"Hire" education

An article from today’s WSJ…

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HIgher Learning, Meet Lower Job Prospects

When North Carolina’s new governor, Pat McCrory, was interviewed last week on the syndicated radio show hosted by former U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett, the talk naturally turned to education. According to some listeners—or those who heard about the interview in the media echo chamber—Gov. McCrory committed a major error.

No, he actually just stated an uncomfortable truth. Gov. McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, said he is concerned that many college graduates can’t get decent jobs. The problem, he suggested, might be that many academic disciplines have no real practical applications.

Referring specifically to North Carolina’s 16-campus state university system, Mr. McCrory wondered if state funding incentives should encourage areas of study that align with the job market. Other disciplines, such as gender studies, Mr. McCrory said, might be subsidized less. The funding formula, he said perhaps a bit indelicately, should not be based on the number of “butts in seats, but how many of those butts can get jobs.”

The education establishment immediately went bonkers. The pundits piled on. But Mr. McCrory raised a legitimate concern. And the solution he proposed, sketchy as it is at this stage, is not a bad one.

The truth is: Elite universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are doing a disservice when they lead students into majors with few, if any, job prospects. Stating such truths doesn’t mean you’re antagonistic to the liberal arts.

Yet some, always eager for a fight, misconstrued the governor’s comments as a call for abolishing liberal-arts education in favor of vocational training. UNC-Chapel Hill geography professor Altha Cravey said the governor “was not elected to decide what has intellectual value and what does not.” Sociology professor Andrew Perrin said that the governor’s comments reflected “a fundamental misunderstanding” of higher education.

Instead of treating Mr. McCrory’s statements as an attack on liberal arts—and thus missing his point—the education community might instead pause to consider the validity of his criticism. They could even acknowledge the possibility that many taxpayers, perhaps a majority, share his views.

The governor may have understated the case. Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.

The National Association of Educational Progress indicates that literary proficiency among adults with “some” college is declining. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of the 2011 book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” found that 36% of college students made no discernible progress in the ability to think and analyze critically after four years in school.

For many students, college is a smorgasbord of easy courses chosen for their lack of academic rigor. There is no serious “core curriculum.” Students spend limited time studying. Faculty and administrators make matters worse by allowing students to fill up their time with courses like UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Dogs and People: From Prehistory to the Urbanized Future” and “Music in Motion: American Popular Music and Dance.” When students can get a minor in “Social and Economic Justice” without ever taking a course in the economics department, it’s hardly surprising that businesses aren’t lining up to hire them.

As it happens, North Carolina’s Pat McCrory is not alone. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who recently took over the helm of Purdue University, has suggested much the same. In an open letter to the Purdue community, Mr. Daniels cited a long list of challenges facing universities, including complaints that “rigor has weakened.”

To meet such challenges, he said, those in higher education can’t afford to look the other way. “We would fail our duty of stewardship either to ignore the danger signs all around us, or to indulge in denial and the hubris that says that we are somehow uniquely superb and immune.”

U.S. colleges and universities aren’t “uniquely superb,” nor should they be immune from criticism. This is the time for humility and introspection, not circling the wagons.

TLDR version:

There are too many students majoring in “soft” majors–like English, Cultural Anthropology, and Art Appreciation. And these students are finding that their chosen majors are landing them jobs as ditch diggers and waitresses. So sayeth the governor of North Carolina.

Unsurprisingly, the governor has found some opposition to his opinion, names professors in the aforementioned “soft” majors.

Some people are complaining that college isn’t hard enough, and that even top-level liberal arts colleges are graduating students who can’t think at the college level. It’s not unexpected–many students choose these majors because they’re so easy. They get to take cheesy classes.

+1000 I thought the governor and the author were spot on.

I agree with the governor and with BS.

We continue to subsidize “higher” education, through taxpayer-funded grants, and tax-favored loans. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and student loan defaults are at an all-time high. This also comes at a time when the federal government is running trillion-dollar deficits, state governments are tightening the belt, and tuition inflation is 9% per year.

I bet that if Johnny and Suzie had to pay for their own educations (like I did), they would think twice, before getting their degree in Home Economics…I mean…Family and Consumer Sciences.


I think most people are just disconnected from real life supply and demand for jobs. Many of these people truly believe that they will be able to find work in a field related to their degree. It’s only later that their hopes get crushed by the reality that we need more accountants than “social media evangelists” or something.

It’s a mistake to blame “liberal arts majors” for not getting jobs, in many cases liberal arts degrees do have a lot of academic rigor. I think some posters are confusing “soft degrees” with actual “liberal arts” diplomas.

In my opinion, colleges should only have a few select majors - basic humanities, sciences, economics, math, engineering, and allow specialization at graduate level. Instead we get people majoring in “Event Planning” and “Marketing” at state universities. These students should have gone to community college or trade schools.

Or gone to work for a “marketer” (whatever that is) or an event planner.

Well, if you can’t do math, you need to be able to write well and logically. And one should know some history too.

Axe all liberal arts, including economics. It’s about as useful - and surprisingly similar - as creative writing.

Seriously, I wouldn’t go so far as to say we should stop supporting these “soft” majors. But there should be more, pardon the pun, education around the realistic prospects of finding a job as an art history major. Is it really a smart move to spend tens of thousands of dollars (your own and taxpayers’) on this shit?

Yeah… if someone really wants to study basket weaving, that should at least be an option. However, colleges need to better educate students about career prospects from that course of study. When you apply for a major, you should get a pamphlet about the last 5 years of job or graduate school placement statistics for that department compared to others in the university. Instead, students get some crap about “interesting peers” and “passion for learning”, which doesn’t serve any purpose other than to warp the minds of impressionable youth. Really, they are the victims here.

