Government Spending

Updated (4.30pm)!: Feds, Dems Lead Way in Creating More Student Loan Defaults Via Paperwork Screwups


Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, who has been covering the higher education bubble like nobody's business, has a sharp op-ed in the New York Post on student loan woes. Take a look:

Back when Democrats ran Congress, the president engineered a federal takeover of student-loan processing. Now the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that this is producing huge paperwork screwups that have thrown thousands of borrowers into default, more than doubling the number of defaulters since December….

And Reynolds offers up a way to bring some sanity to a system that gives reduced-price money to colleges (not students!):

Let's give colleges some "skin in the game" by making them absorb the loss, or at least part of it, if students can't pay. Perhaps if students can't pay their loans by 10 years after graduation, they should be allowed to discharge them in bankruptcy, with the institutions that got the loan money on the hook for, say, 20 percent of the loss.

You fix a malfunctioning credit system by ensuring that the people who can control the risks are the ones who face a loss if things go wrong. Obama's interest-rate "fix" does nothing like that. It just pumps more hot air into the bubble.

More here.

My one objection to Reynold's op-ed—and it's an objection to a lot of college talk—is the need to constantly bash supposedly non-utilitarian majors such as English, gender studies, and the like. You know, "the humanities," as in, oh what a waste of time. As a proud English major (surrounded by a bunch of them at Reason, by the way), I'll save a full-throated defense of my major for another post. Let me just suggest that majoring in literary and cultural studies wasn't just interesting in and of itself, it helped equip me with a series of analytic and expressive tools that have helped me support myself since I was 18. And as my older son gets ready to start college in the fall, I'm hoping he picks a course of study that is first and foremost interesting to him.

As Reynolds writes at one point:

"College" isn't an undifferentiated product. Some degrees — say in Electrical Engineering — increase earnings dramatically. Others — in, say, gender studies — not so much. A rational lender would be much more willing to finance the former than the latter.

Of course college isn't an undifferentiated product. And college students aren't all the same either. To avoid making bad bets, or charging differential rates based on likelihood of ability to repay a loan in full, schools, banks, governments would be wiser still to consider individual students based on something other than major, wouldn't they? An engineering school dropout will be more costly to them than a gender studies phenom who finishes and gets a job, right? Given that an engineering degree is likely to be worth more in terms of starting salary, from a pure market perspective, wouldn't it make sense to charge prospective engineers more to borrow, since they would likely be willing to spend more for college, knowing they can make more down the road?

To even raise any of these questions is to invite a deluge of related queries: How many people know their major when they apply to college anyway? And what is the function of loans in the first place—not to mention college more broadly? If it is to do something that can be easily replicated in the workplace—say, training engineers or software programmers—why aren't we pushing businesses to actually pay for the selection and training of their workforce? It's bad enough that the NBA and NFL get to cost much of their scouting programs onto taxpayers via college sportss. Why should IBM or ATT or Procter & Gamble or Cargill get to do the same? Why should taxpayers, whether through state-assisted universities or student loan and grant programs, shoulder a burden that rightly belongs not simply to the private sector but to private businesses? If anything, a stronger case (though still a weak one, in my opinion) exists for state-assisted colleges dedicated to intellectual research and disciplines that have no obvious cognate in the business world. If college is simply a high-cost vocational school (or a high-cost signaling device for prospective employers), there is simply no good goddamn reason any tax dollars should support it.

A note on the graphic above: This is taken from the recent study "Hard Times," by some Georgetown researchers and charts unemployment rate by college major. The band listed for each major has three parts. Light green represents a "recent college graduate," which is defined as folks 22-26 years of age; the bluish-green band covers "experienced college graduates" (30-54 years of age); and the olive drab covers people who hold advanced degrees in a subject area. For example, architecture, which routinely tops lists of unemployed majors, has a 13.9 percent unemployment rate for recent grads, 9.2 percent for experienced grads, and 7.7 percent for graduate degree holders. The "Hard Times" study breaks down a lot of data in a lot of different ways and is online here.

Last week, I asked whether new student borrowers should be charged less than older ones.

Update: Glenn Reynolds responds. Here's part of that:

The problem with the humanities isn't an inherent one — you could even teach a stimulating and intellectually rich course on the Occupy Movement — but has to do with execution, and here's where the comparison with STEM comes in. Very few people complete a math or engineering major without learning a lot of math and engineering, but it's entirely possible to major in the humanities and never learn to read, write, or reason with any rigor. The problem isn't inherent to the subject matter, it's a symptom of professorial self-indulgence and laziness, together with the lack of external scrutiny, a problem that is much, much worse in humanities than in STEM.

As the higher education bubble bursts, we'll see a lot more of that scrutiny, and I expect things will improve — though not without a lot of squawking from those whose rice bowls get dinged along the way.

Read his whole reply here.

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  1. As a 25-year-old psych major, I get incensed when I hear about the culture of entitlement in my fellow recent-grads.

    I abandoned my hemisphere to move to Korea to get a job teaching here because I couldn’t imagine not being self-sufficient.

    I know it’s hard getting a job back home for our demographic. I get it. But jesus fucking christ. Stop bitching about it and do something productive.

    Makes me feel ashamed to be a part of my generation.

    1. 23 year old here. I meet some people from our generation who are hardworking a fuck- work their ass off every day for shitty pay (hey, it comes with the territory of being young, but it still does suck sometimes) and are making something of themselves. I know a guy, a year younger than me, who has two companies. So it pisses me off when we are called a lazy or entitled generation, because I know a lot of people who disprove that idea.

      But then I read about people like this, or the Occupy punks, and I get so fucking ashamed,embarrassed, and angry that these people are the public face of my age group.

      1. Exactly my sentiments.

        I’ve been here for a shade under 2 years saving bank and I do know people back home who have applied themselves and have succeeded hard. Most of my friends though are doing what they have to, working multiple shifts to pay rent and such. And I respect that. Gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

        But these motherfuckers being the face of Our Generation is indeed insulting and shameful. I abandoned everything I knew to be self-sufficient and productive and these spineless, disposable cockwipes can’t find a more valuable use for their time than impotently protesting for hand-me-outs and give-me-downs?

        I shan’t muster sympathy.

  2. There is an important place in the world for non STEM majors, and I suspect the people who really belong in those majors and made the most of them don’t appreciate all the excess competition from all the slackers who are giving those majors a bad name.

    Competition from slackers who shouldn’t…and probably wouldn’t have been in college at all if the government hadn’t made it so damn easy for their slacker asses to go to college in the first place.

  3. I got utterly screwed by the Student Loan crap. After college, I had only $12k in student loans – all federal. I paid down that loan to a little under $9k over a year and a half. Lost my job right after the economy crashed and since that was less than 2 years after I graduated I didn’t have money in the bank to pay. I missed 4 months of payments (after I ran out of money and lost my apartment). The government didn’t do anything except trash my credit at this point. I got a new job, new apartment, and some money and started paying my loan again. Instead of just leaving the back payments, I started paying double payments to catch back up every month. My LAST month when I would catch back up, they sent the DoJ to my house to tell me if I didn’t immediately pay up (the ENTIRE almost 9k remaining), that day, they would be putting me into default, arresting me for 30 days, and garnishing my wages . Keep in mind I NEVER once got a letter stating they were putting me in default or anything saying I was even behind. Turns out it was all a huge mistake and I was not in default, nor even close to getting into default. Luckily, I didn’t have the money to pay it – otherwise they would have conveniently screwed up into making me pay everything all at once…

  4. Nick, while I’m a confirmed engineering degree bigot, I don’t hold humanities degrees against people. I do hold their overly optimistic assessments of their prospects and subsequent unextinguishable debt burdens against them however. Not every humanities major is doomed to failure, in fact there are planty of very successful ones.

    Your comment on charging engineering majors more for their loans doesn’t make sense when you consider that risk is a factctor in pricing an investment such as a loan. If anything, a major that results in higher pay (let’s say 10-year pay, not starting salary to be fair) should be less risky and hance, lower priced.

    1. And before I get hammered on spelling and grammat, please note i have smartpboneitis and it’s particularly difficult toenter comments on hitandrun this way.

      1. Orrinz, is that you?

      2. smartpboneitis


    2. I do hold their overly optimistic assessments of their prospects and subsequent unextinguishable debt burdens against them however.

      This. It’s not the degrees that are a problem, it’s the sense of entitlement that many degree holders seem to have.

      And I think you’re right about the pricing. Nick has it exactly backwards.

      1. Maybe if Nick had gotten a REAL degree instead of one for book-reading and typography, he wouldn’t make those kind of mistakes. Just saying.

        1. cut him some slack. it’s not like nick got the fake-STEM econ degree.

      2. Agreed. Nick has this fucked up.

        Humanities majors are a higher risk. Sure, a student’s performance is a risk factor, but expected future earnings should sure as hell be too.

        Nobody is entitled to borrow taxpayer money and spend it on entertaining themselves with esoteric intllectual pursuits for four years, no matter how smart they are.

