09
Oct
11

Promises, promises

Further to my previous comment on the Occupy Wherever protests, E. C. Gach has a post up over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen:

It’s instructive to note the passive voice, because it’s pretty near obligatory.  The promises Gach’s talking about are pretty abstract.  He quotes Derek Thompson thus:

We’re living in an era of broken promises between institutions and people. A college degree is supposed to lead to a quality job. Instead, for this young mother, it leads to debt. A $800 billion stimulus is supposed to lead to a recovery. Instead, for the U.S., it leads to debt. An economy, built by business leaders and supported by Wall Street, is supposed create wealth that the middle class can touch. Instead, once again, it has produced a culture of debt. There is a pervasive sense that this is not how the social contract was supposed to work. Promises were broken. Somebody should pay.”

“Somebody should pay.”  Well, maybe… but who made those promises?  Shouldn’t that somebody be made to pay?

Who promised that a college degree — any college degree, apparently — would lead to a quality job?  Maybe that’s the way it worked once upon a time, when a Bachelor’s degree (and subsequently its holder) was something really special.  But we’ve spent the last three or four decades making sure that more and more people go to college, and while I don’t think that’s at all a bad goal to have it does tend to devalue the specialness signal sent by a Mk. 1 mod 0 Bachelor’s degree.  The degrees themselves become more vocational: “I have a college degree, so I can do great things for you” is replaced by “I have a college degree in mechanical engineering, so I can do great things for your systems design department” — or “I have a summa cum laude degree in feminist poststructuralist philosophy from a top-flight university, so I can do great things for your graduate programme“.

Incidentally, this leads into the subject of debt as well.  We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it easy for prospective college students to get loans to pay for their degrees, and again I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad goal to have.  But if you expand demand for a product or service, its suppliers can command higher prices. So college degrees get more expensive at the same time as they become less exclusive.  D’oh!

Who do you blame for something like that?  University administrators who want to boost enrollment?  Social activists who see broader access to higher education as a tonic for inequality?  Well-meaning parents who want their kids to be the first in the family to go to college?  Teh ebil librulz?  Thuh gummint?  Far as I can tell, the problem isn’t that any one person or group sold my generation a bundle of goods: it’s that most of us are still fighting the last war.

No, strike that: it’s obviously Wall Street’s fault, because have you even seen that Michael Douglas movie?

(Curiously, as surveyed by David Maris for Forbes.com, the only corporations of which Occupy Wall Street protesters have anything like a favourable opinion are technology companies.  I like my Macbook and all, but I rather suspect that tech companies are the least likely to hire random college grads and try to fit them in “somewhere”.)

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30 Responses to “Promises, promises”


  1. October 9, 2011 at 22:11

    Taking this as a case study…

    A college degree is supposed to lead to a quality job.

    The events: Someone spread the message that a degree leads to a job. They believed the message. It was false.

    You can in principle blame the message-spreaders, but I think it’s futile. Bullshit and propaganda are no more contingent than any form of crime and incompetence. They’ll always be with us. Help me out here; is there any town where you can just leave your cash-stuffed wallet on a boulder for a few hours, and expect it to still be there when you get back?

    The problem is that ‘believed it.’ That people bullshit, are ignorant and are incompetent is not exactly rocket science. It’s normal to take ‘just an idiot’ as the first explanation for why someone disagrees with you.

    If that young mother had done her due diligence, she would have found it was false. My point of all the above is that nobody is going to relieve her of the need for diligence, regardless of whether they have a responsibility to do so. You can blame them but it’s pointless.

    Should she have known this going in? I think so. All this information is not only widely available, it is ancient. If nineteen is too young to expect that, then that’s what parents are for. (Come to think, what do the parents of these failures think about college? Do they think it’s the kid’s fault? Do they learn not to push college on their younger kids?)

    I am forced to conclude it was her own negligent trust in untrustworthy sources that was the cause.

    This logic doesn’t apply directly to the other situations, though I would analyze the responsibility through the same methods. By which I mean Gach is constructing a pattern, not observing a pattern. And by ‘constructing’ I mean a pattern does exist, but you have to change the definition of ‘promise’ to get Gach’s pattern to work, and I’m betting that new definition doesn’t make sense or comfortably match reality.

    • October 9, 2011 at 22:48

      You can in principle blame the message-spreaders, but I think it’s futile.

