Dicta

The home of “things said” by the National Association of Scholars.

Jobs at NAS

NAS

NAS seeks to hire two research fellows and two office interns. Contact us to learn more and apply.

Jobs and Governance

William H. Young

William Young examines the relationship between higher education, public policy and stagnant job growth.

Doubting College’s Worth Beyond Jobs and Earnings

Ashley Thorne

When Americans today ask, “Is college worth it?” they are not just asking whether they will earn more than most high school graduates.

Ideological Litmus Test at University of Wisconsin

Mary Grabar

A job posting for a lecturer in World History requires that the applicant describe his commitment to addressing "issues of historic marginalization."

College Is a Drain

Ashley Thorne

This week brought a shower of pronouncements about how college is squandering American resources. 

Capitalism and Western Civilization: Jobs

William H. Young

William Young discusses the growing number of jobs in technological fields and the shrinking pool of workers qualified to fill them.

Debating Higher Ed: STEMs, Skills, Humanities, and Hiring

Joshua Wright

New research from a group of economic experts helps illuminate the question of whether college students should study the liberal arts or something more "vocational."

Overinvesting in Higher Ed

Richard Vedder

Should nearly everyone go to college? No, says Richard Vedder.

After College, What?

George Leef

That’s the question I look into in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call.

Universities and Income Equality: New Evidence and Conjectures

Richard Vedder

Richard Vedder discusses new research suggesting that a greater proportion of degree-holders lowers income equality.

The “Marriage Premium”

George Leef

Mr. Leef makes fun of the concept of a "college degree premium" with a parallel to marriage as an earning stimulant.

College is a Risk, Not a Guarantee

Jason Fertig

We need to help prospective students better understand the costs and risks of going to college, argues Jason Fertig.

The Merchant of Zuccotti Park

Peter Wood

Peter Wood argues that the Occupy Wall Street movement is helping Americans realize that college is not necessarily an “investment.”

Check Out This Alternative to College

Charlotte Allen

As larger numbers of unprepared students head for college and leave without completing a degree, Charlotte Allen describes an educational response that may provide a viable alternative.

Competency and Western Civilization

William H. Young

William Young examines the decline of the competency that is vital to a skilled workforce.

Prescient

George Leef

"The widespread use of high school diplomas and college degrees as employment screening devices by employers has led to a belief that increasing education will increase opportunities, and/or that the reason for escalating educational 'requirements' is a corresponding increase in the knowledge necessary to perform a given job. The well-organized education lobbies exploit these beliefs to the fullest. In fact, however, educational 'requirements' are often used by employers who are wholly unconcerned about the specific content of the education, but who regards a diploma or degree as an indication of the job applicant's willingness to persevere and his grades as a rough index of his mental capability. The educational requirements are a hurdle which eliminates enough job applicants to narrow the employer's choice down to manageable proportions. By making it possible for more young people to go over a given hurdle, society also makes it necessary for employers to raise the hurdle in order to weed out the same proportion of applicants. The result has been an upward spiral of credentials and requirements with more and more young people being forced to endure more and more years of education that they do not want in order to qualify for jobs where the education is not needed. As more and more jobs have been put beyond the reach of those without the necessary credentials, whether or not such individuals can do the work itself, those ethnic minorities who are not traditionally oriented toward formal education are particularly hard hit." Thomas Sowell, Race and Economics, 1975, pp.231-2. America's mania for educational credentials has been accelerating for quite a long time.

On Cashiers and College Degrees

Jason Fertig

A New York Times article doesn't convince Jason Fertig that nearly everyone needs to go to college.

More Options Needed for the Academic Middle

Jason Fertig

Jason Fertig comments on Other Ways to Win, a precursor to today's Academically Adrift that argues we need to recognize forms of success other than getting a college degree.

Academic Questions Author Lawrence Mead on BBC

NYU professor Lawrence Mead, an author in a recent issue of Academic Questions, did a feature for the BBC on welfare reform in the UK.

They're Mad as Hell: Grad Students Face Job Market

Jonathan Bean

As the academic job market worsens (was it ever good?), graduate students are angry, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Don't expect a protest march in the streets burning Ph.D. gowns, but the blinkered view of some tenured faculty about the job market must drive a grad student nuts. 