        I know it’s a wonderful experience, very self-fulfilling, and likely to develop their conversational skills, so they’ll be brilliant at dinner parties later in life. But it’s not their fucking money and taxpayers are entitled to price risk in the same way that private investors do.

        1. No he doesn’t at all. There are plenty of humanities majors who manage to do quite well. And plenty of engineers who are fuck ups. It is about the person not the major. The idea that anyone with a STEM major is automatically competent and will have a license to print money for the rest of their life is ridiculous.

          1. So that should be reflected in the statistical risk. Loan officers can take into account an assessment of the individual’s likelihood of paying back the loan based on BOTH academic competence AND choice of major.

          2. The idea that anyone with a STEM major is automatically competent and will have a license to print money for the rest of their life is ridiculous.

            ya. but that isn’t the point.

            The point is that a loan to an engineering student carries less risk than a loan to a history of gender studies major. So the interest rate would be lower in a free market, not higher.

            1. Hey! Don’t lump in history with gender studies. We actually learn stuff, not victimization.

              This comment was brought to you by someone who received a History-Political Science Degree

              1. The “of” was not a typo.

                I was trying to come up with a hypothetical “most-unarguably-stupid” major. Studying the history of the study of gender studies was the best I could come up with on the fly, and seemed more original than the old standby of underwater basket weaving.

                No offense meant toward the study of actual history.

                1. Ah, I missed the “of”. Major was called History, not Reading.

            2. Emmerson Biggins|4.30.12 @ 12:33PM|#

              The point is that a loan to an engineering student carries less risk than a loan to a history of gender studies major

              mmm. I wonder…

              (mental image of engineer being kicked out the door of GloboTechCom, his job sent to Bangalore, India… while the head of the Wymyns Studies Department @ University of Minnesota complains to the union that the school is *daring*! DARING!!! to raise the retirement age to 60…)

        2. Well, if you go by the chart, the loans should favor degrees in Health and Education. For the recent graduate, the Humanities has a slightly lower unemployment rate than Computers & Mathematics (3.9% vs. 4.1%) Quelle horreur! Likewise, the Humanities has only a slightly higher unemployment rate, for recent graduates, compared to Engineering and Law (3.9% vs. 3.4% and 3.5%).

          So, let’s not pretend this is about price risk, it’s about social engineering and bullshit “Two Cultures” antipathy.

          1. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the computer science field should know that there was a huge glut of c.s. majors in the last 15 years. But there’s also a difference between software engineering and MIS that some don’t understand. So conflating both into “Computer” may exaggerate the effect on programmers.

            The recent graduate unemployment rate isn’t a good surrogate for risk, anyway. A better metric would be, as I wrote above, a 10-year expected earnings number for the purposes of pricong risk into student loans.

            1. Yeah, the a world of difference between a software engineers and IT. Too bad many employers can’t tell them apart.

              1. If you look at the breakdowns, apparently the employers can, because the IT majors have an unemployment rate twice that of the other majors in the Computers and Mathematics category.

            2. Big distinction. At the company I work for, we hire American software engineers to design the software, and outsource to India to do the coding. Not because Indians aren’t smart, there are just too many communication issues, especially if your business is high-level client rather than end-user customer centered. I expect that to change, but right now software engineering’s still here.

          2. Well, teachers get paid less than engineers, generally.

            But if you want to go to the chart, go to it. All I’m saying is that the government has the right to rend in an economically rational way, which means taking into account the statistics on unemployerment rates and future earnings by major.

          3. Humanities has a slightly lower unemployment rate than Computers & Mathematics (3.9% vs. 4.1%) Quelle horreur!

            If you look at the breakdowns by major in the report, you find that the Computer & Mathematics category is being dragged down by lousy statistics among IT majors, and that every other major in the category is similar to the Engineering degrees.

        3. The core problem is the state funding of higher education. You’ll see Oppressed Third World Lesbian Studies degrees die out. But you WON’T see literature, philosophy, music, or art degrees disappear. They will probably become more classical in nature, but the liberal arts have proven their education value over the centuries.

      3. Nick got a little butt-hurt about the non-STEM business and spewed out some economic innumeracy worthy of Matt Yglesias or Ezra Klein. You guys are being way too easy on him.

        1. OTOH, if lenders started pricing risk correctly, taking fields of study into account, we might see tuition prices dropping for some majors faster than for other. I.e., majors that are actually worth less for graduates start costing less–which could ultimately leave the cost of an engineering degree higher than average, while at the same time loans for such a degree would have lower interest rates.

          1. There might be a good reason for doing what Nick suggested, but Nick didn’t give it.

            Still, even under your theory, tuition prices would drop for low-demand majors, which is not necessarily the same as the low-paid majors.

            1. Well, part of the theory is that they become low(er)-demand when interest rates rise and people realize, now that they’re paying something closer to the real price, they aren’t actually worth it. (And/or as, conversely, the price of STEM degrees increases due to the lower interest rates.) But yes.

      4. *sniff sniff* Is that nepotism I smell?

        If you justify the entire institution of education based upon its ability to position in the workplace in the field of, well… education… eventually, we’ll all have to become teachers just to ensure that there’s a reason for the education system.

        Major, schmajor. What can you do? What value do you have? If you feel that your only value is stored up in that framed piece of paper in the box in the closet under the steps, then all that the people have to do to blow up the system is for employers to deny employment to degree-holders. Applying that kind of judgement is no less prejudicial than excluding qualified-but-unBSed prospective employee as an applicant. The same is true for picking one field of study over another. It’s artificial and it’s wrong.

        FWIW: I hold a BS in Physics. I work in IT. I’ll never EVER have to find the Hall Cross Current through a solid state hard drive. Or a keyboard, for that matter. For the most part, I can’t think of a single reason why my fizix degree makes me more qualified for my job. But, apparently, my employers do. I am still exploring the deeper meaning of my acceptance of this code.

        1. My degree never had nor will it ever have anything to do with my ability to apply the phrase -The lady doth protest too much, methinks.- properly, why I think Hayek was right, nor why I prefer Kid Rock over the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

          If your identity is tied to your degree then it can be taken away the instant society decides it’s meaningless. Until then, all this STEM vs. Humanities shit is just sword fighting.

          Zip your flies, people.

          1. BTW: using quotation marks indicates -one word- in the browser and creates words that are too long. It took me like thirty-twelve (imaginary number)tries to figure out why I couldn’t post by copying and pasting my comment in pieces. Troubleshooting’s cool and all but I am at work – I mean, what’s federal funding for, after all? – and have other blogs to comment on. Any idears how to show quotes in comments but not blow up the server squirrel tree?

            ** And, no, STEMers. Don’t try to take this and run the physics/problem-solver meme. I didn’t learn how to troubleshoot because of my degree and neither di you, no matter what you studied in college. Analysis is done in/with any and all subject matters and, IMHO, more important than any content that can be delivered in a classroom. **

            I’m gonna giggle my ass off in glee if a Humanities major responds to this request first…

              1. My Hero:

                I giggle my ass off in your specific direction!

                “Thank you”, mi amigo

    3. It all depends on the engineer. A smart humanities major beats a retarded engineering one every time.

      1. No, he/she doesn’t.

        1. Yes he does. I was a humanities major and I paid off my loans and make more money than many of the STEM majors I went to school with. And I know several other people who are the same. Just because you have a STEM major doesn’t mean you won’t end up a fuck up or are competent to do anything. That is just STEM majors lying to themselves.

          1. I rest my case.


            1. As a literature major who is a software engineer, I can run rings around many folks in my field. Seriously.

              1. Just think where you’d be if you had gotten a real degree.


          2. You can be really smart an employable and a humanities major. But take the same person, and put them into a STEM major and they would do even better, because they would have the scientific and mathematical skills to do a shit tone more stuff than a smart person with a background in gender studies can do.

            It’s like you think that all you need is a brain and you don’t have to learn any actual skills.

            1. You assume, of course, that monetary success follows from “mathematical and scientific skills”.

              1. The STEM Jobs Report says that 7.6M people or 5.5% of the workforce is employed in STEM fields and over the past 10 years, STEM fields have had more job growth than non-STEM fields. Also, the report discusses how STEM workers command higher wages than non-STEM workers even for similar education levels.

                I would say this affirms that assumption, at least if they are in a STEM field. From the report here.

                1. That doesn’t seem to be exactly on point with what Hazel was saying. It seemed to me she was saying that STEM folks do better because of the skills acquired, regardless of which field they enter after graduation, because of those skills, which is different than saying “the market is great for engineers right now.”

                  1. I would agree with you that it depends on the field you go into. An engineer working as a technical writer might make less than a writer working as an engineer. However, one could assume that STEM folks would make up the majority of the STEM field, bolstering her claim that it is the skills that bring the higher pay.

                  2. Right. Because having a firm background in calculus and statistics is a gateway to doing so many other tasks and are not things that you can really learn on the job.

                    Learning calculus and statistics takes structured learning for most people. Unless oyu are one of those rarities who can pick up a math textbook and work your way through it independently, which no employer is going to pay you for.

