Monday, January 23, 2012

Those With Education Credentials In A Soft Field Can Breed Disaster -

This column by Thomas Sowell  ( has some points that need to be clarified, but the general concepts are important. 

Those With Education Credentials In A Soft Field Can Breed Disaster -

First, Sowell is not suggesting you should not be able to study whatever you want, as long as you and your family are paying for the degree. If the federal government (read: "taxpayers") are paying for an education, however, we need to consider promoting specific fields. 
When institutions of higher learning turn out highly qualified doctors, scientists, engineers and others with skills that can raise the standard of living of a whole society and make possible a better and longer life, the benefits are obvious.

What is not so obvious, but is painfully true nonetheless, is that colleges and universities can also turn out vast numbers of people with credentials, but with no marketable skills with which to fulfill their expectations. There is nothing magic about simply being in ivy-covered buildings for four years.
Statistics are often thrown around in the media, showing that people with college degrees earn higher average salaries than people without them. But such statistics lump together apples and oranges — and lemons. 
See my blog post I am not a winner (or loser) for a comparison of different degrees. If you major in drama, studio arts, visual and performing arts, et cetera, expect to earn about $40,000 a year for several years — if you find a job, and likely that job would be in teaching. But, major in engineering? You'll be looking at $80,000 to as much as $120,000 right out of a bachelor's degree program. Add a master's in some fields, such as petroleum or chemical engineering, and $150,000 to $175,000 is the average salary.

As Sowell writes:
A decade after graduation, people whose degrees were in a hard field like engineering earned twice as much as people whose degrees were in the ultimate soft field, education. Nor is a degree from a prestigious institution a guarantee of a big payoff, especially not for those who failed to specialize in subjects that would give them skills valued in the real world.
While Sowell is insulting education majors, there is ample evidence that they are not the best students. The GRE scores of education majors? Not even in the top twenty for verbal skills — and that includes future English teachers. An interesting side note for recent scores on the verbal (language) skills, not quantitative (math): students majoring in physics/astronomy (7th with a 534), political science (11th), economics (12), mathematics (12th at 502) and, yes, engineering (15th at 490) all scored better than secondary education students (21st) and much, much better than elementary education students (40th). At least early childhood education scored above 400 on the 800-point scale… with a 418 average over the last five years. 

The GRE scores on the verbal and written skills closely correspond to earnings later in life. The exception is, ironically, the top scoring field which is philosophy (589 verbal average and a stunning 636 quantitative average over the last five years). Maybe philosophers are under-valued after all, but that's a different issue. (I am biased since I also edit a philosophy website.)

Again, the problem I have with Sowell's argument is that I don't want any federal interference in education. I'd rather students (and parents) make their own choices. But, I suppose if we are going to spend tax money on subsidized loans, grants, and scholarships, it makes sense that those should be in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields that correlate to technical innovation and also social improvement.

Science is necessary to study pollution, healthcare, climate change, alternative energy, and every other cause the left champions. So, we can all agree that STEM students are needed. Why give tax money to theatrical departments when engineering majors are declining in numbers? We need engineers. 

This statement by Sowell bothers me:
The semi-literate sloganizing of our own Occupy Wall Street mobs recalls the distinction that Milton Friedman often made between those who are educated and those who have simply been in schools. Generating more such people, in the name of expanding education, may serve the interests of the Obama administration but hardly the interests of America.
The Occupy movement is no less literate than the Tea Party. They are also no more literate or educated, with or without college degrees. I would agree that a college degree does not correspond inherently with common sense or even critical thinking skills. However, the OWS protesters do tend to be overwhelmingly white, middle-class, and educated. They are not a "mob"(generally) but a group of students that have mistaken what it means to be prepared for the future.

Having "a degree" is not the same as having the "right degree" in our economy. That's what the Occupy protesters don't seem to recognize and something our media are glassing over when they mention unemployed people with college degrees. I've mentioned before that a protester in Pittsburgh mentioned his degree was in puppetry. Seriously? Of course you aren't employed.

I wrote in my previous post that the key to a better future is education, education, and more education. And I have long pushed for a classical liberal arts degree for all undergraduates. None of these students should be allowed to say, "Math is too hard!" or to enroll in "Rocks for Jocks" to avoid exposure to serious, university-level science courses. In my ideal university, everyone in the first four years takes difficult, challenging courses in science, math, history, art, and language. No exceptions.

Right now, the abilities of graduates suggest there is a problem with the educational achievements of students in the humanities. Sowell is correct about that. But, that's not the fault of the students. We, the adults in charge — especially educators — have allowed programs to atrophy, losing any rigor.

Improve education, improve the future. And improve the lives of students so they don't graduate with degrees in puppetry at taxpayer expense… only to wonder why they cannot find jobs.  

1 comment:

  1. A degree in the hard sciences is key if you want to earn a high salary; however I know people who earned high income degrees (medicine, computer science) due to family pressure but ended up unhappy and quitting. You have to pick something that makes you happy as well.

    Trident Online College