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Are Today’s College Students Dumber and Lazier?

Mark Kleiman wonders “if Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has any idea how mean, cranky, and stupid his ill-tempered, ill-mannered, ill-written open letter to the graduating class of 2012 makes him sound.” My guess is not. Let’s add ill-informed and ill-advised to the list while we’re at it.

The content is predictable, following the form of many of the anti-Occupy screeds I’ve read over the last few months, and shockingly un-self aware.

Allow me to be the first one not to congratulate you. Through exertions that—let’s be honest—were probably less than heroic, most of you have spent the last few years getting inflated grades in useless subjects in order to obtain a debased degree. Now you’re entering a lousy economy, courtesy of the very president whom you, as freshmen, voted for with such enthusiasm. Please spare us the self-pity about how tough it is to look for a job while living with your parents. They’re the ones who spent a fortune on your education only to get you back— return-to-sender, forwarding address unknown.

Things that are not the fault of the Class of 2012: grade inflation, degree debasement, the economy, the occupant of the White House, and their parents’ spending habits.

Many people graduating from college this month were ineligible to vote in November 2008. Even those who were 18 and voted for Obama aren’t responsible for a global economy that was already in the toilet when they were in high school. To degree to which Obama’s policies contributed to the current situation is debatable; but even if you believe electing John McCain would have us all dining on filet mignon (doubtful) and that the 18-year-old vote was the difference (it wasn’t) it’s at best uncharitable to sneer at 21-year-olds for political calculations they made as teenagers.

No doubt some of you have overcome real hardships or taken real degrees. A couple of years ago I hired a summer intern from West Point. She came to the office directly from weeks of field exercises in which she kept a bulletproof vest on at all times, even while sleeping. She writes brilliantly and is as self-effacing as she is accomplished. Now she’s in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.

If you’re like that intern, please feel free to feel sorry for yourself. Just remember she doesn’t.

No doubt West Point cadets have chosen a harder path than the average college student. Then again, they have a guaranteed job with a middle class income waiting for them at graduation; the people you’re sneering at don’t.

Would it be too uncharitable of me to point out that military service is missing from Stephens’ own resume? That he went to fancy schools (Chicago, LSE), quite possibly owing to a rich, successful father? And that he finished school at the height of the 1990s economy and landed a plum job right away? So, perhaps Stephens never had much reason to complain?

Unfortunately, dear graduates, chances are you’re nothing like her. And since you’re no longer children, at least officially, it’s time someone tells you the facts of life. The otherfacts.

Fact One is that, in our “knowledge-based” economy, knowledge counts. Yet here you are, probably the least knowledgeable graduating class in history.

A few months ago, I interviewed a young man with an astonishingly high GPA from an Ivy League university and aspirations to write about Middle East politics. We got on the subject of the Suez Crisis of 1956. He was vaguely familiar with it. But he didn’t know who was president of the United States in 1956. And he didn’t know who succeeded that president.

Pop quiz, Class of ’12: Do you?

Seriously?

Aside from the absurdity of generalizing about an entire age cohort based on one anecdote, judging them on the basis of their knowledge of fifty-six-year-old trivia is, well, odd.

I graduated college in 1987, which is closer in time to 1956 than today is to 1987. I’m pretty sure I knew who was president in 1956–although I’m not sure that I could have told you who was president in 1931, which is a more fair equivalent question. Nor, despite majoring in political science and minoring in history, am I confident I knew much about the Suez Crisis. (Granted, I wasn’t hoping for a career writing about the Middle East.)

Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn’t to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong. I routinely interview college students, mostly from top schools, and I notice that their brains are like old maps, with lots of blank spaces for the uncharted terrain. It’s not that they lack for motivation or IQ. It’s that they can’t connect the dots when they don’t know where the dots are in the first place.