              2. I prefer to think that my monetary success (Hah!) has followed from my musical and spatial awareness skills. But, then again, I think water is wet so what the hell do I know?

          3. Just because you have a STEM major doesn’t mean you won’t end up a fuck up or are competent to do anything.

            logic fail. that’s not what we are saying. We are saying that just because you are a STEM major, you are a fuckup. There are plenty of fuckups in STEMs, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that a non-STEM cannot be successful.

            First order logic, entry level math. shoulda studied harder.

      2. Another problem is humanities majors who think that they don’t need to have any other useful skills. I was a philosophy/math double major, but I know how to do other things, so I have a good job in high tech manufacturing and. Unless you plan to be an academic or teacher (or go to a professional grad school), you need to have skills outside of your major.

        1. The college (Warren) at my university (UC San Diego) had very simple requirements: you must have two minors, one of which cannot be related to your major. Very sensible.

        2. The solution is to require Humanities majors to take as much math/science as STEM majors take Humanities.

          For example, I was required to take 18 hours of Humanities and 18 hours of Social Sciences (12/12 converting from quarter to semester). A similar requirement for Humanities majors would be something like:

          2 semesters of Calculus + 1 semester of Statistics.
          2 semesters of one science (Chemistry/Physics/Biology) + 1 semester of one of the other two.

          Physics for Poets doesnt count, it should be calculus based.

          1. You know, I have never even done pre-Calculus, and I have to say, it shockingly doesn’t ever come up in my day to day life.

            I did take Statistics in High School, which is mostly useful to learn how many stats are bullshit

            1. Huh, weird. My day to day life must be different than yours, because Calculus comes up all the time.

              Then again, the literature of Kerouac and Kesey dont come up in my day to day life, but I still think “Imagining the American West” was a fucking useful course.

              Of the 12 Hum/SS courses I took, the only useless one was Intro to Psych. Worst course I took in college, hands down. Partly due to the professor. But the material sucked to.

              1. I’m guessing “Imagining the American West” was a history course?

                History is a shockingly useful thing to know. Convincing others of this, of course, is sometimes the problem.

                1. Lit course.

                  The Dharma Bums
                  Sometimes a Great Notion
                  Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada
                  My First Summer in the Sierra

                  (from looking at my bookshelf…not sure if their was anything else)

                  1. s/their/there/

              2. You have no idea what you’re missing until you are calculating fourier transforms in your head.

                Some people need software to do it:

            2. I could be wrong, but I bet that if you had studied Calculus, you would see quite clearly how it is relevant to everything. Even if you can’t do the calculations, knowing how it works really helps in understanding things.

              1. Plus, you dont get the “e^x and a constant are walking down the street” joke.

              2. I have been told this by numerous people. Apparently, it helps you “understand” math, including basic math.

                However, I don’t lie awake at night wondering if 1+1=2 in reality, so I’m good most of the time.

                1. For me, it was understanding physics. I took HS physics (before Calculus) and it was just a bunch of equations to memorize.

                  Then along came calculus based physics, and I realized I only had to learn one equation a=a, and the rest can be derived from there using calculus (okay, thats just particle motion, but applies to other areas of physics as well).

          2. I agree. No one should graduate from college not knowing how to use at least basic Calculus.

            1. When I was working in Switzerland, my boss was stunned that you could ENTER a University not knowing basic Calculus.

            2. I took calculus in college and I still think it was, if not the most useful course I took, certainly the most thrilling and empowering.

          3. robc|4.30.12 @ 1:10PM|#
            The solution is to require Humanities majors to take as much math/science as STEM majors take Humanities.

            I’ve heard this tossed around before… and maybe i was a unique case, but I recall (and it was a while ago) as a B.A. having to take

            – at least three full-year (two semester) ‘lab science’ courses, plus one-credit (one semester) science elective.

            – everyone had to pass calculus 101 & statistics 101 classes to graduate (you could get exempted if you’d taken calc in HS & took a follow-up test, but stats was a req)

            – 3 semesters of foreign language

            Reqs for B.S. students were similar ->3 full-year humanities classes, and 1 elective… and the language, etc.

            basically, I never saw any real disparity in the relative requirements between B.A./B.S. But maybe that was unique?

            I DID notice a buttload of science/tech students taking the ‘101 level’ English courses (e.g. ‘Survey of World/English/American Literature’) in the arena-sized lecture halls…thinking they’d be ‘easier’ because of low minimum writing requirements, many many students which would allow them to fade into the crowd. They didn’t realize how much shit they’d have to read/get quizzed on. They’d have been far better off taking the ‘harder’ seminar classes, where all they’d have to do is read a small handful of books, and talk about them like once a week, write one 20 page paper…

    4. Humanities are fine for those who can afford that luxury. Educators should be extremely careful though not to push the kids of working class and poverty level families into those areas as in most cases it is positively irresponsible to do so.

      Gender studies = hate studies. As do ethnicity_x studies. Fuck those programs, they need to be tossed. No one majors in phrenology and alchemy in 2012 for a reason, every generation something pops up in academia that needs to be culled for the betterment of mankind.

    5. db|4.30.12 @ 11:12AM|#
      while I’m a confirmed engineering degree bigot…

      honesty is a refreshing thing.

      I’m kind of a “who gives a fuck what your degree is: is the @*#($ job done yet or not??”-bigot

      1. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t hire a nonengineer to do “hard” engineering work unless they’ve demonstrated they’re capable of it. I’m not really a credentialist. I have worked alongside engineers who did not have degrees but had worked lo g and hard to get where they were and I have great respect for them. It generally took them a lot longer to learn the requisite skills than 4-5 years though. That’s one of the benefits of an engineering degree–intense early trajning in the math and science behind the future work.

        1. db|4.30.12 @ 4:12PM|#
          I’m just saying that I wouldn’t hire a nonengineer to do “hard” engineering work unless they’ve demonstrated they’re capable of it.

          See, the distinction for me? recent college grads – regardless of ‘degree’ – aren’t *capable of shit*, in my limited experience. Pretty much all of them need to be thrown into the workplace and slave for a few years at something before any ‘competency’ begins to exist.

          Perhaps the most important distinction a degree bestows is a validation of someone’s actual *interest* in a topic. which helps when hiring people. But, would you prefer a D+ ‘engineer’ from Buttfuck Community College, or an summa cum laude generic BA from Stamford? Suggesting the BA guy isn’t ‘capable’ may be a stretch. Honestly, most ‘math’-related shit aint *that* hard. My entry into the financial analysis world was basically passing the ‘not-stupid’ test. Most employers barely glanced at the resume, and just tried to establish, “Is this guy a fucking idiot or not?” If Non-Idiocy is established, then most people can learn the ‘math’ parts of the job on the fly. Maybe after 5-6 years, they’re actually *good* at it. If you’re lucky.

          1. My experience is different. At my previous employer, I managed a group of engineers in a plant environment under high stress, high expectation conditions, and had several young engineers working for me at different times, 5 in total. Out of the 5, one was incompetent but hard working, and she came up to par over the course of a year. The others were quite competent, dedicated to hard work and getting results, and one in particular was a great example of a future leader as well as very technically strong.

            I completely disagree that most people can learn the “math parts of the job” on the fly, as you say. There are certainly smart people out there capable of it, but you are fooling yourself if you think you can take a person out of a liberal arts major and teach them engineering on the job for a number of reasons.

            1. They didn’t go to engineering school for a reason, let’s assume they aren’t interested in engineering.

            2. There is a very good reason there is prerequisite work in undergraduate engineering courses–you can’t survive advanced engineering courses without them.

            3. You can’t even expect a chemical engineer to be competent in the details of electrical engineering, or a mechanical eng to “get” chemical engineering without significant effort. Taking a non-engineering person and asking them to do competent engineering work is lunacy.

  5. As a proud English major (surrounded by a bunch of them at Reason, by the way), I’ll save a full-throated defense of my major for another post.

    As an English major, I look forward to reading that defense. I am also aware that not all English majors are created equal. My degree’s concentration was in professional and technical writing with a few classes in journalism and marketing thrown in for good measure. I found work immediately after graduation. Some of my friends were Creative Writing or Poetry majors and can’t find relevant work to save their lives.

    1. old joke:

      Q: What do you do with an English Major?

      A: Throw her on the ground and fuck her!

    2. I know someone who studied English and one of his studies was “Lesbian Literature”, since it was about real lesbians and not the lipstick lesbians seen in pornos, it clearly was an utter waste of his time and money.

      1. My worst English major experience:
        A semester in American Literature with an aging lesbian professor who loved the Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

        1. Speaking of lesbian professors, my friend told me that one of them once complained that the Catholic church was against male homosexuality, but did not have the same stance against female homosexuality. She did not complain that they were against homosexuality but that the church did not see the male and female homosexuals as being equally bad.

      2. See, the thing is I have no problem with people taking lesbian literature, or taking out loans to study lesbian literature, as long as they pay them back.

