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February 2, 2013 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Educational Attainment and Underemployment "The number of college graduates is expected to grow by 19 million, while the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree is expected to grow by fewer than 7 million. We are expected to create nearly three new college graduates for every new job requiring such an education. Currently, more than 20 million college graduates are underemployed—working in jobs requiring less education than they have, but that number will likely soar to nearly 30 million in the coming decade as a consequence of the number of graduates growing by 12 million more than the number of jobs."
posted by bookman117 (106 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not all bleak!

We would note, however, that some humanities type majors actually do rather well; for example, the mid-career earnings of philosophy majors exceed those of business administration majors, and history majors do nearly as well.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yea, but you have to disentangle the fact that philosophy and history degree programs funnel a good percentage into law school, while business administration is believed to impart skills needed in the workplace.
posted by pwnguin at 8:35 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a strong case for better long term options by learning a skilled trade than just going to college and hoping for the best.
posted by arcticseal at 8:43 PM on February 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


...funnel a good percentage into law school

I note that the word "lawyer" appears exactly once in the paper, in connection with the observation that certain professions have legally mandated education requirements. I note also that "lawyer" is absent from the list of 30 occupations projected to have the highest growth.

IAAL, but you may want to rethink your plan to become my colleague (besides, everybody hates lawyers.)
posted by spacewrench at 8:52 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm just waiting for the wags to show up in this thread and talk about how dumb it is for someone to expect a good job after college when they majored in Underwater Basketweaving with a minor in Gender Studies, and how they should have gone into a STEM program.

As a former computer science student with a degree in English, that sort of talk makes my blood pressure rise and my left eye start twitching.
posted by SansPoint at 8:57 PM on February 2, 2013 [21 favorites]


...learning a skilled trade...

Good luck with that, our idiot government is busy making that completely unviable too.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:59 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's a strong case for better long term options by learning a skilled trade than just going to college and hoping for the best.

Hear hear. To do this, though, we'd need to overhaul the paradigm dominant in secondary schooling now: go to college or you're a loser. Why? Because the business world increasingly has either low-paying jobs for "mere" high school graduates, and a whole lot more opportunities (though as this article points out, not so much more) for college graduates.

Once upon a time, employers paid decent wages to its workers. Now with everyone being a stockholder demanding a ROI, corporations cut costs at all costs.

Do schools even do Vo-Tech anymore? As I understand it, that has been largely phased out; we need to phase it back in. Training a kid to be a welder or a plumber can provide him/her with an in demand skill, but we instead teach kids that a traditional college is the only way to go.
posted by zardoz at 9:04 PM on February 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


It drives me crazy when people make blanket statements like "We need more STEM graduates so we can compete with India!" As if all science, engineering, computer, and mathematics fields are desperate to hire all the college grads they can find. Many (if not most) science majors have the exact opposite problem--you'll often see an overabundance of students, often with advanced degrees, competing for a handful of good positions. I'm guessing the situation is generally better in engineering, but putting tens of millions of 20-somethings 30,000 in debt so they can work at Subway isn't doing anyone any favors.
posted by Green Winnebago at 9:17 PM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the small city where I live, STEM graduates do quite well (unless you studied biology), although folks with a background in applied science do better.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in a hidden economy of temp workers who are required to have college degrees. Workers like me used to be full time, valued employees. Now we work under conditions that some of us describe as a sweatshop, or more colorfully, The Gulag.

I skimmed the article and it looks like somebody is trying to do a hatchet job on higher ed. It devalues intangibles, and makes sweeping generalizations. I have a BFA in Painting and Photography, and I worked professionally in the graphics field using the skills I learned in Art School. I also took calculus and computer science which is the basis for my job in The Gulag today. But I barely earn enough to pay rent. This temp work pays so poorly that I couldn't possible even begin to pay my student loans, I'm on a hardship deferment. At work breaks, we sit around discussing how to get unemployment between jobs, if we qualify for food stamps or Medicaid, and how easy it is to give blood once a week for $80 cash. You know, friday our work ended unexpectedly at 3PM. Sometimes we run out of work and are sent home, we aren't even guaranteed a full work day or a 40 hour work week. I was pissed off at losing two hours of wages, but then I realized I just had time to go to the Food Bank before they closed at 4:30. I got some 3 day old bread, some expired tofu burgers, and the one rarest commodity at the food bank, actual meat. I got a can of pork. I am afraid to open it, for fear it will look like cat food.

This was the theme of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed," that you can't make a living on a job like working at Walmart, you have to rely on public assistance to make it. But we're not minimum wage store clerks with no educational requirement. We are college grads, BAs, MAs, and even a couple of PhDs, working in a highly skilled task that should make us a good middle class living. And our jobs are in educational development, we are setting the future for education at k12 and college levels. Get your college degrees with our materials, and then join us in The Gulag.

Nope, the problem is not actually education. We can do some damn good education, and education can change our lives and our society in fundamental ways. But what's the point when the 1% sucked all the money out of the economy? We can't use our brains to make anything, there's no capital to build it. Even if we could make stuff, nobody has enough money to buy anything. Who is our economy for? Is it for the 1%, or for all of us? Do we just need enough education so we can have health care for the rich, quants to manage their wealth, and architects and yacht builders for their amusement, while the rest of us eat cat food?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:37 PM on February 2, 2013 [139 favorites]


I'm kind of tired of the vo-tech, anti-college education stance too. I understand the idea behind it and think it's well-meaning, but man, I'm fucking glad I went to college. Sometimes I'm glad I was from the working class, so spending four years having a great time studying literature at college and graduating and only being able to find shit wage jobs/public assistance actually wasn't much of a shock to my system. Just business as usual.

There are certain jobs that pretty much any major can get that I wonder why more retail-working college graduates don't jump at. For instance, bank tellering. Not fantastic wages, but above minimum wage, sometimes decent benefits, and they appreciate some education (and educational aspirations, as long as they're finance/business related). It's basically a sales position, but it's not always a bad line on your resume.

But going to college changed my life in fundamental ways. I think the economy is fucked and education has become financially backbreaking and it would be great if both of those things changed, but I can't really advocate vo-tech over a traditional education, even knowing that. (Also hate it when people suggest that disadvantaged kids having trouble at college switch to vo-tech-- it's such a condescending assumption and I think cripples them instead of encouraging them through a difficult time that will yield great personal rewards.)

I don't really know who thinks a B.A. entitles them to a stable middle-class living anymore, but I guess the assumption is still out there. But I think that the economy is forcing young adults to abandon the idea of studying their interests at college, or forcing them to stay home with parents when they could be learning valuable independence in the real world, is really shocking and awful. This is all just my gut though.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:11 PM on February 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Actually, if anyone wants to give practical advice to college students mine would probably be to intern like crazy, especially at places like banks or investment firms or other places that will give you valuable, tangible skills that are hard to pick up once you graduate (unless you're willing to do it for free). I was an English major but I found jobs & internships in research and finance and digitization, which actually has given me a bump a few times when I needed it.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:15 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's a strong case for better long term options by learning a skilled trade than just going to college and hoping for the best.


There's a reason that blue collar people often fight tooth and nail to get their kids into college - the opportunities for people, especially women, (aestheticians and seamstresses, our traditional trades, draw a pittance) with a high school diploma are bleak, unions are being slowly but surely dismantled - the skilled trades weren't born inherently good, they were made that way - and the trades have a much higher rate of incurring death, dismemberment and debilitation than desk jockey positions. Yes, you start out making twice as much, but your career is often half as long. When other people are reaching their career stride, your body is throwing in the towel, and you're unable to do not just the only thing you were trained for, but a whole lot of other things. The problem is the jobs that are most plentiful are low-wage, part-time and/or temporary customer-facing positions with no benefits that are... ends unto themselves, to put it politely. And no one wants to be the workers that the job market "needs," because those jobs are bad for people who "need" jobs as opposed to merely "want" them. They're supposed to be brief detours on the way to "something else," but we're running out of viable "something elses."
posted by Selena777 at 10:17 PM on February 2, 2013 [19 favorites]


Do schools even do Vo-Tech anymore?

Principals and teachers have a choice: vo-tech, or an extra hour grinding the students for standardized testing ...
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:18 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


my partner and I both have degrees and both earn about $15/hour. That puts us in 63rd percentile of income earners. We don't have kids. I am astonished that the majority of American households get by on even less money than we have.
posted by rebent at 10:23 PM on February 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


I was very surprised not to see any technical or computer related jobs in the list of the 30 occupations projected to have the most growth. I know of so many companies desperate even for mediocre programmers or system admins. I guess this shows the difference between intuition and hard data.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:26 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, if anyone wants to give practical advice to college students mine would probably be to intern like crazy

Mine would be to take a hard, hard look at how much debt you are running up and realistically how much money you will earn, after you get out of college, if you take away your loan payments, and ask whether it's really worth it, or if you can do it for a lot less money some other way.

We are heading for a student loan crisis that is going to make the mortgage crisis look like a hiccup.

There is a trillion dollars of outstanding student loan debt right now, roughly the same as the sub-prime mortgage market when it collapsed, except that this money is both unsecured and not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

We're going to end up with a government bailout or with a lot of college educated young people in debtors prison before this it shakes itself out.
posted by empath at 11:18 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know of so many companies desperate even for mediocre programmers or system admins.

What's your definition of mediocre? I consider myself a mediocre programmer (average or sub-average) and I haven't been able to find a programming job in Vancouver/Toronto for years. Not a huge loss or anything, as I don't think my physical health can survive the Red Bull Life anymore. But I know of so. many. people who can program but can't find any IT job. Entry-level network admins also seem to have a particularly difficult time breaking into the industry.
posted by fatehunter at 11:21 PM on February 2, 2013


What's your definition of mediocre? I consider myself a mediocre programmer (average or sub-average) and I haven't been able to find a programming job in Vancouver/Toronto for years. Not a huge loss or anything, as I don't think my physical health can survive the Red Bull Life anymore. But I know of so. many. people who can program but can't find any IT job. Entry-level network admins also seem to have a particularly difficult time breaking into the industry.