Stephens and I are in rough agreement here. While the cliché is ultimately correct–most of the facts one is exposed to in college classes fade over time through lack of recall, so what’s most important is the ability to make connections and ask questions–it’s doubtless the also true that it’s highly valuable to actually know things. The Google culture has given us the ability to look up details, further diminishing the motivation to memorize that was present in earlier generations. I do it myself dozens of times in a typical workday. But I also know a lot of basic facts which inform writing and allow me to make connections; I then use the Internet and other tools to fill in details.

But, again, Stephens is angry at 21- and 22-year-olds for a societal framework that they had nothing to do with creating.

Now to Fact Two: Your competition is global. Shape up. Don’t end your days like a man I met a few weeks ago in Florida, complaining that Richard Nixon had caused his New York City business to fail by opening up China.

In places like Ireland, France, India and Spain, your most talented and ambitious peers are graduating into economies even more depressed than America’s. Unlike you, they probably speak several languages. They may also have a degree in a hard science or engineering—skills that transfer easily to the more remunerative jobs in investment banks or global consultancies.

First, I’d note that Stephens is neither a scientist nor an engineer; his degrees are in government. As, in full disclosure, are mine.

Second, I don’t know how many languages Stephens speaks. I do know that both of us, through sheer happenstance outside our control, are fluent in the one language that most matters–the one virtually everyone on the planet who isn’t a native speaker chooses as their second language. I can also read and speak some German, although it’s atrophied through non-use over the last two decades.

Which reminds me of Fact Three: Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink.

When did puffery become the American way? Probably around the time Norman Mailer came out with “Advertisements for Myself.” But at least that was in the service of provoking an establishment that liked to cultivate an ideal of emotional restraint and public reserve.

To read through your CVs, dear graduates, is to be assaulted by endless Advertisements for Myself. Here you are, 21 or 22 years old, claiming to have accomplished feats in past summer internships or at your school newspaper that would be hard to credit in a biography of Walter Lippmann or Ernie Pyle.

If you’re not too bright, you may think this kind of nonsense goes undetected; if you’re a little brighter, you probably figure everyone does it so you must as well.

But the best of you don’t do this kind of thing at all. You have an innate sense of modesty. You’re confident that your résumé needs no embellishment. You understand that less is more.

Memo for Bret Stephens: CVs are supposed to be Advertisements for Myself. That’s the whole point!

Do I get CVs from kids coming out of college and grad school that are a bit pompous? Sure. But, again, I don’t blame that on the kids. They’re told that the CV is supposed to list their accomplishments using a series of bullet points starting with a verb. You know most what kids coming out of college lack? Accomplishments. So, modeling their CVs on the examples in the books, they come up with laughable “achievements” about how getting coffee for you during their summer internship transformed the culture of the Wall Street Journal.

In every generation there’s a strong tendency for everyone to think like everyone else. But your generation has an especially bad case, because your mass conformism is masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism.

Dude, you’re not even 40. It’s too early to be yelling at the kids to get off your lawn. There’s not much evidence that this generation is much different from other recent generations.

It’s a point I learned from my West Point intern, when I asked her what it was like to lead such a uniformed existence.

Her answer stayed with me: Wearing a uniform, she said, helped her figure out what it was that really distinguished her as an individual.

Now she’s a second lieutenant, leading a life of meaning and honor, figuring out how to Think Different for the sake of a cause that counts. Not many of you will be able to follow in her precise footsteps, nor do you need to do so. But if you can just manage to tone down your egos, shape up your minds, and think unfashionable thoughts, you just might be able to do something worthy with your lives. And even get a job. Good luck!

I actually followed a similar path coming out of college. I don’t recall individuality being a particularly prized quality among second lieutenants, although most of us had it. But all the kids you’re talking to are hoping to get jobs, hopefully ones that they consider meaningful. Unfortunately–through no fault of their own–they’re entering the work force at the worst time in decades. But I’m rather confident that some reasonable percentage of them will in fact “do something worthy” with their lives.

