6 responses to “The Worst and Best Degrees: A Bunch of Bunk!”

  1. Ironic that the ads that appear on my screen next to this column are for the University of Phoenix and DegreeSearch.org!

    I agree that education for its own sake is a good thing (“Knowledge is Good” – Emil Faber, Faber College, “Animal House” (1978)). I also understand that people go to college to increase their career potential, and that some careers pay more than others.

    I have two pet peeves that I hope are not contradictory.

    First, I bemoan the increasingly career-orientedness and narrowing of degree programs. A breadth of knowledge and exposure, cooupled with a shared understanding of intellectual traditions, is of great value and increasingly rare.

    Second, I cringe when I hear of so many college graduates being saddled with 5-figure and even 6-figure student loans incurred in receiving degrees in fields unlikely to provide significant earning potential for years to come.

    I remember an acquaintance (friend of a friend) who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in theater, each from different private colleges. Two years after graduation, she was working at the fragrance counter at Neiman-Marcus in San Francisco because she couldn’t get work in her field.

    She bemoaned her fate, but who did she blame? The universities for their high tuition and fees? Her parents for not being able to support her aspirations and education? The job market for not providing opportunity? Did she blame, or even question, the advisability of her incurring significant debt to attend *private* rather than public education? Did she question the advisability of her incurring significant debt to be educated in a field with limited career potential and limited earning potential?

    No. She blamed – Ronald Reagan! Seriously. Her last student loan was at a higher interest rate because Congress changed Federally guaranteed and Federally subsidized student loan rates to be closer to – but still below – market loan interest rates.

    Not all students are created equal, intellectually, attitudinally, or economically. Not all educational instiutions are created equal in terms of academic rigor, quality, values, or value (ROI). The oppotunity is the same as the tragedy – human choice and its influence on outcomes. As much as we might wish for better information, there is a stronger need for clarity in goals and expectations as well as understanding of options and limitations.

  2. True, but the caveman’s world was also one of “you eat what you kill” and a strong need to avoid being killed oneself. Rousseau’s idealized “state of nature” misstated the pre-civilization imperatives and reality. Pre-civilization was Eden *with* predators.

    In a way, it’s really unfair to ask a teenager to select their educational trajectory and likely career path. There’s a lot to be said about the “gap year”, the “grand tour”, or even Superman’s Fortress of Solitude as an opportunity for a teenager to gain life experience and reflect on adult choices.

    Of course, in the US about 1/2 of all university students are “nontraditional”; i.e., older than 18-22 and who did not finish university in the typical sequential way. Online education options and for-profit universities have accellerated this trend, but the trend was present and pronounced long before.

    Now, we are told that the typical young graduate will have 7-11 different occupations in their working lifetime. The required new flexibility is flexibility in new skills mastery and competency attainment.

    When I went to college, it was reported that only about 1/3 of business executives had a business-relate ddegree. Of course, that was in a time when many business executives were administrative. As the organizational pyramid has become more of an hourglass, speialized knowhedge and applied skill have become even more valued. Generalized knowledge and “soft skills” became too expensive to focus on.

    Of course, the pendulum has swung back and there is fertile ground for “soft skills” consultants, facilitators, counselors, and coaches to atempt to infuse what has been squeezed out of business and, to an extent, education.

  3. That is true,Jack. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said, “I actually had things to do, but with not one, but three of the worst degrees one can have, I am worth even less in this economy. I don’t know if I can go on, but I’ll try”. I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you’re talking about. Can’t wait to read more from you!

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