I help hire network admins in Chicago and it does seem very hard to find entry-level positions. I would love to hire entry level people but I can't because I'm so understaffed with people who already know what they are doing and no one would be able to train them.

With programming in my experience I've seen mediocre programmers with superb networking skills get jobs and great programmers without such skills languish in unemployment. I am personally self-taught and I don't know if I'm any good or not, but I am very good at networking and have never had issues picking up fairly well-paying freelance work and eventually was employed by a company I freelanced for.

I don't really use my college degree for my job. Luckily I didn't pay a lot for it. I attended the agricultural college at UIUC, which is not all that popular, which is too bad because you can basically get the equivalent of a regular biology, economics, and a bunch of other degrees at a fraction of the price and compete with fewer people for scholarships. I guess some people might look down on you for having a crop science degree rather than a biology degree, but there are a lot of jobs that you would have an advantage with such a degree, though I personally had reasons that kept me from applying for some of these jobs at places like Monsanto and Cargill.

I also did my last year of school in Sweden, which was when it was still free even for foreign students and ag school at UIUC didn't make you pay much in the way of student fees (it was like $500) to study abroad. It is not free for foreign students anymore, but it is much cheaper than US schools and some of the Swedish universities like Uppsala and Lund are very prestigious and most of their programs are entirely in English. Living expenses are less than you would think because of various subsidies and the general lifestyle (student-run cheap pubs, people don't eat out much, you won't need a car). I believe the situation is the same in Iceland, Finland, and Norway. I encourage young people I know to consider going to school in Scandinavia.

I also took classes at a community college and AP tests so I could have shaved off a year of school, but didn't need to since I didn't pay anything to go to school in Sweden. Yes, I was lucky, but I was also very very afraid of debt because of some memories from childhood and I was determined to find ways to get around getting around it or minimizing it.
posted by melissam at 12:05 AM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So much of the tone of this discussion places the people as incapable of making change to the situation. Like "Unions are dead or dying". Okay, so, change that. Unions didn't happen by magic any more than universities did.

The ruling class have built a system designed solely for the purpose of keeping you in debt, in hopes of keeping you subservient. It's stupid.

What you going to do? Burn it down? Bullshit. The planet can't handle that. For that matter, the planet can't afford to support of bunch of old-school industrialists who rape the planet at will, while touting "the market" as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. And they know it!

Hey you, don't sneeze too loud, or some 1% turkey is going crap his pants. They are scared, and they ought to be very very scared. Their way is the way of death, and we're all catching on to that fact. "The market" is going to decide it is they who are the true parasites. Crow bars and monkey wrenches aren't that expensive, and they stop the gears a hell of a lot better than your own flesh and bones.
posted by Goofyy at 12:08 AM on February 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'd be more inclined to believe the vocational training argument if it came from an actual tradesman, rather than a federal government employee.
posted by Nomyte at 12:17 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


We are heading for a student loan crisis that is going to make the mortgage crisis look like a hiccup.

And they sure as fuck aren't going to bail us out.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:45 AM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


SansPoint: As a former computer science student with a degree in English

Er... are you me, somehow?

Triplanetary: I know of so many companies desperate even for mediocre programmers or system admins.

TELL ME OF THESE PLACES, I BEG OF YOU.
posted by JHarris at 12:50 AM on February 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


(COMPLETELY serious -- I don't even think I'm mediocre, but I'll take what I can get, I'm delivering pizzas right now.)
posted by JHarris at 12:52 AM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


BlueHorse: And they sure as fuck aren't going to bail us out.

The cynical side of me says that they'll find a way to make joining the military the only viable option, and then start a war.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:12 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


TELL ME OF THESE PLACES, I BEG OF YOU.

All over the place in the Washington DC area. My inbox is full of job offers for stuff that's only tangentially related to my resume on linkedin. I get 4-5 new ones a week. I don't have a degree, I don't have any certifications and my work experience is fairly spotty, but I found a well-paying job in less than one month of looking.
posted by empath at 1:15 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This report underestimates the problem. Robots and software continue to evolve, continuing to replace even more workers, and obsoleting millions of jobs, worldwide. Just look at what Foxconn is planning.

Don't kid yourself into thinking that this is only going to happen in the lower-tier jobs, either. Take a gander of what this venture capitalist says about the future of doctoring.

Along with other problems of great import, this one is growing at a relatively fast pace, and will soon loom over all societies and cultures as a massive social problem. Adaptation will be key (as always), but I see no real planning undertaken to address the inevitability of a massive increase in permanent unemployment that will result.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:34 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robots and software continue to evolve, continuing to replace even more workers, and obsoleting millions of jobs, worldwide. Just look at what Foxconn is planning.

Automating jobs doesn't eliminate jobs, it just makes productivity go up. Ideally at some point, we can have so much productivity that nobody has to work. Though you're going to need to depend on the government to force wealth redistribution.
posted by empath at 1:43 AM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


but I see no real planning undertaken to address the inevitability of a massive increase in permanent unemployment that will result.

Are you blind? What do you think all this rightwing lunacy is about? They want the unemployed to understand the new social contract: Unemployed useless people are welcome to go to prison to be worked as slaves, or die.
posted by Goofyy at 1:47 AM on February 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


you can't make a living on a job like working at Walmart, you have to rely on public assistance to make it

I was thinking about this the other day and realized that the assistance low paid workers get is really just a subsity doe comp companies to pay less than a livable wage.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:11 AM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Automating jobs doesn't eliminate jobs, it just makes productivity go up. Ideally at some point, we can have so much productivity that nobody has to work.

Sadly, in my experience, this is not what management believes. Administration/Management of all sorts seems married to the idea that technology saves money. Of course, in the Industrial Revolution and the early Information Revolution, this was true -- mostly because people were eliminated. Blue collar jobs were relatively easy to eliminate this way and had the added benefits of weakening unions (created, in part, by the Industrial Revilution's concentration of labor) and creating a large reserve of desperate poor that serves all sorts of political ends.

We are now engaged in trying to eliminate white collar jobs the same way. At the moment, it's not going so well, since, as you note, the technologies really allow workers to do more rather than replace them (or they replace "front line" jobs with roughly equivalent "technology operations" jobs). I suspect, like so many futurist predictions, this is where things will stay -- we are not near machines that can make the sorts of decisions necessary to replace skilled people -- if we do crack that barrier, brace yourself for even more white collar job losses.

Until then, though, we need to deal with the effects of a management class addicted to the myth of technology saving money. The result of this idea is money gets spent on technology but nothing is budgeted of the constant demands of upkeep and replacement. The money for that comes from personnel lines, which means offices are understaffed, and the extra production capacity goes toward making up the staffing deficit rather than expanding productivity. The office ends up understaffed, demoralized, less agile, and short of talent (the value technology's "added value" needs to have any value at all). Management wonders why their plan didn't work, and they look for a new technology to solve the problem.

Ironically, this defective decision cycle could be easily automated, saving billions of dollars a year in sale ties....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:41 AM on February 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


My solution?

Make educational institutions co-signatories on all student loans.

Suddenly, permitting that marginal student to borrow $50k to take your shitty associates degree in fuck-all doesn't sound like such a hot idea, does it?
posted by valkyryn at 4:51 AM on February 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


Do schools even do Vo-Tech anymore?

Some do. But, vo-tech is often one of the first programs to go when budget cuts hit. Vo-tech has largely been exported to either community colleges or, more likely, for-profit chain schools like DeVry, Universal, ITT, etc. which only serve to make the student debt crisis worse.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


saving billions of dollars a year in sale ties....

salaries! oh, Edit Window!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:19 AM on February 3, 2013


30,000 in debt

That's what one year at a typical small lib arts college often costs these days. So try $120,000. Or more like $45,000 per year and $180,000 for the degree at the top schools (if you still think the USNWR survey is worth a damn). And that's just for the BA.

These colleges' tuition are around 150% of what they were around 1998 when I graduated HS. We've had inflation since then, but not that much. I'm pretty sure the industry knows it has cultivated a bubble; now the race is on to extract as much profit as is possible before it bursts (probably through the collapse of the already hollowed out educational lending system).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:31 AM on February 3, 2013


Make educational institutions co-signatories on all student loans.

And, at the same time, make student debt forgivable under bankruptcy again. That action (making student loans non-forgivable) is what really opened the floodgates.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:59 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, at the same time, make student debt forgivable under bankruptcy again.

Actually, as down as I am on the student loan concept, permitting them to be easily discharged in bankruptcy is just a bad idea. Otherwise, every single person with student loans would declare bankruptcy as soon as they graduated. There's zero incentive not to do so. All declaring bankruptcy does is make it difficult to borrow money for seven years. After that, it's like nothing happened at all. The reason this was instituted in the first place is because professional students--especially doctors and dentists--were waiting until they finished grad school and then discharging hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt despite six-figure incomes.

I think, rather, that we should simply relax the standards a bit. Student loans are dischargable in bankruptcy under the statute, but the standard is "undue hardship," and the courts have interpreted that to mean that even if you're paralyzed you can't count on it. Clearly, this is sub-optimal. It needs to be easier than that.

But maybe not all that much. We do want lenders to be repaid, as it's that solvency that makes student loans a viable prospect at all. Instead, focusing the barrier to access on educational institutions instead of lenders and/or students would mean that there would have to be some actual cost/benefit analysis before loans would be issued. Students simply don't know shit, so they can't and won't make reasonable decisions about taking on debt. Lenders don't have any real way of evaluating students or educational programs. No, educational institutions are best positioned to know what their degrees are actually worth, to exert price controls on their offerings, and to evaluate students for their likelihood of success both in school and afterward. Putting them on the hook seems like the best option.