Egypt: Oversold Higher Education Boomerangs

George Leef

In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Dr. Troy Camplin observes that the center of gravity for the rebellion in Egypt seems to be un- and under-employed college graduates. The Egyptian government concluded that having a large number of college-educated people would be good since having more “human capital” is beneficial. The trouble is that there isn’t any direct relationship between the number of people who have college credentials in a nation and the creation of productive jobs that call for the skills and knowledge imparted in the classrooms. 

Another Dissent from the "Higher Education for Everyone!" Line

George Leef

By and large, until say, 1945, the expansion [of education] was fairly harmless. Unfortunately, however, there came to be established the misconception that being in school was the only appropriate was of being educated. Now, the majority are being cruelly miseducated and hoaxed; they will not get jobs relevant to what they have been put through.

Law School -- Not Just Oversold, But Deceptively Oversold

George Leef

In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I comment on the recent, wonderfully iconoclastic New York Times piece on law schools. Students are lured into law school in much the same way they’re lured into college — easy government money to pay for education that is supposed to lead to great careers. But just as there aren’t nearly as many high-skill, high-pay jobs for BA holders as we are led to believe, there are not nearly enough legal jobs for all the people who are getting JDs. To keep the good times rolling, some schools utilize deceptive tactics to make it seem as though graduates are very likely to find lucrative legal jobs. Many won’t. The root of this problem is state regulation mandating that prospective lawyers must go through an approved (i.e., long and costly) educational experience known as law school. There is no reason for that mandate. Legal education ought to be opened up to free-market competition and discovery.

Rich Vedder Responds

George Leef

In this extensive Inside Higher Ed piece, Rich Vedder responds to criticism by Anthony Carnevale, who takes issue with Vedder’s argument that many college graduates derive no financial benefit from their degrees. 

Peter Wood on ABC News: "Going to College is a Gamble"

Video: NAS president Peter Wood talks about the risks of sending students to college at a time when they can be assured neither that they will learn much nor that they will be better positioned to secure a good job.

Rich Vedder on the Overproduction of Advanced Degrees

George Leef

At The Chronicle's Innovations blog, Rich Vedder discusses the overproduction of advanced degrees in the U.S. 

College for the Credential, Work for the Education

George Leef

David Bass decided on getting his college degree entirely through online courses. His college classes, just as he had thought, did little to advance his capabilities in comparison with all the on-the-job training.

Re: Value of the College Degree

George Leef

A figure of 85 percent agreeing that their education adequately prepared them for their job certainly doesn't mean much.

The Value of the College Degree

Ashley Thorne

Is college worth it just because recent grads say it is? There's more to it than the study shows, writes Jason Fertig at NAS.org.

"Mindless" Pursuit of College Degrees Comes at a High Cost

Ashley Thorne

Approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics considers relatively low skilled.

An English Professor Who Understands Austrian Malinvestment Theory

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Troy Camplin discusses his rather unsatisfactory experience as a Ph.D. who can only obtain adjunct teaching positions. He sees his situation (staying at home with his young children because day care costs more than he'd make by teaching an array of courses) as evidence for the Austrian school's explanation that government actions can distort people's decision-making and lead them into costly mistakes -- such as taking out lots of governmentally backed student loans to get degrees that don't pay off. There are plenty of interesting revelations in this piece, including one where Camplin was told, "Now, we aren't saying that you should dumb down your course...." when that was just what the administrators wanted him to do.

Another Dissent on the Idea that Economic Growth Depends on Having More College Grads

George Leef

In this LA Times op-ed, economics professor Shirley Svorny (Cal State Northridge) argues against the idea that if a state puts more kids through college, that will provide it with an economic boost. While the bigwigs in California's higher ed system want people to believe that, she says that "the state's prosperity rests on public policies that encourage economic activity, not on heavy subsidies to higher education." But won't the added knowledge from college make workers more productive? Svorny rebuts that notion, observing that "artificially low fees attract some students who simply aren't suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along." I would add that even for students who do study diligently, getting a college degree may be of little economic value. There is no automatic link between the number of sharp and highly educated people in a state and the creation of high-skill jobs.