        What I have a problem with is people who think they are ENTITLED to borrow money to study lesbian literature, because it’s an enriching life experience to do so, and not have the loan terms or interest rates be any different than if they were borrowing money to study calculus.

    3. Technical writing is a great emphasis. I used to work in test engineering, and if there was one position I could have created for our department, it would have been a technical writer. Good writing the first time around saves so much down the road. Often, the technical proficiency of technical writers is exactly the level you want when you talk with business and marketing departments.

      1. OMG yes, I cannot count the number of projects that I have worked on which failed because no one working on them had the slightest clue how to write a coherent friggin requirement.

  6. There is no good reason why taxpayers should support ANYONE’s college education.

    Private lenders are certainly free to loan people money for vocational school, and going to vocational school benefits both the student and the industry, so I don’t quite buy the point that industry should be paying all of the tuition costs themselves. If they set salaries high enough to attract students to pay for their own education, no libertarian should have a quibble with it.

    However, IF we are going to have publicly finded student loans, doesn’t it make sense to make the government behave as much like a private lender as possible? In which cse the government in the interests of getting it’s money back, should set interest rates and loan terms on the basis of a students expected future earnings. Which should certainly take into account BOTH his probability of graduating and the type of field he has chosen to pursue.

    1. That would make sense but it is also politically impossible to accomplish, as reflected by the “bipartisan” agreement that student loan rates should continue to be held under 4% by adding even more to the federal debt. There is no hope for this system so long as it is run by Washington.

      A real solution is, of course, to get rid of loan subsidies and make students decide based on real market costs. This would put huge downward pressure on tuition and eventually give us a more rational system. But it would involve some measure of pain to some number of 18 year olds, so we’re not going to do it.

      1. Well, it;’s certainly oging to be politically impossible if even libertarians are arguing that students have a “right” to study any subject they want, regardless of the statistical likelihood they will ever repay the loan.

        Because the value of studying an intellectually engaging topic is an irreplacable life experience and everyone should have it.

  7. Engineering majors already have a higher cost burden. As an engineering major, I paid off my own loans and large chunks of those for my siblings (art, astrophysics). Yay.

    And clearly most REASON H&R commenters are STEM majors given the number of Monty Python references.

  8. …the need to constantly bash supposedly non-utilitarian majors such as English, gender studies, and the like

    rather than rush to the defense of any ‘major’*, perhaps its first useful to point out a) undergraduate degrees are by themselves, regardless of topic of study, mostly bullshit rubber-stamps that demonstrate you’ve achieved some *basic* level of literacy, numeracy, & competence doing some independent tasks where you had to manage yourself rather than having some overseer kicking you in the ass until you finally produced tolerable results…

    …basically, point being – college is not about the subject matter so much as the more universal-requirement of demonstrating the ability to master a given topic when asked, regardless of how relevant that topic may or may not be to one’s future endeavors.

    I mean, come on – for fuck’s sake, if you’re patting yourself on the back because you studied something *practical* in your undergraduate studies… you’re a fucking retard. If anything, undergraduate study, due to its very *uselessness*, should be expended primarily on what a person finds amusing. If you’re not enjoying it, or interested, it seems to be a pretty stupid way to blow a lot of money. You shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking any of your university training is *practical experience*… in short = college simply repairs most of the failures of high school, and takes a serious retard and hopefully moderates their ignorance *somewhat*. At best.

    1. THIS If you are over the age of 25 and still bragging about your college record, you are pretty much a failure.

      1. *Whew* I’ve barely missed the cutoff then, I have 1 more year left.

      2. I’d go farther and say,
        “if you consider your college studies in *any way* a distinguishing achievement, you are clearly a complete useless sack of shit”. All it takes is a few weeks in the “real world” / working life environment to realize that your college education was largely a summer-camp timeout where the primary purpose was to let you exorcise some of your inherent retardation rather than shape and refine any kind of competent intellect. Nothing, but nothing, is as freaking stupid as a recent college graduate. Don’t believe me? Three words for you = OCCUPY WALL STREET. Case Closed.

        1. Most of the engineering majors I went to school with ended up in management and not doing much actual engineering. They had jobs, but the jobs really didn’t require their degrees. They just wanted the certificate.

          1. There’s a subset of companies that hires engineering grads to do other stuff, because they figure engineering grads are more trainable than humanities majors.

            I dunno. I’m a practicing engineer, so my view is a wee bit different than Gilmore’s. If you don’t have the math/physics/engineering background from college, you’re not real useful to us as a new college graduate. I don’t have the time or the patience to teach you (as an example) FEA from the ground up. I’ll gladly teach you how we want it done, but not how to do it. The undergrad gives you a basis for understanding wtf it is we do around here.

            1. Depends on the field of course. But managing people is a totally different skill than being an engineer. Most people are lousy managers. But engineers are a special horrible subset of the large group of lousy managers in the world. Most of them, if they are any good, became engineers because they wanted to be engineers not managers. And thus are miserable in management positions and tend to make everyone around them just as miserable. There is a place for all kinds I think.

              1. It’s the age-old conundrum. You get promoted by doing well, so they keep promoting you until the Peter principle kicks in hard. My past couple of companies have been engineering focused to the extent that there is a dual-track for promotion. You can go into management or stay technical and get the smae promotions and pay grades just shy of managing VP/director level.

                The enginner forced into management is a lovely horroshow unique to the field.

                1. Same with education. The only way to reward good teachers is to take them out of the classroom and make them administrators. That leaves the less-than-worthy teachers right where they belong: in the classroom with the students.

                  Wait- what??

        2. I think you are right in most cases, but I think there are exceptions. Especially among people who go to college later (not right after high school) for a particular purpose.

          1. There are exceptions to everything. Some people are late bloomers and genuinely need the college experience to get them squared away.

            But fuck me if anyone ever comes out of school with any particular “ability”. I don’t care if you were studying Aztec pottery or nano-technology. You’re a 22yr old kid with basically zero useful abilities, and need to be trained from scratch to do any practical work. This includes everyone from Harvard/Oxford to West Bumblefuck State Tech. In my first professional gig, I went from being prime-retard to the guy interviewing the next prime-retards. It was a very humbling, enlightening experience, realizing *I had been as dumb as them* only 2 years earlier. Even worse = go back and read some of your old college papers. Seriously. Its humiliating. on top of it, you realize *you paid money* to do this dumb shit, and be patted on the head for it in the form of a ‘degree’.

            1. Try asking an Aztec Pottery major to run a chemical analysis in the lab. There are some skills that are learned in degree programs. I sure as hell wouldn’t ask an English major to specify a pump or heat exchanger unless they had talen a few classes to learn what is important for the application, and had some experience doing it. You are wrong in tour assertion that an engineering education yields no special skills or abilities.

              1. db|4.30.12 @ 12:44PM|#
                Try asking an Aztec Pottery major to run a chemical analysis in the lab. …

                Hey, fucktard = perhaps they’ve done a little carbon dating, residue-analysis?…

                Whatever… you may be having ‘buyer’s pride’. You spent 4yrs in engineering, now are forced to justify it. Calling any undergraduate training, “special skills” is nevertheless retarded. Might as well call ‘spelling’ a special skill… If college made you especially competent and uniquely capable for *anything*, all I can say is that you must have been a uniquely retarded sack of mush before you got there.

                1. Hey, fucktard = perhaps they’ve done a little carbon dating, residue-analysis?…

                  In which case, they would have had to have taken a few chemistry classes. They would have had to take, say, the frist two years of a chemistry major to be able to understand radioactive decay and isotopes and chemical decomposition and molecular stability, and a few statistics classes to estimate a likely date range and put error bars on their analysis.

                  In other words, you would need the first two years of a STEM major.

                  1. “They would have had to take, say, the frist two years of a chemistry major to be able to understand radioactive decay and isotopes and chemical decomposition and molecular stability, and a few statistics classes to estimate a likely date range and put error bars on their analysis.

                    Or you know they might have done this little thing called reading a book, and learned all about the theory behind carbon dating back in High School, then gone through the process once or twice in College, and the only reason that college would be required here is they would be unlikely to have access to the spectroscope needed to take the measurements anywhere else.

                    Fact is there are VERY few skills one needs to go to college to learn to a sufficient level of profficiency to be able to perform the task at an entry level.

                    1. You really think that everything you need to know about carbon dating can be learned in high school?

            2. I came out of school with practical knowledge and the ability to use the software necessary in my field.

              But I probably would have learned that stuff on my own anyways.

            3. Well, I’m in politics, and do Oppo Research and Policy Research. So college was useful for me in honing my research skills.

              Also useful is my ability to read something once and remember it forever. That one college didn’t give me, but it is pretty cool at work whenever someone needs, say, text from a bill, and I can just recite it word for word.

        3. That is not quite accurate for everybody. Take my brother, while working as a missile tech in the Navy, he was taking classes for his math undergrad degree at the University of Connecticut. Why? Because he needed it for his job. Me, I started working at the age of fifteen, and worked my way through school in a ‘practical’ field to get that credential that would allow me to advance in what I was already doing, though my career path took several diversions over the years. At the time, I did not have that freedom. Both of us had the misfortune of having a father who ruined his family’s comfortable unionized working class condition by getting himself crippled in a drunk driving incident. We did what was in our best interest to get ahead in life. It sure as hell wasn’t remedial high school for either of us.