Three more thoughts there. I just made this proposal on Facebook, and one of my friends suggested that triggering schools' obligations could be made contingent on a finding that the student had made a good-faith attempt to secure paid employment. This does two things. One, it means that you can't simply move back in with mom and dad to drink and smoke pot all day and let the school pick up the tab. You have to be actively looking for work. This would be the same sort of test we use for unemployment insurance: you must be available for and actively searching for work. But two, it would also make unpaid internships go away immediately, because that's not paid employment. As unpaid internships are a huge force for inequality, this is a good thing.

Second, we'd need to prohibit schools from seeking contribution from their students. So if a school has to pay for a student's loans, the school can't then turn around and stick it to the student, simply shifting the debt from one creditor to another. If the school's obligation is triggered, the student's is discharged.

Third, we could run this analysis on a monthly basis. So rather than simply saying that if a student is at any point unable to pay that the school is suddenly responsible for the entire debt, we'd simply have the student check in every month, and if they couldn't pay that month, the school would have to. So schools would have to provide coverage for a period of unemployment after graduation or between jobs, but they wouldn't be immediately saddled with the entire load the first time anyone ran into financial difficulties.

The more I think about it, the more I'm liking this idea.
posted by valkyryn at 6:19 AM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The solution, to me, seems threefold.

1. Work to eliminate degree mills. How many of those "underemployed" graduates went to a crappy online school with poor standards and a bad reputation, making their degree worth very little? As a hiring manager, there are certain schools I wince at when I see them on a resume.

2. Stop encouraging everyone to go to college. College is not for everyone, and as any professor could attest, there are way too many students that have no business being there.

3. Educate people that taking out the equivalent of a home mortgage in loans is a horrible idea, unless you're going to a top notch law, med, or engineering program. Can't make the scholarships work? Go to community college and a state school. Nobody will care that you went to University of Illinois instead of University of Chicago, for example.

Common sense stuff, but it all starts by dispensing with our idiotic notions that college is for everyone, and borrowing $150,000 is for everyone.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's strictly a question of public policy. The government provides operating subsidies and loan guarantees for higher education in a way that it doesn't do in how it supports any other form of private capital formation. The market (students, colleges, and employers) reacts predictability to that distortion.

If a college and a prospective student want $50,000 so the student can pursue a marketing degree virtually certain (by reference to SAT and GPA) not to improve the student's productivity to a meaningful degree -- they get the money no questions asked, and virtually no consequences to the college if the student drops out or graduates and fails to make anything useful out of his degree.

If an equipment vendor and a worker want $50,000 so the worker can buy gear from the vendor and go into business for himself, the government will shuffle you off to an SBA lender and if the worker has a $15,000 cash down-payment and can survive an exhaustive vetting of both himself and the proposed equipment purchase maybe he has a one in ten chance of getting the $35,000 balance lent to him. If the equipment doesn't work the worker can sue the vendor (and if the SBA lender forecloses, the government will sue in its own name). If the equipment works but the business fails, the equipment will be sold and deprive the vendor of a chance to sell a newbuild in its stead.
posted by MattD at 7:36 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Getting a "good job" is kind of a bullshit reason to go to college anyway. That's supposed to be the byproduct of an education, not the purpose of one. I'm all for learning a trade -- if I had it all to do over again, I'd probably become a plumber; your job will never go out of fashion, the pay's nice, and no one can argue you aren't providing a damn valuable service to society -- but if all you have are people who know how to make things, which is to say people who don't know about anything else, you might as well have a bunch of fucking robots. But that's not even really the problem...the problem is that you don't. Because that's great for a machine and awful for a person. When you have people who only know technology and don't know anything else, that's bad news. What you need, optimally, is people who are both technically adept and well-rounded. It's a mistake to reserve the humanities for academics and it's a mistake not to teach academics how to do anything with their hands. But the biggest mistake is presuming you would do either one so that person could make money. Money should be a given. Resources should not be the issue here. We're doing it wrong.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:06 AM on February 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


"That's what one year at a typical small lib arts college often costs these days. So try $120,000. Or more like $45,000 per year and $180,000 for the degree at the top schools (if you still think the USNWR survey is worth a damn). And that's just for the BA."


Around 20,000 in debt is the norm for undergrad. That's a new car. It's bad - an 18 year old with no job history would have a hell of a time financing a new car by themselves from an institution with a healthy fear that they could just stop paying, and many kids have private loans with... distasteful interest rates, but the median debt load is nowhere near the 100,000 figure commonly cited.
posted by Selena777 at 8:15 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Around 20,000 in debt is the norm for undergrad.

Anecdotally, that seems about right from my experience, too.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:17 AM on February 3, 2013


That's what one year at a typical small lib arts college often costs these days. So try $120,000. Or more like $45,000 per year and $180,000 for the degree at the top schools (if you still think the USNWR survey is worth a damn).

They are not worth a damn, but not for the reason you're thinking:

They're not worth a damn because they keep reporting, and people keep looking at, the topline tuition number as if it were real. They're not. They're intended as maximum numbers that only the wealthier students might actually pay.

If you want to know how much a college education really costs, what you want to be looking at is the net price -- full cost of attendance, AFAIK including room and board, minus grant and scholarship aid.

At Williams, the top-rated LAC in the survey you linked to, the published tuition is $45000 and the published total cost of attendance is $60K/year. However, the average net price for families making $50-75K is $15K, which is not much more than their predicted room and board costs.

The next one down, Amherst College, has a published TCA of $60K again but an average net price for families in the $50-75K range of... $963. Which isn't to say that every school will have such a wide gap between published numbers and reality, but especially at the top end these schools are out there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:21 AM on February 3, 2013


I have been a professor at a mid-sized State University for about 17 years. I have had the enormous pleasure to work with many excellent students from humble economic backgrounds, and have helped them go places that they never imagined when they 1st stepped on campus. What they had going for them is that they were prepared for college. Some of them are my closest friends today and I wouldn't trade that for anything. But that being said, in more recent years the entire enterprise seems more arduous for everyone involved. There seems to be a vicious cycle that has become established and it looks something like this:

1) Unprepared student needs to go to college because that is what everybody tells them they must do.
2) Student is accepted to State University and takes out loans to partially off-set costs. The rest is paid for by working 20-40 hours per week at low skill/low wage job.
3) Student has trouble succeeding in college because student is academically unprepared and has to work up to 40 hours per week making a bad academic situation even worse.
4) Student drops out or takes way more than 4 years to graduate. This causes retention rates and 4-year graduation rates at State University to plummet.
5) State University is heavily criticized for having low retention and low 4 year graduation rates. Politicians go on the attack and combined with bad state budget, slash funding for State University.
6) State University responds to diminished state support by increasing tuition and fees, causing newly enrolled students to take out bigger loans and work even longer hours outside of class to pay for it (see step 3).
7) State University builds massive and expensive student support system to improve the retention and graduation rates of the lower 25% of the student body who are not prepared for college. This is paid for by increasing tuition and fees even more, making school even more expensive for those that are prepared.
8) Faculty compliment these efforts by acquiring large grants (millions of dollars) from state and federal sources to develop local efforts to improve retention and 4 year graduation rates. More and more faculty time and energy is spent on trying to help the least prepared. Well prepared students get lesser education because of it.
9) The above efforts work for a small percentage of the students who are not prepared, turning their D's and F's into C's, at best.
10) Unprepared student then graduates from 3rd tier State University with a C average and ends up working in same low wage/low skill job that they had before they enrolled. But now they have large debt as well.
11) Because employer sees that college graduates want/need the low wage/low skill job, employer now requires all applicants for low wage/low skill job to have degree. This causes credential inflation causing consensus that everybody must go to college.
12) Go back to step 1
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:16 AM on February 3, 2013 [30 favorites]


As ROU Xenophone notes, another market distortion from policy is that we encourage (across several political and social dimensions) large contributions to elite universities and that has the result that the better the private college, the lower the net cost (cash tuition paid plus loans incurred). You shouldn't expect to pay less to go to Harvard than you would to go to DePaul or Fordham, but if your family income is under $200k a year, you do. If your family income is less than $50,000, you pay less net to go to Harvard than you to would pay to go if you qualify for resident tuition at the University of Arkansas.
posted by MattD at 9:19 AM on February 3, 2013


Actually, since we're talking about growth industries - my income, since November, has more than doubled. Last year, a combination of admin work in the film industry and freelance media management brought in $37k; this morning I was calculating my invoices so that I can file quarterly and found that I've invoiced for some $9k in January alone this year. This can be almost solely attributed to a single career move - I went from working in film to working as an advertising editorial assistant. My hours are usually less than the 10+ I was expected to put in every day and - more interestingly - of the people in my department, I am the lowest paid and have the most prestigious degree, which is just a BA from McGill. The two editors I work under went to state and community college, respectively, and our creative director never finished high school.
Unfortunately, advertising media is based largely in New York and LA (and some in Chicago) and entry-level work can be a horrendous shitshow. Additionally, you ARE working in advertising, although to be honest I do not find the work I am doing any more venal than what I was doing in film. But if you live in New York, and you're a reasonably competent, personable person, AND YOU KNOW PHOTOSHOP ALREADY*, get ye hence to a giant corporate post-house where you can learn Avid while fetching people sushi.

* I have daily bookings for the next three months with a major post-house, based ENTIRELY upon the fact that I know Photoshop, Illustrator, AfterEffects and I have done Quicktime conversion before. I literally walked in to meet with the VFX head, listed those, and they asked me what my entire year looked like.
posted by 235w103 at 9:19 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


12) Go back to step 1

Or, you know, maybe they could try not accepting unprepared students.

Harsh? Maybe. But I can't see that not going to college is materially different from where these unprepared students end up. Not only do most of them not wind up with a degree, but even the ones that do don't wind up benefiting all that much from it, either personally or professionally.

