A country of credentials

The U.S. has become a “country of credentials” because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1971 “disparate impact” ruling, argues Bill McMorris in The American Spectator.  Griggs v. Duke Power Company changed how companies hire, pay and promote workers, he writes.

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a  math genius in Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a math genius in Good Will Hunting

Black workers complained they had to be high school graduates and pass two aptitude tests to be promoted at their North Carolina plant. Blacks were less likely to pass than whites and less likely to have finished high school.

The court agreed that was racist. “What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.

The military used aptitude testing heavily in World War II and businesses followed suit in the post-war era, writes McMorris. Blue-collar workers could rise through the ranks.

“Despite their imperfections, tests and criteria such as those at issue in Griggs (which are heavily…dependent on cognitive ability) remain the best predictors of performance for jobs at all levels of complexity,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax has found.

. . . “Most legitimate job selection practices, including those that predict productivity better than alternatives, will routinely trigger liability under the current rule,” Wax wrote in a 2011 paper titled “Disparate Impact Realism.”

The solution for businesses post-Griggs was obvious: outsource screening to colleges, which are allowed to weed out poor candidates based on test scores. The bachelor’s degree, previously reserved for academics, doctors, and lawyers, became the de facto credential required for any white-collar job.

That’s pushed more people to go to college and into debt, McMorris writes. “One out of every four bartenders has a diploma, and though they listen to moping for a living, few majored in psychology.”

Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

People who’ve earned long-term vocational certificates and associate degrees start at higher wages than four-year graduates, a Tennessee study shows. After five years, the bachelor’s degree holders have caught up with two-year graduates, but don’t quite earn as much as the certificate holders.

More graduates are working less

Recent college graduates are struggling to find jobs. 

They earned a degree and then …

Many college students don’t work very hard or learn very much, concluded Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift. For their new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, they followed 1,000 graduates for two years after college. A little over a quarter of graduates were earning $40,000 or more and 53 percent were unemployed, employed part-time, or working full time for less than $30,000.

That’s scary.

CC, for-profit grads compete equally for jobs

Job seekers are as attractive to employers with a for-profit certificate or degree as with a community college credential, concludes a new study, which sent fictitious resumes to employers. Community colleges charge a lot less, the researchers pointed out.

Applicants with “some college” did little better than those with just a high school diploma.

Childhood’s ‘long shadow’

Only 4 percent of low-income Baltimore children had earned a college degree by age 28, concludes a Johns Hopkins study that followed 790 first graders for 22 years. Forty-five percent of higher-income children went on to earn a degree.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood.

White men from low-income backgrounds were less likely to attend college, but more likely to find well-paying blue-collar jobs. At age 28, 45 percent were working in construction trades and industrial crafts, compared with 15 percent of black men from similar backgrounds.

At age 18, 89 percent of white dropouts were working compared with 40 percent of black drop-outs.

White women from low-income backgrounds were much more likely than black women to be in stable family unions with a working spouse or partner.

At age 28, 49 percent of black men and 41 percent of white men from low-income backgrounds had a criminal conviction. But whites were much more likely to be working because of their stronger social networks, the study found.

Duncan twists truth to hit for-profit colleges

Seventy-two percent of for-profit colleges’ career programs “produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a White House news conference. That earned
two “Pinocchios” for lying from the Washington Post’s fact-checker. Essentially, Duncan compares apples to oranges — with a few lemons thrown in — to make for-profit colleges look bad.

Here’s why career-minded students choose for-profit colleges over much cheaper community colleges.

Wanted: Employees with autism

Autism Can Help You Land a Job, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Germany-based software company SAP believes people with autism may be better at certain jobs. The company wants up to 1 percent of its workforce — 650 people — to be autistic by 2020, according to Jose Velasco, head of the autism initiative at SAP in the U.S.

People with autism spectrum disorder—characterized by social deficits and repetitive behavior—tend to pay great attention to detail, which may make them well suited as software testers or debuggers, according to Velasco, who has two children with the condition.

. . . “They have a very structured nature” and like nonambiguous, precise outcomes, Mr. Velasco said. “We’re looking at those strengths and looking at where those traits would be of value to the organization.”

“Autistic employees at SAP take on roles such as identifying software problems, and assigning customer-service queries to members of the team for troubleshooting,” reports the Journal.

Perfect people

In “the upper reaches of the meritocracy,” young college graduates are trying to be “perfect avatars of success,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. He urges employers “bias hiring decisions against perfectionists” with “a high talent for social conformity” and no personality.

They got 3.8 grade-point averages in high school and college. They served in the cliché leadership positions on campus. They got all the perfect consultant/investment bank internships. During off-hours they distributed bed nets in Zambia and dug wells in Peru.

. . . Students who get straight As have an ability to prudentially master their passions so they can achieve proficiency across a range of subjects. But you probably want employees who are relentlessly dedicated to one subject. In school, those people often got As in subjects they were passionate about but got Bs in subjects that did not arouse their imagination.

Brooks wants employers to reward job applicants who’ve done something unfashionable, such as going to a Christian college to explore their values.

Interviewees should be asked: “Could you describe a time when you told the truth and it hurt you?”

“If the interviewee can’t immediately come up with an episode, there may be a problem here,” advises Brooks.

My first reaction: Now overachievers will have to come up with an unfashionable thing — but not too unfashionable — in addition to grades, leadership, internships and Peruvian well-digging. I recommend competing in an obscure sport, performing a medieval musical instrument or any activity that can’t be verified by the prospective employer.

Traditionally, job applicants admit to perfectionism when asked for their faults. If that’s out of fashion, they’ll need a new fault. Perhaps, inability to lie with conviction would be a good one. “I tell the truth, even if it hurts me. Let me tell you about the time . . . “

College heads resist federal database

College presidents say their institutions should be reporting their graduates’ debt levels and job placement rates, but don’t want the federal government collecting and publishing data on student outcomes. They really don’t like Obama’s proposed ratings system.