The Glut of College Graduates

George Leef

Writing at the CCAP blog, Christopher Matgouranis shows how badly the U.S. has oversold college. He gives some Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the prevalence of college degrees among those working in occupations that most high school students could easily learn. It's worth mentioning that this is not a recent phenomenon either. College grads have been spilling over into "high school jobs" for many years. See, e.g., Pryor and Schaffer's 1999 book Who's Not Working and Why. Obama wants to substantially increase the number of Americans who get college degrees, but what does he think they'll be doing?

Jobs for College Grads

George Leef

Michael Mandel notes in this post that among recent college grads who have employment, the greatest number have government jobs. They probably produce little or no value; what they do may in fact impede the creation of value by others -- but they have what they probably consider "good" jobs. Another large category is the hospitality industry. Some 33,000 more grads are working in restaurants and hotels. Their jobs probably don't pay very well and could be done by most high school grads, but they ARE producing value.

Liberals Begin to See the College "Bubble"

George Leef

Writing for Huffington Post, Anya Kamenetz compares the huge level of student loan debt to the housing bubble. I'm glad to see understanding that we have oversold college spreading, but Kamenetz misses the role of the government in the college bubble, just as leftist writers turned a blind eye to the role of the government in the housing bubble. There would have been no housing bubble if it hadn't been for federal policy pushing home-ownership as if it were a good investment for everyone and making unrealistically cheap loans available. Similarly, government officials, starting with Barack Obama, keep telling young Americans that they need to go to college (otherwise, they're letting not just themselves but the nation down, says BHO) and enabling even the most academically weak, disengaged students to get into college with financial assistance from Uncle Sam. Kamenetz makes it sound as though the bad actors are all in the for-profit sector: "Someone with experience in the for-profit college marketing business told me that the same online sales geniuses who used to work for mortgage brokers are now employed by for-profit colleges. Their business is the same: fill out the forms, get the money, consequences be damned. Will we stop them this time?" Ah, but you'll find lots of kids drowning in their student loan debts who went to public colleges and universities as well. Those schools are just as eager to lure in warm bodies to fill the dorms and school coffers, just as eager to keep them enrolled even if they are learning little, and just as eager to slap educational credentials on them and send them into a job world that many will find as hospitable as Antarctica. The trouble is not the profit motive; non-profit institutions are no less hungry for revenue than proprietary ones. The trouble is that government policy makes it easy for people to misjudge the ratio between costs and benefits, leading to a profusion of decisions that borrowers later regret. Letting students escape from their debts in bankruptcy, which Kamenetz favors, only deals with the symptoms. I say we should attack the underlying pathology.

Wanted: A College Degree and the Ability to Lift 50 Pounds

Jason Fertig

Must employers require a college degree? Jason Fertig argues that not only is a college degree not necessary for many jobs, but also that college grads may be less qualified for certain work than others with real world experience.

New Author on NAS.org: Jason Fertig

Ashley Thorne

I'm pleased to introduce Jason Fertig as a new contributor at NAS.org. Dr. Fertig is an NAS member and assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana. Dr. Fertig brings a depth of perception and lively anecdotes from his own experience in the classroom to speak to some of the  most real issues in higher education today. He has written three articles for NAS so far:

More Millennials Need to Work at McDonalds advises recent college graduates: get a job, anywhere. Real Sustainability: Saving Our Sense of Culture asks, "Are we failing to hand down our cultural legacy to the next generation?" Dangers of Credentialing the College Degree: A Real-Life Example is a case study that illustrates the popular idea that students are entitled to get a passing grade - even if they don't earn one.

I especially recommend the third article, which received attention from blogs such as Phi Beta Cons and Joanne Jacobs. Also check out his essay at the Pope Center on the gap year, The Gift of Academic Maturity. Fertig spoke about the gap year this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio. You can look forward to more NAS articles by Dr. Fertig in the weeks ahead.

More Millennials Need to Work at McDonalds

Jason Fertig

Advice to recent college graduates: get a job, anywhere.