There’s a seemingly irresistible temptation to see the past as a hardier time that the present. We imagine that those who went to college decades ago were uniformly studious scholars, thirsting for knowledge, while those in school now are spending all their time partying. Aside from societal differences–such as the elimination of the military draft and whether there’s a war on, and the democratization of college entrance–it’s mostly bunk. Plenty of those who graduated in the 1950s spent too much time partying and chasing girls, before getting more serious as they moved closer to graduation. And plenty of those in school now have their nose to the grindstone, hoping to better their circumstances.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    “I graduated college in 1987”

    Heh, young people….

    :-))

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  2. Well, it’s nice to see Tsar Nicholas finally landed a ghost writing gig.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  3. I think the real message here is that Bret Stephens is thoroughly disappointed there aren’t enough 18-21 year olds enlisting, which is making it harder for him to get that war with Iran he so desperately wants started.

    Shame on all you college students for so selfishly ruining his fun!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  4. Dude, you’re not even 40. It’s too early to be yelling at the kids to get off your lawn. There’s not much evidence that this generation is much different from other recent generations.

    Indeed (especially the second sentence).

    Yeesh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Are Today’s College Students Dumber and Lazier?

    I don’t think so. They’re less educated and more spoiled.

    It’s not their fault.

    K-12 education went into the crapper in the 1970’s and 1980’s and since then it’s gotten worse. For reasons that are obvious.

    Colleges and universities jumped the shark tank slightly beforehand and since then they’ve gotten worse.

    We’ve had four separate wealth manias since Chicago ’68: The “nifty fifty,” the late-1980’s M&A craze, the 1990’s technology and telecom craze and the 2000’s housing market and stock market craze.

    Generation Y to a large extent grew up in McMansions in the burbs. A higher percentage of them are only children. The baby bust generation. Their K-12 teachers to a large extent are liberal idiots. Even in private schools. Their college and university professors to a large extent are liberal idiots who would make Ward Churchill blush.

    Then to top it off technology for them ironically enough to a large extent has become a beast of burden. They spend far too much time on the Internet and not enough time interacting with real people in real social and professional contexts.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 16

  6. Hey Norm says:

    I think Stephens proves beyond a doubt that at least one graduate from his class was a total douche.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  7. Hey Norm says:

    “…Generation Y to a large extent grew up in McMansions in the burbs…”

    Facts be damned, eh Nick?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  8. Boyd says:

    Not that I disagree with the rest of your post, or your overall point, James, and not to be pedantic (ahem), but you have a core fact wrong:

    Most people graduating from college this month were ineligible to vote in November 2008.

    Virtually all students graduating from college this month were born in 1990 or earlier.

    Then again, you’re a social scientist, or a Socialist, or something like that. Regardless of the details, let’s just say that math ain’t exactly your area of expertise. 😉

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  9. John Burgess says:

    Sure, the kids aren’t to blame for the poor education on offer. They’re still the ones who are going to have to adjust, though. Fixing the system once they’re out of it does not suddenly imbue them with the knowledge they never gained.

    But James, knowing who was US President during Suez is a rather important data point for Middle Eastern Studies. For the US, the Suez Crisis might be minor, but for the British, French, Israelis, and Egyptians (as well as other Arab states), it carries a lot of import. Maybe not for Sovietologists or those focusing on the Far East, but for the Middle East? Certainly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  10. JKB says:

    I wish I could find a clip. In the movie, 48 hrs, there is a scene where Eddie Murphy asks Nick Nolte what’s the problem with his girlfriend, who was just on the phone. Nolte answers, Same as everyone else, she can’t find a job in her in what she went to school to study. That’s a movie released in 1982. In fact, TV and movies always had the token highly degreed individual working in the menial job or unable to find a job in their field.

    Welcome to a down economy. The one where that college degree is a bit more like a lock pick than a key to a successful future. It’s a tool but you have to figure out how to use it to break into a paying career.