A force for inequality? Again, not really. Because unprepared students generally wind up not benefiting from college all that much--what's the use of a degree if you don't have the social and cultural skills which would get you a job even without one?--I can't see now denying them the opportunity to take on five figures of debt is going to make things any more unequal than they already are. Quite possibly less so, as it forces people to get right to on-the-job skills acquisition. Four years of real work, of any sort, even bussing tables, is going to make you a more valuable employee than four years of failing at college.

If that means downsizing the university, well, fine.

Conclusion? If you're prepared for college, society should make it easy for you to go. If you're unprepared for college, society should not make it easy for you to go. The real problem, then, is trying to get more people prepared for college. But that just turns us on to the shit-show that K-12 education is in this country, i.e., it's another kettle of fish. If you aren't ready for college at 18, that isn't going to be mostly your fault, but it doesn't change the fact that you're not ready for college.
posted by valkyryn at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem, I think, is that college is now a kind of twilight zone...it's sorta supposed to give you a liberal education, but it's also sorta supposed to give you vocational training.

That might be a good mix, if it can be pulled off. Sadly, where I teach, anyway, the vocational mindset really drags down my general education students. For any value of X unequal to "business administration class," they are likely to ask "Why do I have to take X? I'll never use that."

They've basically never been taught the actual value of a real education, many of them just aren't curious, and really have no business in college as traditionally conceived. They're not dumb, they're just not interested in intellectual endeavors, and largely see them as frivolous. So they flock to low-grade majors like business. They'd probably have been better off financially to have gone to a business school. Though, who knows? Maybe they accidentally learn something while they're here... And their tuition and fees help us maintain a school where the minority of students who are curious can get a pretty good education. So I reckon I shouldn't complain.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:41 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


That might be a good mix, if it can be pulled off. Sadly, where I teach, anyway, the vocational mindset really drags down my general education students. For any value of X unequal to "business administration class," they are likely to ask "Why do I have to take X? I'll never use that."

Maybe someone should explain to them why they do need that. Unimaginative, incurious businesspeople who only care about lining their pockets are not the businesspeople industry needs. We desperately do not need those people.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:07 AM on February 3, 2013


Or, you know, maybe they could try not accepting unprepared students.

This is highly correlated with "Maybe they could try not accepting first-generation students" and almost perfectly associated with "Maybe they could try not accepting first generation students from rural and inner-city districts."

I spent a few years at UNT, at the time a third-tier regional public with easy admissions outside of the music program. And because of a stupid Texas law, every single student had to take at least two courses in the polisci department.

So I can tell you that there were a lot of students who were woefully unprepared by their small rural school districts, and who had no family background in college to be otherwise prepared by. These were the students who would approach me halfway through the semester to tell me that they were failing and should they maybe buy the textbook, and some significant portion surely failed out of school.

But at the same time there were any number of other students from identical backgrounds, whose applications surely looked almost identical, and who did perfectly well. Some of them went on to whatever jobs, others ended up (from that program) getting into UT Law or better. For these kids, their admission meant radically altering the trajectory of future generations of their family; it meant that their kids would be middle-class people with a family background in college, and so on.

How do you propose we tell the difference? Or are you okay with just throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:18 AM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have two arguments about this that seem contradictory: a university education isn't job training; the skills you learn by acquiring a university education are exactly the kinds of things you need to be successful in certain kinds of jobs. I think both of these things are true.

I wish we would stop seeing university education as a certification system. It's not that; it should never be that. I went to a professional school: that's a certification system. If you want a particular job, learn set skills in a program designed to teach you how to do that particular job. But degrees in english or history or anthropology aren't certification for anything, and the mandate of universities, as a general rule, is about generating well-educated, analytical, and thoughtful citizens. The idea that getting an advanced degree qualifies you a job seems like a mutation of the idea that being a well-educated, analytical, and thoughtful employee is a valuable employee.

At the same time, being well-educated and thoughtful with sharp critical thinking and synthesizing skills is great for a wide variety of well-paid jobs. A lot of humanities education is about seeing patterns in qualitative material, synthesizing text, and drawing conclusions about things. I did this in graduate school, and I do it all the time now in planning, evaluating, and implementing services. I find our yearly planning process and our five-year strategic planning very familiar; it's like every graduate seminar I've ever been in, and I'm regularly commended for my strategic planning abilities, and for my tendency to evaluate my own work and apply my conclusions to make it better. The thing that taught me to do this is graduate school: I studied theological studies and history.

I find it very ironic that the exact skills graduate school taught me appear to be the very things my workplace values most in me, while everyone is saying that universities don't set you up for a good job.

What universities aren't doing is helping students and employers make the connection between the the actual, valuable skills gained and the jobs that are available. We still think an english degree gives you knowledge about literature, or anthropology tells you about world cultures. The knowledge is the material, but the skills involved in the study are the truly revolutionary part. I would love to see a shift in academic culture to properly recognize those skills, but again: it's not certification. It's about building your abilities as a person.

I think at some point soon we will realize that the absence of solid humanities-based thinking has become a disadvantage to us. Then perhaps those STEM graduates will find themselves needed to head back to school to study literature in the hopes of better understanding the importance of metaphor and narrative on influencing behaviour (for instance). It's a pendulum that swings back and forth, it seems.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:33 AM on February 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


empath writes "Ideally at some point, we can have so much productivity that nobody has to work. Though you're going to need to depend on the government to force wealth redistribution."

Ah Ha! The fatal flaw shows itself. Goverments lately seem incapable of properly performing this function. GINI indexes are increasing in many OECD-24 countries (IE worsening). Even Sweden.
posted by Mitheral at 10:37 AM on February 3, 2013


How do you propose we tell the difference?

It's my intuition that most of the kids that don't do well in college aren't terribly literate. My solution is interviews. Honest-to-goodness in person interviews. No more purely paper applications. On campus if possible, but with some mechanism for sending admissions personnel around the country where practical. Interviews, in addition to the normal chit-chat, would include two functional components. First, a requirement that applicants read aloud a passage from some work of classic literature, chosen more-or-less at random by the interviewer. Preferably nothing written after about 1950. Second, a requirement to write, by hand, in the interviewer's presence, a few sentences about what they read.

Standardized tests, application essays, recommendations, these can all be gamed and are thus basically meaningless. But the only way to game your way past something like that is to actually become literate.

If you can't do those things, you have no business going to college.
posted by valkyryn at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, though I couldn't find anything on the "Center for College Affordability and Productivity," "productivity" in this context sends me to yellow alert.

The lead author, Richard Vedder, is at AEI...so...there's that.

There's a kind of crusade on the right to stamp out the, y'know, collegey parts of college, what with them being all left-wing and whatnot.

(Actually, there's more truth to that than I'd like there to be...but not as much as the wingers think there is...)

One of their tactics is to push the vo-tech line. This also aligns with the interest of their biggest constituency, business.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's my intuition that most of the kids that don't do well in college aren't terribly literate. My solution is interviews. Honest-to-goodness in person interviews. No more purely paper applications. On campus if possible, but with some mechanism for sending admissions personnel around the country where practical. Interviews, in addition to the normal chit-chat, would include two functional components. First, a requirement that applicants read aloud a passage from some work of classic literature, chosen more-or-less at random by the interviewer. Preferably nothing written after about 1950. Second, a requirement to write, by hand, in the interviewer's presence, a few sentences about what they read.

This sounds a little patronizing. Would your solution apply to everyone, or just to the people whose background raises a red flag to you with reference to their ability to gain from a university setting?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:53 AM on February 3, 2013


It's my intuition that most of the kids that don't do well in college aren't terribly literate.

I'm not sure that this is something that usefully separates kids who will do okay from otherwise-similar students who won't, but ultimately that's just an empirical matter.

My solution is interviews. Honest-to-goodness in person interviews. No more purely paper applications. On campus if possible, but with some mechanism for sending admissions personnel around the country where practical.

Well, fine, but then somebody's going to have to pay the increased costs of this process, which I'd be surprised to see come in under $100/application, averaged over all of them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


First, a requirement that applicants read aloud a passage from some work of classic literature, chosen more-or-less at random by the interviewer. Preferably nothing written after about 1950. Second, a requirement to write, by hand, in the interviewer's presence, a few sentences about what they read.

A school that doesn't make its reading passages and writing tests available to the public would be accused of playing favorites by putting tougher obstacles in front of some types of students (i.e., see the Soviet equivalent for Jewish students).

Instead, if only a small finite number of passages is used, places like Kaplan will offer a bounty to students who can disclose this information.

And if these materials are available publicly, then the same test prep dungeons (again, like Kaplan) will offer test prep drills for money.

You're proposing a high-stakes scenario, and every high-stakes scenario can be gamed and profited from, leaving winners and losers.
posted by Nomyte at 11:23 AM on February 3, 2013


Would your solution apply to everyone, or just to the people whose background raises a red flag to you with reference to their ability to gain from a university setting?

Absolutely everyone.

A school that doesn't make its reading passages and writing tests available to the public would be accused of playing favorites by putting tougher obstacles in front of some types of students

Screw that. Each institution could pick a book from the canon and change it every year. This year Pride and Prejudice, next year Lord of the Flies, the year after that Red Badge of Courage, etc. Every student gets asked to read a random page.

The testing companies are welcome to try to prepare students for that sort of thing. They'll either succeed in improving literacy in teenagers--something no one else has been able to do--or they'll be in effective. I'm okay with either outcome.
posted by valkyryn at 12:03 PM on February 3, 2013


Something else to note about debt: I took my first two years at community college, to avoid paying the outsized tuition for even state school, but when I transferred and finished up (which took me longer than most because I was working full time too), the tuition and fees essentially doubled each year for three years. Federal and state aid got slashed, and the kids who came after me had it even worse — I largely dodged the burden of our shitty university president who ran up insane costs on real estate renovations that basically just got passed to the students.

But basically, there are costs that are outside of the student's control, and the rate of change of those costs can't necessarily be known before making the significant investment in time and money with any given institution.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you're unprepared for college, society should not make it easy for you to go.