      I don’t see how blaming the message-believers is likely to be any more effective. That said, I think your argument about the wallet on the boulder is self-defeating: I can be extraordinarily naive and open myself up to fraud, but that doesn’t exonerate the fraudster. The “college degree = quality job” argument is more subtle than that, in part because there’s no immediately-obvious wallet-stealer.

      Another problem is that recognizing that just any damn college degree isn’t necessarily sufficient to get a good job isn’t sufficient in itself. I’ll put my bias up front: I think we’d be far better off if fewer people got B.A.s and more people got B.Sc.s and B.Eng.s. But Billy realizing that he needs to get a sci/tech degree (I’ll cheerfully admit that a business degree or a design degree is a plausible substitute) to get a “quality” job is only the first step: he has to realize it early enough to skill up in analytic reasoning before he fails out in his first year. If “Holy shit, I can’t just do an Art History major” occurs to him halfway through his senior year in high school, it’s probably too late. He can still get your B.Sc., but it won’t necessarily be a “gets me a quality job” B.Sc. — it might easily be a “I don’t have to work at Starbucks” B.Sc. The same degree-inflation argument that applies to Bachelor’s degrees in general is also at work on sci/tech (and business, and design, and &c.) degrees in particular. Quality jobs go to quality applicants with quality skills and quality training.

      So if Billy wants a quality job and doesn’t want to trust to luck (or exercise hardcore entrepreneurship; there are plenty of success stories out there that don’t start with a college degree at all, let alone a CS degree from a top-ten university, but they tend to involve a lot more work than I think the standard “I just want a decent job” claimant is interested in applying), he has to start skilling up in high school if not earlier — which is itself an uphill battle for a wide variety of reasons. Even worse, now he has a seven year time lag between “I recognize that I need such-and-such a degree to get a decent job” and “I have my such-and-such degree and can now start looking for a decent job”. A lot has happened in the last seven years.

      I’m basically with you in assessing responsibility to the college student. I’m a hard-core Sartre-reading existentialist, which means I believe that if I spit on the sidewalk, and this puts a spectator in such a bad mood that he goes home and kicks his dog, I bear some responsibility for that dog getting kicked. (For the record: that’s not why I don’t spit on sidewalks.) But my kind of “responsibility” is closer to intellectual masturbation than anything that could support policy… and the Occupy Wherever folks are looking for a magical “punish the bad man and make everything better” kind of “responsibility” that can directly drive policy… and doesn’t exist here.

      This logic doesn’t apply directly to the other situations, though I would analyze the responsibility through the same methods. By which I mean Gach is constructing a pattern, not observing a pattern. And by ‘constructing’ I mean a pattern does exist, but you have to change the definition of ‘promise’ to get Gach’s pattern to work, and I’m betting that new definition doesn’t make sense or comfortably match reality.

      Gosh, that has never happened before on the League. Certainly not in their recent discussion of libertarianism, democracy, and coercion. I’m shocked. Shocked is what I am.

      • October 9, 2011 at 23:51

        Overall, my point is that suckers cannot be responsible for themselves. That’s what makes them suckers. Either you convince them to learn responsibility, you take responsibility for them, or you let the con men take responsibility for them. There are no other options.

        If you do neither of the first two, they’ll bitch when they realized they’ve been conned. They won’t learn responsibility, though, so the con men won’t care. This Occupy movement is a bunch of suckers, realizing they’ve been conned, and con men using that to con them even harder. The Tea Party is much the same.

        My question is whether Ron Paul is con man or sucker.

        Eradicating suckers is impossible, but they can be reduced. But critically, you can personally decide not to be a sucker. If you do so, it’s equivalent to eradicating con men from your world.

        I can be extraordinarily naive and open myself up to fraud, but that doesn’t exonerate the fraudster.

        I cannot un-fault tectonic fault lines. My options are to not build on them or to earthquake-proof my house. If I don’t proof my house, I don’t get to complain when it falls over. If I didn’t know I had to proof it, it doesn’t matter, not knowing was my fault too.

        I’m reasoning by analogy to throwing a raw steak to a hungry dog and sternly telling it, “Don’t eat this!” When you end up with no steak, who’s fault is it?

        What do I have to do? How about stopping a stranger, handing them your cash-stuffed wallet, and asking them to kindly give it back to you at a later date? If you don’t get it back, who’s really at fault here?

