We Don't Need No Education

Obama wants to make college grants into an entitlement. Bad idea.

Ask random members of the professoriate at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and many will confide that too many people—not too few, as recently suggested by President Barack Obama—are attending college these days. This opinion is impolite and impolitic (perhaps, in the context of the American university, we should say "un-PC"). But years of furtive conversation with academics suggest it is commonly held. And one can see why. To the professor with expertise in Austro-Hungarian history, for instance, it is unclear why his survey course on the casus foederis of World War I is a necessary stop in a management-level job training program at Hertz.

This is not to say that some Americans should be discouraged from participating in a liberal arts education. As the social scientist Charles Murray writes in his book Real Education, "Saying 'too many people are going to college' is not the same as saying that the average student does not need to know about history, science, and great works of art, music, and literature. They do need to know—and to know more than they are currently learning. So let's teach it to them, but let's not wait for college to do it."

Take this bullet point, proudly included in a November 2008 press release from the Boston public school system: "Of the [Boston public school] graduates from the Class of 2000 who enrolled in college (1,904), 35.5 percent (675 students) earned a degree within seven years of high school graduation. An additional 14 percent (267 students) were still enrolled and working toward a degree." In a news conference celebrating these dismal numbers, Mayor Tom Menino called for a "100 percent increase" in the number of city students attending college, though offered no suggestions on how to ensure that those students actually graduate or are properly prepared to handle undergraduate studies. Besides, if 14 percent of those enrolled are still ambling towards a degree after eight years, is Menino convinced that the pursuit of a university education was the right decision for these students, rather than, say, vocational training?

Alas, these numbers are not uncommon. (They're often worse in other major American cities.) Citing a recent study by two education experts at Harvard University, former Secretary of Education Margret Spellings sighed, "The report shows that two-thirds of our nation's students leave high school unprepared to even apply to a four-year college." Nevertheless, a huge number of these students are matriculating to four-year universities, incurring mountains of debt, and never finishing their degrees.

The devalued undergraduate degree is one thing when the people doing the devaluing have privately financed their education. It is quite another when the federal government foots the bill. While America debates the merits of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the nationalization of General Motors, and how to fix a broken health care system, the Obama administration has been quietly planning a massive expansion of the Pell Grant program, "making it an entitlement akin to Medicare and Social Security." Read that sentence again. As we spiral deeper into recession and debt, our dear leaders in Washington are considering the creation of a massive entitlement akin to the expensive, inefficient, and failing Medicare and Social Security programs.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Obama's proposals "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial." It is a plan that has met with outspoken—though likely toothless—resistance from Republicans. Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, suggested that the president reform existing entitlements before creating new ones. And, as noted in the Post, Obama is facing resistance from his own side of the aisle as well, with Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressing skepticism towards both the price tag and the necessity of such an expansion.

Beyond the massive cost of expanded Pell Grants, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder argues that, historically, "it is hard to demonstrate that enhanced federal assistance has either significantly expanded college participation or brought about much greater access to higher education by those who are financially disadvantaged." If the idea is expanded into an entitlement, Vedder sees rising demand for higher education leading to significantly higher costs. "When someone else is paying the bills, costs always rise."

With more than 40 percent of students who enter college dropping out before graduation, Vedder's suggestion that "a greater percentage of entering college students should be attending community colleges, moving up to four year universities only if they succeed well at the community college level," seems sound. But the idea pushed by President Obama that, regardless of a student's career aspirations, secondary education is a necessity in 21st century America, ensures that an undergraduate education will become a required (very expensive) extension of every high school diploma.

To the average high school senior, the American university has become an institution that one simply must slog through to reach a higher salary. As one college dropout recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I am determined to finish my degree. A high school job isn't cutting it these days." The former student, the reader is told, simply wants "to do something else with her life," though it is unclear just what that something else is. Perhaps she'll figure that out after getting the degree.

As Charles Murray observed in The Wall Street Journal, "Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best." But not to worry. If Obama's plan for a secondary education entitlement is foisted upon us—the final cost of which remains anyone's guess—we might soon have a one-tiered system where everyone is second-best.

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor of Reason.

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  • Tomcat1066||

    Well then. A college degree is going to end up as worthless as a used condom.

    Thanks Obama!

  • T||

    Which discussion are we going to have:

    The one about high school not preparing you for much besides McDonald's?

    The one about a college education is not for everyone?

    The one about how the state should not be subsidizing anyone's higher education or, for that matter, providing an institution for it?

    Or will we derail the conversation into something at best tangentially related?

    Honestly, I'm good with any of these.

  • ||

    How about the discussion about how we get Obama to stop this crap now, within the framework of the constition?

    Is anyone anywhere suing the government over all of this shit? Bush was sued 24/7.

  • Ben Kenobi||

    Grad school is the new college.

  • ||

    So far, all this money flowing into education has made tuition sky high for those of us who actually have to pay it for their kids.

  • Nunya||

    Eat it you selfish fucks. I can't wait until you're slaughtered by the mobs of people you decided didn't deserve a living wage job.

  • ||

    Nunya is Lefiti?

  • ||

    Up until now, the Engineering curriculum has been largely immune to these sorts of shenanigans. I'll be watching with interest the quality of future BS_Es.