I'd switch this to "society should make it easy for you not to go." That is to say, make the public education k-12 good enough to impress employers the way it did a hundred years ago.

Then too, there's this - are we talking requirement for the actual job function or requirement to get the interview in the first place? Slap that "college degree required" on a job opening and you get to keep out all sorts of undesirables. (It also further skews the income data in favor of college graduates.) Understandable that a business would want a basic quality sieve to keep the application pools manageable, but let's be honest - how many jobs out there really could be performed by a bright (or even not-so-bright) high school graduate?

Impossible to quantify, of course, and I ask it rhetorically. But as a f'r'instance, most IT people I've known have been essentially self-taught, and many did not go to college. Or did not finish. And I'm not talking Zuckerberg/Gates here, but normal employees. They finagled the first job and learned the work on the job. Not a universal, but not negligible either.
posted by BWA at 12:26 PM on February 3, 2013


Man, I have no idea what my kid is going to do when he graduates in 10 years. I just hope there is something besides ridiculous debt slavery, the military, and retail misery.
posted by emjaybee at 12:39 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd switch this to "society should make it easy for you not to go." That is to say, make the public education k-12 good enough to impress employers the way it did a hundred years ago.
Well, a hundred years ago, a lot fewer people graduated from high school in the first place. This gets back to the idea of education as a signalling mechanism- the fewer people manage to attain a certain level of education, the more likely it is that a person who does possesses desirable qualities. In other words, if you wanted to get serious about making k-12 good enough to impress employers, you'd have to make it considerably more difficult than it is today, and most likely also end up failing out a lot more people. Do you see this happening anytime soon?
posted by bookman117 at 12:42 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you propose we tell the difference? Or are you okay with just throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

You go to community college to gain the skills and experience you need to make it in a 4 year institution. The students whose test scores and academic track record indicated that they were unqualified but never the less are able to rise to the task of the coursework will prove themselves, acquire 2 years of college, and the transfer to a 4 year university. The students who perform poorly don't continue while also not being out too much money.

To a certain degree, the problem of the large mass of unprepared students, even the ones "with potential", are not the responsibility of the 4 year state university system. By the time the students get there, it's too late. The universities, if they are to do anything, should be focusing on better preparation for students at the high school and community college level. Remedial instruction is really outside of their core mission.
posted by deanc at 12:50 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: First, a requirement that applicants read aloud a passage from some work of classic literature, chosen more-or-less at random by the interviewer. Preferably nothing written after about 1950. Second, a requirement to write, by hand, in the interviewer's presence, a few sentences about what they read.

Not all college focuses around reading classic literature. But your argument is confused by not making it clear what you mean by literate. First it seems like you're talking about general literacy, as in, being generally knowledgeable about the world and being able to analyze and talk about things you've read, but your measure for it is reading something aloud, which indicates you're talking about basic literacy, just being able to decode words on a page.

Standardized tests, application essays, recommendations, these can all be gamed and are thus basically meaningless. But the only way to game your way past something like that is to actually become literate.

Everything that is a measurement can be gamed. There are no exceptions, none at all. People will eventually come to confuse the map with the terrain, then others will take advantage of that fact.

If you can't do those things, you have no business going to college.

Anything people pose as a requirement for going to college necessarily means they consider themselves suitable as a gatekeeper, and for something as basic and essential as education, I'm uncomfortable with arbitrary gatekeepers.
posted by JHarris at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other issue, I think, is that colleges are facing the same problem that law school is facing: there are simply fewer job openings than there are graduates. This is both a structural problem of the economy as well as a problem of education policy. The economy collapsed, so these graduates have nowhere to "go", but there are also more college graduates and more debt being accumulated than before, whereas they previously wouldn't have gone to college or simply been able to easily absorb the cost of tuition, even for a relatively low paying job.
posted by deanc at 12:55 PM on February 3, 2013


But your argument is confused by not making it clear what you mean by literate. First it seems like you're talking about general literacy, as in, being generally knowledgeable about the world and being able to analyze and talk about things you've read, but your measure for it is reading something aloud, which indicates you're talking about basic literacy, just being able to decode words on a page.

I mean the latter, what you term "basic literacy," and what I've heard described elsewhere as "functional literacy." The reason I stipulated a piece of classic literature is that it's likely to be harder than the 6th-10th grade reading level that most newspapers aim for.

Everything that is a measurement can be gamed.

Arguably. Which is why I'm not aiming for a measurement here. You don't get points. It's the more-or-less holistic, subjective impression of the interviewer, who will be told something like "You're interviewing X students, so you can only recommend that Y of them be admitted," where X > Y. A kid who stumbles through the reading but is clearly able to articulate why they want to go to college might have as good a chance of admission as a more awkward kid who proved to be highly functionally literate. Try to game that, Kaplan.

Further, the whole "gaming the system" bit is largely used by wealthy families that already have a bunch of advantages. Doing really well in college prep activities might mean the difference between getting in to Harvard or "only" getting in to your state school. But those kids would presumably do fine at a test like this anyway, so it's not as if college prep activities are going to be much help here. By contrast, the student whose family can't afford to shell out thousands of dollars on test prep classes will suddenly find that functional literacy, which one can acquire without recourse to such methods, means something again.

I'm uncomfortable with arbitrary gatekeepers.

We're having a conversation about making it harder to go to college. It's kind of the point.
posted by valkyryn at 1:07 PM on February 3, 2013


Standardized tests, application essays, recommendations, these can all be gamed and are thus basically meaningless. But the only way to game your way past something like that is to actually become literate.

I don't think that the students who can't make it through a 4 year university degree are "gaming" the standardized tests and application essays. Rather, many universities simply have very loose admissions requirements. The question is how to take a large number of students from poor performing schools with low test scores and figure out which ones out of that group are nevertheless qualified for college level work and going to be able to rise to the occasion.
posted by deanc at 1:08 PM on February 3, 2013


There's a kind of crusade on the right to stamp out the, y'know, collegey parts of college, what with them being all left-wing and whatnot.

There is some of that. However, from the blogs about higher education that I read (from both the left and right), the battle between liberal arts as the focus of a university education on the one hand and vocational training on the other does not break cleanly along the left-right divide. Some on the left do embrace the liberal arts, but are not so keen about a more rigid liberal core experience or canon. The strongest proponents of the traditional canon come from a subset of conservatives. And yes, this usually goes along with a rebuke of what they would call a self-indulgent curriculum (students knowing more about zombies upon graduation than western civilization). So the left-right divide is not whether a University should focus on liberal arts or vocational training, but rather how that liberal arts experience is expressed in the curriculum and university wide requirements.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:00 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yep, you're right about that, Seymour Zamboni.

What I wrote was so only-partially-right as to be, effectively, wrong.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:25 PM on February 3, 2013


In support of valkyryn:

I went through the following stages after I began teaching:

Early on: The problem is that my students can't think.

A few years later: The real problem is that my students can't even write, much less think.

A few years after that: The real real problem is that my students can't even read, much less write or think.

So...illiterate is...a pretty reasonable guess.

I have several colleagues who independently came to the same conclusion.

My theory of how they read: skim material, doing a keyword search. List keywords. Ask "what sentences are most likely to contain such keywords?" Attribute content of those sentences to the text.

This problem is made worse by rampant, acute grade inflation. Many students are admitted who can't do the work, but few professors give honest grades. So these students are not only never weeded out, but never honestly informed that they don't have the abilities that they think they have.

At my own way-way-better-than-average-but-decidedly-non-stellar institution, in the College of Arts and Letters, in general education classes, 35% of grades are 'A's, 45% are 'B's, about 15% are 'C's, about 3% are 'D's and about 2% are 'F's.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:35 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


My theory of how they read: skim material, doing a keyword search. List keywords. Ask "what sentences are most likely to contain such keywords?" Attribute content of those sentences to the text.

I don't know what you teach, and it may not matter to this conversation, but it's possible what you're pinpointing as illiteracy may simply be lack of interest. A full-time student is expected to devote hours of study to his or her subjects outside of class. There are only so many free hours in a day. If the number of homework hours expected exceeds the number of actual hours free, some courses get more attention than others. It could be that students just generally try to get your courses over with so they can move on to something that holds their attention a little more.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2013


I went to a big ten state university, flagship and all that. I graduated from a rigorous program in the hard sciences and afterwards nobody cared where I had gone or what I had studied. It was dehumanizing during the process but I told myself it was worth it and someday I would see benefit from going through the motions, taking classes where I learned nothing, and that inevitably took time away from my own academic interests.

The whole process made me really upset. Junior professors going through the motions, teaching the pointless rudiments of fields they had nothing to do with and hadn't the slightest passion for anymore. I took a few mandatory classes in social sciences and arts, literature etc that I greatly enjoyed, where the professors at least had real passion, even though it was misplaced and steeped in cultural baggage. But even the finest class in Sufi poetry was less useful than spending a couple of weeks in the massive, unused, and entirely empty library.

The undergraduate library had long since had all the books moved out, you see. Because students needed the space to study. On their computers.

Looking back, the bright side is that at least I lost the argument with my father that my education would have been better served by the small liberal arts colleges with over 10X the tuition. If I had gotten my wish, then I would be in some real trouble now. As it was, my tuition went from 800 a semester to 5,500 by the time I graduated, three years after admission. My best friend who went to one of those bastions of enlightenment and scholarly discourse...she's just as screwed as I am, but with a slightly more shiny degree.

I will impart to my children that they are responsible for their own education, and whether I force them to study engineering, or whatever vocational degree is in vogue 20 years from now, but will insist that they spend the time reading the books and studying the cultural heritage of this world. It is a damn shame that we would ever give children the idea that you have to study something in a university for it to be real or useful. Learning is lifelong, the wealth of knowledge and hard work spent in the pursuit of work for its own sake, without monetary reward is perversely invaluable, one of the most important things we can do to ensure our own happiness, and after all the best work frequently comes from amateurs.

