Hyping Higher Ed, continued

My post on this topic a little over a week ago garnered a fair number of comments. Here are some related items which have surfaced in the last few days and may be of interest…

1)A Washington Post item about college graduates who have chosen to make a switch to the skilled trades

2)Glenn Reynolds posts some interesting emails he has received from recent college graduates. Excerpts:

For the vast majority of people who are now in their 20’s, adolescence wasn’t about anything at all but getting in to college. Our teachers talked about College the way that Churchill talked about Victory. I’ve long argued that the reason why popular culture among young adults today is so obnoxiously, insufferably adolescent is at least partly due to the fact that we were never /allowed/ to be adolescents. You didn’t play sports or write for the school newspaper or volunteer at the soup kitchen because you wanted to, you did it to pad that college application. I can’t tell you how many times I was told, point blank, that the way to success was to get into the best college you could, and borrow as much money as you could to pay for it. Of /course/ college was worth six figures in debt.

And from another reader..

If you have an entire country in which nobody learns how to create value, you should not be surprised if nobody has a job…a sizable portion of the academy has been diverted into useless endeavors. How many religion and gender studies majors does this nation need to keep America strong and prosperous? How many fill-in-the-blank studies departments exist to provide sinecures to politically connected fellows whose core competency is railing at cops and drinking beer with the President? If your college major teaches you how to create trouble for others, I’m happy when you can’t find work. Conversely, if you can make something besides trouble, then I hope you’ll create value for yourself and for society.

3)Law school doesn’t turn out to be the guaranteed ticket to automatic high-income employment that many people seemed to think…and were encouraged to think…that it was. See also this heartfelt post: Wake Up, Fellow Law Professors, to the Casualties of Our Enterprise.

12 thoughts on “Hyping Higher Ed, continued”

  1. Tertiary education is clearly important for certain types of people (those for whom its learning style works) and for certain career choices. Doctors and lawyers don’t have much choice but to go through a certain amount of formal tertiary education and probably other careers require it too.

    That I have made a successful career without having any tertiary education comes down to my learning style (independent) and my career (computer/electrical engineering and writing). Many others will have similar stories. I think education needs to be a reasonably personalised experience. College can not be a “one size fits all” education and nor can anything else be.

    Some people are better off with apprenticeships, some with a technical college type environment, some will learn by doing, some will learn by being mentored, some will just go into an unskilled job, etc. What to do after high school should depend heavily on the talents of the individual, their best learning environment and their desired career(s).

    So I think viewing college as the sole path to success for all or even most people is silly.

  2. Two small comments on the college application thing.

    My son was applying to college in 1983. One of the requirements was to write an essay on his most significant life experience, or some such matter. He asked me what he should write about. I asked him what was his most significant experience. He decided that it was sailing to Hawaii with me in 1981, when he was 16. We were racing in the Transpac and came within 9 minutes of winning. He stood his watch, steered and helped with sail changes. The crew had only two members over 25. Three were teenagers. He showed his essay to his high school counselor who berated him, asking him if he really wanted to go to college. An essay on serving in homeless shelters would have been closer to the counselor’s ideal.

    I used to interview medical school applicants for UC, Irvine. The Dean’s secretary told me I was the only one to turn in my interview reports in a timely manner. One thing I emphasized was any experience in business. One applicant had dropped out of school when her father had a heat attack and she ran her parents ice cream store for a year until he could take it over again. They were Iranian immigrants. That to me was a big plus. To others, not so.

    Another applicant was a Vietnamese young woman who was a lab assistant. She told me that she could remember her father lifting her from her bed at the age of 9 and carrying her to a canoe which they paddled miles out to sea before they met the fishing boat that took them to the Philippines. She had a master’s degree in molecular biology at the age of 24.

    Another was a young man who had decided to go into medicine from his work in an aid station in the Iran-Iraq War. He made his way to the US and lived with his brother. He went to junior college by day and worked a night shift at Sun Microsystems while he worked on his English. Now he had his BS and was worried that his Iranian background would harm his prospects.

    The most interesting people apply to medical school. I hoped that I was able to help their prospects but I fear my colleagues had very different criteria.

  3. My son is now starting the college application process. Every jack and jill has a raft of “volunteer” activities, extra-curriculars, and all round good works. It’s pretty clear that these kids have been told in no uncertain terms that they have to do x, y, z to get into a good college. To be blunt, if you’re not a favored minority, you need outstanding scores, grades, and extra-curriculars to even get in the door.

  4. MK…I suspect that the average college administrator, and even more the average college admissions officer, is an individual who places a very high premium on conformity and on following a conventional life path. These jobs would seem to select for such traits.

    Slightly related: A piece on the way K-12 “gifted” programs are systematically discriminating against kids who are bright but quirky. Note this:

    “It takes highly quirky, intelligent teachers to work with highly quirky, intelligent students…They may not be the sorts to make it through “dissent-crushing education schools, much less avoid getting fired for insubordination by today’s line-toeing principals.””

  5. Walter Williams has written columns about this off and on over the years. The most recent a quick search reveals is this one:


    He has made several telling points that have stuck with me over the years. First, that almost every major that includes ‘studies’ in its title is likely a huge waste of time and money. In many instances, the course work involved amounts to nothing less than a 4 year indoctrination into a particular liberal world view. Academically, these majors are attractive at many levels. First, your classwork appears relevant to life, and what you learn is interesting to everyone you know. Not so for mathematics, chemistry, physics, classics, history, or english. Second, once you accept the suppositions, the answers are self-evident. In aggregate, these are not intellectually challenging courses of study. Finally, in a world that is increasingly focused on 360 degree evaluation, programs of study that reinforce self-esteem will always blow-away those that entail the humbling experience of attaining insight into your own ignorance, and require heavy toil to actually learn something. Proper student evaluation of individual courses and their overall college experience would be best accomplished 5 or 10 years after they graduate. Most colleges would never do this for fear of what the results would be.. In a word, pandering now shapes college evaluations and rankings. Outcomes based rankings would detect failures to educate, but cannot detect the profound and subtle improvement in the quality of life that arises from acquiring a college education – the kind of life of the mind that is evident on this blog.