          1. I started working at the age of fifteen, and worked my way through school in a ‘practical’ field …

            This entirely validates my point = you were already *working* and in the process of developing skills. School by itself doesn’t/wouldn’t do fuck-all. As you mention = it really is just so much ‘credentialing’, not actual practical skill-training.

            I think the thing that people getup on their hind legs about when you start to diss the value of their (or anyone’s) college education, is that for some people, it is for them a significant ‘class distinction’. Its an identity thing. They feel ‘better’ than if they’d skipped it.

            it also helps erase the pain of $100K+ debt to some degree.

            For me, however, i’ve met way too retards fresh out of grad-school to think ‘education’ does much in the way of skill-development. And again – for those is *does* help out? Probably were behind the curve to begin with. Nothing wrong with that… it just is what it is.

            1. In a way we are kind of saying the same thing — we’d like to punch out the same people who turned undergrad into a joke. They are the ones who came to party, and got the government backed loans that their comfortably middle class parents were relieved to hand off to everyone else.

              Me, I paid with a check with money I put in the bank, but then college wasn’t unaffordable for a single guy with a job. It wasn’t that difficult, and I didn’t exactly feel the Springsteen/Dickensian monkey on my back though aspects of college culture did not come easy to me. I remember standing in a line overhearing a conversation where two people talked about being Greeks, and I thought it odd they had American accents.

              Interesting survey I found while looking up the cost of going to UNC-CH in my day. The average class load per professor is jaw droppingly low:


    2. If anything, undergraduate study, due to its very *uselessness*, should be expended primarily on what a person finds amusing.

      I agree, but I was unable to find a school that offered majors in drinking and womanizing.

      1. I agree, but I was unable to find a school that offered majors in drinking and womanizing.

        What? There are plenty of programs in Poli Sci and Public Policy across the country.

      2. I was unable to find a school that offered majors in drinking and womanizing.


        WTF. You never heard of Tulane?

        FWIW, that shit isn’t a major… its the core-curricula. Everybody from divinity students to engineers has to do their share of being constantly drunk and humping everything that moves. For the love of god… anyone who “worked hard” in college must be pretty goddam stupid, because I was either drunk, stoned, or asleep for most of it, and still made the Dean’s list half the time. If anything, college permanently shattered my assumption that ‘not everyone was a moron’. Once ensconced in an ivy-level university? Yes indeed… everyone, including yourself, is a complete fucking moron. Professors achieving extra-special-one-of-a-kind-idiot status at times.

        1. We used to joke that the architecture building was the lighthouse leading the drunk kids back from greek row to the dorms.

        2. For the love of god… anyone who “worked hard” in college must be pretty goddam stupid, because I was either drunk, stoned, or asleep for most of it, and still made the Dean’s list half the time.

          you seem pretty pissed off about your college experience. But I find it hard to rationalize your assumption that just because you were a slacker as a student and attended college at a school that was more interested in your money than your education, that somehow means that everyone’s degree is worthless and we’re all idiots for going to school. All I’ve really learned from your ranting is that you’re not someone I’d want working for me.

          1. RedDragon6009|4.30.12 @ 1:16PM|#

            you seem pretty pissed off about your college experience

            Quite the contrary = I had a great time. It was a singularly wonderful opportunity to get drunk, laid, and intellectually pretentious.

            I think the distinction here is that some people think it has some particular value in developing skills that could not otherwise be learned on the job, or even on one’s own. That I think is a particular load of horseshit.

            I mean, for @#$*(& sake… most college grads can’t even read and write particularly well. Yeah – some prep work in a field is a *plus*… pretending that amounts to practical skills is a delusion.

            As some others commented above… I think most people should avoid college until they’ve spent a year or two working. THEN apply oneself to some study. The odds something useful will come of it would be multiplied many times over.

            1. Just because you didn’t learn dick during college taking your humanities degree, doesn’t mean nobody else did.

              There are people in the world who actually are interested in serious intellectual subject at age 18.

              You obviously weren’t one of them, but they exist.

              1. Just because you didn’t learn dick


                Dude, take it easy. I had a great time reading lots of books and writing shit about them. If I ‘learned’ anything, I improved my writing immensely.

                And get off your intellectual high-horse. I was reading Montaigne in high school, bitch. “Serious intellectual subject’… snort… Whatever. Where’d you go to school, Doogie? Or was it straight to NASA?

                My main point was that pretending ‘college’ provides some kind of professional qualification is a joke. At best, it is simply a measure of ‘potential’. But whatever. Yes, hazel, you and your calculator are very very special.

                1. I swear, GILMORE, you’re just trying to be obtuse at this point. If you can’t understand that people specialize in different areas for good reasons, and that some major courses of study (talking engineering here, because that’s what I know) actually do result in students learning specialized information and techniques that one can’t learn in other non-related majors, it’s going to be impossible to explain it to you.

                2. My main point was that pretending ‘college’ provides some kind of professional qualification is a joke. At best, it is simply a measure of ‘potential’.

                  You wasted your four years of opportunity to actually learn something interesting, so you assume everyone else must have too.

                  I feel sorry for you. I’ve met a shit ton of humanities majors who spent their time in school learning something and not getting laid. They may not all have great jobs now, but they have something they can feel proud of.

                  You obviously don’t feel proud of your wasted college career, so you feel the need to shit on everyone else’s.

      3. Did you not look into the SEC? Or are those classes restricted to the Football/Basketball teams?

        1. I can confirm the SEC had the finest drinking and womanizing programs of any American universities. Although some big state-schools competed nobly, we in the southern conference did it with *style* and panache. And bourbon. And a pretty chauvinistic cultural tradition in general.

          ….ahhh, college.

    3. BS!

      I have an Aerospace Engineering degree and have NEVER been paid a dollar to use it. And, if given the choice, I’d do it all again.

      STEM majors teach you how to learn. They teach problem solving skills. These skills have been invaluable.

      1. Any degree will “teach you how to learn” with the right professors and given a motivated enough student.

        1. But they don’t teach problem solving.

          1. I don’t even know what that means. Like, the Scientific Method? That’s 8th-grade level. Trial-and-error? That’s an inborn human trait.

            My philosophy courses taught me to look at “big picture” kinds of things, the exact thing that CEOs and COOs have to do. My econ and psych courses taught me about human behavior and human interaction, which is 90% of success in any “real” job.

            1. “Problem solving,” in an engineering context, requires breaking a large problem, like building a multimillion dollar chemical plant or bridge, or diagnosing a failure in a complex system, int smaller and smaller su problems that can be handled relatively easily. You might compare it to writing a novel in that the overall proje t looks extremely daunting in whole but becpmes manageable in parts. Part of the prpblem solving requires understanding the smartest way to break up the problem and choosong the best techniques and specialties to go after each jndividual part. It is not 8th grade stuff. It is rocket science, because rocket science is exactly breaking a seemingly insurmountable problem into technically achievable subproblems.

              1. An AE friend of mine used to joke about rocket science.

                “Rocket science is easy. Getting the thing to fly thru air, that is the hard part.”

                1. Nah, getting it to fly through the air is easy too, It is keeping all of the pieces together while flying through the air that is hard.

            2. the Scientific Method? That’s 8th-grade level.

              It should be. If you considering the number of “educated” people who can not tell the difference between correlation and causation you might come to the conclusion that it is not taught at any grade level.

              1. ^THIS^

                From Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, when Julian Castle, appraising Little Newt’s painting:

                Castle: Self-educated?

                Newt: Isn’t everyone?

                Not just OTJ but ITL (In The Life). Everything else is just pressed wood pulp.

            3. What do you mean, you don’t know what that means?

              95% of an engineering degree is problem solving. That’s what you do for four years. You learn a broad range of techniques which overlap into every aspect of life. You learn why the world behaves as it does and how to manipulate it. The invention and construction of all “stuff” is predicated on being able to identify a problem and solve it.

              Not knocking philosophy, I dig it.

              1. It might be true that 95% of engineering is problem solving. Except for the 25% where you petition the government for more money to build more stuff.

                First rule of Gov Contracting: Why build one when you can have two for twice the price?

                Glad you dig philosophy. I like your handle very much and would be disappointed to find that “Frisco”, a physics/philosophy double-major at Patrick Henry U, was dropping a deuce on, you know, thinking.

    4. Bullshit. There is no replacement for being able to do calculus, or statistics. That’s not a skill you are just going to pick up by osmosis on the job. The first two years of any undergraduate STEM major are an essential platform for doing a huge number of technical tasks, and for going on to more advanced skills.

      1. I think you could learn calculus “on the job” if you were really nerdmotivated. It wouldn’t really be on the job though, it would be realizing that you are fucked real soon like if you don’t start studying some of this shit on your own time.