I will end this pointless and overly long statement with the footnote that the no bankruptcy argument is simply buying into the rhetoric of the bankers. When students were able to declare bankruptcy back in the 70s they chose not to. When students are given the option to evade their loans now, they frequently choose not to, although they could never have imagined the ludicrous debts a bachelor's degree would some day incur.

Why are banks allowed to make federally secured risk free interest at well above market rates, but businessmen are allowed to gamble trillions of dollars on the crassest frivolity and insanely fraudulent risks and get paid to walk away? It's capitalism when they do it, but shirking your horsehair responsibility when we do it. You can be too big to fail but you're never too small to be enslaved? I encourage anyone who agrees to that to examine their own situation and the logic that led them to that position because you ostensibly seem to lack the thin veneer of compassion for our fellow man that is the bedrock of civilized behavior.

After all, the common people will end up paying either way. I would rather that my taxes, which are far too low, go to the mistakes of overly ambitious students than the profit margins of our corporate financial wizard overlords and their Sallie Mae cash machine.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:38 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or, you know, maybe they could try not accepting unprepared students.

As you can tell by reading the discussion in this thread or indeed by thinking about it for 30 seconds, accurately identifying who is "prepared" and who isn't is impossible.
posted by medusa at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2013


...most IT people I've known have been essentially self-taught, and many did not go to college. Or did not finish. And I'm not talking Zuckerberg/Gates here, but normal employees. They finagled the first job and learned the work on the job.

I'm not sure that will last. Over the last 20 years, the demand for computer pros far outstripped the supply of credentialed workers (not to mention the emergence of whole fields like web design, for which there weren't even ANY credentiallng institutions). So it was a great time to be a smart, motivated person with no degree. As the whole field gets shaped into corporate "IT", and as many thousands of CS degrees get awarded, it's probably going to get harder to just talk your way into that first job, though.
posted by thelonius at 4:21 PM on February 3, 2013


Here's the tech job board in my small, isolated (tip of an island, surrounded by sea on 3 sides, and mountains directly to the north) city of 350,000. Our city has a 5% unemployment rate at the moment. This job board does not include the shipbuilding industry (there is a naval base here) which also employs some technicians, as well as process engineers and skilled project managers.

Microsoft also has a dev studio here.

Here's the most popular tech job board for Vancouver. Besides the boring stuff, Pixar, Microsoft, Orange and other well-known global companies have shops in Vancouver.

Just a glance at both job boards shows that there are a fair number of jobs, mostly software-related, but a fair number of Enterprise IT.

For a few of these jobs, a self-taught 19 year old could walk in off the street (notably for the junior positions at game companies here in town like Kixeye), but a lot of these jobs rely on STEM grads with applied skills.

How do these job boards compare to job boards in other MeFites' cities?

Canada has a well thought-out Co-op system - students develop skills and connections before they graduate. Co-op programs are common in almost every province (employers don't like co-op programs because they spend time paying and training students; the students don't come back after grad).

Is it the same in the US? Are there co-op programs there too?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:40 PM on February 3, 2013


Is it the same in the US? Are there co-op programs there too?

Some schools and departments either strongly encourage internships or make them an integral part of the course of study. Many other schools either expect students to coordinate all aspects of the internship themselves, including managing progress in their coursework toward the degree, or they simply don't have strong ties to employers to make placement reliable and convenient for students.

Some professional degree programs (e.g., counseling) are notorious for demanding that their students independently find and complete an extended (and usually unpaid) internship while still paying for course credit.
posted by Nomyte at 7:12 PM on February 3, 2013


These co-op programs are highly organized by universities (and often smaller community colleges). The positions themselves are more than internships - the co-op students are often paid market rates.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 PM on February 3, 2013


Then you have identified an important difference between colleges in Canada and colleges in the US. I would expect to find something like the co-op programs you describe at a good regional engineering school. Highly ranked schools will expect students to have the personal resources and the initiative to find internships (unpaid in many fields, although often paid in the sciences and engineering). Smaller, less prominent schools, state schools, and undergraduate liberal arts institutions are unlikely to have organized programs of this sort. Community colleges struggle enough with underfunding and high over-enrollment to dedicate resources to internship and placement programs.
posted by Nomyte at 7:30 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


accurately identifying who is "prepared" and who isn't is impossible.

No, it's not. I'm not talking about telling whether someone is going to excel or not. You're right: there's no real way to predict that sort of thing. But I guaran-damn-tee you that if a college applicant can't fucking read that they're not going to do well in college.

This should be obvious on its face. It should not be controversial. I should not even have to make this point.

But the fact is that colleges in the US admit a shocking number of students who are functionally illiterate (and functionally innumerate). There is not a single institution of higher learning in the country, in the world, that has any business taking the money these students have borrowed in an exchange for an "education" from which they have a zero percent chance of benefiting.

Don't think of this as being anti-student or anti-equality. Think of this as prohibiting educational institutions from exploiting the poor by encouraging them to borrow money they have no means of repaying for services which are of no use to them. I put this in the same category as payday loan outfits: it's oppression, pure and simple, and it needs to stop.
posted by valkyryn at 8:13 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am SO MAD at the "elite" small liberal arts school I went to. My peers (five years out) are almost 100% stuck in part time dead end jobs. My college girlfriend-now-wife escaped, I did too, but other than that everyone I know from those years isn't on track to have anything approaching a middle class lifestyle. I realize a liberal arts school is not supposed to be job training, but at the same time they have a responsibility to make sure students have what they need in order to contemplate literature/make art/build nonprofits/have kids and send them to liberal arts school rather than leaving graduates destitute. The jobs ARE there, my current workplace (software) has 30-50 open positions constantly. But they're not open to fresh liberal arts school graduates, and the school doesn't offer any guidance whatsoever in getting from point A to point B for their $100k in tuition. As far as I'm concerned it's highway robbery.
posted by miyabo at 8:38 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry to contribute to the pile on you here, valkyryn, but I too found myself raising serious eyebrows at your idea. Your basic premise is that functional illiteracy in the English language is the major reason why we're getting students that under-perform in university.

Really? I mean, I could see a very small number of students who manage to get into university with poor reading skills, yes, but I really doubt that they represent the vast majority of students who under-perform in university at all. Rather, I can think of multiple other issues from the top of my head as a current university student and student advocate that would be more contributory to under-performance statistics than literacy: inability to deal with newfound independence/responsibilities, mental health issues, high literacy skills but lack of interest or thinking skills, time management issues, and so forth. None of these can be reasonably tested for.

To implement such a costly, time-consuming, resource-consuming, stressful and most of all, biased and simplistic testing procedure on what I consider to be a straw-man is bone-headed. How is this not anti-equality? I would consider not having a 100% waterproof entrance application process to be better than hiking up student fees or application fees to facilitate the cost of person-to-person interviews.

Not even counting the logistics. The current standard is to apply to multiple universities to keep your options open - how am I, as a current high school student potentially with a part-time job, going to try to schedule 7 different interviews in a week? Accessibility is a huge issue here too. I know as a deaf student, if I had to do a person-to-person interview like that, I would have been at a major disadvantage.

Even if there is a big issue of illiterate students somehow sneaking into university that it somehow cripples the entire system (i.e. not an issue blown out of proportion by the media because the idea that "people can't read are in university" is shocking and scandalous), I really doubt that the onus should be on universities to filter these people out on the expense of current and prospective students. Rather, it should be the students who are illiterate themselves understanding that they clearly aren't suited for an academic environment.

I understand the further issue here is that even if they do understand that they aren't suited, they feel quite trapped because there's almost no real opportunities for anyone who doesn't choose to go through our university system at this point. But to actively kick out anyone without college-level reading skills (especially when there's a number of disciplines that would only require the newspaper-level reading skills you mention) instead of solving the underlying societal issues strikes me as particularly unfair. There needs to be jobs, opportunities, and most of all, respect for those unsuited to university, and that should be our way of encouraging anyone who knows that they're going to struggle in a post-secondary environment to go the alternative path, not rooting them out, blocking them off and kicking them to a world where they have no options.
posted by Conspire at 8:39 PM on February 3, 2013


My theory of how they read: skim material, doing a keyword search. List keywords. Ask "what sentences are most likely to contain such keywords?" Attribute content of those sentences to the text.

Actually, that's a far more advanced technique than I'd attribute to them. That actually has a non-zero chance of producing some knowledge of the text involved, because it requires you to at least be able to identify and understand what the key words are. I think what you're finding is that while your students can technically read, they are insufficiently skilled readers to manage any significant quantity of assigned reading. Therefore, they don't do it. Or they "read" it but do not gain any useful information from the material they read.

I mean, I could see a very small number of students who manage to get into university with poor reading skills, yes, but I really doubt that they represent the vast majority of students who under-perform in university at all.

Actually. . . I think you're completely wrong about this. The numbers are far more depressing than you seem to think. I'm willing to go so far as to suggest that poor reading skills account for a majority of the students who fail to do well in college.

There's a difference between being able to technically "read" English, i.e., decipher the combination of letters into words, and being able to extract information from prose. More than 20% of adults were functionally illiterate in 2003, and something like another 20 percent have only basic competence. The numbers have gotten worse since then. These are people whose command of the written word is insufficient for any text more complex than an Applebee's menu. And only about 15% of the population is fully literate, i.e., has no difficulty "locating information in text," "making low-level inferences from printed materials," and "integrating easily identifiable pieces of information" in printed materials.

So if you're functionally illterate, like 20% of the population, you shouldn't go to college. And if you're in the next 20% with only basic literacy skills, you probably shouldn't either. There's something like 40% of the country that should be disqualified right off the bat. But we're sending closer to 70% of graduating high school seniors to college, so there's a good chance that a non-zero percentage of them can't really read at all, or have only the most basic literacy skills, plus another goodly chunk that do okay with basic reading. College requires--or at least it ought to require--something more than basic functional literacy. It should require fully functional literacy. If you can't extract information from printed material, rapidly, consistently, accurately, and in volume, college is going to be difficult for you. And again, studies suggest that something like 15% of the population can do that, a bit more than a fifth of the students that actually go to college.

