Arnold Kling  

Politically Correct Employment

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I Am Not Alone: Kauffman Econ ... My Version of Race Against ...

Kenneth Anderson writes,


Even more frightening is the young woman who graduated from UC Berkeley, wanting to work in "sustainable conservation." She is now raising chickens at home, dying wool and knitting knick-knacks to sell at craft fairs. Her husband has been studying criminal justice and EMT -- i.e., preparing to work for government in some of California's hitherto most lucrative positions -- but as those work possibilities have dried up, he is hedging with a (sensible) apprenticeship as an electrician. These young people are looking at serious downward mobility, in income as well as status. The prospects of the lower tier New Class semi-professionals are dissolving at an alarming rate. Student loan debt is a large part of its problems, but that's essentially a cost question accompanying a loss of demand for these professionals' services.

This popular essay commits the sin of trying to interpret the Occupy Wall Street movement. Please shoot me if between now and the end of the year I finish a serious sentence that begins something like "What the OWS movement represents is..."

Come back to me in 2012, provided that the OWS movement is larger than the number of people who claim to know what it represents. Meanwhile, I vow to render no judgment.

But the issue of college graduates seeking, and perhaps not finding, politically correct employment is an interesting one. Recall the view from Yale.

I think that this is a good time to raise some challenging questions about college education as we know it.

Would students be better off delaying college and instead trying to work for a year or two first?

Should young people be allowed to pursue professional training without going to college? (In other countries, someone going to law school, for example, might skip college.)

Do academically-trained Ph.D's make the best teachers/mentors for today's students, or should there be more people with "real-world" experience teaching college courses? Maybe only a few students benefit from courses taught by Ph.D's, and as a larger share of the population attends college, there is too much of a disconnect between the academic talents of the professors and the more ordinary abilities of the students.


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
Joe Cushing writes:

I went to a state college for my undergrad. Most classes were taught by PH.D's and the instruction seemed great to me. Then, some time later, I enrolled in a graduate level finance program taught mostly by people with masters degrees. Most of them were adjunct profs too. They all either had worked or were working in the field they taught. One class didn't even have a text book because the topic hadn't even been written into a book. The instruction was so much better by people who could provide stories and experiences from their jobs.

I'm not sure electrician is a downward step on the ladder though. Many skilled trades people make as much money as collage grads. Some make more.

Agreed on the topic of skipping college. It takes very few hours to train a brain surgeon compared to the 21+ years of school one must attend to become one. It's amazing how little of school is on the topic people major in. Then they leave school not knowing much about that subject and needing experience in order to actually learn. I suppose this is why Doctors have to intern after their 21+ years of school.

Dano writes:

The MBA degree is an applied degree so having some faculty with "real world" experience may help, though I still think that someone teaching in a master's program should have a phd.

Frankly I get tired of the argument that one needs "real world" experience to teach college courses -- at best my answer is maybe, maybe not. For part-time adjuncts, yes of course bringing in current things can help. For full-time profs my answer is no -- my experience (admittedly anecdotal) is that 99.9% of the people over the age of about 45 leaving the real world to teach, even if they get a Ph.D., are semi-retired, looking for a part-time job that pays better than being a greeter at Wal-Mart. Yes they have stories to tell but those stories grow stale quickly. Very rarely are they current in their field.

Shane writes:

Well not necessarily politically correct employment, but I did think during the boom years that there might be a big shift in class incomes as the wealthier children wanted to do emotionally appealing (if unprofitable) work, while the poorer children wanted to earn as much money as possible in the then lucrative construction industry.

I saw 'working class' men making serious money on building sites, while the 'middle class' stayed in college, studying philosophy and so on. It did make me wonder if the poor would leapfrog the rich. The construction collapse has probably reversed that though.

Kevin L writes:
Would students be better off delaying college and instead trying to work for a year or two first?

