The Disastrous State Of Higher Education

This isn’t really news, but it’s depressing anyway, indicative of a massive failure of government policy and misincentives:

What the study found is not the least bit surprising. Students who learned little in college (as evidenced by scoring in the bottom quintile on the College Learning Assessment) were three times as likely to be unemployed as students who scored in the top quintile, twice as likely to be living at home, and somewhat more likely to have run up credit card debts.

Those findings throw cold water on the smiley face idea that going to college is necessarily a good “investment.” Even some of the top graduates were unemployed and living with their parents and a much higher number of low-performing graduates were. Unfortunately, the study did not seek to find out how many of those graduates were “underemployed” in jobs that high schoolers can do. (Perhaps no further evidence on that is necessary, though, in view of this study.)

Another particularly interesting finding from “Documenting Uncertain Times” is that employers pay little attention to what students majored in and how good their academic records were. The authors write, “That nearly two-thirds of these recent graduates’ employers did not require them to submit transcripts speaks to the perceived limited value and trust employers currently place in this traditional record of achievement in higher education.” If, as I have argued for years, many employers are simply using the presence of a college degree as a screening device, that behavior makes perfect sense.

A company that, for example, needs to hire someone to handle a car-rental desk might insist on a college degree as evidence of trainability, but not think it worth the added cost of checking to see how he or she did in college. Whatever education might have been absorbed is irrelevant; all that matters is the credential itself.

A credential becoming worth less and less. This all started when it became difficult for employers to test job applicants. As noted there, if we can’t get government out of the student loan business, which is a large part of the problem, we need to force the schools to put some skin in the loan game themselves, because as the situation is currently, they’re not punished for their failure to educate, but rewarded.

6 comments on this post.
  1. Gregg:

    Worthless? Why, I would think a degree in Car Rental Studies would be worth it’s weight in gold!

  2. wodun:

    The only employer that requires transcripts is the federal government and that is only to make sure you didn’t lie about graduating.

  3. Paul Milenkovic:

    Do you count the STEM disciplines separately from what you considered to be watered-down humanities and liberal arts?

    Or do you consider the STEM departments and majors to be part of the same “racket”? If you consider STEM in the same category, what is your accounting of the flood of overseas students in our universities, eager to take those courses and graduate in such majors?

    I have a senior/graduate course that is a mix of software engineering and linear system theory with over 2/3 foreign, immigrant, or first-generation (like me) enrollment. Are the people from outside the U.S. making a big mistake in considering this course to be of value?

  4. Akatsukami:

    Maybe.

    Our situations aren’t entirely comparable; you’re apparently enrolled in a STEM program with a significant number of people who have come to the U.S. to likewise enroll, whilst I deal on a daily basis with the Left Behinds in Mother India and the Middle Kingdom. But I find them to be ill-educated, marginally literate, as entitled in their thinking as any Owie, and largely dishonest. The IT industry would benefit greatly if they went back to selling chapatis and oil cakes from charcoal-fired carts.

  5. Titus:

    Are the people from outside the U.S. making a big mistake in considering this course to be of value?

    The foreign students can always return home with their educations and put them to use in the lucrative electronic fab/mfg sector.

  6. Paul Milenkovic:

    So you are saying that the totality of education, especially in the STEM disciplines, is without value to U.S. citizens because our manufacturing sector is hollowed out, including high tech?