    Some medical schools actually do value the kinds of real-life excellence and experience that Michael Kennedy mentions. Sadly, even the best value them less than they used to. Social engineering has displaced color and gender blind evaluation of merit almost everywhere.

    If you were to found a university today, how would you go about doing so? It’s a question worth asking, because the answer would shape a lot of the changes you would make in today’s universities. First, you might have to leave the US to escape its labyrinth of regulation, which dramatically increase and add little benefit. What else would you do?

  6. I was surprised at the degree to which my daughter’s college work required group work. It seems to me that the one business lesson that colleges have adopted is the concept of group work and then communitarianism from the lefties. There is even some aspect of it in medical school. To the degree that it encourages collegiality it may be a good thing. There is also the reality that solo practice is going away. Even solo practice with a partner who shares night and weekend call is getting less common. Young physicians are seeking shift work and reducing their own availability to “have a life.”

    I call doctor’s offices in my part time role of reviewing workers comp claims. I am amazed at the number who do not have a message or after hours contact service. Some have a voicemail that informs the caller that they are closed. No message or answering service.

    Well, there’s always the ER.

  7. OT:

    I note that you have Classical Values on your sidebar. I write for CV and am a UChicago boy as is my #2 son who will be going to Russia soon on a Fulbright Grant. He has far outshone me. I dropped out after a year and he graduated with honors.

    I do have the honor of being a graduate of the Navy Nuclear Power school.

    I must say #2 son did it right. He went to UC on scholarship. His debts are manageable.

  8. This resonates with me, especially as I see firsthand how the conformity agenda David Foster mentions seems to be spreading to graduate school programs as well. As I began to seek out faculty whose research is close to what I would like to study at the grad level, I have been upbraided several times for not following “The path”. This is apparently some expectation of extra activities, “campus leadership”, charitable work, and fill in the box activities that a married veteran and triple major like myself didn’t have time for. Apparently this makes me a defective candidate in some eyes, as if boasting a very high GPA in a courseload that has leaned heavily towards senior-level and grad-level classes and having above average GRE scores doesn’t matter. I’m not angry so much as shocked as how pervasive this attitude has become. I hate to report that this same “fill in the box” mentality people claim is ruining kids’ adolescence has been for years spreading in the Navy as promotion and awards increasingly hinge less on actual performance and achievement than all the “extra’ stuff demanded from sailors that gives them the edge for once meritocratic promotion programs.

    In my Geography program, an older professor irks his colleagues often by emphasizing “jobs, jobs, jobs” in his lectures about urban geography, tourism/airline geography and urban planning. He doesn’t mince words about what we are supposed to be doing in college… “getting a degree that will get you a job, getting a second degree or a minor that will help you get that job and do better at it than others, and taking as many statistics/calc classes as you can, since most of your peers will refuse to take them because they’re too hard.” He emphasizes keeping debt down to an absolute minimum, will launch into a tirade if he hears a student talking about applying to a fourth-tier public policy grad school or law program, and simply refuses to go along with the established narrative that public schools are meant to be a factory site, just pushing product with a few extra features after 3-4 years of school.

    The dogma will eventually fade as grim reality sets in for people. At least, I hope that happens.

  9. David Foster and others – I thought you might find the following abstract interesting:

    “In response to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education mandate that medical education must address both the needs of an increasingly diverse society and disparities in health care, medical schools have implemented a wide variety of programs in cultural competency. The authors critically analyze the concept of cultural competency and propose that multicultural education must go beyond the traditional notions of “competency” (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attitudes). It must involve the fostering of a critical awareness–a critical consciousness–of the self, others, and the world and a commitment to addressing issues of societal relevance in health care. They describe critical consciousness and posit that it is different from, albeit complementary to, critical thinking, and suggest that both are essential in the training of physicians. The authors also propose that the object of knowledge involved in critical consciousness and in learning about areas of medicine with social relevance–multicultural education, professionalism, medical ethics, etc.–is fundamentally different from that acquired in the biomedical sciences. They discuss how aspects of multicultural education are addressed at the University of Michigan Medical School. Central to the fostering of critical consciousness are engaging dialogue in a safe environment, a change in the traditional relationship between teachers and students, faculty development, and critical assessment of individual development and programmatic goals. Such an orientation will lead to the training of physicians equally skilled in the biomedical aspects of medicine and in the role medicine plays in ensuring social justice and meeting human needs.” Abstract

    (Acad Med. 2009 Jun;84(6):782-7.)


    – Madhu

  10. Actually, could some of you help me parse the above abstract? What is the origin of the concept of “critical consciousness?” Is it the same philosophical origins as “social justice?”

    – Madhu

  11. Madhu…I have no idea, and I’m afraid my brain will blow a fuse (to match the one that just blew in my air conditioner) if I think about it too much. But I noticed this passage..

    “Central to the fostering of critical consciousness are engaging dialogue in a safe environment”

    …and once again was struck by the observation that the less risk/danger an individual is exposed to, the more that individual tends to use terms like “safe environment”

Comments are closed.