        The thing is, most people who have the “right stuff” to learn calculus, for example, on their own time probably already made into a course of study where they got to learn it the easier way, which is in a calculus class.

        1. I think you could learn calculus “on the job” if you were really nerdmotivated. It wouldn’t really be on the job though, it would be realizing that you are fucked real soon like if you don’t start studying some of this shit on your own time.

          ^This^ No one is going to hire someone to do any job that requires use of calculus, or statistics, or differential equations, or Fourier transforms etc. if you haven’t studied those things in college. They’re not paying you to learn shit you should already know, they’re paying you to be productive, which is where the degree in engineering comes in.

          There may be some jobs that are so easy that they can hire anyone with any ol’ college degree (or HS diploma), but none of those jobs have the “engineer” anywhere in the job title (with the exception of “custodial engineer” of course).

      2. Bingo. Scientific discovery and engineering accomplishment don’t come about merely by thinking really hard and being smart. There are certain mental tools that have to be learned and used well. These tools are what you learn, alng with the principles of why they are applicable, in engimeering programs. Handing someone a PC and some word processing software is not going to get you a great novel, and giving someone a well stocked lab and some construction equipment isn’t going to produce a functioning chemical plant, either.

        1. Handing someone a PC and Visual C++ is not going to enable them to write flight software for a spacecraft.

          No matter how good of a software engineer you are, you have to be able to do the fucking math to solve the control theory problems in order to implement the fucking math in C++.

          And your boss isn’t going to send you to math class on the job.

          1. Just curious, but is it common practice to write flight software for the Windows platform?

            *increases life insurance policy*

            1. The blue screen of death is more problematic.

            2. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but usually flight computers are special, dedicated real-time processors. The problem is you have to test the flight software in some sort of physics simulator, which may be written for Windows.

              So you have to make the flight software platform independent so that it will run in both the simulator and on the flight computers.

              1. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but usually flight computers are special, dedicated real-time processors.

                That’s pretty much the case everywhere I’ve been.

          2. And the number of Software Engineers who are writing spacecraft flight control programs compares to the number writing web banking applications how?

            In otherwords the overwhelming majority of computer programers/software engineers will never solve a single calculus program in the course of their working careers. In the rare cases where the program they are working on actually requires some calculus the solution, along with accompanying code will almost always be published online for them.

      3. HazelMeade|4.30.12 @ 12:50PM|#
        Bullshit. There is no replacement for being able to do calculus, or statistics.

        Uhm. Actually, you can just hire an accountant.

        Just noting = most CEOs of fortune 500 companies? 90% come from the SALES department. More than 50% went to State schools. And there was no connection whatsoever between *what* they studied in school and their capabilities.

        I didn’t do any math/science/economics training at all in college. What I do now is primarily economic & financial statistical analysis. And it turned out I’ve been far more competent at it than many people who *did* study this stuff in school. Why? Aptitude that had nothing to do with school. Also, geniune curiosity. School doesn’t make you smart… its just a gym where one can choose to exercise latent capabilities. Or not.

        1. Uhm. Actually, you can just hire an accountant.

          You sir, are a question beggar.

          1. I know. But I think the point is more that the guy doing the ‘invaluable calculus and statistics’ is actually more of a commoditized functionary, and not the boss of the freaking company with the actual *valuable* skills. 🙂

            But, yes… someone *does* need to do that stuff. And they’re very *special people*. (pats calculator-boy on head) Everyone is very impressed.

            1. *rubs slide rule lovingly*

        2. So why should your employer hire you, if also has to hire an accountant to do your work?

          1. The accountants all speak Hindi. 🙂 I manage them.

            1. And this is what we call white collar middle-management.

              Exactly where they shove all the assholes who breezed through college getting drunk.

              And exactly the people who eventually get canned when the company downsizes.

              1. Well, don’t worry Hazel, I kept my job by firing guys like you, and hiring cheaper ones overseas. Backroom techies/quants are a commodity.

                Also, that’s not really what I do. I work for myself 🙂 Downsizing in my case would require cutting my feet off.

                1. Oh, you’re a freelancer.
                  Isn’t that sort of a glorified term for “unemployed” ?

    5. You shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking any of your university training is *practical experience*.

      Sorry, but some of us did actually learn some practical shit in college. I won’t go into specifics because apparently that would constitute either “patting myself on the back” or “bragging”.

    6. I tend to agree. There’s some value to a college education, of course, but it doesn’t magically prepare you for employment. In fact, in most fields, there’s a striking separation between what you learn in school and in the job.

      A degree is simply a semi-useful proxy for certain things and not much more. A lot of what you learn you could teach yourself.

      1. Maybe if you are a software engineer or a manager.

        But I hve yet to see someone who can’t understand statistics figure out how to write and implement a Kalman filter in C.

        1. Look, Hazel – we get it. You can write object-oriented code and know lots of cool mathy-sounding buzz words. Me too, watch:

          – hexachloroethane
          – the Heaviside Cover-up Method
          – chaotic attractors
          – When the cracks in the sidewalk get smaller, the murder rate goes up (yes, truly correlated)
          – gray body radiation

          Now, the cool thing here is I didn’t learn ANY of these things earning my degree in physics. I learned them ON THE JOB as an analyst for the Army. I couldn’t have even pretended to discuss them meaningfully (except maybe the sidewalk crack thingy) until after I’d been working in the field for some years.

          My point: just because you currently work as some sort of software developer for some sort of aeronautics company and you just so happened to have some sort of college training in a technical field doesn’t mean that you learned it in college.

          Honestly – you were encodiing Kalman Filters in college? Like, in undergrad? (yes, I know what a Kalman Filter is for; I learned how to encode them in C++ ON THE JOB doing analysis on chemical agents detectors – aren’t you impressed?)

          1. I’m being too harsh. After reading a few Pro Lib comments, I think he really hits it on the head: I like physics. And it had utility – mostly in the form of “Ooooo, Physics…” even as they can’t decide between genuflecting with genuine intellectual respect, cowering in fear of the MacGyver-like contraptions I might create, or – and I think, mostly – “How can I use you to my advantage…?”

            But it was only one single little, albeit practically useful, attribute in a real-world sampling of one person’s skills. I sure hope that that’s not the only reason I was hired. If all my employer needed was a CV I imagine they’d simply skipped the entire interview process. But fortunately, with a few notable exceptions, my employers seem to want more. To me, that means that someone seemingly less- but actually more qualified has the legitimate opportunity to convince a potential employer that they’re still a better candidate than me.

            And this is as it should be.

    7. I think one of the problems is college making you take bullshit not in your major, to be a “well rounded” person.

      Fuck that noise. Specailization should be the order of the day here.

    8. Spoken like a humanities major.

  9. I’m an English major too. But I am now almost twenty years into a software engineering career. Unless you’re in a highly specialised field requiring a lot of specialised education (medicine, nuclear physics, etc), your major has little bearing on your career.

    1. This is why schools that invested heavily in creating big computer science programs made a mistake. Learning a computer language is not hard. The difficult part is writing software that is maintainable and functional while adhering to schedules and cost constraints. There are tons of smart humanities majors out there, and they make good programmers partly because they have a different set of interests and background than the typical engineerinv student.

    2. the best programmer I know has a degree in neurology. The only reason I got into CS was that I lost interest in EE, and thought “hey, I know computers – I bet I can make some $$$ doing something that’s easy (to me).”

  10. It isn’t the majors that are a problem, people have a right to spend their money and time on any major that they like and schools have the right to offer majors in fields they like to meet their customers.

    The only problem is that the government is subsidizing the student loan industry and now partially taking it over. The only solution is to kill Sallie-Mae and the US Govts. interaction with the student loan system.

    Getting to dick waving contests about whose degree is worthy of subsidization by the state seems counter productive to me and wholly missing of the point.

    1. this

      1. double-plus ^THIS^

    2. Well, yeah. Your degree, whatever it may be, is worth precisely what you can earn by using it. However, this should not preclude the use of actuarial calculations for determining the risks associated with loans for education. I agree that government subsidies should be taken out of the picture. People need to be prepared for the consequences of the removal of subsidies for relatively high risk/low earning majors.

      1. Your degree, whatever it may be, is worth precisely what you paid for it. Keep the receipt!

        1. In Philadelphia it’s worth fifty bucks.

    3. I think the point is that the humanities majors are whining that they are entitled to borrow money to entertain themselves with an amusing major at taxpayer expense because as long as the government hands out money, it’s a matter of “freedom” to be able to study whatever you want. They don’t think anyone should be able to judge their riskiness because it’s such an enriching life experience and nbody can put a price on that.

      1. Hey Hazel, I usually like you. But fuck off. I was a humanities major and paid off my loans. And if you want to match W2s feel free.

        The problem is you assume that anyone who majors in engineering is somehow guaranteed to be productive. Bullshit. Shop deluding yourself.