    Sadly, today’s graduates have been damaged by their exposure to their professors. They’ve been indoctrinated against the paths to success, i.e., corporate America and instead steered toward government and non-profits, both who live off the value created by the evil profit-seeking corporations and individuals. Government and non-profit work is not bad, but everyone can’t do it. Some have to create value out of ideas and effort to pay for the infrastructure and “good works”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  11. Montanareddog says:

    The content is predictable, following the form of many of the anti-Occupy screeds I’ve read over the last few months, and shockingly un-self aware.

    The content does not have to be self-aware; merely aware of the prejudices of the audience to which it is pandering.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  12. al-Ameda says:

    Bret is just another WSJ writer who is taking the time to trash another thought-to-be-liberal constituency.

    The problem isn’t the kids who have gone to college, it’s the kids and the parents of the kids who do not value higher education at all. This is two-track society – the college-educated and the non-college-educated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  13. @al-Ameda:

    This is two-track society – the college-educated and the non-college-educated.

    I disagree, there’s a lot of people who’d be better off with a trade education rather than a college degree that isn’t good for anything. What’s important is education, not necessarily that it be of the college type.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  14. MBunge says:

    @Montanareddog: “The content does not have to be self-aware”

    The invocation of the West Point intern is what signals to me a lack of self-awareness. After all, is Bret Stephens more like that young woman or is he more like the very people he’s smearing but simply luckier to have graduated into a different economy?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  15. al-Ameda says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I agree with you on trade/polytechnic education.
    Still, the statistics show that unemployment is significantly lower among the college educated than among those who have less education.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  16. James says:

    Apropos al-Ameda’s point that

    This is two-track society – the college-educated and the non-college-educated.

    I can’t speak for any data, but a few of my undergraduate friends dropped out of school around sophomore/junior years, and a few of my high school friends elected not to go to college at all.

    Of the three I’m still in contact with, all are employed. I’m not saying I even wholly disagree with the suggestion, given how much income rises and unemployment drops—statistically—upon graduation. But I do think that the necessity of a bachelors is vastly overstated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. sam says:

    Which reminds me of Fact Three: Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away.

    Apparently not at the WSJ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  18. @al-Ameda:

    The problem is “those with lesser education” includes high school dropouts, those with only a high school diploma, etc. Using that group as a proxy for people with trade educations isn’t valid. I’m sure if we pulled out just people who have complete post-secondary trade programs vs. everyone else and claimed that the everyone else was a stand in for college, it would make a college education look pretty bad to.

    We do know that there’s a shortage of a number of fields like machinist or nursing that exist outside the traditional college education system, and there’s a lot of people who would be far more successful with a CNC programming certification or an RN license then with a film studies degree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. sam says:

    @JKB:

    Sadly, today’s graduates have been damaged by their exposure to their professors. They’ve been indoctrinated against the paths to success, i.e., corporate America and instead steered toward government and non-profits, both who live off the value created by the evil profit-seeking corporations and individuals.

    Jesus. Where did you get the energy and time to canvass every graduate in the US? Did you sleep much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Statistics show that those with a college education are experiencing less unemployment than those who do not have a college degree. If you factor out those with technical training and consider only high school educated with no technical training the unemployment differential is probably much wider.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @James:

    But I do think that the necessity of a bachelors is vastly overstated.

    I do not disagree with that, all I’m saying is that, contrary to Bret Stephens, I think the problem resides with those who don’t value higher education, not with those who have elected to go to college and those who will graduate soon.

    Stephens comes off as dyspeptic. I have two daughters who have graduated from college in the past five years and they do not resemble in any respect the caricatures that Stephens presented. And neither do their friends and associates. It’s a new day, a new era with new challenges – I think this generation is very much up to the challenge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  22. Moderate Mom says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Absolutely. We have three friends that all own “trade” businesses”: a plumber, a heat & air guy and a machine shop operator. All three are extremely successful and, if their lifestyles are any indication, are making money hand over foot. The machine shop operator constantly complains about the lack of people with the skills he needs to hire, jobs that pay very, very well.