In other words, about 80% of the people that go to college have reading skills that are less than ideal. Most of them will do okay; not everyone was going to be valedictorian anyway. But by my back-of-the-napkin estimates, at least a quarter of them, if not a third or a half, have poor enough reading skills that college is going to be exceptionally difficult. And hey, look at this: only about 40% of college students graduate in four years. In other words, roughly the fifth that were highly literate to begin with, and the next quintile below them. Everyone else has a really tough time of it.

it should be the students who are illiterate themselves understanding that they clearly aren't suited for an academic environment.

Except they probably can't. They don't really understand what an academic environment is.
posted by valkyryn at 8:45 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, it's not. I'm not talking about telling whether someone is going to excel or not. You're right: there's no real way to predict that sort of thing. But I guaran-damn-tee you that if a college applicant can't fucking read that they're not going to do well in college.

Students with dyslexia, severe anxiety, and other disorders. (These are eligible to receive support via their school's office of student disabilities.)

Students for whom English is not their first language. (I have met lots and lots of students whose English is strong enough to allow them to perform exceptionally well in demanding courses, yet who would have a difficult time reading aloud from Jane Austen.)

You say "guaran-damn-tee," lots of other people say this is a capricious, unreliable, biased, and easily exploited obstacle.

Also, be prepared for the student cohort from the year of The Red Badge of Courage to outnumber the student cohort of the year of Moby Dick by a factor of 2.
posted by Nomyte at 8:53 PM on February 3, 2013


I don't understand how you're extrapolating your numbers here.


- You're going from 20% of the America adult population to 20% of high school graduates. These statistics will include first-generation immigrants, older people from rural areas who had a poor education growing up, and so forth. Beyond that, there were a whole host of methodological issues associated with those statistics, which I see that the Wikipedia article you have linked me to does mention.
- The 15% figure you have cited correlates to a university undergraduate education. So your criterion when you say that 80% of people who go to college have reading skills less than ideal (again, grossly inflated by the above point) is that they need to have undergraduate-level reading skills. Only - they are high school students, and they're expected to pick up these reading skills over the course of university. Saying that 80% of high school students should have university undergraduate-level reading skills does not make any sense.
- You somehow relate 40% of college students graduating in four years with illiteracy. But that's the point being debated here; you can't just bring up two separate statistics and go "well this number from this study matches with that number from that highly flawed study, I DON'T THINK IT'S A COINCIDENCE." I just gave you a whole list of reasons why a student may underperform in university, and chalking the entirety of that figure up to illiteracy does not make for a good argument.


Pardon the snark here, but I think that we should be replacing the literature assessment in your in-person interviews with a test of basic statistical knowledge, because I think that's a better indication of critical thinking skills.
posted by Conspire at 8:59 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I was in college they had a remedial English called Subject A which you could test out of if your entrance exam (SAT) score was high enough or then they had a test in the first week and you could test out of it but if you didn't pass one of those two tests you had to take Subject A in your first semester and it was one of the most difficult classes in the school and you got 2 credit hours for it and if you didn't pass you didn't go any further. And you didn't get to retake it if you didn't pass it. If you didn't pass it you were out.

Don't they do that any more? I remember the folks who had to take it considered it very non self esteeming so maybe it was ditched to express more respect for the less skilled freshmen with the consequence of sucking more borrowed tuition dollars out of them?
posted by bukvich at 9:02 PM on February 3, 2013


Previously
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:02 PM on February 3, 2013


Don't they do that any more?

It is still done. But most institutions like mine allow you to keep taking the remedial course until you pass it. At my institution in any given year roughly 50% of the incoming class must take the remedial writing course, and a few years ago something like 70% of incoming freshmen had to take remedial math. And there is a large academic support system in place to assist students in these courses.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:32 PM on February 3, 2013


I realize a liberal arts school is not supposed to be job training, but at the same time they have a responsibility to make sure students have what they need in order to contemplate literature/make art/build nonprofits/have kids and send them to liberal arts school rather than leaving graduates destitute.

Unfortunately, the culture of many liberal arts colleges is, in a strange way, a place that discourages developing the sort of skills that will allow them to get competitive jobs. The culture of the school will drive students towards menial work at various non-profits or going into Americorps or the like. Meanwhile, the parents of the well-heeled students at these colleges are the ones guiding them towards jobs in finance or consulting or reminding them to prepare to apply to medical school and study for their LSATs, leaving the middle and working class students at the mercy of the prevailing culture of professors and administrators who don't know much about what careers exist outside of academia and non-profit institutions and don't really know why you would want to take such a job, anyway.

One other problem I think is the case is that the American university system seems to have grown up exclusively out of the liberal arts college tradition, rather than also having a strong tradition of polytechnic and technical colleges which grew into universities. So you have people who wanted to study programming or accounting or business being asked to pretend to be undergraduates at Amherst taking classes in literature that they were never really interested in and when their interest in history could be perfectly satisfied by taking out "The Rise of the Greatest Band of Hitler's Secret Arsenal at Stalingrad" out of the library while theytook their technical classes that prepared them for the job they wanted.
posted by deanc at 9:48 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's the most popular tech job board for Vancouver. Besides the boring stuff, Pixar, Microsoft, Orange and other well-known global companies have shops in Vancouver. Just a glance at both job boards shows that there are a fair number of jobs, mostly software-related, but a fair number of Enterprise IT.

There have always been good numbers of IT postings on job boards; I've been reading them since I got into a CS diploma mill (University of Waterloo) in the late 90's. And there have always been far more applicants than openings.

The same goes for accounting jobs, btw, or any of the professional careers the business media tries to sell with variations of "employers are starved for talent!" (Does any Canadian here remember a period in the late 90's when the press sounded the alarm about Canada's "brain drain" to the US every other week? Around the time when Nortel peaked, coincidentally). The sales pitch is not entirely false, but also not entirely true. The employers are starved for TOP talent.

The reality for those of us who are average/mediocre or unproven noobs: a couple of interviews out of a couple hundred targeted, carefully tailored resumes. Dozens of fellow interviewees for the same job, some of whom so experienced you know right away there's no chance in hell any sane person would hire you over them. Still, scoring an interview in the first place was the best thing to happen to you all week, and you might need to remember that triumphant feeling to get you through a whole month.

I don't mean to call you out, KokuRyu, but I did secondary school in Victoria. My older brother had a bachelor degree in double E (electrical engineering) from UVic, couldn't find a related job, did a Masters in California, still couldn't find a job anywhere on the West Coast - so he went back to Taiwan and finally got a job through family connection that pays him roughly $1,000 Cdn a month (not a bad deal these days in Taiwan, the land that makes most of the world's IC chips). Some of his engineering friends ended up in retail service jobs, others in call centres and computer repair shops. The only ones who did well came from rich families.

Most of my high school friends went to UVic (it was right next to our school), all of them in STEM. Only one was truly successful at his chosen career path (in academia). Everyone else, not so much. All of us are currently employed, thank heaven, so we don't show up in unemployment numbers. We count our lucky stars for being able to feed ourselves and not having suicidal thoughts - my brother and I have lost three friends/relatives between us to crushing pressures in STEM.

I don't dispute that the truly talented STEM people are probably having the times of their lives. But they're not representative. As much as I dislike the McJobs I've had, they have never punished me the way STEM punishes the mediocre.
posted by fatehunter at 9:49 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


fatehunter writes "The sales pitch is not entirely false, but also not entirely true. The employers are starved for TOP talent."

They are also starved for average talent that they can pay for shit. The ongoing kerfuffle over foreign workers (I'm thinking specifically that mine wanting to import equipment operators) has been telling. Many employers are Shocked. SHOCKED! that they have trouble recruiting workers when competing enterprises are paying 2 - 3 times as much for essentially the same work in the same conditions.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 PM on February 3, 2013


There have always been good numbers of IT postings on job boards; I've been reading them since I got into a CS diploma mill (University of Waterloo) in the late 90's. And there have always been far more applicants than openings.

I think you need to come back to Victoria (I did read the rest of your comment - I went to Mount Doug. I neither like nor dislike the school. I also graduated from UVic).

Anyway, over the past decade I worked for 5 years for the non-profit I linked to above, and several more years after that with a provincial agency in the same field, and my focus was on helping employers attract talent. I'm not sure when you're brother went back to Taiwan, but in around 2000, Power Measurement started its growth spurt, and by 2005 was the largest tech company on the island. It was purchased by Schneider a year later. Tons of work for electrical engineers, a big connection with UVic engineering, plus just a ton of software dev jobs.

A guy I went to school with in Fine Arts at UVic built a company in the Fine Arts building that he later sold to IBM software labs in 2005. They still have a large shop in Victoria.

During my time at the non-profit above, I actually conducted pretty detailed surveys that tracked things like salaries, types of jobs, types of credentials, and, while there are peaks and there are valleys, fundamentally in Victoria if you can code you can get a job that pays at least $60,000 to start.

But they don't like UVic CS always, and prefer the Camosun 3-year diploma program.

Maybe there is a skills mismatch, though, since Victoria software companies typically do really well with platforms for e-commerce, affiliate marketing (the actual platform - there are 3 companies that do this), mobile and casual games, that sort of thing.

On the engineering side, there is also a ton of work for electrical engineers not only at Schneider, but also in remote sensing and signal processing.

The jobs that are advertised are the tip of the iceberg, typically.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only - they are high school students, and they're expected to pick up these reading skills over the course of university.

I disagree.
posted by valkyryn at 1:32 AM on February 4, 2013


valkyryn: And hey, look at this: only about 40% of college students graduate in four years.