        1. anyone who majors in engineering is somehow guaranteed to be productive

          It is a peculiar characteristic of the science & engineering-backgrounded fellers that they perpetually feel the need to point out the inherent superiority of this field of study and the utter uselessness of other fields of study…

          …and again – the fact is that most of them work for some jerk who came straight from the *sales* dept. and on top of that, they themselves are far easier to replace with some dude fresh out of New Delhi U, whereas a decent lawyer? (contradiction?)…. not so simple.

          It is also noteworthy that B.A. students are just as quick to acknowledge that their education was bullshit! 🙂 I think the key difference is the lack of any pretention to any particular ‘ability’.

        2. (contd)

          I also note = I was the guy doing most interviewing/hiring new analysts… and of the people who applied, the math/science/engineering majors often tended to be the least ‘intellectually capable’ for the job, despite having the better
          ‘training/prep’ than liberal arts students.

          An example = a typical interview exercise was to hand the applicant a page of statistics tables, charts… bunch of numbers, basically… and ask, “Tell me the three most important points”. i.e. ‘interpret’ this info, and identify what (if anything) is important to take away from it. ‘What does it *mean*’? What is odd/unusual? What implications are there?

          in general, the sci/engineering/math people would often simply ‘restate information’, organize the data, read off the ‘facts’ etc…. not actually do any logical extension from the #s to any insight. If they did, it was often only after being given a specific “question” to solve. We found that hiring people who could write well/think on their feet, and them training them up in all the quantitative elements, was far better than hiring quants, then trying to get them to be “creative” or “insightful”. You can’t really train that shit.

        3. Aren’t you a lawyer though? Doesn’t the fact that you went to law to law school kind of make your choice of undergrad irrevelant? Comparing you lawyer salary to the salary of someone with only an undergrad in engineering is kind of an apples to oranges comparison, don’t you think?

          Seems more than slightly disenginuous to bloviate about much money you make now as a “humanities major” compared to “engineering majors” when you’re not really a “humanities major”, but are in fact a J.D.

        4. Where did I say that engineering majors are guarenteed to be productive?

          My point is that there is a measurable statistical difference in the likelihood of an engineeer repaying his or her loan versus a humanities major.

          And arguing that government lenders shouldn’t be allowed to take this into account because – boo hoo – taking a humanities degree is a valuable and enriching life experience – is fucking retarded. And not libertarian.

  11. I am upset that the unemployment graphic lumped Computer and Math degrees together.

    1. They’re both equally unemployable?

    2. Looks like the categories are broken down more or less by 2-digit CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) code. Some of the codes appear to be combined (like mathematics and computer science).

      1. Ah. Using the experts in academia to guide us to the right thinking about which fields actually go together – or not at all… – outside of academia.

        Seems somewhat oxymoronic.

  12. My god that graph is fucking depressing to me. Apparently I should have gone into Health or Education rather than Architecture.

    1. Are you currently unemployed?

      1. No, thank god. A lot of the people I graduated with are though. I’ve been working for an engineering firm for years though, so I’m sure that’s helped.

  13. Humanities majors get jobs, even in the tech field. The friend I have that makes the most money works for a software company. She is a humanities major. She does product development. They make financial software for banks. She goes out and talk to the customers and figures out what they need and then translates that to the code writers who then make the software. She makes more than the code writers do.

    You don’t want your entire workforce to look like the cast of the Big Bang Theory. That may come as a shock to you little Aspies, but there actually is a place in the economy for humanities majors.

    1. She goes out and talk to the customers and figures out what they need and then translates that to the code writers who then make the software.

      Does she work for Initech?

    2. She makes more than the code writers do.

      But less than the Software Architects.

      1. She makes more money than I do, and I am not poor.

        1. Sounds like she is in sales and people in sales probably make more money than coders or engineers. Perhaps they should, they are the ones who secure the incoming revenue.

      2. Golly. I sure hope that Hazel doesn’t find out about this. After all those comments, this would completely fry her logic circuits.

        That. Does. Not. Compute.

    3. John, I think you’re misrepresenting some people’s arguments here. Your friend could be successful doing what she does for any products company. Saying she works in the tech field is a bit of a misnomer. Certainly the world needs people who can talk with customers and develop relationships and service accounts. But that’s a broad skill that has nothing to do with developing the products they’re selling. I work closely with some of our sales staff and some of them are pretty smart and most are very good with people. They jnderstand our products well enough to sell them but when there’s a technical problem its the applications engineers and process engineers who take over the conversation.

      1. Exactly. She doesnt work in the tech field…she works in the customer relations field, it just happens to be for a Tech company.

        1. Same way a private who is a truck driver isn’t really in the military, he just happens to work for the army.


          1. That private can go drive truck for anyone. The fact that the military requires special non-truck-driving skills of its truck drivers does not mean that a salesperson at a software company is necessarily able to write softtware.

            1. But that is not the point. the person who sells the software and ensures that it meets the customer’s needs is just as valuable and perhaps even more so, than the person who writes it. Geeks who can write code are easy to find. But someone who can talk to the dorks in the back and translate customer’s needs into dork speak are actually pretty hard to find.

              The point is, to make a company or an Army, you need all kinds. And the arrogance of the people on this board who assume that STEM majors are the only productive members of society is just bullshit.

              1. STEM majors are the only productive members of society…

                They’re all still pissed off about the C in English they got for some shitty essay on Jane Austen… or failing to finish Moby Dick. They mope, “but its not important!”*… I’ve been hearing this shit since high school. I suspect its largely a matter of ego-compensation, where they need to convince themselves *they’re the smart ones* because they’re *smart at the right stuff*.

                Never mind their ‘core skills’ can often be replaced by a software program.

                *myself = I sucked at statistics, econ, etc. when they were actual *courses*…. while kicking ass @ english, philosophy stuff, etc…

                but when I started doing economic-research/statistical analysis as a career? Pwned it. Being paid money to do something is a key motivator.

                1. I’ve been hearing this shit since high school

                  So have I. And it was always in math or science class.

                  1. As I pointed out above, STEM majors get a much more balanced undergrad education than Humanities majors do.

                    1. STEM majors get a much more balanced undergrad education…

                      Oh, no doubt. I think the confusion here is whether *any* of it adds up to anything more than a certification of, “Not Entirely Retarded”

                    2. Iron Law #4. Ignore it at your peril.

              2. Geeks who can write code are easy to find

                Duh. Hence, India.

                Geeks who can DESIGN code, on the other hand, are few and far between.

                1. Geeks that can design safety critical systems that people safe (and geeks that avoiding killing people when they make mistakes) are even rarer that geeks that can design quality code 😉

                  I’ve been an engineer for 27 years now. And I still get people that ask me to help with their home PC. I tell them I don’t know that much about PCs, and they should call the Geek-Squad or some other tech support organization.

                  IT is not Computer Science which is not Software Engineering which is not Systems Engineering, although they share many skills.

                2. BIIIIIIIG ^THIS^

                  As long as we can still count to 10 on our fingers, we’ll still always be superior to computers.

    4. Sure there is a need, but industries have a glut of talent to pick and choose from. It is the more blue collar areas of the economy, machinist, mechanics, welders, steam fitters and the like that employers are having a hard time finding people to fill in those spots. A big reason being many of those graduates in the humanities had subsidized opportunities available to them that allowed them to be more picky about where they were willing to work.

      1. Or maybe they did what they were good at. The arrogance of you people is appalling. You all sound like Judge Smalls. Well if you are not some strange little geek who was writing code at nine, you need to be out digging ditches. And if you aren’t, it is clearly because you are a welfare queen who got the government to give you an education.

        STEM majors go to state schools and get federal loans too.

        1. Way to pile on the stupid, John.

          In case you haven’t noticed, and you haven’t, machinist, mechanics, welders, steam fitters make a shit ton more money than your typical humanities barista. The ones I know live like kings. One machinist is retiring at 55, selling his house for .8 million, likely worth twice that in your town. Speed boat, toys out the ying yang, and not any debt to his name. Those are not bad jobs, John, but our educational establishment teaches kids to look down on those jobs like you have been conned into doing.

          1. Sure they are great jobs. But they are also physically demanding jobs that not everyone is cut out to do. And they are really great when you are 20. But not so much when you are 50. I spent my summers in college working as a fairly high skilled metal fabricator. The guys who were over 45 in that shop were physical wrecks a lot of them. The noise ruins your hearing. Your back goes. If you are unlucky, you eventually cut the hell out of your self or worse get a finger or a limb in a machine. Those are not what they are cracked up to be. And I don’t blame people for avoiding them. They pay well for a reason, they are really hard.

            And for the record, having spent some time actually trying to fabricate and build shit that college educated engineers designed, has given me a special insight into the complete lack of special intelligence of most engineers. They are often just as stupid as anyone else.

            1. I assume you agree that they are necessary jobs as well. Why would you back government programs that create artificial scarcities in those fields?

        2. Okay John, you win. Everybody’s degree is equal. None is better than the other. None are more demanding than the others. We wouldn’t want anyone to feel othered if they happened to get a degree that was less well thought of. Everybody gets to play and everybody gets a trophy…

          …feel better?

