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Gingersnap
08-14-2008, 11:00 AM
For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time
By CHARLES MURRAY
August 13, 2008; Page A17

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

This guy has it nailed! Read the whole thing. The college experience is nothing more than an expensive extended daycare for adults who act like teenagers.

I used my CLEP scores and AP scores to avoid or evade a boatload of freshman-level classes. If I could have tested out of the rest of the course work, I'd have done it in a heart beat. It would be cheaper, faster, less biased, and infinitely more entertaining than slogging though some TA's insipid sketch of the material.

WSJ (http://wsj.com/article/SB121858688764535107.html?mod=opinion_main_comment aries)

LogansPapa
08-14-2008, 11:04 AM
South Park. Chef: "Don't do drugs kids. There is a time and place for everything. It's called college."

biccat
08-14-2008, 11:16 AM
The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews.
If our high schools properly prepared kids with basic literacy and competency in math and science, the Bachelors of Arts degree wouldn't be as popular.

Graduate from high school, employers assume you have no real value.
Graduate from college with a BA, employers know you can follow directions and show up on time.

I hate it when people use the lump term "college education" to disparage what they are really criticizing, liberal arts degrees.

linda22003
08-14-2008, 11:25 AM
So a guy with a BA from Harvard and a PhD from MIT doesn't think college is a good thing.... for people who aren't at his elite level. :p

M21
08-14-2008, 11:43 AM
Whats' wrong with a system that requires that I take geology to earn a BS in Accounting.


The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

One of the reasons we hire many combat veterans with hard and soft skills.

wilbur
08-14-2008, 11:47 AM
Whats' wrong with a system that requires that I take geology to earn a BS in Accounting.


Why do you have to take algebra to major in theater, or art?

To expose you to different topics, many of which require some unique thinking skills that will aid you in other areas. We all have to know a little bit about science to be a responsible citizen these days that can actually make somewhat informed and intelligent political decisions (especially in the earth sciences, biology). Not saying the introductory science courses always serve that purpose, but thats the theory anyways, and it makes sense.

I do think more courses need to be taught on basic logic skills, reasoning and philosophy instead of teaching a scientific subject and hoping the student just picks up those skills. This place (the US, and even the world) is experiencing a critical thought famine (/waves at the creationists)

M21
08-14-2008, 12:08 PM
Why do you have to take algebra to major in theater, or art?

To expose you to different topics, many of which require some unique thinking skills that will aid you in other areas. We all have to know a little bit about science to be a responsible citizen these days that can actually make somewhat informed and intelligent political decisions (especially in the earth sciences, biology). I expected this response from somebody, just not so quickly. :) It's the standard answer of academia. You see I don't need "responsible citizens" making "informed political decisions". I need technical experts. They can get well rounded on their own time. ;)



Not saying the introductory science courses always serve that purpose, but thats the theory anyways, and it makes sense. I don't think it makes sense.



I do think more courses need to be taught on basic logic skills, reasoning and philosophy instead of teaching a scientific subject and hoping the student just picks up those skills. This place (the US, and even the world) is experiencing a critical thought famine (/waves at the creationists)I agree with you on this point.

cowbell
08-14-2008, 12:20 PM
how can it offend you that there are some people who want to attend college? people who agree and say its a waste of time drop out and find something else to do. and not all people who go to college are doing it just because they think it will get them a "better" job. there actually are people out there who are truly enthusiastic about learning new things. i think for some college can be a real positive experience, it doesnt have to take on the role of an adult daycare. just like anything in life, the college experience is exactly what you make of it. if you go to school and spend the entire time drunk, that is your waste of tuition and time. but if you actually go to school, study, go to your classes and engage in dialogue with others, you can really learn.

Elspeth
08-14-2008, 12:26 PM
So a guy with a BA from Harvard and a PhD from MIT doesn't think college is a good thing.... for people who aren't at his elite level. :p

Good point. Only 25% of all Americans have a college degree, and a tiny fraction of those have PhDs.

M21
08-14-2008, 12:30 PM
how can it offend you that there are some people who want to attend college? people who agree and say its a waste of time drop out and find something else to do. and not all people who go to college are doing it just because they think it will get them a "better" job. there actually are people out there who are truly enthusiastic about learning new things. i think for some college can be a real positive experience, it doesnt have to take on the role of an adult daycare. just like anything in life, the college experience is exactly what you make of it. if you go to school and spend the entire time drunk, that is your waste of tuition and time. but if you actually go to school, study, go to your classes and engage in dialogue with others, you can really learn.

I believe there is greater value in "learning by doing" using the crawl, walk, run methodology than in classroom instruction on theory. I can teach a man FAR more in a day on the job than he'll learn in the classroom in a week.

