BA = ’50s high school diploma, asserts ‘Worthless’

Aaron Clarey’s Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major is a “hilarious primer for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and theater interns after graduation,” writes Charlotte Allen on Minding the Campus.

Worthless degree.pngDon’t waste time, money and your parents’ credit rating on a bachelor of arts degree, Clarey advises. Only a bachelor of sciences will enable graduates to earn a living. Yes, that takes math.

Assuming a student might pay $30,000 in tuition (presumably at a state university) for a foreign language degree, Clarey explains how to save $29,721: Buy language software. How to save the full $30,000 on a women’s studies degree: Watch daytime TV.

With everyone going to college, regardless of talents or interests, “today’s college degree is the equivalent of the 1950’s high school diploma,” Clarey writes.

The humanities have destroyed their value by politicizing their fields, argues Allen. When English majors can skip Shakespeare for “post-colonial feminist film,” employers will “write off English majors as airheads.”

President Obama is a “snob” for pushing the college-for-all message, said Rick Santorum. (Remember “egghead?”) Not everyone wants or needs college, said Santorum, who holds a law degree.

While Obama identifies with professors, Santorum identifies with students oppressed by liberal academics, writes Ann Althouse, herself a law professor.

. . . every young person in America — regardless of their cultural and economic background — needs to see clearly that they can get a higher education. . .  They should to go to college for a good reason, and one particularly good reason is to study science and engineering. If they are going to study in some softer, less career-oriented area, the mushy notion that everybody ought to go to college is not enough, even if the President of the United States tells them it is.

Actually, Obama is pushing college as workforce training and science ‘n math education very hard these days.

About Joanne


  1. Althouse appears to have attended law school after obtaining a BFA. Mushy, indeed.

  2. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Yes, she graduated with a BFA in 1973 and her law degree was awarded in 1981. It would be interesting to find out what she did before beginning law school. I wonder how much debt she incurred to complete her BFA?

    I don’t object to anyone getting a “mushy” degree. I tune them out when they complain about the jobs they find they are qualified for and the debt they incurred. None of this matters if their family has money or they can find s slot in the family business.

    It was not that long ago that if you wanted to be a professional scientist or engineer, you needed an “independent income.” too.

    • It only matters if taxpayer money is involved at any point. Those who pay for college without taxpayer aid can major in whatever they choose and take the consequences.

      • As we saw last year they don’t want to take the consequences. Since the gov’t nationalized the student loan business we’re all on the hook.

      • I know when I went to college in 77, student aid was a joke. It was pretty much pay as you go.

        But then, with a part time job you could afford it. Semester costs for a 4 year public university, were about 450.00 plus books and supplies.

        For us vets, it was one and 1/2 months of our GI bill, and we were eligible for 6 months.

        Very affordable.

        • So you’re arguing that we should restore college subsidies to their historic levels, adjusted for inflation?

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            In many places, state colleges were more subsidized by their states back then. But their per student budgets were also considerably smaller in those good old days.

            It would be lovely to be able to roll college finances back to 1977–but I suspect that the people who are employed by them would be more than a little opposed.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Whether we’re using public funds to teach art in fifth grade or sociology in college… it’s the same thing. It’s just a matter of degree, if you’ll pardon the pun. How much edification and enrichment of the soul, how much pondering on the human condition, how much sensitivity to text and art and beauty, how much familiarity with the works of man…

    How much of all these things will we expect from someone? How much is good for someone?

    Many of the same people who say we shouldn’t spend taxpayer money on mushy degrees cry out in dismay when someone suggests cutting art and music and theatre and clubs from public school.

    But what’s the principled difference? Learning about music doesn’t help you get a job, save for a very lucky few. Learning about art doesn’t help you get a job, save for a very lucky few.

    But that’s not why we want elementary students to study those things. We want to improve their lives, to deepen the meaning of the human experience.

    It’s a matter of line drawing, not of principle. Not unless you want to reduce all education, K-12, to mere technical, vocational training.

    Of course, some people do want that. Which is reasonable (if mistaken).

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I agree with everything you say. But (you knew there was going to be a but), most college is not “edification and enrichment of the soul,” etc. It is taking courses that are simplified versions of courses the professors took in graduate school. These courses are not structured for “deepening the meaning of the human experience.” They are structured to transmit what experts know of their academic field.

      They are neither “technical, vocational” nor “pondering on the human condition.” Unless, that is, you plan to become a professor and do research in the field–and as part of the deal, have to teach classes–in which case, they are vocational.

      Since we already have a reserve army of the academic proletariat, I don’t think we need to subsidize the production of any more members.

      • Since we already have a reserve army of the academic proletariat, I don’t think we need to subsidize the production of any more members …

        But ROGER!, grad students, at least in the sciences are the hands that turn the wheels, executing the experiments of the professoriat. I presume the same is true in many other fields. Without them far fewer papers would be published; I’m sure there’s a downside to that. Well, pretty sure.

  4. Charles R. Williams says:

    I have my grandfather’s high school textbooks. He graduated in 1918. There is no doubt he was better educated than the typical college graduate. My grandmother finished the 8th grade. She had truly mastered middle school math which is more than I can say for my university students.