  • ||

    Nunya,

    Ja, and who's making their lives more expensive? Dumbass.

  • JW Gacy||

    Nunya, Nunya, Nunya. If everyone has a college degree, then nobody has a college degree. Do you understand?

    My grandfather raised 9 children without a college degree. They all made it to adulthood without government welfare, so we can safely assume that he made a living wage.

    He oversaw a factory during WWII. Afterwards, he went on to work as an engineer on the Apollo Space Program. Without a college degree.

    But, today, because we've decided that everybody must have an expensive piece of paper, his talents would simply have been overlooked.

    Try keeping up with the class. That way, you can conserve your bile for people who actually deserve it.

  • ed||

    derail the conversation into something at best tangentially related?

    It has always been thus.
    LeBron to Cleveland: We are all winless.

  • T||

    Up until now, the Engineering curriculum has been largely immune to these sorts of shenanigans. I'll be watching with interest the quality of future BS_Es.

    Well, one of my junior engineers who was just hired out of school missed the simple fact that to get the linear speed of a piece of rotating equipment pi has to be involved in the calculation somewhere. Everybody gets one, and that's hers. I'll be a tad less gracious about the next one that crosses my desk.

    But engineering also has a pretty hard criteria out here in the world: does it work? If the answer is no, no amount of hand wringing and flowery verbiage is going to help much.

  • ed||

    Lighten up, T. Maybe she was having her period.

  • ||

    Woe unto any whosoever shall defame, impugn or otherwise libel the deceased Senator lest ye attract the ire of Elemenope and subject ye to his wrath.

  • T||

    Lighten up, T. Maybe she was having her period.

    I'd cut her more slack if she was better looking, had bigger tits, or put out.

  • ed||

    That's the spirit.

  • Hammered Head||

    My MBA gained in 1992 was pretty much worthless. Unfortunately, most college graduates get jobs that only required high school 20 years ago.

    I guess this is part of the plan to make everyone the same; lower-middle class with no opportunities to advance and ruled by a small upper class. Pretty much sounds like how the UK is today.

  • feminazi||

    I'd cut her more slack if she was better looking, had bigger tits, or put out.

    Not OK!

  • ||

    I'd cut her more slack if she was better looking, had bigger tits, or put out.

    Careful - when one comes along that has/does all three, they'll make her your boss.

  • ||

    I think we ought to organize some exchange program with feministing. they could comment on H&R one day, and we'll comment on theirs the next. What a shit show that would be...

  • ||

    # Ben Kenobi | June 5, 2009, 3:20pm | #
    # Grad school is the new college.

    I have been thinking about this for awhile now. It seems that the skills and knowledge relevant to high achievement and contribution to society (not to mention high respect and reward FROM society) have been migrating upwards in the academic hierarchy, from high-school, to college, and now to grad-school, leaching content and worth from the lower grades. Now, the K-8 education that constitutes the bulk of our educational spending in this country leaves someone practically incompetent to function as self-sufficient citizen. High school graduates, once welcomed into many areas of work, are now increasingly unacceptable, because high schools aren't preparing students for life as well as they used to do even several decades ago. Indeed, high schools in general don't seem to be preparing students even for college -- remedial classes at a four year school, or a stint at an intermediate, two-year college now routinely fill the gap.

    A college bachelor's degree is now seen as the minimum credential for even what used to be called "menial" office work, and advanced degrees are the tickets to opportunity for high achievement and high compensation. This isn't because we want smarter, better educated menial office workers, for instance, but because the bachelor's degree now represents a level of knowledge and competency that was once possessed by most high school graduates but is no more. In other words, if grad school is the new college, then college is the new high school. But now, students from K-8 learn practically nothing in comparison with those who came before them. We spend all this money on K-12 education that leaves people barely competent to function in society, and then spend piles of cash yet again to provide our students with college and graduate education that prepares them for full participation in our society and economy.

    That is to say, all of the K-12 money largely seems to go down a hole. We don't really seem to get value for money until college.

    So why spend all that money in K-12 at all? Why not get rid of the lower grades, just as some propose to get rid of the penny in our monetary system, to acknowledge the results of the the past century of monetary inflation? By the same token, I understand why some want to turn college financing into a government entitlement. Just as their forebears did, they want the government to guarantee a useful education. Only now, that starts in college. But will they, at the same time, quit collecting taxes to support the increasingly irrelevant lower grades? I doubt it. The name of the game is to continue to Hoover all cash out of the pockets and wallets of the citizens. So the increasingly worthless K-12 education will cost us more and more, the government will take over "higher education" via the pursestrings, and soon the ENTIRE public educational establishment will offer nobody any real education or advantage at all. That seems to be the inevitable trajectory of entitlement schemes.

    The system will probably collapse well before that point, of course. I suppose that is a basis for optimism.

  • ||

    Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?

  • ||

    If everyone essential has to get a BA (this is what is seems under Obama's scheme), then a BA will be worth just as much as a high school diploma is now. Look at all the people that do succeed without a BA or higher? A BA is not a requirement for success. Many people are able to make a comfortable living with a technical degree of just some time at the community college.

    Pink Floyd said that we don't need no education. They also said "I'm all right jack keep your hands off of my stack."