For me it's about getting the most bang for the buck.

wilbur
08-14-2008, 12:39 PM
I expected this response from somebody, just not so quickly. :) It's the standard answer of academia. You see I don't need "responsible citizens" making "informed political decisions". I need technical experts. They can get well rounded on their own time. ;)


I can see that from an employers perspective sure... But in a country whos course of action can be largely determined by the decisions of the populace, the importance of well rounded education trumps any employers short term benefit, IMHO.

cowbell
08-14-2008, 12:40 PM
while i agree that you learn more by doing ( i am a huge proponent of experiential education), i think limited skill sets are only useful for some. if youre teaching someone on the job, that is just one skillset. it does give you the chance to be really really good at those skills... bit i think that for some people, at least having the opportunity to learn about a wide range of things is more useful as it allows for discovery of new interests. i think education (all eduction) is one of the most important things in life. to say that its a waste of time has just never made any sense to me.

linda22003
08-14-2008, 12:44 PM
Good point. Only 25% of all Americans have a college degree, and a tiny fraction of those have PhDs.

It's easy to lose sight of that; eveyone I know has at least a BA, and at least half have advanced degrees. That's just normal in my area and among my acquaintance, so you tend to think that what's normal around you is normal everywhere else.

biccat
08-14-2008, 12:45 PM
while i agree that you learn more by doing ( i am a huge proponent of experiential education), i think limited skill sets are only useful for some. if youre teaching someone on the job, that is just one skillset. it does give you the chance to be really really good at those skills... bit i think that for some people, at least having the opportunity to learn about a wide range of things is more useful as it allows for discovery of new interests. i think education (all eduction) is one of the most important things in life. to say that its a waste of time has just never made any sense to me.
It is the job of our public education system to ensure that our citizens can think for themselves and understand basic concepts such as reading, writing, mathematics, the scientific process, and history.

College should be about refining and improving these skills with a concentrated focus on a particular field of study. Whether that includes geology for accountants is a question I leave as an aside. But students should already know the basics of scientific thinking before they get to college, they shouldn't need remedial "this is a rock" classes.

ralph wiggum
08-14-2008, 12:46 PM
The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

I call B.S. A lot of what you learn to study for the CPA exam is never used in real-life accounting & finance.

Cold Warrior
08-14-2008, 12:55 PM
Why do you have to take algebra to major in theater, or art?

To expose you to different topics, many of which require some unique thinking skills that will aid you in other areas. We all have to know a little bit about science to be a responsible citizen these days that can actually make somewhat informed and intelligent political decisions (especially in the earth sciences, biology). Not saying the introductory science courses always serve that purpose, but thats the theory anyways, and it makes sense.

I do think more courses need to be taught on basic logic skills, reasoning and philosophy instead of teaching a scientific subject and hoping the student just picks up those skills. This place (the US, and even the world) is experiencing a critical thought famine (/waves at the creationists)

What the author presents is not new; it's an argument that recycles periodically, i.e., that of effectively replacing education with trade schools (however they're implemented). Education, however, is not simply learning a trade, e.g., mechanical engineering or computer science. Rather, education is the process of teaching people how to think, how to analyze, and to assimilate.

This is accomplished, as wilbur notes, through exposure to different topics and varying forms of analysis. Deconstructing The Wasteland, for example, teaches an analytic process that is substantially different than that provided through analysis of a chemical compound. Similarly, mapping the syntax of a sentence in Old Norse is different, at the thought process level, than refining an algorithm for a data mining program. While all are different, all are necessary (or their equivalents) to really succeed in most professions.

Go ahead and give people, for example, programming jobs on the basis of certification rather than an education. Make sure they've got that focused, in-depth knowledge and skill to address the exact task that you need them for. And I'll be there right behind you to replace that person with a $25/hour Indian. :D

Elspeth
08-14-2008, 01:01 PM
It's easy to lose sight of that; eveyone I know has at least a BA, and at least half have advanced degrees. That's just normal in my area and among my acquaintance, so you tend to think that what's normal around you is normal everywhere else.

That's true. I work in an environment where many many people have PhDs, and you forget how abnormal it is. If I'm not careful, I can start to believe that the whole world is wacky professors who couldn't find their ass with both hands.

But seriously, it means that 75% of the country does not have a bachelor's.

linda22003
08-14-2008, 01:06 PM
But seriously, it means that 75% of the country does not have a bachelor's.

Well, to get to Charles Murray's real point, someone has to clean my house. Someone has to repair my car. ;)

ralph wiggum
08-14-2008, 01:16 PM
Well, to get to Charles Murray's real point, someone has to clean my house. Someone has to repair my car. ;)

As Judge Smails would say, the world needs ditch-diggers too.