          1. No. People are not equal. I know plenty of STEM types who are hardly getting rich. It depends on who you are and what you do, not what you did in college.

            1. AND, by and large, those who graduate with STEM degrees had to work harder for it than those who didn’t. How often did you hear someone say, “Yeah, I’m dropping out of my liberal arts degree and taking up engineering?”


              How many times do you hear the opposite? Half my engineering class dropped it for something easier. Are there the one off exceptions? You bet. DO some LA majors make more than engineers…sure do. Most? No. Why?

              Supply and demand. Getting a STEM degree is harder, so you have fewer of them.

              So, am I proud of my AE degree. You bet your ass I am. I worked hard for it (as I’m not the smartest man in the world). If you don’t like it, fuck off and die in a fire.

              1. No one is running you down. Good for you. But other people have different degrees. And are also productive and pay there bills. And are tired of listening to people like you talk about worthless everyone else is.

                I have a degree too. And I worked hard for it. Just as hard as a lot of STEM majors. And paid back my loans and make a good living. If you don’t like that, go die in a fire yourself.

                1. Are you having a bad day John?

                  You’re being just a bit too sly there John, the JD you got after the humanities undergraduate degree is what brings in the big bucks.

                  1. Yeah, and that degree is a club membership that’s even more exclusive than engineering.

                2. By the way, I imagine that humanities degree you earned actually fulfilled the original intent of a humanities degree — providing a well-rounded education that enabled you to think clearly and communicate well (necessary skills for a legal advocate).

                  You’re a rare bird compared the dumbshits I went to school with that someone how manage to squeek out a non-specific degree which falls under the general heading of humanities.

                  1. But other people have different degrees. And are also productive and pay there bills.

                    Yes John, and getting a humanities degree and a valuable enriching life experience that makes you a well-rounded person.

                    Therefore the rest of society should be forced to lend you money so you can have that valuable enriching life experience, and should be forbidden from considering the statistical likelihood of your repaying the money. We wouldn’t want to deprive children of the right to have those valuable and enriching life experiences. That would be so unfair.

  14. Lost in all the humanities v. STEM is the important point in this post: colleges need to suffer some of the risk of loan defaults. Student loans are the only serious loan category where the risk is entirely assumed by the borrower and where the borrower has no means of escaping onerous repayments without losing limbs.

    1. I don’t understand this point of view, actually; it’s not the colleges that are assuming the risk. Isn’t this like saying that the previous owner of a home should bear some of the cost of a mortgage default by the current owner? The borrower and his lender are the ones assuming the risk, not whoever got paid with the borrowed money.

      1. But it seems there are plenty of schools out there which are hiking tuition to get more federal grant/loan money, but not actually giving a better education to the students. Perhaps if the schools had a risk of paying back the loans of students who were not taught anything, then the schools would try harder to actually educate, rather than just sucking at the federal teet.

  15. Some of the differences between folks here on the utility of education might be resolved by discussing the ideal of what education is supposed to be. In the world-as-it-should-be, you don’t buy a degree. You buy someone else’s time to spend with you teaching you things that are useful to a particular field of study. Whether that field is “practical” or otherwise doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do with it. In the real world, degrees signal expertise in particular fields. Of course at higher levels of employment, the resume or C.V. matters more than the degree.

    1. …discussing the ideal of what education is supposed to be…

      I think the beginning of the movie 300 sums it up nicely. I’d totally hire anyone who graduated from “I staked and killed a giant wolf”-university.

      1. I’d be too afraid not to hire them. Imagine if you got a resume and the only thing on it was “STALKED AND KILLED GIANT WOLF. References available upon request.”

        But I would still have to wait a while before I got a competent heat exhanger specifiaction out pf them while they taught themselves how.

  16. I’ve seen classicist talk about getting rid of the hate studies concentration, and the hate studiers talk about getting rid of Dead White Men liturgies. You both make excellent arguments! Now, we know the education bubble will collapse, and Humanities is where the eyes are cast and the knives are being prepped and they are going to lose the fight before it has begun. Is this really a matter of which side in the humanities doesn’t get trimmed, and which gets cut more than STEM versus Humanities? I got a good feeling where the victor in the internecine battle will be as well. In the near future, there will be one class offered at Brigham Young if you want to get your Greek on.

  17. The cost of attending college has increased 439 percent since 1982, which is faster than the rate of health care increases (

    And while the Dems may now be screwing up loans, they have been messing with the cost of college for years with federal subsidies that incentivize colleges to raise tuition. Because students can afford these higher rates, it then leads students to demand more student loans to pay for the now even higher rates.

  18. Given that an engineering degree is likely to be worth more in terms of starting salary, from a pure market perspective, wouldn’t it make sense to charge prospective engineers more to borrow, since they would likely be willing to spend more for college, knowing they can make more down the road?

    Economic logic FAIL. Nick, time for you to give your jacket back to shrike.

    You don’t even say WHO’S charges you’re talking about. The college sure the fuck does indeed charge engineers more – lab fees, for one. Some engineering programs are longer than 4 years, too. Plus the fact that engineers often have licensing requirements and continuing education costs.

    As far as the LENDER is concerned, their charges should be totally based on RISK. An engineering grad’s risk of paying off the loan is a lot lower than an English grad’s. Dropout rate is part of the risk, but subsequent education is also part of the risk. For example perhaps few English grads making peanuts eventually go into health care, but many engineering dropouts do go into that field.

    The fact that you apparently didn’t know or consider all this might be due to your poor choice of college major 🙂

  19. I will make one point: It’s called “Humanities” for a reason. The human race is more than numbers, facts, statistics, commerce, or the bridges we build. It is also the rich tapestry of art and music and literature we have created through the years.

    Sure, you may not get a career in “English”. But you will have spent four years reading the words of the best communicators of all time, and you should leave with the skills and ability communicate ideas in writing well.

    “History” teaches you what has come before us, and ends up being super useful in understanding current world conflicts.

    Now, most of Gender Studies is pretty fucking useless bullshit, but there is probably a class or two that they teach that does help you understand the relationship between the sexes.

    I think when we throw the “Humanities” under the bus because they give you skills that are harder to quantify, we are also in some ways throwing our own humanity under the bus. And it does kind of suck that when cuts come, “Humanties” will be the first to go because they are seen as useless.

  20. Nick,

    Thanks for your comment about Humanities majors. My son is also entering college in September, and I’m giving him the same advice. Outside of specialized fields, such as Engineering, prospective employers do not care what courses you take because — drum roll — they’re not hiring you for your knowledge but your skill at self-organizing and learning. Science and technology majors tend to get a bump because these courses are known to be more rigorous, but an English major from a selective college is worth far more than a business major from East Jesus State.

    1. The sone of one of my co-workers just graduated with an English degree (with good grades from the local college). He’s currently selling Nooks at the B&N just down the road from here.

      He’s actually biding his time to get a teaching position locally (doesn’t want to move away). But it was nice to have a few technical skills picked up from the old man.

  21. Nick,
    Neither of you is getting it.
    The problem is that when the government is running the student loan program there is no actuarial connection between the loan terms and amounts and the likelihood of loan repayment based on future earnings.

    Whether STEM or humanities majors earn more or or more likely to repay their loans is a measurable thing, which should be a matter of factual analysis. It’s NOT a debate over the intellectual merits of the humanities or STEM. It’s a debate over the factual, staistical, risk of those loans not getting repaid, of which the choice of major is a significant factor.

    And Nick, your article suggests that somehow the government has no right to discriminate against humanities majors in handing out loans. So, why don’t we pass a law forbidding private banks from “disciminating” against people based on choice of major too?

  22. I paid cash for my humanities degree instead of taking out loans. I was tempted to just drop out and blow it all on Apple stock and the Google IPO, but fortunately I was convinced to see reason.

    So, uh, any of you people hiring?

  23. There’s no issue with people getting Humanities degrees. There’s an issue with people borrowing $100K to earn one. The former is great. The latter is stupid.

    If engineering students are better able to pay off their loans then competition among banks for more desirable customers should drive their interest loan rates down, not up.

    Comparing private companies to the NFL or NBA is ridiculous. For one thing, the world benefits much more from trained engineers than from basketball players. For another, an engineering degree is an actual education, which is the point of a college – as opposed to gaining skills in basketball or football. Finally, the NFL and NBA are pretty much monopolies, as opposed to the numerous companies that compete to hire engineers. In school a kid has a chance to see what he’s good at and switch majors if his first choice is bad. But if private companies did the training then the kid would be beholden to the company and if he’d made a bad choice he’d be stuck. That’s not good for anyone.

  24. Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t finish college because he didn’t have to (architects just had to apprentice and even that wasn’t set in stone). Architecture is usually taught as the love child of art and engineering, so it is neither humanities or stem, but the humanities side can totally be learned on the job.

  25. I love that John and Gilmore spent the entire thread doing exactly what they’re accusing STEM majors of.

    People shit on humanities degrees for two reasons: 1. Because they include things like sociology and women’s studies. And 2. Because a lot of the things you can pick up studying that stuff can be learned in the real world on the job.

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