    If you’ve had a breakdown in either your heat or air conditioning, or needed a plumber recently, you get a pretty good idea of how much money these people are making. We had an o-ring break in a tub faucet recently and the faucet had to be replaced. Two and a half hours and some welding later, my new faucet was on and I was presented with a bill for the work, to the tune of $487. Yikes!

    Our son will be entering his senior year in college this fall, getting his degree in broadcast journalism. He’ll be lucky to even find a job, and it probably won’t pay much. I’m starting to wish we had pushed him towards trade school, rather than college.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  23. Moderate Mom says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You’re mistaken that a RN doesn’t have a college degree. They do – a Bachelors in Nursing, and it’s a four year program. Quite a few of my daughter’s friends are RNs. They each entered their school’s RN program at the start of their junior year. The programs are extremely competitive and difficult to get into. A number of her friends had to transfer schools because they didn’t get into the nursing programs where they were and had to complete their degrees at another school with an open slot in a Nursing program.

    A LPN, however, doesn’t require a four year degree. A student can earn that certification in two years at a Community College.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @sam: Expecially since it looks like the WSJ just allowed Naomi Schaefer Riley to whine all over the op-ed page about her firing from the Chronicle. The fact that if a junior lawyer had done the equivalent of what she had done–not read the data on which she claimed to base her theory–he would have been fired, pronto, doesn’t seem to have percolated through the few molecules that consist her brain.

    Unless she’s stating that a journalist has the right to make up whatever statement he wants without basing it on reality. I guess in Naomi Schaefer Riley’s world news has been replaced totally by propoganda. She’d have fit extremely well in the USSR and Pravda.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  25. James says:

    @al-Ameda:

    It’s a new day, a new era with new challenges – I think this generation is very much up to the challenge.

    It’s funny. I was talking with some friends, a few of which are recent graduates and unemployed. The exact same positive sentiment was expressed. The job market is brutally competitive right now, but positions are available and for me, interviews are regular. I think the long-term effects of the financial crisis and recession will be net positive for ’08-’12 college graduates. I think we just feel ready for the change that’s coming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  26. JKB says:

    @sam:

    Stanton Green, a dean at Monmouth University in New Jersey, had a number of suggestions for helping liberal arts majors find jobs. One was to make such students more aware of the possibilities in front of them. “Where do people find jobs?” asked Green. “Where they look for them,” he said, answering his own question. His point was that students who study the liberal arts have skills that could be applied to many different occupations if they would only consider them as possibilities.

    Green said that usually one of the last areas that liberal arts majors look for jobs is the corporate world, but corporations are actually a great place for them. He blames universities, at least in part. A pet peeve of his is career fairs for humanities majors that exclude corporations in favor of non-profits like the Peace Corps or museums.

    A conference at Wake Forest University promoted study of the liberal arts and helping graduates obtain employment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  27. James says:

    Which reminds me of Fact Three: Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away.

    As a person who’s going through the job application process, this is easily the most irritating sentence in the article. Employers beg for the BS he’s lamenting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  28. sam says:

    Well, then there’s this:

    A Liberal Take on Hiring


    DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS
    . A key thing is that [liberal arts majors] can communicate, say employers. “Interpersonal and communications skills, as well as a hunger for knowledge, are enormously important” says Jonathan Jones, co-head of U.S. Campus Recruiting at the global investment bank, Goldman Sachs, (GS). “None of these things necessarily have to do with a course that the student is studying.”

    A significant proportion of Goldman Sachs hires come from schools that don’t offer any formal business, finance, or general management curriculum. Likewise, about 50% to 60% of the new class at Citigroup (C), the world’s largest financial services company, also enters the industry with no business background. (see BW Online, 10/10/05, “Star Search”).