    In theory, Mr. Obama's idea sounds good. It is generally considered common knowledge (not that that means it is actually true) that people with a college degree do better. However, how are we going to pay for all this? When has the government ever shown they can efficiently handle such an undertaking? For all his fancy Harvard education, Obama also doesn't realize that this plan would essentially devalue a college degree and lead to an educational inflation.

  • art||

    This proposed system could be beneficial if there were more restrictive admissions requirements. I can certainly relate to the high cost of higher education.

  • ||

    But the idea pushed by President Obama that, regardless of a student's career aspirations, secondary education is a necessity in 21st century America,

    I don't know what they taught you in Sweden, but here in the country-formerly-known-as-the-land-of-the-free, secondary == high school. I assume you mean "post-secondary".

  • ||

    I don't know. I like that. Gee Mr. Hand will I pass this class, Well Mr. Spicoli, I don't know.

  • Vomitorium||

    "So why spend all that money in K-12 at all?"

    It provides day care so women can work full-time.

  • ||

    I think we ought to organize some exchange program with feministing. they could comment on H&R one day, and we'll comment on theirs the next. What a shit show that would be...

    domo, they can comment here any time they like. However, go try and comment on their site as a smartass and count the seconds until you get banned.

    Otherwise, I like your idea.

  • ||

    It is generally considered common knowledge (not that that means it is actually true) that people with a college degree do better.

    There are plenty of studies that show they correlate, but the question is whether this is related to causation. ie, that the same attitudes and skills that lead to success in the real world also make it easier to get a degree.

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    I Reason wants to do something about BHO's efforts in this field, they could start with something very, very easy.

    Simply go to an appearance by a BHO admin official and ask them this question about the DREAM Act. Then, upload their response to Youtube.

    Very simple, and very effective. Of course, despite being based in DC, Reason would never do such a thing lest the Obama admin doesn't invite them to any DC cocktail parties or something.

    P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs, thereby conceding my points and showing the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians.

  • T||

    Careful - when one comes along that has/does all three, they'll make her your boss.

    What part of "engineering" did you miss? A female fulfilling all three conditions in this field is statistically nonexistent. And in the oil industry, she'd be working at one of the majors, not out here with the plebes supplying them.

  • ||

    What are you people? On dope?

  • ||

    J.A.M.

    Anecdotally, my grandfather and I were both educated as aeronautical engineers (in his day it was under the mech dept). He took derivative calculus as a second semester freshman - the first opportunity he had to do so. It was not taught in high school then. In my incoming class, EVERY engineering track student had taken derivative calculus, and the most had at least one college semester equivilent of integral calc. I along with several of my cohorts had a years worths, plus some exposure to linear algebra, differential equations, etc. The same was true in Physics, chemistry, and even biology though to a lesser degree.

    My grandfather worked for the Army air corp on a secret project to reverse engineer the buzz bomb and was considered a very bright engineer in his day. He later worked for NACA and then NASA.

    A goodly portion of the requirements for advanced degrees can be explained by how the bar has moved higher in terms of the knowledge needed to be competative as technology has advanced.

  • ||

    Epi - we would have to arrange a special no-banning policy for the gala event. It would culminate in cocktails at a nice bar near my new apartment in union square.

  • ||

    And no, you will not be allowed bring your "roofies" to the bar...

  • TickleStick||

    "I [sic] Reason wants to do something about BHO's efforts in this field, they could start with something very, very easy."

    Your mother?

  • ||

    P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs, thereby conceding my points and showing the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians.

    24AheadDotCom, I find your arguments to be well written and thoughtful. Your criticism of the DREAM Act is valid and pertinent. How did you get to be such an excellent journalist?

  • TickleStick||

    Epi,

    Gold I tell ya!

  • Rhywun||

    Which discussion are we going to have:



    I'd say "The one about a college education is not for everyone?" because that one's kind of at the root of the all the problems.

  • ||

    4 year Universities are America's major breeding ground for extreme left wingers including Muslim Communists like Hussein Obama.

    He figures that the more kids you push into these extemist think tanks the more extreme radical left wing will become the future population of America. Enabling a self perpetuating Federal Communist government like there is now. In addition many of these kids will go into state and local government.

    By making it easy for all children regardless of qualifications to attend radical left wing think tanks all of government will only grow and become more extreme left wing and communist.

    Unfortunately he is correct.

  • Hammered Head||

    What part of "engineering" did you miss? A female fulfilling all three conditions in this field is statistically nonexistent.

    Unfortunately this is also true in Software Development.

  • T||

    I'd say "The one about a college education is not for everyone?" because that one's kind of at the root of the all the problems.

    As the saying goes, "Not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up". The world needs ditch-diggers, and some people aren't cut out for much more than that.

  • ||

    A female fulfilling all three conditions in this field is statistically nonexistent.

    I went to college with only 13% females overall. The chicks in engineering were even fewer. even so we graduated at LEAST 3-4 hot slutty girls (though to be honest, dolly parton, they were not)

  • ||

    "ad hom" attacks are only invalid if the person making them isn't actually a super-douche.

  • Syd||

    Is the Pell Grant a gift, or is it something to be paid back?

  • ||

    I think another problem is that most of those new college degress won't teach you much of anything. How many communication/history/english/fine art etc degress do we really need?

    Now grants to kids doing the hard classes, that seems like we would get at least a bit more benefit for society.