I say "yes", but was very disappointed that even my alma mater - a private school that is very much career-oriented - punishes prospective students for not going straight from high school to college. I found this out while trying to get my cousin enrolled after he'd been out of school a year or two. They don't offer scholarships for anyone in that kind of situation. I was appalled, because this school is a 100% co-op school, in which every student must work at a career-relevant job for no less than 5 or 6 terms.

As for real-world experience in instructors, I again submit my alma mater, which turns out some of the best engineers in the nation and whose faculty are all from the industry. At least among the engineering and business faculty, I don't know of one that is a pure academician.

Lokki writes:

I believe that the fundamental point of the article is that students are taught to aim too high on the hierachy of needs.

That is, they are taught to seek jobs immediately out of college that will give them 'self-fullment', when what they really need are jobs that pay well. "Sustainable Conservation" is something one pursues after the kids are gone and the nestegg has been stashed away.

Professors should be warning the students that making organic dandelion wine won't pay the bills. Those PH.D's who have spent their lives in academia may be a little vague on that point.

mark writes:

The Big Government website (Breitbart) has a nice video of persons handing out job applications at an OWS encampment and being met with "No, not enough money", "Mmm, no, could not work for a bank" and so on.

Andy writes:

Assuming the non-tech US economy stays in the doldrums for a few more years, I think we'll see the emergence of hybrid bachelor's+master's programs that enable students to get both degrees in 4 or 5 years. Strip out electives and breadth requirement, and such programs should be easy to build, in most fields.

The bachelor's will be symbolic, i.e. it will have the same signaling valence as today's bachelor's. The master's will be practically useful, in the sense of providing directly job-relevant training in a field, so that graduate's can move right into working in that field.

Sure, some students will still get their BAs in "sustainable development," English, dance, theater, whatever. But that will be a marker of elite status, showing, in much the same way an Ivy degree undergrad degree used to show, that the grad is so wealthy or of such exalted status, s/he doesn't need to stoop to practicality.

Arthur_500 writes:

Education is both institutional and personal in that you only get out of it what you put in to it and you are helped or hindered by the professor.

A well-educated person will probably be able to use elements of that education to do a better job organic farming, marketing crafts or even building a business as an electrician. However, our educational system as a whole does a very poor job in preparing people for contributing to society.

We know that the sheepskin is used to spearate prospective employees. We know that that sheepskin is a status symbol. However, that paper only states that you have been exposed to certain courses and it is up to the individual to acutally utilize that knowledge.

Sometimes we need to learn what we don't know before we can assimilate the knowledge imparted in a classroom. sometimes we recognize that we don't need to put our hand on the hot stove and can accept what others say which allows us to move forward. In this manner, education is individual in nature.

As far as professors are concerned - some are great and others suck and there is no relationship between those with real-world experience and those who have never left the classroom.

Ted Craig writes:

If you read the original WSJ article, you find Shelby Stofle is almost a satire of education.
She received a degree in agriculture, which is actually a in-demand degree, but she wanted to focus only on sustainable agriculture.
Failing to find a job to match her desires, she went back for vocational training. She learned to install solar panels. Again, no demand.
This shows the limits of the "more education/vocational training" cure for our ills. It still needs to be practical.

George writes:

Though recent graduates may find it little consolation, it's possible to a greater degree than ever to live an intellectually stimulating existence working at a job which our culture views as less prestigious.

My personal anecdote is this: I am employed in a traditionally blue collar job (aircraft mechanic). My salary mirrors that of a mid level accountant or office worker. While working in the shop, I listen to 6-8 hours of academic lectures from sites like academic earth, podcasts (Russ Robert's EconTalk for one) and several great works of literature each month on audio book.

Perhaps a better model for the arts and humanities would include catering to the amateur enthusiast who has a curiosity for a subject and also full-time a day job. Rather than demand a 4 year full-time commitment for a degree like the B.A. or B.F.A. (which carry a huge opportunity cost), colleges should offer more lectures on weekends and evenings. Also, professors should be able to sell audio recordings of lessons on services such as Itunes a la carte style.

