Arnold Kling  

A Paragraph to Ponder

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From Mark C. Taylor, in an op-ed piece many New York Times readers found worth forwarding to one another.


Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Then consider the Internet. For an autodidact, this is a golden age. For going to graduate school, not so much.


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
JPIrving writes:

Oh no! I start a graduate school in economics this fall, am I doomed?

Les writes:

If Professor Taylor wanted anyone to take him seriously he should have backed up his claims with factual evidence. But he did not take the trouble to do so.

In that case, why should anyone take the trouble to give the time of day to his message?

The Sheep Nazi writes:

If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured.

Think I'll just go make some more popcorn.

John Booke writes:

Joseph Schumpeter warned on this very problem in his book "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy." There will be too much competition for white-collar jobs and wages will drop.

Dr. T writes:

Taylor must be looking at the wrong graduate programs. The ones in the hard sciences, engineering, computing, and health care produce graduates who go on to real jobs in fields with real demand. Unfortunately, law also has high demand.

I suspect that Taylor was looking at graduate programs in the humanities, behavioral sciences, art, etc. There probably also is an excess of MBA grads. These are the dime-a-dozen majors that require less work and less brains. Why would we care that many of them cannot get jobs in their fields?

"Then consider the Internet. For an autodidact, this is a golden age." -- True, but most students go to college and grad school for reasons other than a love of learning. Few students have enough motivation to learn complex subjects on their own.

Fred writes:

I'm with Dr. T. I'm a former academic mathematician who became and evil Wall Street Wizard (TM). I have a staff full of math, physics, and engineering MSc/PhDs. Far easier to teach mathematicians and scientists finance than the other way around. Same folks could have worked in high or bio tech. As for the humanities, I don't see a real industrial equivalent to those fields.

Andrew writes:

Chairman of the Religion Dept. Figures, I guess most of what he is saying applies to his own field, but hardly qualifies him to comment on the successful fields (hard sciences, computer science, economics..)

Phil writes:

This is a stupid article written by someone in a useless field of research. None of his objections apply to graduate school in a legitimate subjects like science, math, engineering, economics, medicine, or law.

These fields don't generally suffer from excessive fragmentation, produce valuable research, offer excellent non-academic job prospects to their students, and often pay pretty decently as well.

This article isn't about problems with graduate school, it's about problems with research in the arts and humanities.

Jacob Oost writes:

Actually Phil it looks like the Cadillac lawyer bubble has popped.

Tom West writes:

Funny, I remember being discouraged by many people from pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science for much the same reason as the original article points out.

The gist of most of their comments was essentially the same, getting a Ph.D. doesn't make you a better computer scientist, it simply makes you vastly more knowledgeable in an extremely narrow field.

In other words, you'd be competing for the seven jobs in the world that required your specialized knowledge rather than the hundreds of thousands of jobs out there that simply require base knowledge and competence.

Two businessmen also pointed out the anti-signalling involved. To them, Ph.D. meant someone who wasn't flexible enough to be moved to wherever they happened to need them this year.

It was quite an eye opener!

silvermine writes:

I went to a year of grad school (biophysics), quit, and moved to silicon valley. Yay internet!

Dan Weber writes:

Tom, I think you'll like this: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/. Scroll down about two pages to the graph. It was written several years ago so the numbers look small, but the shape is right.

You only get a PhD in Computer Science if you want to become a Computer Science professor.

George writes:

Tom West wrote:

Two businessmen also pointed out the anti-signalling involved. To them, Ph.D. meant someone who wasn't flexible enough to be moved to wherever they happened to need them this year.

That's kind of an odd attitude to take: a Computer Science Ph.D. means the recipient is qualified to teach all of Computer Science. That implies a lot more flexibility than some guy who did a Master's in databse tweaking.

Maybe we need a way to signal general, flexible problem-solving ability. (Cue an IQ comment from SS...)

George writes:

Oh, and with regard to the original article being written by a religion professor:

That field is in terrible shape. We haven't had a major new religion since Mormonism, and that was 150 years ago. (Plus I don't think we can credit academic researchers with its creation.)

Jesse writes:

Anyone else find it interesting that the op-ed's "suggested solutions" had nothing to do with the problems identified in the hook? Classic bait and switch. If grad students are being exploited by universities, that may be a bad thing for the exploited grad students but it is a good thing for the universities doing the exploiting! Taylor starts off with the problem of no jobs for grad students and ends with the solution of revamping curricula and removing disciplinary boundaries. Um, no connection.

Dan Weber writes:

Like drug dealing or being in a band, higher-education is a field with very few winners but those winners receive excellent payouts.

If people understand the risks they are taking, I say more power to them. But I think most students who go from high school to college without holding a job don't appreciate the risks they are undertaking.

Snark writes:

Then consider the Internet. For an autodidact, this is a golden age. For going to graduate school, not so much.

Unfortunately, the Internet provides only intellectual pursuits for autodidacts interested in law or economics as a profession. Career opportunities in these fields are limited to the formally educated, relegating those without to the blogosphere of free advice and opinion.

Paragons of the past, like Abraham Lincoln and Henry Hazlitt, would be disappointed to learn that, in America today, the self-educated need not apply.

Unemployed Ph.D. in the humanities, M.A. in English. Grad schools are supposed to produce people working on the borderlands of knowledge -- but those of us in the humanities who actually do so find ourselves unemployable. Those who in fact believe exactly what those in charge of humanities departments believe are able to get jobs. Don't rock the boat. If you are a postmodernist, neo-Marxist, anti-science, anti-epistemological thinker, finding a humanities job isn't really all the hard. It also does actually help if you're a narrow specialist of some wort. Interdisciplinary scholars might as well be lepers. I get told that I'm overqualified and that they don't know how to pigeonhole me. I know of a scholar who has published several major books and articles who cannot get a full time English position because he uses Darwinian theory. I'm in a similar boat. Try being a pro-science (Darwinian, etc.), Christian, pro-free market, spontaneous orders/emergentist, interdisciplinary thinker in the humanities.

william ortel writes:

But how? In years past, an autodidact could simply grab a graduate degree in order to prove his qualifications.

If I walked into a job interview without a college degree and said "you should probably hire me as an economist," I would be laughed out of the room.

The way we validate our information providers is certainly changing, but it's definitely not the golden age yet.

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