    It would also help if they didn't make you take so many stupid classes. I remember suffering through a stupid Japenese poetry class becuase it fuffilled a non western culture class (bullshit) a compartive litature requirement (more bullshit) and a writing requirement (simi reasonable).

  • ||

    writing requirement (simi reasonable).

    Comedy Gold.

  • Dolly Parton||

    "(though to be honest, dolly parton, they were not)"

    Excuse me? Slutty? Excuse me?

  • ||

    "ad hom" attacks are only invalid if the person making them isn't actually a super-douche.

    What did you just call me?!?

  • robc||

    domo,

    You managed to go to a school with half the female population of mine? Wow.

    Or, its the same one and you are 15 years older than me. :)

  • ||

    What did you just call me?!?
    Apologies - should have read "if the target isn't a super-douche"

  • ||

    robc,
    service academy. Where the men are men, and so are the women.

  • robc||

    domo,

    Ah. Makes sense. I just went to an engineering school. When you wanted to meet chicks you took an econ class.

  • Spoonman||

    Great, does this mean that people will soon need a graduate degree to get their PE seal? Graduating in December, so I better be grandfathered in.

  • T||

    The chicks in engineering were even fewer. even so we graduated at LEAST 3-4 hot slutty girls (though to be honest, dolly parton, they were not)

    Odd. I don't recall any hot ones from my graduating class. But I spent college dating strippers and other psychos unaffiliated with the university, so I wasn't trolling for skank at school.

  • Spoonman||

    Meeting chicks is what living in dorms is for.

  • Hammered Head||

    Ah. Makes sense. I just went to an engineering school. When you wanted to meet chicks you took an econ class.

    You should have tried Marketing classes

  • ||

    T - Of course maybe my standards are just lower. In any case, I will take slutty over hot 99 times out of 100. that's just how I roll.

  • robc||

    You should have tried Marketing classes

    You couldnt take those unless you were a management major and you were meeting the same ones from the econ classes.

    25% female as a whole, but the College of Management was about 50/50. There were few management requirements that an engineering student could take.

  • T||

    T - Of course maybe my standards are just lower. In any case, I will take slutty over hot 99 times out of 100. that's just how I roll.

    A yes from a 5 beats a maybe from a 10 every single time.

  • ||

    Well then. A college degree is going to end up as worthless as a used condom.

    But considerably more expensive. (Of course, even used condoms would turn out to be pretty costly if the government were footing the bill.)

  • ||

    A yes from a 5 beats a maybe from a 10 every single time.

    absofuckinglutely. have a good weekend boys.

  • ||

    T - Of course maybe my standards are just lower.

    Your Dolly Parton comment made that crystal clear.

    "Sorry I missed day 3, but I was over at Dolly Parton's place, and...yes, they're real."

  • ||

    domoarrigato, you are talking about engineering, I think. And I am cheered that the "bar" seems to have risen from your point of view. But you seem to be describing the situation from the demand side -- after kids got into engineering programs at good colleges. Of course those whose schools made advanced math and science courses available to them -- or who could get that instruction via some other means, such as community college attendance -- were more competitive in the college admissions process, especially for engineering schools.

    Most high school students are not exposed to the kind of classes you describe -- in many cases, they are not even available to students. But more importantly, many other "higher" classes are not available to high-school students either, or have low-enough exit standards that remedial instruction, or simply starting from scratch, is necessary in college. That is what I have seen -- also anecdotally. But as my wife runs a private high school, I also am regularly exposed to education industry news and the many additional stories she brings home about her school and others. YMMV, but I stand by my belief that grade-inflation and monetary-inflation yield very similar results in their respective spheres, and that both are proceeding at a significant rate these days. If your experience is typical, however, at least we will have morlocks to repair the machines, won't we?

  • ||

    Is the Pell Grant a gift, or is it something to be paid back?

    I think its a gift, grants usually are.

  • ||

    A gift from taxpayers. Is there nothing we won't fund?

  • TickleStick||

    "A gift from taxpayers. Is there nothing we won't fund?"

    School vouches in DC comes to mind.

  • TickleStick||

    vouchers, obviously.

  • ||

    J.A.M.

    I think you are right to a large extent in terms of selection bias of my anecdotal sample. And I know (and prefaced with) that my comments were anecdotal.

    My main observation was that in my grandfathers day, calculus was almost universally un-available in high school, whereas now it is available almost at every high school. This runs counter to the idea the relevant skills are being taught at successively higher levels of education over time. Calculus an easily identifiably set of useful skills taught to a relatively uniform level over time.

    An alternate model I would suggest is that over time there has become more differentiation in the level of achievement possible at a given level of education. You can graduate high school barely being able to read, or having obviated the need for your first college semester. 50 years ago, I think that disparity was smaller among graduates. The bottom end of the curve is probably longer as a result of school administrators trying to pump up graduation stats - whereas the top end is wider through talented and gifted programs and the like. Both are features of today's education system that were less prevalent a long time ago.

  • ||

    Epi and all,

    Upthread I cited dolly as an example of Big Tits - not of hot, or of slutty (though depending on your taste I guess she could be those too)

  • Hammered Head||

    On a positive note, the pay for skilled trades will increase dramatically. The majority of people with even half-a-brain will go to college and on to a career in customer service. There will be very few with the aptitude and ambition left to fill skilled trades. Supply and Demand rules!!!!