        Sure, in these situations, the eating, theft, or fraud isn’t good. It would be better if we could stop it. You can’t stop it, so it doesn’t matter. Humans are supposedly involved, and therefore supposedly free will, but these bad outcomes are as predictable and unpreventable as earthquakes hitting houses built on fault lines. And moreover, houses can be earthquake proofed.

        Again, curing naivete is what parents are supposed to be for. I don’t think they should have the right to force their kids not to – but if you observe modern parents, it doesn’t even occur to them to have a frank conversation about their kid’s stupidity. They just let it happen.

        It used to work this way all the time. “Billy, if you don’t take math, you won’t be able to do STEM in uni and you won’t be able to get a job.” Sometimes, Billy would take art anyway. Then, when he complained to his parents, they’d just go, “Told you so.” Word then got around. And indeed, as your examples about art students, it has gotten around. Basically you’ve managed to convince me that the young mother is either a liar or an idiot.

        I’m a hard-core Sartre-reading existentialist, which means I believe that if I spit on the sidewalk, and this puts a spectator in such a bad mood that he goes home and kicks his dog, I bear some responsibility for that dog getting kicked.

        Ignorance is a defence. I can’t be held responsible for things I can’t possibly (reasonably) have known would happen, for the simple reason that I can’t possibly take those things into account when I make my decision.

        This doesn’t apply to degrees because I know separately that I have to verify untrusted sources…specifically I know by definition. If I don’t recognize a source that hasn’t earned my trust as untrusted, then the bad outcomes are my fault.* The opposite requires that no source be untrustworthy.

        *(Consider, ‘went over my head.’ I think checking whether a source is trustworthy is so simple it actually goes under heads. I can’t imagine why else that check would be so rare.)

        the Occupy Wherever folks are looking for a magical “punish the bad man and make everything better” kind of “responsibility” that can directly drive policy… and doesn’t exist here.

        Unlike ‘promise’ this can be reversed and taken seriously. The responsible person is the person for whom, upon being punished, would deter and thus solve the situation. For the college degree, that’s the sucker. (Who is punished automatically.) If you punish colleges or the message-deliverer, they may improve, but suckers will continue being suckers, and you’ll never eradicate con men. Indeed, in the end, you should con the suckers out of their money yourself before someone worse cons them. If you don’t, all that will happen is that the someone worse will get the money without contest.

        • October 10, 2011 at 00:44

          I cannot un-fault tectonic fault lines. My options are to not build on them or to earthquake-proof my house. If I don’t proof my house, I don’t get to complain when it falls over. If I didn’t know I had to proof it, it doesn’t matter, not knowing was my fault too.

          Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. :-) I think the fault-line analogy speaks better to the college-degree example than the others because there’s no immediately identifiable or particularly malicious agent and the threat isn’t completely transparent. The higher-ed bubble isn’t the product of an evil mastermind with a white longhaired cat and a subterranean bunker: it more or less emerged from a vast system of political influence, in much the same way as fault lines emerge from a vast array of seismic stresses and geological properties.

          I think the core of what makes me uncomfortable about your more generic argument is contained here:

          Indeed, in the end, you should con the suckers out of their money yourself before someone worse cons them. If you don’t, all that will happen is that the someone worse will get the money without contest.

          Would you accept s/con/carjack/g? (Substitute any violent property crime for “carjack” if you like.) I don’t see as stark a categorical difference between fraud and violent crime as I think you’re implying. Both involve at least one assailant, with malicious intent. Both can be guarded against, never completely but often with high likelihood if the intended victim is willing to put in the effort and put up with the hassle. In both cases, the assailant is usually self-interested, and usually targets oblivious victims over aware ones. And in both cases, the vast majority of people find it more comforting to be oblivious to the risks rather than aware of them.

          Now, you could argue that I should go out and carjack oblivious Vancouverites, because I’d not kill anyone over a car, I can drive stick without wrecking the synchros, and I’d donate the jacked-and-parted cars to my favourite charity. But that’s only a net win (on utilitarian grounds) if every driver in Vancouver is going to get carjacked on a regular basis regardless, which isn’t true. It’s also not true that everyone considering a college degree is going to get “conned” by the system, although I think it’s vastly more true (by two or three powers of ten) than my carjacking example. In either case, I think it’s better to encourage people not to be suckers.

          And finally:

          Ignorance is a defence. I can’t be held responsible for things I can’t possibly (reasonably) have known would happen, for the simple reason that I can’t possibly take those things into account when I make my decision.