    With this kind of interest, it’s no wonder that liberal arts students want in on the business world. At Yale, 26% of the graduating class of 2004 went into business or finance, that’s almost 10% more than education, the second-most sought after sector. And the school doesn’t even offer an undergraduate business program.

    How’d you miss all those folks?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  29. Scott says:

    I suspect that Stephens is engaged in psychological projection, going on a tear on young people when deep down, he feels himself a failure. I find this common with later baby boomers and Gen X types because they are always being compared to the WWII generation.

    I, too, have a new college graduate. I still have a great memory of when I was in college. The graduates I see today are overall more talented than ever before and more interesting to boot.

    As an aside, somewhere along the line we have lost one aspect of college that used to be a major reason to go. That is, to be a better adult and citizen. Too many people view college as job training. And that’s a shame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  30. John Burgess says:

    @al-Ameda: Which, I both suspect and have experienced, is due to an inflation of credentialism. Degrees are now demanded for entry-level jobs where no requirement actually exists… except on the application form.

    This was a constant struggle I had in the Foreign Service when filling vacancies in my office. HR would solicit the absolute job requirements from me, but then add on ridiculous academic qualifications that bore no real relationship to the job.

    One I best recall was when I was looking for a System Manager to run the backbone of a 25-person office, linked, of course, to State Dept’s systems as well as that of the rest of the Embassy. HR demanded as a minimum an MS in Computer Science.

    They had very few applicants with the credentials who were willing to accept the low-level USG salary. I did, however, find a guy with a BS in Engineering from an Austrian university. He had wired and run not only the university’s network, but linked it to local government and NGO sites as well as several social groups. The MS applicants had never actually run any sort of network outside a lab.

    It took two month’s effort to convince HR that they had added unnecessary credentials to the job.

    I could go on to cite positions for which I could not qualify myself, but for which I was responsible for managing. None of them were as technically demanding as IT, but HR wants those credentials! It’s their favorite way of playing CYA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  31. @Moderate Mom:

    You’re mistaken that a RN doesn’t have a college degree.

    My mom is an RN, and this simply isn’t the case. There are universities that have nursing majors that include a BS, but there are also nursing schools that don’t include a college degree. The degree is not a requirement to take the licensing exam.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  32. grumpy realist says:

    @John Burgess: Remember that the main job HR has is to NOT hire anyone–it just makes more work for them. So they’re constantly making excuses, or putting in ridiculous levels of credentialism, then pricing the job at least $20K below what a person with those characteristics can demand. Then HR complains that no one “qualified” applies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  33. @grumpy realist:

    Stolen from a coworker:

    First it was called personell, then they changed it to human resources, then it became human capital. Now apparently the new buzzword is human terrain.

    So first employees were people, then they decided that employees were stuff, then they decided that employees were really money, and now it looks like employees are just dirt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  34. @John Burgess:

    The MS applicants had never actually run any sort of network outside a lab.

    That’s because setting up and maintaining a LAN isn’t what a computer science major is really trained to do. That’s like hiring an automotive engineer to be a mechanic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  35. JKB says:

    @Scott: That is, to be a better adult and citizen. Too many people view college as job training. And that’s a shame.

    True, but if you remove the job training credential view, then the price of a college education would need to drop precipitously. It would be foolish to go into debt for the nebulous, but true benefit, “learn to live” reason for the college education. Especially, since those truly motivated could obtain the same from the internet with a bit of effort.

    The true university of these days is a collection of books.
    Thomas Carlyle

    Today, that library appears upon your screen with just a few clicks.

    If when a man graduates from college he has learned the work he is fitted for, if he has gained some ideal of beauty, if he has delved deeply enough into himself to have even a vague knowledge of his own soul, if he has learned enough of the past to understand to some small degree the present, and if he has gathered unto himself enough ideas of life to have a workable philosophy of living, he has begun at least to learn to live. He can count his years in college well spent. He has the rudiments of an education. If he continues to work, to think, and to learn, he may, by the grace of God, become a man.