Jay writes:

This is just a personal opinion of mine. Having gone through the various stages of education fairly recently, except for PhD, I can safely say that the solution isn't gap year(s). Two, possibly three years of high school were an absolute waste, as was at least one year of middle school. Elementary education is a bit foggy for me, but I'm pretty sure we could have cut a year. I suggest a two-pronged solution: lose the years of repetitious tedium (4 or 5 years' worth), and you suddenly have plenty of time for all the technical education you could ever want. Instead of relegating the dullards to tech ed, make it a realistic possibility for anyone who wants to pursue it.

Actually, one last prong. Reinvigorate the quality of high school education by folding the high school diploma in with a bachelor's degree. I could have done undergraduate level work when I was 14, and so can most kids.

Foobarista writes:

There used to be an idea that degrees are either academic or professional. The rise of "studies" degrees (and stuff like them such as "sustainability") are what I'd call "aspirational". If there's an employment market for these degrees, it's a very narrow one in some bits of academia and the "professional activist" sector, but they are powerful signalling devices as to one's aspirations to righteousness (or at least people who get them see them this way).

My guess is that a few decades ago, people majoring in these would be majoring in some flavor of divinity or going to seminary school.

Jay writes:

George, most high school students used to be familiar with the classics you are now rediscovering. I was lucky enough to have parents whose library was comprised of lots of old books. Compare a 1950's era Lit. book to one assigned these days. The problem is that we've allowed educators to substitute grievance studies for an appreciative analysis of Western culture. Not to mention the deleterious effects of unionism on the quality of the material. Trust me, it's a joke, especially high school.

Shane writes:

Great point by George.

Glen Smith writes:

I do not know what "sustainable conservation" is exactly but it sounds to me like what she is doing is pretty close.

Noah Yetter writes:

Do academically-trained Ph.D's make the best teachers/mentors for today's students, or should there be more people with "real-world" experience teaching college courses?

Good god yes.

I could blather on and on but suffice it to say, the gap between what they teach in university "Computer Science" and "Information Systems" degrees, and what I actually need in an entry level hire, is ENORMOUS. Replacing career academics with retired engineers would fix that overnight.

Peter writes:

"Andy writes: I think we'll see the emergence of hybrid bachelor's+master's programs that enable students to get both degrees in 4 or 5 years."

I'm going to mention something here that I don't know is true or not (a friend of mine in academia says it is) but if this is really a concern why don't folk just go straight to graduate school skipping the bachelors. Only reason my friend brought this up is because after twenty years in a specific technical field I wanted to get a masters degree / formal education in that field (I have no degree at all which isn't an issue unless I want to change industries) but didn't feel (and still don't) the need to to waste four years of my life and lots of money on B.S. that has nothing to do at all with the graduate program.

Michael Strong writes:

The Acton MBA program features a curriculum that requires its faculty to be entrepreneurs; very few have Ph.D.s,

"The Acton School of Business is a private, one-year MBA in Entrepreneurship program in Austin, Texas, taught by successful, practicing entrepreneurs. Offering only a full-time program, the school is based on experiential learning. Students analyze over 300 business case studies and participate in simulations, such as building real assembly lines and selling products door to door."

It is highly ranked,

"The school ranks #3 on Princeton Review’s list of “Best Professors” and #2 on the list of “Best Classroom Experience.” It also ranks #3 on the list of "Most Competitive Students" and #9 on the list of "Best Administered." "

I've known many students who have gone there, they all rave about the program.

I would love to create an education program taught by great educators rather than Ph.D.s In education, there are brilliant practitioners. But becoming a brilliant practitioner is in no way correlated with obtaining a Ph.D.

For any real world skill, Ph.D. educators are irrelevant.

If one wants to do abstract cutting-edge academic research, then Ph. D. teachers may be relevant. But not for anything else.

mark writes:

Bravo for George.

George, start blogging.

You may be interested in "digital badges" which are a new form of credential for learning outside of official higher education channels. Read Timothy Taylor's blog, Conversable Economics, for some discussion and further links.

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