          Without sinking into the mire of epistemology, this is a real-valued function rather than a binary one: I can’t predict that spitting on the sidewalk will make some random commuter kick his dog, but I can predict that (a) some people will see me do it and (b) some of them might be made unhappy by it. Consider the time lag between “I think I’ll need the skills to get a useful degree” and “I actually have my useful degree”. For all I know, high school freshmen right now who’re grinding on math and programming to get into a solid CS programme might be making the wrong choice: automatic refactoring tools and theorem provers could plausibly converge into automated boring-code generators by the time they graduate, vastly reducing the demand for “take this XML and stuff it in this database” code monkeys. Or the code monkeys could be safe, but B.Sc.-level biochemistry jobs might be replaced by a combination of experiment-design and genetic-programming algorithms. Or we’ll discover a stable isotope of Unobtanium on the moon, and demand for skilled TIG welders will increase a thousandfold.

          Clearly, not all of these are equally likely. (Blah blah blah Black Swans blah.) But at some point, if you want to assign responsibility, you have to put a value to that “(reasonably)” in “things I can’t possibly (reasonably) have known would happen”. I submit that things are a lot more obvious in retrospect.

          • October 10, 2011 at 07:10

            Would you accept s/con/carjack/g? (Substitute any violent property crime for “carjack” if you like.)

            Yes.
            The only condition is that the ‘perpetrator’ gains by the violence. By definition, these people are the people who aren’t responsible for themselves.
            My preferred solution is to tell them as much so they’ll stop, but if they refuse to stop, then they’re lambs to the slaughter and if you don’t slaughter them all you do is let the wolves feed.

            The difference is that the wolves aren’t like fault lines. They have evolved to intentionally spread lambhood. Because lambchop is tasty. They do this partly by encouraging the kind of thinking Gach is carrying out.

            Both can be guarded against, never completely but often with high likelihood

            I haven’t been able to completely formalize it, but this is the test I use. If you have taken reasonable precautions, then the violator has to intentionally plan to breach precautions. Taking an unguarded wallet is just doing it before someone else does. Breaking into a boxed and chained-down wallet is…
            Wait, that did it. Because it can be almost completely guarded against, if you don’t take it, it’s likely it won’t be taken. Can the putative owner reasonably expect it will still be there when they get back? Muggers don’t target people who openly carry, end of story, but advertising that you’re a pacifist is just asking for it. Advertising pacifism – or any other form of responsibility abdication – is conceding control to anyone who cares to take it.
            And the only reason I don’t use perfect security instead of reasonable security is because it’s impossible; anything man can do, man can undo.

            But that’s only a net win (on utilitarian grounds) if every driver in Vancouver is going to get carjacked on a regular basis regardless, which isn’t true.

            A: Vancouverites can reasonably expect not to get carjacked.
            B: If you tried to carry it out, they would get defences and you’d quickly have to stop.

            The college grads cannot so reasonably expect, and never defend themselves.

            I can predict that (a) some people will see me do it and (b) some of them might be made unhappy by it.

            So you’re responsible for making them unhappy.
            This is going off-topic. Hopefully you don’t mind, as I prefer this topic.

            The problem is that sometimes, you’re made unhappy by not being able to spit. (Hoping to illustrate a general principle that happens to apply to this example.) What if you kick your own dog because you couldn’t spit, for example?

            If it’s wrong to spit in this case, then you shouldn’t, even if it results in your own dog-kicking.
            But we can’t say for sure a priori which it is. If it really does come down to one dog being kicked or another (which it does in the case of college degrees) then we recognize that dog-kicking is wrong and someone has to learn to not do it despite any spit.

            I have seen exactly one technique for umambiguously, non-contradictorily determining who has to learn not to kick their dog. And that’s ownership. And that’s reasonable expectation of control.

            Vancouverites can reasonably expect that a locked car will stay where it is. If they didn’t, they would take steps until they could. Even if, eventually, one of those steps would be to not have a car at all. Either way, in the end, carjackers have nothing to jack.
            College grads in general cannot reasonably expect to get a job. If they’re fooled into thinking otherwise, it just means they’re being idiots.When they don’t get a job, they don’t tell people not to go to college; they don’t defend themselves. They whine and say they deserve a job. Mom, you said…! For some reason, colleges keep offering useless degrees. (Ironically, if Mom actually said, it does constitute a promise.)

