Thursday, February 17, 2011

Come and See the Bias Inherent in the Hypothesis....

The inherent bias in the hypothesis that a college education will make a person more employable, have more income, or worthy to become a citizen of the United States is very simple:  all of the people touting these ideals have college educations. 

This bias has been reinforced by the idea by employers that a college degree somehow magically bestows upon you some glamour that will cause you to be the perfect worker.  Proven experience in a field, such as KurtP's, counts for naught compared to a four-year credential.  Even in my field, for the higher positions, they are wanting folks with a PhD (hint, there is no PhD in my field--Directors and the like tend to have EdDs (a totally useless degree or degrees in completely unrelated fields, like Communications or English) so my 15 years of experience in the field are peanuts compared to someone fresh out of school with a doctorate in literature.

George Leef in the National Review Online posits that the reason that college grads (many of whom cannot write a coherent sentence to save their souls or complete a simple math problem) is caused by 'credential inflation'.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune article linked by KurtP details a person who is working as a debt collector that has a degree in political science (one of the most useless degrees in the world, second only to religious studies).  Even the business management grads are not exempt--one is earning a grand $14,000 as a direct-care staffer.  In an article by Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal, he references a book where the authors researched college sophomore learning and found that they learned nothing in their first two years of college (those same two years that the Dream Act bill says is enough to become a citizen of the United States).  This enforces the results of a separate study that showed that graduating college seniors actually know LESS about civics and history coming out of college than they did going in.  Let's not even go into the debt-load carried by these students coming out of college.

SO, why are folks such as Obama and Sen. Lugar convinced that a college education is an 'investment' in the future?  Why are there groups such as the Lumina Foundation out there whose raison d'etre is to get more people into college with mounting evidence to the contrary of their collective belief that a college education is the panacea of all ills and the avenue to greatness? 

At the base of it, it is because it is all they know.  They do not hold the trades--electricians, mechanics, plumbers in any type of esteem (they call them if they need something but wouldn't let a mere tradesman use their bathroom).  Experience and hard-won knowledge and apprenticeships are foreign to them.  They cannot relate to the idea of a hard-day's work for a day's pay or understand the satisfaction of looking over a new-plowed field, or the sound of a well-tuned engine being sweeter than the music of whatever pop star is currently en vogue.  And because they do not understand these things, they would not lower themselves to include the masses (especially those whose viewpoints are different than theirs) into their conversations about the value of higher education.  If they did, they might find themselves having to re-evaluate their position, and they would never allow that.


KurtP said...

I had a talk with the oldest last night about almost this same thing. Her younger sister is married to a Marine over in Camp Pendleton is going back to school and was getting on oldest about her job.
I don't know who youngest has been talking to, but she was really pushing to go to school full time.
Anyway, I basically told Thing 1 to make a cost comparison, she's making about $10.50/hr at the city with free healthcare, some kind of annual raise, retirement, job stability and a chance for advancement with some kind of tuition assistance for relevant courses. It's what she wants to do and soon she'll be making as much or more than those with $30,000 if debt and a diploma.

Chas S. Clifton said...

You of all people dissing religious studies. Hmm.

Actually, I wish that my BA had been in religious studies or, gasp, Classics rather than English, as it was (effectively a BFA in creative writing). I might have gotten where I was going quicker. One cannot generalize *too* much.

Midwest Chick said...

I was trying (maybe not well) to make the point that the debt-load does not, in some cases, equal the potential earning power of certain degrees and the couple with which I am most familiar came to mind since I know what I went through coming out of school and what the debt-load vs take-home pay is in certain disciplines. And you have to admit, your path is somewhat unique.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Still, in the liberal arts, the earning power-field of degree coupling does not work too well. You get certain skills—ideally, you learn research and writing and where our intellectual presumptions come from--and how to think in an organized fashion about about ambiguous topics, those things that cannot be quantified like stress on a steel beam.

Then, who knows?

What do you do with a philosophy degree? If you are my niece's boyfriend, you become a logger -- and then a globe-trotting sales rep. for logging equipment, functioning in several different cultures.

What do you do with a philosophy degree? My friend John Gierach kept his job on a garbage truck for a few more months--but now he is a best-selling writer on fly fishing.

The point is, it's up to the individual. It would take a huge, huge survey of college graduates to make definitive statement about "the earning power of certain degrees." I don't think that anyone has done it.

But going deeply into debt is probably not a good idea regardless of one's specialty. I'll grant you that.

Midwest Chick said...

I think that what this country is running into is credential inflation--meaning jobs that used to require a high school diploma now 'require' a bachelors or even a masters even though the level of work is still such that a high school graduate could complete and possibly excel at the tasks at hand.

There are some folks who are not right for college--this does not mean that they are not smart, do not know how to think, or are illiterate--it just means that the college climate does not work for them (think Bill Gates). I know you have to have run into those students.

So the premise that a college education is an 'investment in the future' I believe is spurious since for an increasing number of people, it is another source of debt.

A degree may add to quality of life due to the things you mentioned (if the individual is of the mind and temperament for it), but the way that it is being marketed (for lack of a better term) I think is doing a disservice to a lot of folks.

Chas S. Clifton said...

You are right about credentials, and after twenty years in the classroom, I agree that about 1/3 of students should not be there--either from lack of academic preparedness or simply because their destinies lie elsewhere.

Midwest Chick said...

Exactly. So when the administration/MSM is touting the financial benefits to the country of getting more students in college, then really the only financial benefits are to the colleges, not necessarily the students and definitely not to the taxpayer who is subsidizing them.