To be honest, though, the university system evolved at a time when people didn’t need to be hyperspecialized to be employable. You could be an english major and generally smart because of core curriculum and breadth requirements and still be able to be a productive member of society.

Today, we seem to have eliminated jobs that require general intelligence and created process controls that ensure that people think and imagine as little as possible (like call center scripts).

I get the sense we need to overhaul how post-secondary education works. We don’t need more universities, necessarily, we just need more white-collar trade schools. The elite can go to college and then a trade school like MBA programs. Everyone else can just learn to plug numbers into spreadsheets as required by their bosses.


I think one of the biggest mistakes of up and coming students is to attempt to succeed the way the previous generation did. I’m sure we’ve all met or at least read about some hot shot manager or executive that graduated in medieval history or african studies, but ended up doing unbelievably well in life. While that guy would be scrutinized like crazy before and during an interview room now, he simply fell into the category of “good gpa, ivy league educated, enough said” before.

Even for many of the “useless” majors, I think most of those people tend to develop very good writing skills at the very least… but the demand for good writers has tanked throughout the years in the corporate setting.

^ Liberal Arts Grad, makes six figures. Also tired of hearing from cog in the wheel spreadsheet monkeys about the uselessness of a liberal arts education. Particularly when many of them can neither think critically, communicate effectively or have any sense of context, history or breadth.

Now shut the fuck up and build me a spreadsheet with some sparklines.

I have a liberal arts based undergraduate degree in economics, which only required a semester of statistics and a watered down semester of calculus called “calculus applications.” There were two types of students in my program - those who genuinely enjoyed economics and those who could not be admitted to the business school because they did not have a 3.0 GPA after their first two years of studies. I estimate that I use about 5% of what I learned as in undergrad in my professional life.

In graduate school, I studied applied economics, which was based more on statistics and less on good feelings. Everything that was presented to me in graph form as an undergrad was all of a sudden calc based. I only survived because I had worked through several mathematical econ texts during my last semester of undergrad and the summer preceeding grad school. So, to your point, the applications of a liberal arts based degree in economics are limited. The only job that I was qualified for out of undergrad was a bank teller. However, it would be a decent major/minor to pair with a more rigorous degree.

meh.the dude got it absolutely right.

there will be a clear heirachy soon enough if there isn’t already.there are jobs that hire only engineers even if it has nothing to do with engineering.they wont hire management,commerce undergrads etc even though they could do it too.

medicine,enginnering,accounting,finance,nursing, are the only one which will survive if you want cash.

pure science if you want to get into research

There seems to be some confusion here between “liberal arts” education and majors with limited professional marketability. Liberal arts help students develop writing, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills. You can have a liberal arts education and major in anything. Most US colleges provide liberal arts education; you are required to complete basic coursework in a broad range of subjects, and later, choose to specialize in a particular field of study. This is a good approach and helps produce well balanced graduates.

The problem with US colleges is that they blatantly mislead students to believe in uniform futures regardless of their choice of major. The question that students are asked then choosing a major is “do I find this subject interesting”. While this is an important question, we should also emphasize “how will this choice affect the next 40 years of my future”.

Not only are 19-year-olds horrible at decision making, but they lack the perspective that is required to answer the second question. This is where US colleges fail. In general, colleges do not give students enough information to align academic choices with career goals. I understand that colleges want to avoid becoming vocational institutions. However, they should still balance this with the need to provide practical advice to their students.

Economics degrees can be extremely quantitative, most of my economics classes were pretty mathematical and always calculus based, and those who wanted to do graduate study often took real analysis and algebra.

There is a difference between actual liberal arts which are very rigorous, and worthless majors like “marketing”. I think we should eliminate the latter and not confuse the two.

I go back to what I said before. If Johnny and Suzie have to pay for their own degrees instead of going on the taxpayer dime, they’ll think about this kind of stuff before they go to college. Eventually, the world will start to understand that a Bachelor’s in Basket Weaving means…you studied Basket Weaving. They’ll start to focus less on the “Bachelor’s” part and more on the “Basket Weaving” part.

The worst part about having to pay for your own degree–you’ll have a lot of upper-class, snot-nosed, rich kids getting degrees (even when they don’t deserve them), and a lot of poor kids not getting degrees (even when they do deserve them). That’ takes the US one step closer to a de facto caste system.

Which one of these is the lesser of the evils, I do not know.

BTW–shout out to MCalamari. Yours is the first Star Wars screen name I’ve seen. Got lots of LOTR, but not a lot of Star Wars. I don’t know why.

Ah, wealth is so concentrated and at this point access to financial capital is pretty much the only thing that matters anymore, in the US, we’re basically evolving back to a technological feudalism where access to financial capital is the equivalent to medieval landholding. The de-facto caste system is the effect, not the cause.

Eh, I don’t know about that. It still seems that poor kids in the US can still climb into higher socioeconomic levels. There are certain subsets of the population that are particularly good at this. It’s just that the key to success nowadays is academic success beginning from an early age. This benefits people who are willing to take advantage of the opportunities, but might cause frustration or disillusionment for people who built their wealth through old fashioned ways.

The more complicated argument is whether access to education today is has become more or less uniform across socioeconomic levels. There are arguments both ways. On one hand, rich kids have access to role models, tutoring, and money to pay for private school and college. However, poor kids have affirmative action and and access to student loans (not sure how easy it was to get a college loan in say, 1970). Furthermore, certain subsets of the population do achieve outlying academic success, regardless of parental income. Poor kids are at a general disadvantage, but I don’t see any reason to believe that this is more significant now compared to any other time.

Also, it should be expected that relative to society in general, 50% of kids will not be as rich or successful as their parents. On an absolute basis, unless the economy as a whole grows a lot, that number should still be like 1/3 or something. Not sure if people are just starting to realize this, or if people just complain in every generation.