The Dismal Prospects for Scientific Employment

Alex B. Berezow

One of the most depressing articles I’ve ever read in my entire life describes the problem American students face when pondering a career in science. For years, the conventional wisdom was that our education system was failing to properly educate our children in STEM subjects (science, tech, engineering, and math). However, this article in Miller-McCune directly challenges this assumption. The authors contend that the real problem facing American students is a lack of careers in science. The case they make is compelling: Although the number of graduates receiving Ph.D.’s has increased, the number of job opportunities has not kept pace. This trend is particularly noticeable in academia, where young Ph.D.’s spend years as post-docs, with only a small chance of ever landing a permanent position as a professor. Indeed, the average age of a scientist who earns his first independent NIH grant– a huge milestone in the medical science field– has risen from a researcher’s late 20s/early 30s to the ripe old age of 42. One of the biggest causes indicated in this article is the flood of foreigners who are willing to take post-doc positions. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that a massive increase in labor supply will both eat up opportunities and drive down salaries. Post-doc positions, which were once viewed as prestigious, are now treated as temporary, cheap labor. With such a dismal prospect for career advancement and compensation, it’s no wonder that American students would rather get an MBA or MD… or to forgo higher education altogether.

College Degree No Guarantee of Prosperity

George Leef

This piece in The Chronicle reveals what many higher ed critics of known for years -- getting a college degree is no guarantee of prosperity. In fact, many Americans with degrees live in poverty. Those who keep saying that the nation will get a huge productivity boost by putting more people through college ought to consider the possibility that we've already oversold higher ed. The glut of people with degrees who can't find jobs that pay even moderately well is good evidence that we have. Conversely, I wish I didn't have to wait days to get someone to work on my malfunctioning air conditioning here in hot and humid North Carolina.

Political Correctness

Daniel Asia

I student of mine is applying for a job. Here is some of the verbiage on the job description page: "Strengthened by Diversity GCSU is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative-Action Institution committed to cultural, racial and multi-ethnic communities and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is expected that successful candidates share in this commitment." I note that they don't ask if the candidate is committed to quality scholarship, opposed to smoking, and being committed to rooting out obesity. How lacking in inclusivity!

The Best Careers Through Online Education

Ashley Thorne

By Adrienne Carlson It may come as a surprise to you, especially if you’ve always believed that online education is inferior to the traditional kind – there are certain careers where an online degree is your best chance of success. You may have heard that employers look down on online degrees, but not if you’re interested in a career in the following fields:

  • Education: It’s one field where jobs will always be available and teachers who are skilled and have a natural flair for the task are going to be in demand. Education is high on the priority list of most people, so there are openings in schools and colleges for good teachers and lecturers. Earning your degree in education through an accredited online school is a good way to ensure that your future is secure. If you are already in the field of education, you could give your career a boost by earning your master’s degree or a doctorate in the subject of your specialization. Teaching children or young adults is a fulfilling and well-paying profession that does not cause too much stress and comes with a host of perks, not the least of which is vacation time twice a year.
  • Information & Technology: With the entire world hooked on computers now, it’s only natural for everyone to want to jump on the IT bandwagon. The key to success in this field is to look for areas where there is a high demand and low supply, and choose your specialization accordingly. While most online schools grant you a degree in computer science or information technology, you may have to look for other certification courses to advance your skills in your specialty. And the best part about learning computer science is that you can work while you learn because this is a field that requires more practical knowledge than that which comes from books.
  • Military & Defense: More and more members of the military are now earning their degrees online. They’re allowed various concessions and benefits and can cement the security of their future after they leave the military using an online degree. They know that they are more likely to secure a well-paying job if they have a degree to back them up, so enrollment is now on the rise in online colleges from this quarter. Education is an alternative way for military personnel to take their minds off conflict and use their time to their future advantage.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of accelerated online degrees. Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: adrienne.carlson1@gmail.com.

WSJ Review of Jackson Toby's Book

George Leef

The Wall Street Journal ran a review of Professor Jackson Toby's book The Lowering of Higher Education in its December 23 edition. The reviewer, Ben Wildavsky, unfortunately buys into the standard line that college studies are highly beneficial and the country needs to encourage more students to enroll and graduate. Wildavsky asserts that keeping ill-prepared students out of college is "one trade-off we should not make" because "the indisputable benefits of college should be spread more widely, not less." Nonsense. The supposed benefits of attending and (maybe, eventually) graduating from college are highly questionable. Toby shows that many students enter college with feeble intellectual background and learning tools, then coast through without learning much of lasting benefit. (As I argued here, it's doubtful that students have any human capital gain from their college experience.) Moreover, there isn't necessarily any financial benefit from going to college, even graduating. Unfortunately, Toby didn't mention the mountain of evidence that college graduates often end up working in "high school jobs" that don't pay very well no matter what your educational credentials. (That's a point I have been making for years, for example, here.) Perhaps if he had, Wildavsky's belief that going to college confers indisputable benefits would have been shaken. In any case, it's hard to see how you could read Toby's book, which makes a strong case that many students graduate from college with an education in name only, and yet maintain that it's so beneficial that we must not cut back.