    If I had kids, I would recommend: auto/aircraft mechanic, electrician, plummer, or MSCD certified contract programmer career paths. They will have a much more cost-effective education with significantly higher pay.

  • ||

    WHO IS THE GUY IN THAT PICTURE? HE HAS A WEIRD LOOK ON HIS FACE, LIKE HE IS UPSET, OR JUST EXASPERATED.

  • Atanarjuat||

    "(though to be honest, dolly parton, they were not)"

    Excuse me? Slutty? Excuse me?



    I read her playboy interview from the 70s. IIRC, she had her first sexual experience at the age of 12, with a relative, maybe a first or second cousin.

  • ||

    I may be distantly related to Dolly Parton. And to Reagan. All of our families have deep roots in the Dolly World part of Tennessee. Though I think she's on the mammorial side of the family.

  • LarryA||

    If I had kids, I would recommend: auto/aircraft mechanic, electrician, plummer, or MSCD certified contract programmer career paths. They will have a much more cost-effective education with significantly higher pay.

    Around here building trades folks are telling us that their carpenters are ageing out of the work force, and not being replaced. Local HS graduates don't have enough math to read a tape measure.

    College grads may make higher salaries, but it would be interesting to run a direct comparison of lifetime income, considering carpenters, plumbers, electricians, copier techs, etc start work several years earlier, are seldom underemployed, and have no college loans to repay.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Seems like I've seen such comparisons and I'm pretty sure that on average, college grads win out. Haven't seen anything really recent though.

    It depends a whole lotta lot on what's your major in college though.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Up until now, the Engineering curriculum has been largely immune to these sorts of shenanigans. I'll be watching with interest the quality of future BS_Es.

    When the quality does drop, it will very probably be a consequence of affirmative action in hiring professors.

    I assure you they are putting incompetent professors into the tenure track just as fast as they can find them. Have been watching it from very close on the side lines.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    JAM,

    I tend to agree with your overall sentiment, but this part I question.

    ...but because the bachelor's degree now represents a level of knowledge and competency that was once possessed by most high school graduates but is no more.

    I think the truth is more like stated above, that there is a much wider range of capabilities of the people who are coming out of high schools these days.

    OTOH, I also believe that more and more jobs require a BA just because, there are a whole lot more BA's available out there. It's the market responding to the supply.

    If I've got low level office work that I need done, and I have a choice between a high school grad and college grad for the same job, which am I going to pick if the supply is there either way?

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    So, somebody tell me how long is it going to take for the Obama Boy Backlash to finally begin? For there is clearly no end to the stupidity, and at best only token resistance to date.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    LarryA,

    btw, I was a high end tech who then went to college and got a PhD in engineering. The best techs can make as much or more than an engineer, but they a) are the select few and not the majority and b) the techs still get a reduced benefits package compared to engineers.

    OTOH, if you're enterprising at all, the technician road is very probably the smarter road in my opinion. Much much easier to go off and start your own company, grow it, and make good money, then it is as an engineer.


    Then again, in today's world if you aim to be a super tech, then you need a two year degree, and a four year engineering technology degree looms not so far down the road (my opinion -- but this degree is both easier and cheaper to get). Because fact is, there's a hell of a lot more to know today than there was 20 years ago.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    LarryA,

    Last note, if you do have the ambition to get through college but don't want to start your own business, the extra benefits an engineer gets are definitely enough to pay for the cost of having gone to college, in the long run.

  • Mike||

    "Which discussion are we going to have:

    1. The one about high school not preparing you for much besides McDonald's?

    2. The one about a college education is not for everyone?

    3. The one about how the state should not be subsidizing anyone's higher education or, for that matter, providing an institution for it?

    4. Or will we derail the conversation into something at best tangentially related?

    Honestly, I'm good with any of these"

    1. This is the real travesty. A high school degree is totally meaningless today. As unPC as it is, kids need to be tracked from an early age. A 16 year old kid with an IQ of 130 should not go to the same high school and get the same degree with a kid with an IQ of 75.

    2. True, true. Not everyone wants to work in an office, and not everyone who wants to can. I might like to a be a great football player, but I don't have the ability, and putting me through training would be a complete waste of time and money. A person who hates reading and likes to work with his hands shouldn't waste his time either. Charles Murray's book Real Education makes a good case that only about 15% of people should get a college degree.

    3. For people that should go to college, the payoff will be large. It is a good investment that should be borne by the student (or the parents), not the state. Oh yeah, and taxation is theft, yadda, yadda.

    4. Hey! They're going to revise the TV series V! Woohoo!

  • Mike||

    "A person who hates reading and likes to work with his hands shouldn't waste his time either."

    opps--for this I meant with college

  • zoltan||

    1. This is the real travesty. A high school degree is totally meaningless today. As unPC as it is, kids need to be tracked from an early age. A 16 year old kid with an IQ of 130 should not go to the same high school and get the same degree with a kid with an IQ of 75.

    Part of me wishes someone had done that when I was 16. But then I'd be even more of an insufferable douchebag.