            Nineteen is way old enough to take responsibility for how your life turns out. And whether you kick your dog.

            • October 10, 2011 at 14:33

              My preferred solution is to tell them as much so they’ll stop, but if they refuse to stop, then they’re lambs to the slaughter and if you don’t slaughter them all you do is let the wolves feed.

              The difference is that the wolves aren’t like fault lines. They have evolved to intentionally spread lambhood.

              College grads in general cannot reasonably expect to get a job. If they’re fooled into thinking otherwise, it just means they’re being idiots.When they don’t get a job, they don’t tell people not to go to college; they don’t defend themselves. They whine and say they deserve a job.

              If I understand your argument correctly, you’re claiming that “college grads in general” are actively complicit in the con. “I should be able to go to college, get a four-year degree in binge-drinking and English Lit, and still get a quality job — and you’re wrong to try to stop me!” There’s no obvious pack of wolves, here. It wouldn’t be too unreasonable to argue that some of the “fun degree” students are freeriding on scholarships and university resources that would otherwise be allocated to more serious students. (That’s an easier argument to make on my side of the border, I think.)

              For some reason, colleges keep offering useless degrees.

              Those degrees aren’t useless to the colleges (increased admission => increased income from tuition) or the faculty, lecturers, grad students, and staff of the departments involved. They’re also not useless to whoever sells loans to the students in those degree programmes. And presumably they’re not useless at the time to the students in the programme, who get to spend four years or so doing something they prefer (demonstrated preference) to a STEM degree and hold on to their preconceptions about the quality job waiting for them at the end.

              As I think about it, this strikes me as a positive feedback loop that optimizes for spending four or five years in a “fun” Bachelor’s degree programme, and is just starting to become subject to the constraints of the post-graduation job market.

            • October 10, 2011 at 14:45

              I wouldn’t say actively complicit. I would say they are sort of unintentionally complicit. They only become active when someone explains to them how they’re screwing themselves and then they respond by getting angry.

              But, um…

              There’s no obvious pack of wolves, here.

              Those degrees aren’t useless to the colleges (increased admission => increased income from tuition) or the faculty, lecturers, grad students, and staff of the departments involved.

              Though I’m sympathetic to the argument that they demonstrated preferences against getting a STEM degree, I just think we should hold them responsible for that choice. And by that I mean nobody should bail them out.

              I agree about the feedback loop. Non-STEM university courses are selling the illusion of that job, along with what I’ve seen called the snooze button for real life. The market will punish such fraud…sooner or later. But it learns to punish it through people realizing it’s a fraud, which has the virtuous effect of teaching the general culture to recognize fraud better.

            • October 10, 2011 at 15:05

              Though I’m sympathetic to the argument that they demonstrated preferences against getting a STEM degree, I just think we should hold them responsible for that choice. And by that I mean nobody should bail them out.

              Yep, I’m with you there. I think where we disagree is that I’m not willing to pin responsibility entirely on the students/graduates, and I’m not entirely pessimistic about the chances of dissuading the con men (or rather getting rid of enough of the malincentives that’re directing people into “fun” degree programmes).

    • October 9, 2011 at 23:00

      Oops, neglected to reply to this:

      Should she have known this going in? I think so. All this information is not only widely available, it is ancient.

      I’m not so sure. I don’t have a quality citation for anything that follows, but I’ve been idly following the “is education worthless except for signaling?” debate as it it pops up occasionally on Robin Hanson’s and Bryan Caplan’s blogs, and empirical counterarguments certainly exist and may be convincing. Most of them suggest that people with “useless” college degrees tend to get the same entry-level jobs as non-Bachelor’s applicants, but advance farther and more quickly. On the other hand, I believe those arguments are based on data from the last twenty or thirty years, and certainly not the last five.

      Arts majors have been nervous and defensive about their job prospects for as long as I can remember (my undergraduate university’s English Students Association has been selling “Yes, I Can Get A Real Job!” tee-shirts since I was about eight), but I’d be a bit surprised if those “real jobs” weren’t at least plausibly accessible until rather recently.

    • 10 perlhaqr
      October 10, 2011 at 18:37

      The events: Someone spread the message that a degree leads to a job. They believed the message. It was false.