    Marks, Percy, “Under Glass”, Scribner’s Magazine Vol 73, 1923

    This is a fine desire but a foolish outcome in incur debt to obtain. Without the “job training” belief, college would have to be a good deal cheaper to attract customers.

    The senior on his graduation day is not an educated man; he is an ignoramus. However, if he has learned enough to know that he is an ignoramus, some day he will probably attain something like culture, have enough knowledge to be called educated–as education in this world goes.
    Marks, “Under Glass”

    Sadly, the public face of the recent college graduates, the occupiers, have not learned enough to know that they are an ignoramus or the good sense to conceal that fact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  36. @Scott:

    That is, to be a better adult and citizen.

    Learning for the sake of self actualization is a great thing, but in the modern world, it’s easy to do that without getting tens of thousands of dollars into debt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. sam says:

    In my experience, HR (or whatever it’s called these days) is a shill for upper management.

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  38. Scott says:

    @JKB: Nothing I disagree with. I think going into debt is generally foolish. On the other hand, I was able to get through college in normal time (both BS and MBA) on a series of minimum wage jobs (70s). My children can’t do that..

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  39. steve says:

    1) Stephens is an ass, and a stupid one.

    2) We have gone through this before. Most of those humanities majors are getting jobs. They are less likely to do so in a bad economy, but so is most everyone else.

    3) This is largely an assault on education, a continuing theme from the right. Being educated is liberal, or something.

    4) Just to show that Stephens is not just stupid, he is f*cking stupid, i think it is extremely common knowledge that vets are suffering from high unemployment rates. Maybe Stephens doesnt read newspapers or the internet? I guess that would take time away from preening in front of the mirror.

    5) Again, someone from the right is lionizing our troops in an effort, I guess, to associate themselves with them. If he wanted to feel all manly, he should have taken that degree in government and enlisted. I could have used another body filling sandbags.

    6) He clearly has not spent time with kids from schools today. The math and science they do is much tougher than we had to deal with in the 70s. The competition is much harder. Internships and/or research is mandatory. I worked during the summer, as did my friends. None of us had to do schoolwork in the summer.

    Steve

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  40. JKB says:

    @Scott: On the other hand, I was able to get through college in normal time (both BS and MBA) on a series of minimum wage jobs (70s). My children can’t do that..

    That is the real heart of the problem. Undoubtedly, access to the libraries is far easier and more available than in the ’70s. Reading and interacting with many experts in many fields is commonplace on the internet, although granted, without their personal concern as a class lecturer might. One could argue that the internet user monitoring the observations of an expert via a blog has similar advantages to the home television audience of a football game for experiencing more of the action when compared to the large seminar student (nose-bleed seats). With effort, reasonable intelligent debate can be joined on a variety of topics via from your own home.

    Yet, even as the basic advantages of college has become more available for almost free, the price of the “college experience” has soared. If we understood and accept the cause of this, real advancement in the debate may be achieved.

    One thought, credentialism. As the college degree has become the license to “high earnings” the universities have started extracting more of the wealth generated for itself via up front payments. Not unlike those who sell taxi medallions in say NYC or DC for enormous sums due to their income generating potential. However, today’s college grads are not able to easily realize that income generation, i.e., to many taxis licensed, making the prepayments to the university onerous.

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  41. John Burgess says:

    @Stormy Dragon: No argument with you, just with HR which couldn’t see that basic fact. The job title was ‘Network Administrator’ which, for most people, gives a little bit of a hint.

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  42. John Burgess says:

    @JKB: This isn’t entirely new. When I left university in the early 70s, I had lots of PhD friends, mostly in Philosophy, who were pumping gas (still a job then) and teaching kindergarten in private schools. There weren’t many jobs requiring a PhD in philosophy even then. In fact, there weren’t many jobs in most fields.

