Monday, April 23, 2012

More on the Economic Return on College Degrees

1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed It isn't just the downturn, there are a lack of jobs for people with degrees in the humanities. But that isn't new.
While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder.
The thing that irritates me about this is the attitude expressed in the following passage.
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the numbers, said many people with a bachelor’s degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. “Simply put, we’re failing kids coming out of college,” he said, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference
We aren't failing "kids" coming out of college, we are failing them going in.

One of the poor, downtrodden, debt-ridden "kids" (he is 23 and has a degree in Creative Writing) they profile is discouraged at his job prospects. Didn't anyone ever explain the concept of "starving artist" to this kid?

And a "job in creative writing?" That would be called, "Being an author." Write. No one hired Stephen King. No one hired J. K. Rowling. They wrote. They hawked their wares. And because they were good, they made money. One of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher, couldn't get his first short story published. (He published it later when he had a following. I've read it; it should have remained unpublished.) Even his first novel, should have gone a few more times around the write, edit, rinse, repeat cycle. It's OK, but he does get better with practice.

So we are "failing kids" because they select majors they can't market. They take on debt they can't repay. But it is only after the colleges are finished with them that the failing starts. Somehow I think it is the colleges themselves, and maybe a raft of high-school guidance counselors, who are doing the failing. (And parents who are all invested that little Johnny is getting a degree - even if he will be saddled with untenable debt. Maybe they should be more happy if were becoming a plumber.)

Here is a taste of the statistics they throw around.
More [college grads] also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).
Not surprising since a very small percentage of college attendees would bother to study anything as difficult as engineering. That requires math. And studying. And learning something - not just cramming the night before the exam. (You know, learning something today, so you can use it next week or next year - can't do that with quick memorization.) And not just math, but calculus. And geometry. And maybe some other hard sciences. (Hard in more ways than one.)

Take a close look at that image - you can get a better view by clicking on it. It is pretty elementary as calculus goes. How many can follow it, let alone understand it? How many can't be bothered? (I have to play Angry Birds!)


Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Honestly, while all your points are valid, I think there is also failure throughout the system. High schools that don't prepare students for the reality of college, college environments that encourage professors to see teaching as an inconvenience and a barrier to their research, etc.

From a personal perspective, my high school pre-calculus class turned out to be totally inadequate - it didn't even prepare me for the pre-calc class I had to take in college, much less an actual calculus class. In several of my college courses I ran into the common practice of professors foisting off their teaching responsibilities onto grad students - many of whom barely spoke understandable English. I ran into a similar issue in my calculus class, where I had a "visiting professor" from India. It took several seconds to parse every sentence before I could figure out what she had said, by which point I was hopelessly behind.

I freely admit that I had my own issues at the time, and those are what ultimately caused me the most problems, but realistically our whole education system is failing, from top to bottom.

Zendo Deb said...

That was actually my point. The "failure" doesn't start when folks leave college. It starts way sooner than that. The tone of the article I linked to was all about how bad things were, after graduation. I guess speakers of English no longer know what wyrd means. Things are bad after graduation, because they were bad before graduation.

The state of education isn't surprising. People who can think for themselves don't make good drones.

The educational system in this country has been in the hands of the Left since at least the 1920s. Maybe longer than that. And in my lifetime it morphed from "you have a right to an education" - which meant you had the right to work your butt off- to "you have the right to a diploma" even if you never opened a book. Hell, there are people with high-school diplomas who can't read and write. And I know there are folks who graduate from college who can't write more than a paragraph. If that.

When I lived in Florida, I looked into getting a teaching certificate. They have a severe shortage of math and science teachers, and were offering temporary - 3 year? - certificates if you had the background, while you got the rest of your "credentials" in order.

But the district I would have taught in was interesting. The math department had 10 objectives. (You can't have 10 objectives - in case you were wondering.) Teaching math was only number 5 or number 6. Can't understand why the kids weren't learning math. The number 1 objective was something like providing a nurturing/politically correct environment. Sorry, but there is no way to be politically correct about trigonometry. The angles and relationships around the unit circle don't care about you, or your background, or whatever. They just are.