    What's sad is, I work at an entry-level position (luxury hotel front desk). Of the seven or eight employees, the best ones did not finish or go to college. The absolutely worst ones with zero work ethic have college degrees. And of course, the people in slightly higher, more "management" oriented positions (catering, sales, etc.) have degrees, but only the people with 15-20+ years of experience are actually good at their job.

  • ||

    Such thing existed in china for a long period, graduate from collage equal to the unempolying nowdays.
    too many graduate must be some kinds of trouble be faced by Federal Government,Obama's struggling sounds to be ridicules but little farseeing.

  • Rich||

    This reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon in which the King addresses the masses: "I wish this to be the most educated kingdom in the world, so I hereby grant everyone a diploma."

  • MNG||

    I like Pell Grants. The are not some lifetime handouts but temporary assistance to help someone expand their opportunities, and to enrich and give back to society at the same time.

    Sadly because of a host of injustices and their resulting barriers for much of our history on the wealthy could go to college in significant numbers, and because either the skills or credentials that are produced there are keys to becoming wealthier this fact meant classes might be reproduced forever. Things like Pell Grants help open such a potentially ossified system up. Good.

  • MNG||

    "This reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon in which the King addresses the masses: "I wish this to be the most educated kingdom in the world, so I hereby grant everyone a diploma.""

    Extending Pell Grants doesn't mean everyone gets a college degree, but that more people get a chance to try to get one. And that's a good thing. Do we have too many people getting college degrees? Probably. But since the average person with a college degree makes quite a bit more than the average person who does not, not facilitating opportunities to get such degrees is to encourage systematic inequality.

  • ||

    Menino's comments were taken totally out of context. Boston has one of the highest college admission rates of major cities, the challenge is to keep young people in school -- one is through remedial education, which several colleges stepped up to do in conjunction with Menino's challenge, the other is to have financing and work-study opportunities available, as fiscal realities also cause people to drop out or defer their education.

  • ||

    MNG

    If you like Pell grants, you should love vouchers for kids in k-12. It means that kids will have the opportunity to get a good education from a good school of their choosing. In your words "things like vouchers help open such a potentially ossified system up."

    Personally I would much rather have tax credits so the gov't would have less of an opportunity to get in the middle of it.

  • MNG||

    Tax credits for the same amount would be fine with me. Maybe Pell Grants are better to prevent fraud?

    And I'm not opposed to voucher systems or the NCLB provisions which allow people from failing schools to "shop." I'd like the vouchers to be (generously) means tested (so I don't just refund some rich kid's parents who was going to go to private school anyways) and have them be for an amount that would provide meaningful choice for most kids (giving away a fraction of the cost of a good private school publication often becomes a partial rebate for the wealthy kid who was going anyway).

  • ||

    MNG, so you're pissed at Obama over the voucher debacle? I just want to hear it.

  • MNG||

    Tulpa
    Are you talking about the DC voucher program? I don't know much about it. I read the DOE said it had minimal success so they canceled it, and then Obama let it continue for those already in it. Is that right?

  • LarryA||

    btw, I was a high end tech who then went to college and got a PhD in engineering. The best techs can make as much or more than an engineer, but they a) are the select few and not the majority and b) the techs still get a reduced benefits package compared to engineers.

    I'll agree completely, in engineering. OTOH if you compare someone with a masters in sociology (which has a fairly structured career track in a popular profession, as opposed to an MA in history or English) with a copier technician, the fact that the copier tech starts working 5 to 7 years earlier, without a college debt, and with a lot more opportunities to tailor work around family life, does a lot of balancing.

  • ||

    As if...

    The blackbird
    lives in a
    country like
    a rose in the
    dreamland,
    and even a
    pleasure declares
    in a moment
    that intention
    of love.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  • ||

    # Ebeneezer Scrooge | June 5, 2009, 7:57pm | #

    # JAM,

    #I tend to agree with your overall sentiment,
    # but this part I question.

    ## ...but because the bachelor's degree now
    ## represents a level of knowledge and
    ## competency that was once possessed by most
    ## high school graduates but is no more.

    I wrote that because, over the past thirty years of being in the workforce, as employee and sometimes management, I noticed what appeared to be a steady decline in what people with bachelors' and higher degrees seemed to know, in terms of real-world competence and general knowledge. That is to say, I kept running into people who not only didn't know, but who had apparently never even been exposed to fundamental information and skills that people were expected to have mastered by the time they exited 8th grade, not to mention High School. Maybe they knew a lot about the area of specialization associated with their degrees, but not a whole lot more about everything else in the world beyond what I previously expected high-schoolers to know. And high school graduates seemed to know even less. I'm not talking about the odd individual here and there, but pretty much everyone I encountered: there seemed to be more academic fluffiness at any particular level of achievement, which correlated roughly with the year that the person took a diploma.

    I first noticed the phenomenon when talking to people who graduated high school or college but had little or no familiarity with the US Constitution. People of my age group had studied it in History or Civics, as early as the 8th grade -- not everyone came out of Civics class a constitutional expert, but they definitely had plenty of exposure to the document. But students who graduated much later than we did appeared not to have that background at all. They seemed to have a more limited command of English grammar and composition, unless they had specifically majored in English, literature, or a related topic. They had less understanding of Geography -- not knowing where places were in the world, or much, if anything, about the societies found in those places. The trend was evident in science, mathematics, and pretty much any other core subject that we were all supposed to have studied in "grade school." These weren't stupid people, and their diplomas said they were educated. But they seemed to have some huge gaps in their education -- at least relative to the kind of elementary and secondary instruction I remember receiving.