  5. While I do agree that a bachelor’s degree does not hold the weight that it once did, I do find Clarey and Allen to be mistaken in their “argument” that a degree in the arts is a waste of parent’s money. We should be encouraging young adults to advance their education in any degree they are passionate about, whether it be a degree in arts or science. It is a very elitist perspective that says only a degree in the sciences is worth spending time and money on. College, at least at the undergraduate level, is less about the diploma that a student walks away with anyway, and more about the overall growth and learning about the self that occurs during those 4 years. How many people actually work in the field their degree is in 5-10 years after college? So the arts vs. science argument seems ridiculous. “Only a bachelor of science will enable graduates to earn a living.” Come on! Tell that to the millions who are earning a nice living with their arts degree. Comments like that one do not help Clarey’s case; it only makes her appear more out of touch with today’s advanced education system and the students within it! I encourage students to go to college and study whatever it is they are passionate about because that is the key to success . . . PASSION. And for the record, I rather enjoyed my post-colonialism and feminist/film classes and do not consider myself anything close to an airhead and neither do my mentors and colleagues who know that my Master of Art’s degree in Organizational Communication was well earned through HARD-WORK and dedication.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      How many people actually work in the field their degree is in 5-10 years after college?

      Not many. But that is no problem if they have gotten a lot out of their college experience. Alas, many (maybe a substantial majority) haven’t.

      Few people make any direct use of the things that were taught in the courses they took, either at work or outside work. Nor have they spent the college years asking deep questions and following the Platonic motto, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

      They have gone because they have been told for years (though rarely this harshly), “If you don’t have a college diploma, you won’t be able to get a decent job–and you won’t deserve one.”

    • “We should be encouraging young adults to advance their education in any degree they are passionate about, whether it be a degree in arts or science.”

      “We” really should also be encouraging young adults to think about the costs of this, too. Following a passion (or, really, for most college students, a “mild interest”) in something that takes four years out of a kid’s life is one thing. Following a passion that takes four years and leaves them $100K in debt is another.

      “College, at least at the undergraduate level, is less about the diploma that a student walks away with anyway, and more about the overall growth and learning about the self that occurs during those 4 years.”

      I am quite certain that this is wrong for most college students. Given a choice between (a) a diploma and no learning, or (b) learning but no diploma I’m pretty confident that most would pick (a). I’m not going to claim that I’m happy about it, but most kids today who are in college are there to get a piece of paper that will help them get a job. Learning comes a distant second. Growth and learning about the self is much further behind.

      Are *all* the kids like this? No, of course not. But the kids at CalState Hayward (to pick a local example of a mediocre but not horrible college) are there to better their career prospects, not to learn deep truths about the universe or themselves.

    • I’m not sure that the apocryphal student who pursues a BFA thinking, “This is the path to a great many high paying jobs” actually exists. What we seem to have instead are a raft of mushy-degreed people like Althouse lecturing incoming college students that they shouldn’t pursue certain majors (the ones people like Althouse pursued) because they don’t provide immediate, obvious job prospects. Back when I attended college, the students had significant concern about what sort of employment opportunities they would have after graduation – and for obvious reasons that concern has become more pronounced. There may be a student or two out there who beieves that a BFA will turn them into the next Picasso, but I’m betting they’re hard to find.

      Many students who take “mushy” undergraduate degrees intend to attend graduate school. If your BFA is a step on your path toward becoming a lawyer, as long as law schools don’t care that you had artistic interests, what does it matter? Similarly, your “mushy” degree may qualify you for business school, which is a pretty mushy degree as well but requires some math. (Math phobic students can attend law school, like Althouse.)

      Also, the concept that there are a wide range of STEM jobs out there, waiting to be filled even by college students who hate math and science as long as they can push themselves hard enough to obtain a bachelor’s degree, is overstated. Top-earning STEM graduates make a nice living, but those jobs go to top students – and if you’re potentially a top law or business student but settle for being a mediocre STEM student, guess what… even if you luck into one of those top-paying jobs, odds are you’ll earn less than you would have earned in the career that you desired and for which you were better suited, and odds are you’re a lot less happy than you would be had you pursued your interests.

      I somehow doubt that Althouse took organic chemistry while earning her BFA, but I have to say, the associated lab work will let you know in a hurry whether or not you would want to spend a career in a science lab. If you take to it like a fish to water, great, but if you hate it… imagine a career of doing much the same thing, albeit with better equipment. It’s simply not for everybody. Even if we pretend that the jobs are there and pretend that they will pay well. My stepfather is about as STEM as you can get – anybody else here have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics – but when it came time to support his family he picked up a MBA and got a job (a math-heavy job) in business. His biggest career opportunity (which he passed on) came a couple of decades back when he found an ad for physicists, being run by an investment bank. Yes, some of the finest physics grads in the nation were recruited to write the derivatives that helped lead to the near-collapse of the global banking system. (Physicists are really good at calculus, and derivatives are calculus.)

      I don’t much care if you want to tell students, “Be careful of your major, think long and hard about the job market, pursue your non-economically viable interest as a minor or even as a second major, but if you are going to need a job when you graduate think about majors that might help get you that job, pick the one most suited to your interests and aptitude, and run with it.” I do have a problem with people who make snide assumptions about college students (BFA students are too stupid to know that they’re not at all likely to get a good paying job with that degree) and spin a myth that could lead students into pursuing majors that may already be adequately represented or overrepresented in the job market, and for which they lack the interest and aptitude to excel, and perhaps even to succeed.

      We talk a lot about remedial education here and how it fails – a top English student may well be operating at the remedial level in, say, Chemistry or Physics.