Arne Duncan on Student Lending

George Leef

In today's Wall Street Journal, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan contributes a piece entitled "Banks Don't Belong in the Student Loan Business." What he opposes is federally subsidized bank loans and I'm with him on that. Subsidizing student loans is no better policy than subsidizing home loans. Where we part company is in his approval of direct government loans, which he wants to increase so that more students can "realize the dream of getting a college education." As I have frequently pointed out, a college degree is what many students want. Relatively few dream of education. Low-cost loans entice large numbers of young people who gain little if anything in the way of lasting knowledge and skills into college, where they pile of debts they'll have a hard time repaying once they get into the labor force and get a job that most high school kids could do. Besides that, nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to lend money for this or any other purpose.

WaPo Story on Job Market for Recent Grads

Ken Daniszewski

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable story by Eli Saslow in yesterday's Washington Post about the terrible job market facing recent college grads. Saslow's article illustrates the problem as it effects one individual. It's extremely well-written and is currently at the top of the WaPo list of most e-mailed articles.

Do We Need to Put More People Through College?

George Leef

Last Thursday, NRO published an article that took me aback, "Send More Students to College" by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. I have been arguing for years that we have oversold higher education and was surprised to see the title. Had I overlooked something important demonstrating that, to the contrary, we haven't done enough to promote it? Without having read it, I posted a brief skeptical rejoinder and after having read it, this lengthier counterattack. If you don't want to take the time for the posts, here's my key argument, as I wrote at the John Locke Foundation's blog: The central difficulty in the Winters article (and many others like it) is the assumption that because, on average, college educated people earn more than those who don't have degrees, college is responsible for adding the "human capital" that makes them more productive. Although it's true that on average the college educated earn more, that is in large measure due to the fact that over the last few decades, opportunities for people who ended formal education with high school to get into entry-level jobs that lead to high-paying positions have been steadily decreasing. That's because of credentialitis: employers screen out the presumably less reliable and trainable people who don't have degrees. Some young Americans go through college, learning a great deal, and augmenting their knowledge and skills considerably, but we also know that many others just loaf through college, taking easy courses that require little intellectual exertion and graduate with very weak skills in reading, writing, and math. If they get jobs that pay above average, is it due to the "human capital" they gained in college, which is awfully hard to discern, or is it due to the fact that they have benefited from the way employers use credentials as a raw screening mechanism? I think my argument better accounts for the facts.

Will Layoffs Be Based on Diversity?

Jonathan Bean

In recent weeks, the USA Today and National Public Radio have crowed that this recession is different: most of  those losing jobs were men (and predominantly white). This is "encouraging" according to these news outlets. Why is it good? Because a majority of the workforce is now made up of women; and blacks have not been hurt as much as whites (the media seem to have forgotten about Asians and Hispanics but what else is new?). This is an advance in gender, if not racial, diversity. Whooo. One wonders how those women married to unemployed men think about their gender's "advance." Is this recession different? We won't know until later but with "diversity accomplishments" now part of our academic job descriptions, there is reason to think that we may be evaluated accordingly when (or if) layoffs occur. After all, what better way to "diversify" the faculty than to adopt the slogan:

"First thing we do, fire all the white males!"

Employers are fearful of employment-related lawsuits and this is the first recession to seriously threaten academic jobs since 1982. The Diversity Machine has grown enormously since 1982, when it was only a glimmer in the eyes of campus social engineers. Today it is an industry that influences accreditation bodies, professional associations, and university practices (think of the money set aside for "diversity hires"). If universities can make diversity hires, why not make the same decision when firing people? Time to dust off your computer screen and search for labor relations law in your state. Those of us with unions ought to contact them too if the proverbial four-letter word "hits the fan."

The Sheepskin Effect

Tom Wood

Does a college degree mean anything to employers? What intrinsic value does higher education have?

Some Social Science that Fails to Score

Steve Balch

NAS president Steve Balch finds that a new study supposedly challenging prevalent assumptions about political correctness isn't all it's hyped up to be.