      I don’t think this is accurate. I think that it was true that for a while, a degree actually meant something, and therefore led to a job. But correlation was mistaken for causation, and when the meaning of the degree was diluted, the effect that it tended to lead to a job was also diluted. Unfortunately, those things did not occur at the same rate, so that now we have people who grew up under the (fairly safe) delusion that a degree was guaranteed to get one a job, who have gotten a degree in an economy that can no longer support the fruit of that delusion.

      • October 11, 2011 at 02:38

        If I told someone to get a college degree because it would lead to a good job, and it didn’t, I’d feel bad, even if I said that because it used to be true.
        Far from feeling bad, the current messengers are messaging even harder.

        • 12 perlhaqr
          October 11, 2011 at 05:00

          *nod*

          I’m not actually disagreeing, per se, I’m just being nitpicky.

          I would certainly say that at this point in time, a college degree is no guarantor of a job. Certainly not a college degree in something fluffy. Which is a large part of why I’m looking down the barrel of an MS in CS.

      • 13 madrocketscientist
        October 11, 2011 at 10:11

        I think a degree still has value today, even the fluffy ones. What has happened is that those degrees are being evaluated more & more on the issuing institution, rather than just the title on the diploma.

        So a degree from Harvard still has value, but a degree from Devry, not so much.

        What we need is less of the insipid New Magazine ranking systems for schools (where schools & alumni are asked to evaluate themselves), and one that surveys employers as to which schools do they perceive as adding value to the pool of human capital in this country.

        When I worked at Boeing, most of my colleagues came from only a handful of schools (maybe a dozen or so main campuses), mainly because Boeing recruits aggressively at only a select few campuses. Ask other companies to offer their opinions on schools & degrees, and you’ll get a rating system that actually helps people decide where to apply to, as well as encouraging more competition among schools. I mean, that new gym & climbing wall is great and all, but if it public knowledge that no one will touch your grads with a 10 foot cattle prod just to see them jerk about spasmodically, you are gonna have to step up your academic game. Toss in a rule change that allows the discharging of debt through bankruptcy, and a school would have about 6 years to get its shit together before the banks will stop underwriting loans for it’s tuition.

  2. October 10, 2011 at 00:37

    When I reached university in the late 1980s, the standing joke was

    What did the arts graduate say to the medicine/engineering/law graduate? “Would you like fries with that.”

    This was all common knowledge decades ago.

    (I feel exactly the same about the so called concealed information regarding the health effects of smoking. If this information was being concealed in the 1950s, how come any reference of health and fitness written in the 1920s and 1930s warned against the dangers of smoking?)

    • October 10, 2011 at 01:10

      (I’m a bit confused by the discrepancy between your IP address, which points to silverbrookresearch.com, and your stated URL — which goes rather against the grain of your post.)

      Arts graduate: I’ve been laughing at “would you like fries with that?” jokes for about twenty years now. But when a science nerd teases an arts nerd about the latter’s job prospects, it’s not entirely unreasonable to expect the latter to assume that the former’s just being a tribalist dick (which I often was). Is that reliable information to the arts nerd that an arts degree is a poor career choice? Not really.

      The comparison with smoking is instructive. As you say, Serious People have warned against smoking for damn near a century now (if not longer). I don’t think the same holds for “fun” degrees — it seems to me that if any consensus can be extracted from the relevant Serious People, it’s “having a college degree is better than not having one”.

      • October 10, 2011 at 06:11

        The IP address is simple, I have the same blog comment address all the time, but sometimes log in from work. This reply is a different IP you’ll notice.

        What I meant about the “fries with that” comment isn’t that art students would hear the joke, and re-evaluate their choices. I mean that for this joke to work, there already has to be an existing belief about the relative job prospects that the joke was based upon. (The joke would not have worked if there was a law graduate selling fries, no matter that most engineer/science/medical types would love to laugh at the lawyer.) However I do concede that this belief may have only existed within the STEM-business-law people in the first place.

        • October 10, 2011 at 14:59

          Gotcha on the IP address. Normally comment links that point to storefronts are spam.

          I hear you on the existing belief about relative job prospects, too: STEM students joke about Arts majors’ job prospects, and Arts students joke about STEM majors’ casual-sex prospects. My claim is that, while “vocational degree” (STEM/business/&c.) job prospects have probably been high relative to “classical education” job prospects, those latter job prospects have been high enough until relatively recently that Arts majors could reasonably expect to get a decent, if not spectacular, job on graduation.