Cold Warrior
08-14-2008, 01:19 PM
Well, to get to Charles Murray's real point, someone has to clean my house. Someone has to repair my car. ;)

I thought that's why God created illegal immigrants.

Gingersnap
08-14-2008, 01:22 PM
I think the certification model is worth exploring. Mastering basic subject areas using a more self-paced learning style has a lot of attractive features. It would drastically cut the costs of higher education for many millions of people, it would break up the monopoly on education that is held by education industry, and it would force competitive instructors offer a better level of instruction.

I'm not particularly sure that mere exposure to various fields in college results in a well rounded education. I have always been an avid student and that served me well in college and the university but I would have been a curious and analytical student anyway. I knew a number of people who never cracked a book open after getting their degrees and they no more retained any information about The Wasteland than they did about college algebra.

As an employer, it would be refreshing to know that a prospective employee can write a concise progress report in standard English or calculate simple regressions. These aren't skills I can take for granted based on college graduation or degree area anymore.

The current system is basically an 19th century concept designed to meet the needs of the then new professional classes. I admire Florence Nightingale but I wouldn't want to be treated in one of her hospitals today.

Cold Warrior
08-14-2008, 02:33 PM
I think the certification model is worth exploring. Mastering basic subject areas using a more self-paced learning style has a lot of attractive features. It would drastically cut the costs of higher education for many millions of people, it would break up the monopoly on education that is held by education industry, and it would force competitive instructors offer a better level of instruction.

I'm not particularly sure that mere exposure to various fields in college results in a well rounded education. I have always been an avid student and that served me well in college and the university but I would have been a curious and analytical student anyway. I knew a number of people who never cracked a book open after getting their degrees and they no more retained any information about The Wasteland than they did about college algebra.

As an employer, it would be refreshing to know that a prospective employee can write a concise progress report in standard English or calculate simple regressions. These aren't skills I can take for granted based on college graduation or degree area anymore.

The current system is basically an 19th century concept designed to meet the needs of the then new professional classes. I admire Florence Nightingale but I wouldn't want to be treated in one of her hospitals today.

I think there's a lot frustration with the implementation, not the concept, of the current educational system. I agree there should be more flexibility in terms of how long it takes and where it can be done. And there now is with online and distance learning, for example (the University of Phoenix is right down the street from me here in the Boston 'burbs). I also agree that there are plenty of crappy educators. And that all individuals are not suited for a college education. However, that is not to say that elimination of all learning except that directly tied to a professional skill is the solution.

In IT there are numerous certification programs; one can be a certified Microsoft Engineer or Cicso Network Engineer, for example, and get a job pulling cable or repairng PCs. However, that's what those people will be doing for the rest of their lives as they haven't acquired the broader range of skills that you reference and that is provided by a college education. Not that there's anything wrong with that. We need people to pull cable and repair PCs. However, that's not what IT is all about any more than it's all about programming.

LogansPapa
08-14-2008, 03:00 PM
Messing with a college/university system thatís taken 200 years to cultivate will upset a shitload of rice bowls. People that havenít worked for a living - for decades - get really pissed off when you make them exert themselves.

Gingersnap
08-14-2008, 03:06 PM
I think there's a lot frustration with the implementation, not the concept, of the current educational system. I agree there should be more flexibility in terms of how long it takes and where it can be done. And there now is with online and distance learning, for example (the University of Phoenix is right down the street from me here in the Boston 'burbs). I also agree that there are plenty of crappy educators. And that all individuals are not suited for a college education. However, that is not to say that elimination of all learning except that directly tied to a professional skill is the solution.

In IT there are numerous certification programs; one can be a certified Microsoft Engineer or Cicso Network Engineer, for example, and get a job pulling cable or repairng PCs. However, that's what those people will be doing for the rest of their lives as they haven't acquired the broader range of skills that you reference and that is provided by a college education. Not that there's anything wrong with that. We need people to pull cable and repair PCs. However, that's not what IT is all about any more than it's all about programming.

The author of the op ed wasn't suggesting that all colleges and universities be dismantled and replaced with certifications. He was proposing that those who wanted to go this way be given the option. In my own field it would make a lot of sense to have uniform certifications in the various chemistry and math areas. Nobody learns how to be a chemist in class; that's a skill set that you learn on the job.

Are people better chemists because they slept through Issues In Psychology or Gender In Shakespeare? Probably not. They probably haven't benefited from gut classes like those in any way. Do chemists benefit from taking symbolic logic courses and philosophy classes? You bet.

No really well educated person ever believes that they got their education in a college. Education is a lifelong pursuit for those who are interested in it and there are a thousand different ways to acquire it..