This isn't really a good measure. Graduating with a bachelor's in four years is reserved for people who went in knowing what they wanted to do and stuck to the plan completely with no unexpected events; any kind of significant change in major, or transferring schools, or any kind of life disruption like a major illness or pregnancy will put you on the five-year plan. Even silly things like getting bumped from a full but necessary class or potentially beneficial things like committing heavily to undergraduate research can do it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:03 AM on February 4, 2013


valkyryn, what part of my statement do you disagree with? I'm countering your statement that 20% of students have an "ideal" reading level by pointing out that the statistic that you use to say that refers to undergraduate level reading skills (which is on the very page you linked me to). Do you disagree with the premise that high school students should not be judged on a level equivalent to a bachelor's degree? Or do you disagree that a university education does not contribute to better reading skills? If it's the latter, how do you propose that anyone develop the level of reading skills that you're referring to, considering that in their day-to-day lives, they'll only be exposed to resources that only require a low level of reading to comprehend (i.e. the newspaper reading skills you refer to?)

The problem here is that you're using, intentionally or not, highly misleading and manipulated statistics to support your point that the majority of students who underperform in university are illiterate, and a good chunk of which are functionally illiterate. The rest of us are unconvinced, because for one, that suggests that 40% of American high school students somehow are unable to read any question on the SAT yet come out of that highly standardized, tested and strict protocol with a good grade. Your solution to this issue is to implement a costly and time-inefficient protocol that still ignores the variety of other issues we've pointed to as contributory to underperformance. Therefore, if you want your solution to be recognized as reasonable in any way, you need to be able to prove that your identified factor of illiteracy somehow takes overwhelming priority over any of the other issues that we've pointed to, and can somehow be resolved through interviews when standardized testing apparently cannot.
posted by Conspire at 6:30 AM on February 4, 2013


The rest of us are unconvinced, because for one, that suggests that 40% of American high school students somehow are unable to read any question on the SAT yet come out of that highly standardized, tested and strict protocol with a good grade.

Who said that these high school students are getting good scores on the SATs? They're not. It's simply that most colleges don't have particularly competitive admissions. The bottom quarter of the class at a typical third-tier state university will have SAT scores in the critical reading section in the 400s.

The "track" of classes in high schools that are supposed to lead to admission to college is called the "college preparatory curriculum." It is not unreasonable to demand that students following this set of classes show up at college prepared.

The current standard is to apply to multiple universities to keep your options open - how am I, as a current high school student potentially with a part-time job, going to try to schedule 7 different interviews in a week?

Having an applicant make a personal interview at a college or with one of the local alumni of that college is not unusual.
posted by deanc at 7:19 AM on February 4, 2013


Unfortunately, the culture of many liberal arts colleges is, in a strange way, a place that discourages developing the sort of skills that will allow them to get competitive jobs.

I agree with that absolutely. I don't think I'd find it so infuriating if the schools were incapable of providing a rigorous, focused education in a useful subject, or if the students were incapable of absorbing one. But these schools are rich, and the students are from the top 5-10% of the best high schools in the country. And yet the schools pigheadedly insist that a broad-based, general education is the key to a successful career and a happy life, despite all evidence to the contrary.
posted by miyabo at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2013


I don't think I'd find it so infuriating if the schools were incapable of providing a rigorous, focused education in a useful subject, or if the students were incapable of absorbing one. But these schools are rich, and the students are from the top 5-10% of the best high schools in the country. And yet the schools pigheadedly insist that a broad-based, general education is the key to a successful career and a happy life, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I think that their curriculum and culture makes a bunch of cultural assumptions about its students that are no longer valid, and this hurts the students.

As an example, when I studied computer science, my department was "famous" for the fact that you could get a CS degree without actually taking a class on programming in C or C++ (java was only in the development stages, back then). In fact, the intense C-programming class was offered in a completely different department and was taken mostly by people in other majors who wanted to learn how to program. The classes in the department itself either used programming languages that were designed within academia for the purpose of demonstrating specific concepts (recursion, strong typing, object oriented development) or simply assumed that you already knew how to program in C/C++. You were instead expected to use your education to learn "practical" CS skills through internships or on your own time on personal projects, using the conceptual tools you gained in class. I understood this and did well in that environment, but also because my attitude towards my education was, "I want to be a computer scientist. I am studying computer science to do that."

But in a similar manifestation of this mindset, liberal arts colleges assume that the students have some general career goals and opportunities that they already know they are going to pursue after they graduate, and that the purpose of college is to study these broad based liberal arts concepts while they make connections, arrange internships, and make other preparations for their future careers. And this is completely valid when your parents are professors who are telling you how to prepare yourself for a career in academia, northeastern professionals who tell you, "you know, my old college friend is looking for summer interns at his investment firm-- talk to him when you come home for spring break", or you're pursuing your passion for Religious Studies while studying for the MCAT, because you have always known that you wanted to be "the doctor" in the family. The professors, I think, assume that all of the students are coming from this background already and feel it is their job to "tamp down" their focus on careers and money-making, since they figure that the students are constantly thinking about that all the time from their parents and peers. If you're the first generation to go to college or even if your parents are college educated but have very "practical" careers that required a career-focused curriculum in college, you're not going to come in "getting" this, and then graduating and be thrown out in the world without having a lot of experience knowing what other people "did" with their degrees after graduating (because of what you saw your high school friends' older siblings and family friends do) sets you up for a big mess. I applied to a few SLACs as a high school student, and looking back on it, I realize that I would not have thrived in that environment.
posted by deanc at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The jobs that are advertised are the tip of the iceberg, typically.

Yeah. I kept hearing about this point in university, but it never really hit until I graduated. Co-op students had it way too good, at least in my time.

Thanks for providing the information on the Victoria job scene. I apologize for losing it with my bitterness last night. It's good to hear from Mount Doug alumni. I actually loved the school dearly. Victoria was pretty good to me.
posted by fatehunter at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2013


I'm in a hidden economy of temp workers who are required to have college degrees.

FWIW, the last temp worker I hired under contract did not have a college degree, and I am currently converting him to permanent. My supervisor and the HR department don't seem to care (or notice). I work for a very large corporation.

And yet the schools pigheadedly insist that a broad-based, general education is the key to a successful career and a happy life, despite all evidence to the contrary.

And yet some will disagree that the purpose of schools is to provide a successful career and a happy life.

Personally, I think the purpose of schools is to educate. Users can choose focused options or general options. General education was much better for me, and also led to a more successful career and happier life than I would have had otherwise, imo.

I expect to see the economics of "college" change completely in the next 50 years.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:03 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's my intuition that most of the kids that don't do well in college aren't terribly literate.

Why does it matter if kids succeed or fail at passing college classes and graduating?

The people who get so mad that "unprepared" kids shouldn't be in college seem like the same sort who get mad b/c some medical marijuana "patients" are gaming the system.

Who cares? Why does it matter? Are you arguing that "prepared" kids are missing out b/c "unprepared" kids are taking their places? That does not seem to be the case, as enrollment keeps going up and up.

I mean, the only people really hurt by sending "unprepared" kids to college seem to be ... the "unprepared" kids. And yet you seem to be very mad at them. ??

What do we gain by keeping "unprepared" kids out of college?

that just turns us on to the shit-show that K-12 education is

Watch out for that executive jargon, or somebody will open your kimono ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 3:09 PM on February 4, 2013


Who cares? Why does it matter? Are you arguing that "prepared" kids are missing out b/c "unprepared" kids are taking their places?

No, it dilutes the value of the degree, leading to credential inflation. If there are a significant number of people out there who can't do basic college level stuff who have a BA, then hiring managers just have to go with who has the best boob job, or who has yet more credentials after their name. This is the reason we're in this mess in the first place; we graduate people from HS in significant numbers who cannot tell their asshole from a hole in the ground. This kind of willful idiocy gives liberals a real bad name.
posted by bookman117 at 3:43 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, it dilutes the value of the degree, leading to credential inflation. If there are a significant number of people out there who can't do basic college level stuff who have a BA, then hiring managers just have to go with who has the best boob job, or who has yet more credentials after their name.

Is the biggest issue facing our country really that too many people are finishing college? I don't know, that doesn't seem to track with my personal experience of modern life. I just saw an article in the Washington Post that has six out of ten kids in DC graduating high school. It seems like we should be so lucky that a major problem facing us is that it's too easy to finish college, and I don't think we're all that lucky, really.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:21 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Agreed. I am of the opinion that we shouldn't be artificially trying to create value in a degree by enforcing scarcity, but rather, attaching real value to a degree. Maybe if most university degrees actually taught people how to think rather than act as paper factories..? The model works well in other parts of the world, although direct citations elude me at this point.
posted by Conspire at 8:38 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is an entire body of thought that considers all education as a filtering mechanism. There's some fairly strong evidence -- people who apply and get in to good college A, but end up going to not so good college B, typically make about as much money as graduates from college A. In this model the main value of a college is that it only allows the best applicants in, and only allows the best of them to graduate. It's a controversial and reductionist point of view but it's interesting to think about.
posted by miyabo at 6:41 AM on February 5, 2013


"For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength." - Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning
posted by mrgrimm at 11:25 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, maybe they could try not accepting unprepared students.

...

If that means downsizing the university, well, fine.

(Gah, I wish I saw these comment earlier!)

I work for a small college. We did this in 2006 -- for exactly this reason -- and we're stronger than ever.

The university leadership realized that they were doing a very cruel disservice by accepting students who were close to the edge of success, because for every one that managed to graduate and go on to a good career, there were more who did not -- and worse, they were saddled with debt and a sense of failure and a missed opportunity.

So the Admissions staff took ten percent fewer students, and we pared down the budget, and we we were OK...and then the global economy collapsed. Lots more prospective students came to us -- and many of them better-prepared -- so we were actually able to admit more students who were more likely to succeed.

I don't know that we are larger now than we were before, but we are keeping more of our students in until graduation, and that "student success" retention number is gratifyingly higher than it was less than a decade ago.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:29 AM on February 6, 2013


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