          • October 11, 2011 at 16:45

            I don’t disagree that the problem is that this is a Wiley Coyote moment for the fluffy degrees. They’ve just looked down, and ooohh…

            Meanwhile, part of the problem is in what is considered an acceptable job. To revert to something I know a bit more closely: If we read Derek Lowe about the job prospects for Chemists working in medical research, they are very bad and steadily worsening. BUT a chemist can move out to Alaska or Western Australia and get a job processing minerals and probably earn twice as much as before. But that is a LONG way away, the nearest fancy coffee shop will be in Asia somewhere (literally, look at a map) and many of them have children in school.

            And to be fair, I think they were correct about the Engineer’s casual-sex prospects. Medical students? I don’t think so (but don’t know, this sort of thing is very hard to find out for sure.)

  3. October 10, 2011 at 07:57

    From this post: http://oregonguythinks.blogspot.com/2010/05/binding-prometheus.html

    “I got a little fired up working on this issue’s cover story about OSU’s efforts to improve student success, helping more freshmen make it all the way through to their diplomas.”

    “Susie Brubaker-Cole, who as associate provost for academic success and engagement is leading the quest to help more OSU students succeed and reach their dreams, left me encouraged that the university is attacking the problem with more resolve than ever.

    “But I remain troubled by one of the sentiments I encountered along the way. I heard it in different forms from several people, including alumni whose lives were made better by an Oregon State education. Summed up, it goes like this: ‘Isn’t that part of what college is supposed to do, weed out the ones who don’t belong? I made it through; why can’t they?’

    Our State’s legislature has abandoned the role our universities used to play. The idea of an academy has been replaced as further baby-sitting of our youthful unemployed.

    Can’t wait to see how this turns out.
    .

  4. 20 madrocketscientist
    October 10, 2011 at 13:41

    Megan McArdle recently had a post up discussing the wisdom of not allowing student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy.

      • 22 madrocketscientist
        October 10, 2011 at 16:24

        The more recent post. I’m one of those who believes that easy student loan money, thanks in part to the no-default clause, has encouraged too many people who should not be attending university, to go to university (which in turn has raised tuition, etc.). One solution to the problem of crappy schools is to have the Federal Gov limit which schools are allowed to receive federal student loans (and all the problems inherent in that approach), or allow the market to price those loans more realistically.

        • October 10, 2011 at 16:39

          My mistake: McArdle’s suggesting that student loans be bankruptable, not that they be forgiven entirely. Makes sense to me.

          I’m right there with you on “easy student loan money” driving the post-secondary ed bubble. I wonder: are student loans priced differently depending on the expected earnings of the graduand’s degree? You’d think that a loan for someone doing a petroleum engineering degree in, say, Texas would be a lot less risky than a loan for someone doing a General Studies degree at the same university. Pricing loans according to that risk would be a good first start.

          • 24 madrocketscientist
            October 10, 2011 at 17:12

            I’m not entirely sure on the rules, but I think the government backing makes lenders more willing to loan, and I don’t think lenders can ask what you are studying, only where (so they know where to send the check).

            I’ve also heard stories of vets coming back from the war and having their GI Bills essentially taken from them in return for a useless degree. I find it sad that the military & the VA are doing such a horrible job helping vets get into good schools, instead of just cutting them loose with no guidance. When I got out, we had a whole day class on how to pick a good school & get into it.

            • October 10, 2011 at 17:16

              I’m not entirely sure on the rules, but I think the government backing makes lenders more willing to loan, and I don’t think lenders can ask what you are studying, only where (so they know where to send the check).

              Which is the Mk. 1 mod 0 standard-issue corporatist-finance fuckup. When the students pay off their loans, the lender collects interest; when they don’t, the government backs the loans and socializes the loss. Wonderful. :-/

  5. 26 madrocketscientist
    October 10, 2011 at 14:04

    in 1992, I started at a little for-profit tech school because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have the grades for university, my HS guidance office was pathetic, and neither of my parents graduated college (both dropped out early, and not from good schools), so I had very little guidance going in. My hope was to spend 2 years at tech school, learn a trade (Drafting/CAD @ $2K/semester), and leverage that to help me get a college degree. During my first semester, on a whim, I called the school that I would eventually graduate from, and asked if they accepted any credits from my current school. A very short negative response later, I decided to re-evaluate my choices.

    I dropped out of school, joined the US Navy & leveraged that into a college degree. But if I had never made that phone call, I wonder where I would be?


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