Wednesday, January 16, 2008

College No Longer A Ticket For Success

Phyllis Schlafly observes the reduced marginal benefit of a college degree after six decades of overproduction and a college-grad glut:

U.S. News' Best Careers guide concludes that "college grads might want to consider blue-collar careers" because bachelor's degree holders "are having trouble finding jobs that require college-graduate skills." Incredibly, U.S. News is telling college graduates to look for jobs that do not require a college diploma. Among the 31 best opportunities for 2008 are the careers of firefighter, hairstylist, cosmetologist, locksmith, and security system technician.

One of my profs as an undergrad lamented to me that colleges were turning into glorified vocational-technical academies. And he was right--college is no longer about learning the classics, about learning to think critically, about learning the liberal arts, humanities, philosophy, and historical heritage that made Western Civilization what it is today. I went to school for my undergrad and my one of my masters to learn how to be a technician--actually a manager of technicians--but it was still a technical degree, something that I could have obtained at a upscale version of WyoTech. This is not what a college is supposed to do. And like the persons referenced by the USNWR article, I don't even utilize my degrees in my daily job...I'm in the service industry, as an aircraft pilot. I'm a well-trained monkey with air sense; I don't create for a living and my numerous educational degrees not much more than a waste of resources.

And that's the rub. The US economy has largely become what Drucker predicted in Post-Capitalist Society...a "knowledge economy" supported by "services", with idiot-proof, low-skill manufactures outsourced overseas. The jobs referenced above for college grads are service- or government-sector jobs, not the high-paying, high-status knowledge jobs that Drucker extolled, and not ones that require the significant resource investment that is college.

So why does college persist despite the obvious economic wastefulness? I think part of it is the phenomenon that Gatto references in his book Underground History of American Education...schooling (note: not education, which is different) provides you the certification for entry into the professions. Without this certification, one won't get past the State-run licensing boards, themselves a gate-keeping organ of professional guilds. Without this certification, one will likely be consigned into a low-paying McJob. The result is a very expensive educational arms race of sorts with contenders loading themselves up with debt, the cost of competing made all the more acute by the legions of women who jack up the cost of college with their useless lib-arts degrees, only to drop out of the work force as soon as the first baby arrives. To labor in a mediocre job is one thing, to groan under the burden of one or two college degree's worth of debt is something else altogether.

One of Gatto's main theses is that our system of forced compulsory schooling is designed to turn out well-trained, compliant, low-wattage laborers for classical capitalistic industry. It just doesn't do to have too many big thinkers working the assembly line...just do your Taylorized job and leave the big thoughts to the managerial class. In this way, I'd say that the public school system worked beautifully; problem is that the technically oriented heavy manufacturing of the Taylor and Ford days are gone and we do not yet have an educational system that will create low-cost knowlege workers. We're still stuck producing hordes of debt-laden industrial, technical, and service workers for a knowledge and service economy.

Speaking of cost, one of the finicky things about knowledge jobs is that they are portable, they can be done everywhere and anywhere. Which is why they're all trucking offshore to well-schooled, mabye even -educated, foreign populations, such as those in New Delhi who work at 1/5 the labor cost of Americans, who don't have as big of educational bills to pay, as big of house payments to make, and who aren't being squeezed hard by their own government debasing the dollar to finance more deficit spending.

The lesson here appears to be that if you are going to invest the money to go to college, be prepared to move to Bangalore to find work; else save your money.


Erik said...

Better yet, move to Bangalore and get your education there and then start your career there.

But personally, I couldn't do Bangalore. I work with guys over there and they have shown me videos of the traffic there. It is the text book definition of chaos and congestion is so bad there that manual transmission vehicles aren't even sold. Other cities in India were better planned I am informed and may be a good way to go if one were inclined to do so.

Mrs. Pilgrim said...

Very true. Two comments:

1. Once upon a time, a lawyer could become so by doing an apprenticeship. Now, we ALL have to waste three years and tens of thousands of dollars in law schools.

2. The first two years of college are spent reteaching what you should have learned in high school. That's why so many students can skip the latter and go straight for the former.

Elusive Wapiti said...

"The first two years of college are spent reteaching what you should have learned in high school."

This drives to another one of Gatto's points, in that public schooling retards intellectual development for nearly half of those subjected to it.

Erik said...

Only half? I should think that number is higher.

As for public schools, some are starting to catch on and placing kids in a position to learn some usefule skills. Here in Colorado there is at least one school district that teaches kids construction skills. These kids go out as a class and build homes from the bottom up. They dont use the heavy equipment (backhoes/loaders/excavators) but they work directly with the concrete, frame the home, roof it, as well as all the finishing of the homes. They maybe teach other skills, but I have witnessed the construction first hand.

In Florida a school district is allowing the kids to choose a "major" which will allow them to learn skills such as repairing cars or prepping them for advanced schooling such as law or medicine.

I do not like public schools but this would be a huge step in the right direction.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Erik, nice catch with the "half". I need to clarify where I got that number.

Gatto thinks that PS dumbs down the vast majority of the students when compared to the years prior to the advent of cumpulsory schooling. So yes, the proportion of stupified kids is much higher when the data is compared from pre-public schooling days to now.

The "half" approximation came from me...I was thinking about the fact that school curriculi are designed for center of mass of modern students. Thus, the upper half would be bored to tears, the lower half would be scrambling to keep up.

It's interesting that you bring up practical skills being taught in a public school. Gatto actually has some not-so-nice-things to say about school-to-work type programs.

But I think I agree with you that a more active, practical schooling is better than what currently reigns right now. Moreover, I think it can only help boys who would otherwise be stuck in academic hell; gives them something active to do plus teaches them something practical and not stupid busy-work. Who knows, maybe they'll be able to use it later on in life when they discover that the college degree that they thought was going to be so valuable turns out to be not.

Whereabouts in Colorado are you? My family's from Casper, but I lived for a time outside of Bailey.

Erik said...

I read somewhere that boys should temporarily stop schooling somewhere are 14-15 and go back around 20 IIRC. The point of that was that boys of that age are not interested in schooling and would be better off doing other things, including work, to focus their lives. That way when they return they will be more focused as well as having learned some things about the world and what it is they want.

I don't entirely agree but some good points were made. So many kids get bundled off to college before they have any idea if they would actually like that field and so we end up with hundreds of thousands of degreed individuals who aren't using their education in the slightest.

Its a mess. Perhaps Gatto put forth some ideas on fixing the current mess but I dont have any ideas for overhaul. I have ideas that would make it better (or better, salt the earth) but not to make it work.

I live in Colorado Springs. Been here for too long, but it is nice to be so close to the mountains.

Elusive Wapiti said...

"I read somewhere that boys should temporarily stop schooling somewhere are 14-15 and go back around 20 IIRC. The point of that was that boys of that age are not interested in schooling and would be better off doing other things, including work, to focus their lives."

Hmmm. That's interesting. Given that test scores for American children peak at elementary school and decline for each subsequent year in school, there may be some merit to that.

It'd be a big paradigm shift for sure--letting boys (or girls, for that matter) out of school to go experience reality a little bit and find out what they want to do and what their talents are before committing the $$ to college. But I also think it'd only serve to reinforce the trend of women getting degreed where men are not, and that phenomenon has some very bad social implications for guys and for society as a whole.

Elusive Wapiti said...

PS I'm up Cheyenne way, but hope to move back to Casper soon. Colorado Springs is a nice town (at least the north end) but it sure has grown a lot. I'm kinda partial to Monument myself.

Padmanaban said...

There are lots of jobs for the knowledge people, so try to acquire more knowledge by learning new things.