use credentials as a raw screening mechanism? I think my argument better accounts for the facts.
In recent weeks, the USA Today and National Public Radio have crowed that this recession is different: most of those losing jobs were men (and predominantly white). This is "encouraging" according to these news outlets. Why is it good? Because a majority of the workforce is now made up of women; and blacks have not been hurt as much as whites (the media seem to have forgotten about Asians and Hispanics but what else is new?). This is an advance in gender, if not racial, diversity. Whooo. One wonders how those women married to unemployed men think about their gender's "advance." Is this recession different? We won't know until later but with "diversity accomplishments" now part of our academic job descriptions, there is reason to think that we may be evaluated accordingly when (or if) layoffs occur. After all, what better way to "diversify" the faculty than to adopt the slogan:
"First thing we do, fire all the white males!"
Employers are fearful of employment-related lawsuits and this is the first recession to seriously threaten academic jobs since 1982. The Diversity Machine has grown enormously since 1982, when it was only a glimmer in the eyes of campus social engineers. Today it is an industry that influences accreditation bodies, professional associations, and university practices (think of the money set aside for "diversity hires"). If universities can make diversity hires, why not make the same decision when firing people? Time to dust off your computer screen and search for labor relations law in your state. Those of us with unions ought to contact them too if the proverbial four-letter word "hits the fan."