Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Couple of Things

with 4 comments

Okay, I’ve been working a lot today, and I wasn’t going to post, because I’m exhausted, but yesterday’s comments have me going.

First, for John’s benefit, the tier rankings are done by US News and World  Report, and they’re quite up front and transparent about their rating system.  The system they use is heavily weighted towards selectivity–towards the percentage of applicants a university accepts or rejects. 

This goes a long way to explain why graduates of first tier universities do better than graduates in the other tiers when it comes to finding a job.  Employers aren’t really looking for what an applicant has studied, except in very specific occupations.   They’re looking for raw talent.

You should know that there are separate rankings for universities and colleges–in the American sense of a college as an undergraduate institution giving bachelor’s degrees only (not masters or doctorates)–and colleges are not asked how many PhDs they grant.

That said, I’v’e pointed out here several times that most of the readers of this blog who comment are REALLY far behind in understanding what has happened to the undergraduate student population.

Forty years ago, whether you went to Vassar or the University of Connecticut was a big deal.  These days, not nearly so much. 

Most of the students who attend the institution where my program is would not have gone to college at all when  I went.  They’d have graduated from high school in the “business” course or the “general education” course and stopped there.

And West Podunk State University is not code for the University of Michigan.  It’s not even code for Michigan State.

What is now West Podunk State University either didn’t exist at all when we all went to college, or it was something called West Podunk Teacher’s College. 

These days, it almost certainly has open admissions–anybody with a high school diploma or a GED is automatically admitted, first come first served, no matter how  bad your grades are or how low your board scores.  

You don’t have to worry about me talking the students at  West Podunk into majoring in classics or English lit, because neither major is offered there.   Maors are various business rograms (business administration, marketing, management) and staples like nursing and teaching certification.

And I will reiterate–most of the students at places like this are being royally ripped off.  They are NOT learning marketable skills, and they are NOT putting themselves on track for better or steadier jobs.  At best, they’re just paying out of pocket for the education their parents’ taxes already paid for them to get in high school.  At worst, they’re just spinning their wheels and wasting money they don’t have.

But the kicker, really, of all the comments yesterday, was this one of Robert’s:

>>>>>Which does not mean a lot of “practical” majors aren’t rip-offs. But the accountant, the architect, the engineer and the master of a foreign language, to name only a few have mastered useful trades, none of them incompatible with studying history, literature or philosophy.

First, I never said people shouldn’t study to acquire useful skills, or that such study was “incompatible” with studying history, literature or philosophy.

In fact, I think, several posts ago, I sang the praises of the Great  American Multiversity and of the original concept of the land grant institutions as places where we’d produce engineerings and Aggies who also read Plato.

But of Robert’s list, all but the engineer and the “master of a foreign language” require graduate work–you can’t become an architect at all a bachelor’s alone, and if you want to be an accountant (and not just a bookkeeper) the chances are good that you’re going to have to get an MBA. 

(Note to Cheryl, re something youo said in a previous post:  in the  US, you can’t study law right out of high school.   You have to have a bachelor’s degree to get into law school.  And the degree can be pretty much in anything.)

As for foreign languages–well, they’re Humanities.  And just why anyone would think you’d get more for your money reading French novels than English ones is beyond me.

But Robert sas he’s never regretted majoring in history (another niche in the Humanities), and I majored in English and never regretted it either.  Even on a purely utilitarian level, that’s the route to go if you want to work at a national publishing house or on a national magazine, and if you want to go to work on an important newspaper or for one of the news networks, you’re more likely to be successful with a bachelor’s in English (or philosophy) and a master’s from one of the big name journalism schools than you will be majoring in “jouralism” as an undergraduate. 

But the kids I’m talking about aren’t going to do any of those things.  They’re not going to Vassar, and they’re not going to Michigan State.  They’re not even going to the University of North Dakota.  They’re at places called Herkimer County Community College and Mattatuck State University, and they’ll never see the inside of a calculus class.  They’re too busy taking “college algebra,” which is the same algebra we all took as high school freshmen–and the same algebra my sons have taken as high school freshmen, too.

These are not the kids who went to no-name state places when you and I all graduated from high school.  These are the kids who dropped out of high school as soon as they turned sixteen.

We’re now pushing these kids through the system on vastly dumbed down standards and then sending them to “colleges” that aren’t that. 

I really am going to get to science, slavery, Theophrastus and the rest eventually.

Written by janeh

June 13th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'A Couple of Things'

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  1. Well, here in Oz, it’s still possible to do Law as a bachelor degree. In fact, it’s the norm. Some take another degree concurrently, eg BA, BSc, but there are no preparatory degree prerequisites for any specialist degrees here in Oz, afaik. There is in most states a requirement for lawyers to do some practical training, which may be, as in my son’s case, a Post-graduate Diploma, or old-fashioned articles, as a prerequisite for admission to practice – effectively the Oz equivalent of the US Bar examination.

    Other professions have equivalent post-graduate practical requirements, but I can’t think of any that require prerequisite qualifications beyond high school. More’s the pity, I often think, because specialists can be such ignorant, narrow-minded people at times – engineers notoriously so if the contumely heaped on them in various undergrad wars here in Oz over the years are any guide. :-)


    13 Jun 09 at 9:37 pm

  2. I haven’t lived in the US since 1971 so my knowledge of it is way out of date. I have to rely on the Australian media (hopeless) plus the online NY Times (biased).

    Jane, people who take “cokkege algebra” at a community college are not being cheated IF they need it to become plumbers or electricians. They are being cheated if they think its college level math.


    14 Jun 09 at 12:48 am

  3. Ahem. The key word was FOREIGN language, and I said nothing directly about literature. A fluent bilingual or trilingual has a valuable skill right there, and apart from putting bread on the table, it has saved lives. Check the openings right now for Arabic, Pushto, Farsi and Chinese speakers. The ability to read THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, DON QIXOTE or RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDUE in the original is, at best, a bonus.

    “Foreign area studies” majors are walking right into good jobs with a four-year degree–if they chose the right foreign area. Their knowledge of culture, society and government is helpful, of course, but their linguistic skills are essential.


    14 Jun 09 at 6:52 am

  4. Congratulations on being finished–almost finished?–with the book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    This 70s jobs thing is interesting. Most of the burger flippers I was talking about went to University of Michigan or Michigan State. There were pretty much no jobs available in Michigan in 1979 when I graduated, and everybody who’d already graduated & gotten a job in state from about ’77 or ’78 on had been laid off. The economy there was as bad then as it probably is now. So the few recruiters who showed up for interviews pretty much had their pick. The only things which gave you a reasonable chance at getting a job were either an engineering degree (preferably electrical or chemical) or the ability to program a computer, preferably with a degree in computer science or business. I went the second route, got a job in the Chicago area (I was the only person I knew in my graduating class who got a job right out of school, although it was an enormous class, and there must have been others), and then hosted a long line of friends & family who camped out on my living room floor while job hunting. While looking, they flipped burgers. I knew one who moved 200 miles to get a job working the counter at Arbys. And we *had* to get jobs–most of our parents worked for the car companies or parts suppliers or some other place which relied on the car companies, and their jobs were hanging by a thread. This is such a contrast with your experience, just a few years earlier. And Michigan and State are definitely not Podunk schools. I’m sure the economy had a lot to do with it, but if that was the main reason, I wouldn’t have expected recruiters at your school to be *quite* so enthusiastic just a few years earlier. The recession had already begun by then. And if it was like this for us, what must it have been like for kids from real Podunk schools?

    Lee B

    14 Jun 09 at 4:21 pm

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