    Over the years, I looked back at old textbooks from the beginning and middle parts of the 20th century, and some that were published in the 19th century. Although we certainly have a lot more to learn these days, especially about science and technology, it definitely seemed to me that coverage of core subjects was more rigorous, the further back in time one went. High school textbooks on several subjects from the early 1900s read like modern-day college textbooks on those same subjects (minus all the fancy layout and color graphics that have become more prevalent recently). I concluded that it wasn't just my sense that kids were more rigorously educated in the past. If the classes and students lived up to the textbooks, then kids of earlier eras were indeed more thoroughly educated than their counterparts today, at least in "the basics."

    In "the old days," you were expected to go out and get a job after the eighth grade, if not before, so whatever preparation for life school was going to give you, it had to be more or less complete by then. A little later, it was the high school graduate who was supposed to be ready for work and family responsibilities. Now, we have college graduate kids who return to the parents' nest, or never even left.

    As I see it, we seem to be accepting that the length of childhood's incompetence is growing steadily longer, and the training to function as a competent adult is being stretched and padded to fill the time. As this happens, "teachers" -- especially in the lower grades -- morph into well-paid, credentialed babysitters and daycare providers.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    JAM,

    I first noticed the phenomenon when talking to people who graduated high school or college but had little or no familiarity with the US Constitution. People of my age group had studied it in History or Civics, as early as the 8th grade

    Well, now that you put it this way, you've got a good point. I never had a geography class at all, which astounded my grandmother. I know some geography only because of a deep personal interest in history.

    Hmmm. I think you do have a point there.

  • Chad||

    First, I agree with the general point of this article: In general, too many people are going to four year colleges (and grad school). Now that doesn't mean there isn't anyone out there that currently isn't going that should, but in general, most of these people are. I have no problem with a well-funded federal loan program that ensures access for all, but we don't need large amounts of grants, unless specifically tied to government needs. For example, grants to potential high school math and science teachers might make sense. We sure don't need to create more grants for yet another psych or English major.

    That being said, I think that people over-estimate how smart people were back in the day. They were largely ignorant back then and just as ignorant now.

  • Kurt M. Weber||

    The problem with attitudes towards higher education is way too much emphasis on science and mathematics in primary and secondary education. It leads to the ridiculous idea that the point of knowledge is to build cool gadgets, rather than as something that is desirable and should be pursued for its own sake.

    Colleges and universities could easily fix this problem by eliminating science, "management," and technical programs altogether and focus solely on a liberal arts curricula. An intelligent person with a well-rounded liberal arts education then has the skills to learn how to "develop cool gadgets" on his own initiative.

  • ||

    Are we the only advanced industrialized nation with a college-educated population of only 1/3rd? Or is it pretty much like this for all nations? I'm so sick of idiots like like Pat Buchanan or Lou Dobbs whining about how illegal immigration may lower the overall salaries of the lowest-skilled, lowest-wage native workers. I don't care!! Tell them to get better jobs. And if you wanna work in a factory, that's great. But the thing that pisses me off is factory workers or the Left enabling them to stay there when the economy's rapidly changing. We're going postindustrial, and I'm glad. People'll need more training and education, even if the education isn't what it once was. Bailouts and other bullshit to keep GM and the other companies alive just shields the workers from reality and distorts the market by keeping them in shitty jobs that really aren't running the economy anymore. It's much more diverse and service-based.

  • ||

    I mean, are you really 'free' if you're dependent on gov't bailouts and services just to keep your job? And demanding gov't give this kind of preferential treatment to ANY workers is no better than welfare recipients voting Democrat just to keep their benefits.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    People'll need more training and education......jobs that really aren't running the economy anymore. It's much more diverse and service-based.

    That's only sort of a little bit of a contradiction.

    Service-based jobs in general do not require all that much education. Nor do they pay particularly well.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    The problem with attitudes towards higher education is way too much emphasis on science and mathematics in primary and secondary education.

    I'd argue that there isn't enough emphasis on science and mathematics in primary education. Way too many junior and senior high students consider themselves mathematically inept.

    It leads to the ridiculous idea that the point of knowledge is to build cool gadgets, rather than as something that is desirable and should be pursued for its own sake.

    Building gadgets that people want to buy isn't ridiculous, first off. Second, it is only a very small minority that is so constituted that they can, or will, do mathematics "for its own sake". Most of them need something else to motivate the need for learning math at all.

    For example, building cool gadgets. Which, btw, the average junior/senior high teacher knows absolutely nothing about, so they don't motivate their students.

    Math and physics gets surprisingly easy to learn if you know something about what people were trying to do when they came up with it in the first place.

    Try building a factory that can produce textiles, when you've got nothing but a river flowing past you for an energy source.

    Necessity isn't just the mother of invention, necessity is a Mother.

  • ||

    Ebeneezer Scrooge | June 7, 2009, 2:58am | #

    +1,000,000

    Much of calculus and trigonometry are barely even comprehensible to the average human (AFAIK) unless applied ar at least related to something in a scientific or engineering field. Hell, there are uses for math that apply to logic and philosophy, too, but as far as I can tell these remain largely unexplored in most schools, as do "critical thinking" processes and skills. Go figure.

