College bubble

The higher education bubble is bursting, writes David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute. “Between 2000 and 2005, the average wages of college graduates declined after adjusting for inflation,” he writes. College graduates have flooded the market. There may be jobs for the CalTech math major with a 4.0 grade point average, but not for the graduate with “a 2.8 communications degree from San Francisco State University.”

Not only are students not getting the economic payoff they expect, Frum writes, many aren’t getting a good education.

It’s often at the costliest universities that students are able to graduate with a degree in English without ever having read Shakespeare, a degree in history despite ignorance of the Civil War, or one in art history without ever having encountered the Renaissance.

In their own ways, universities indulge in some of the worst faults of the corporate sector, overcharging their customers in order to allow managers and staff to engage in wasteful or destructive activities that could never be justified on their own.

Universities need to rethink their practices, Frum writes.

Why does it take four years to complete a BA degree? Maybe liberal arts studies make more sense later in life?

For that matter, “maybe tough high school exit exams would serve the needs of employers who currently insist on a BA not for its own sake but as proof that a student was not too lazy or aimless to get one.”

Frum is responding to a Chronicle of Higher Education column arguing that four-year colleges need to become much more efficient to compete with online institutions and community colleges.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Ragnarok says:

    “In their own ways, universities indulge in some of the worst faults of the corporate sector, overcharging their customers in order to allow managers and staff to engage in wasteful or destructive activities that could never be justified on their own.”

    Combine this with absolutely unbelievable PC stances, and we can all see the results.

    When I was a kid American universities were the envy of the world. Now? Now they take in students who were never meant for college, and then spit them out at the other end, completely unable to read, write, reason or spell.

  2. Wow. I’ve never agreed with David Frum on anything before. I tend to see him as an annoying little creep and think it’s a great sin many Americans only know him and not his mother who was one of Canada’s great journalists but regardless, agree with him I do.

  3. I think what I posted on The Quick and the Ed at http://www.quickanded.com/2009/05/condition-of-education-college-wage.html is just as applicable to this subject.

    I’ve always thought that when they show graphs like this, they should add an additional category showing those without college, but with professional/technical certifications… i.e. plumbers, electricians, nondestructive testers (my job), aircraft mechanics, etc…

    For example, my field, nondestructive testing, doesn’t require college, but requires you to be certified to a National Standard. You can get associate and/or bachelor degrees in the field, but all they do is reduce the amount of time it takes to get certified, and ironically the time it takes to complete the degree is more than the time saved.

    All the talk about college as glossed over the fact that some degrees from some schools are almost worthless economically, and some certifications are worth much more than many college degrees.

    I think European countries have a much better handle on this sort of thing, since they formalize apprenticeships and technical training and mesh it into their education systems.

    The fact of the matter is that even if everyone had college degrees, someone would still have to fix your toliet, fix your car, fix aircraft, etc…

    Our whole K-12 education system leans towards focusing on a single goal, and is measured by that same imperfect and impractical goal.

    Just saying…

    Rory

  4. Homeschooling Granny says:

    What does a nondestructive tester do? Are there destructive testers too?

  5. Actually yes… there are destructive testers.

    Nondestructive Testers?Inspectors (NDI or NDT) find cracks… we use x-ray or ultrasonics, or several other methods to find cracks in aircraft or nuclear reactors or pipelines. The idea being that we find a crack early enough to either fix or replace the part before it causes major damage.

    Destructive testers are more like QA testers. For example, if you took a part of an assembly line and applied stress to it to see how much force it would take to break it.

    NDT is an awesome career field. I had never heard of it until I joined the Air Force, now I have to fight to keep my 22 year old airman because they can easily get out of the AF after 4 years and get great paying jobs.

    Working on the Alaskan Pipeline pays 80K a year starting out, working 2 weeks on/2 weeks off.

    There are many other sorts of jobs like this that require trade skills that can be obtained through routes other than college.

    Right now people luck into these careers (or have family members that hook them up), whereas there should be formal apprenticeship programs to help fill these technically demanding non college requirement jobs.

  6. hardlyb says:

    I think that getting a real degree is still worthwhile. And the best American universities are still the best. Unfortunately, in the US we have this moronic idea that it’s undemocratic to suggest that some people really ought not go to law school or get a PhD, and therefore everyone needs to go to college, so the system is larded up with people that shouldn’t be in college, and colleges that shouldn’t be there at all. I think that these statistics would show a very different story if they could get rid of the crap degrees and the students that didn’t work.

    The sad thing is, most of these crap degree people spent a lot of money to get crap jobs, and they seem to not like them. My brother is a welder, and he’s never been out of work in the 40+ years since he first got trained – right now, he’s working nights and weekends because the company where he works as too much to do. Not only that, he really likes his job, which hasn’t bored him yet, and he is proud of the cool stuff he’s made. My only problem with his job is that when I complain about “working too hard”, he is completely justified in laughing at me (although he’s much too nice a guy to do so), since sitting in an air-conditioned office staring at a computer screen or the wall isn’t quite as demanding as crawling around in a pressure vessel on a respirator welding baffles in place during a Texas summer.

  7. Parent2 says:

    Rory: “I think European countries have a much better handle on this sort of thing, since they formalize apprenticeships and technical training and mesh it into their education systems.”

    In Germany, the apprentice system is breaking down. It depended upon companies sponsoring the apprentices, providing a place to work, training and guidance. In recent years, mostly smaller companies participated in the program. Large companies would then recruit the apprentices, after they had completed the program. Smaller companies see no use in training their competitors’ employees.

  8. yes, i don’t understand why it takes four years to complete a BA. my youngest brother is the first in our family to go to a trade school instead of a traditional academic college – he’s learning how to become an electrician, and loving every minute of it. he found his course through http://www.top-colleges.com – lots of other vocational courses/advice for anyone who is interested. i graduated with a BA amd can’t find any work at the moment.