  • ||

    Not that I have anything but vague ideas about how to build such curricula, but the idea is definitely worth exploring.

  • Forty-Two||

    Art,

    The issue isn't so much designing a new curriculum, it's that the education system is built around the SAT and other multiple-guess tests. Your curriculum could be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if it doesn't prepare the student to pass the test, it's doomed to obscurity.

    In an earlier post, MNG touted Pell grants as a method of overcoming ossified class structures. I think the emphasis on multiple choice tests over the past 40 years has ossified our education system. Until schools at all levels allow for alternate assessment techniques, most students will be stuck with crappy educations.

    This is happening slowly, but is a trend that most resist. The problem is that such a solution flies in the face of the (idiotic, IMO) quest for efficiency in education.

  • Chad||


    An intelligent person with a well-rounded liberal arts education then has the skills to learn how to "develop cool gadgets" on his own initiative.


    That's funny. I know far more techies who know and understand the liberal arts than I know liberal arts students who understand science and technology. Actually, the three people I know who have read more of the "classics" than anyone I know are an engineer, a scientist, and a marketing professor. Go figure.

    I think the point of going to college boils down to four things, listed in order of importance

    1: Training your mind to solve hard problems

    2: Career-specific learning

    3: Making friends, colleagues, mentors, and connections

    4: General learning

    To a large degree, you are correct in that a liberal arts student can learn to do tech using their critical thinking skills. You are just wrong in that you fail to realize that techies can use their critical thinking skills to do the reverse.

  • hmm||

    Eat it you selfish fucks. I can't wait until you're slaughtered by the mobs of people you decided didn't deserve a living wage job.

    Neither can I. I can buy and hoard ammunition and guns they can't currently afford to buy because Obama and his appointment scared the fuck out anyone that want's to exercise their 2nd.

    The situation of people leaving college with a degree is scary. Grade inflation is not just a fact it's as out of control as the spending Congress. The quality of people leaving school with a piece of paper is dismal at this point.

  • zoltan||

    Hopefully, James Anderson Merritt, you're still following this thread: I'd be curious to know (if you kept them) which early 20th-century textbooks you got your hands on. I have a few myself and I'm interested in finding more to see the content. As someone born on the late 80's, I always hear stories of schools before the 60's (like, say, the prep school of Dead Poet's Society) in which students were held to very strict, rigorous standards without all the fluff of modern education.

  • ||

    I first noticed the phenomenon when talking to people who graduated high school or college but had little or no familiarity with the US Constitution.

    My recollection from "the old days" is that educated people didn't "graduate high school or college," they graduated *from* high school or college. (And in the really old days, there were graduated *from* high school or college.)

  • Adam Allpow||

    I have to disagree with the conclusion here. Having recently earned my undergraduate degree, I agree that many are mentally unfit for serious academic study. However, the solution to that is not pushing them away from college. Rather it is allowing them to become at least somewhat more intelligent in hopes of raising the overall standard. Then, ideally, they would raise smarter children and the process would repeat itself over and over. Indeed, this is the very foundation of human knowledge. We would not condemn cavemen for their imperfect knowledge of the natural world; we can only expect them learn what they may and pass that along.

    As far as the devaluation of the undergraduate degree, I'm not sure I see the argument here. Forgive me, but I see that as akin to accusing public school of devaluing a high school diploma. Certainly, they are imperfect. But few would argue to completely dissolve them or to limit people's access.

  • ||

    Forty-Two, good points. I hadn't thought too much before about how standardized testing might sometimes be counterproductive.

    Chad, good points also. To me training one's mind to be able to perceive complex isomorphisms (bear with me, I'm still reading Hofstadter) is more important than a "structured" liberal arts education which is in turn more important than rote memorization in the service of acing some multiple-choice test.

  • ||

    However, the solution to that is not pushing them away from college. Rather it is allowing them to become at least somewhat more intelligent in hopes of raising the overall standard.

    Bah! Too vague. The question is whether pushing such a marginal person to college would actually be an improvement over autodidacticism. Also, isn't community college already a good system for this sort of thing (education for people not necessarily interested in the bachelor's degree route).

  • The Rational One||

    Gee, affordable college is a bad thing? I always knew that you republicans wanted to keep college among your little good ole boys networks...

  • Jim||

    College education is over-rated. Apprenticeships and poly-technics should make a comeback. And colleges should have about half the courses. College education should be getting more inexpensive. That is the biggest sign something is structurally wrong.

  • ||

    I went to Umass Dartmouth, and we had an "Urban Education" program, where 16 completely-free all-expense-paid (including dorms, meals, tuition and fees, and even books) scholarships were given to inner-city students.

    By my Sophomore year, every single one had dropped out or failed out.

    Our tax-dollars at work.

  • ||

    If you examine the job market today - almost every job requires at least a Bachelor's degree. Especially as this is an employer market given the huge unemployment situation in the world (which started during W's watch), the degree becomes an 'easy' way to weed out the huge number of applications job openings receive. The need to have a degree has evolved over time and what Obama is doing now is to expand access to people who WANT the degree and don't have the resources to pay for it. Education should never be denied to anyone who wants it because they are poor.

  • Scarpe Nike Italia||

    is good

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