    I gave Georgetown U. big props for closing its program (BS, MS, PhD) in Astronomy. The school realized it was graduating more doctors than there were astronomy jobs in the entire country. For reasons beyond practicality, it did not see fit to close or limit its Philosophy program.

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  43. grumpy realist says:

    @John Burgess: Hmm, maybe that was why they got rid of their Physics department as well?

    I found it absolutely hilarious–a breathless letter inviting me to apply to their Ph.D. program in Physics promising me loads of financial support was followed by a terse “We have decided to close down our Physics Department” two weeks later. (I didn’t care–I knew I was going to UIUC since had already been accepted and my schtick was solid-state..)

    Actually, a lot of us Ph.D. refugees from the sciences parked ourselves in extremely well-paying quant jobs when we discovered the lack of slots in tenure-track positions. Basically, Monte Carlo is the same whether you’re applying it to spin-glasses or financial systems. ( I had seen the writing on the wall earlier, when I was discovering experimental solid-state Ph.D.s were having problems. Jumped ship, went off to Japan…)

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  44. JKB says:

    @John Burgess:

    There were more or less stories of that when I started at the university in 1980. Astrophysicists, etc. washing dishes for lack of jobs. But after decades of “government-guided” enterprise, the smart money was on economically-useful majors such as engineering. I eventually switched to physics; staying in science for the job skills while desiring something broader in coverage.

    Who knew Reagan and the de-regulators would provide a respite from the unrelenting damage of the government men or that the micro-computer would flourish in a tiny uncontrolled bit of free enterprise. It’s taken, fortunately a couple decades, time for the government men to snake their fingers around the throat of the IT industry and resume squeezing the economy as a whole. On the other hand, who knew Reagan would end the Cold War putting many nuclear weapon designers on the street.

    Today’s graduates need to realize that their degree is just a tool. They’ll have to find a way to use it for their subsistence and upkeep. The easy times of dropping into a job in the middle of the IT revolution have ended. Just as the middle management or executive training programs ended in the mid-1970s leaving those of my age in rougher times for a bit.

    I was lucky, by the time I graduated, while still tough, people could see the “morning in America”. Perhaps we are on the cusp of change again?

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  45. Scott says:

    @JKB: I think you point out the difficulty is predicting the “most appropriate” major. I went to college in the 70s and probably would’ve been an engineer if it wasn’t for all those laid off Grumman engineers (from the moon program) substitute teaching at my high school. Change is going to be constant and quicker.

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  46. JKB says:

    @Scott: That is true, you degree is really just a tool. Few are likely to use the course of study directly. It is, as all education below the graduate level, a building of capabilities to call upon for many endeavors. Just like the recent graduates, we all had to find a way to make a living, hopefully using some of our college education.

    The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college “education” has merely, speaking in terms’ of horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work-tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put “under glass,” and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.

    A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But-and here is the “practical” result of his college work-he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts-such as they are.

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  47. al-Ameda says:

    @John Burgess:

    Degrees are now demanded for entry-level jobs where no requirement actually exists… except on the application form.

    Excellent response, on all points, thank you.

    I’ve seen the same CYA job recruiting practices in hiring finance analysis positions in companies I’ve worked for. They’ve upped the ante by requiring an MBA or a CPA in order to be able to weed out applicants. Complete overkill.

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  48. Barry says:

    @JKB: “Who knew Reagan and the de-regulators would provide a respite from the unrelenting damage of the government men or that the micro-computer would flourish in a tiny uncontrolled bit of free enterprise. It’s taken, fortunately a couple decades, time for the government men to snake their fingers around the throat of the IT industry and resume squeezing the economy as a whole. On the other hand, who knew Reagan would end the Cold War putting many nuclear weapon designers on the street.”

    Well, we know at least one of the quants who obediently help trash the economy.

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  49. val says:

    This article would have a lot more substance if its author didn’t use the approach of comparing himself to both Stephens and the graduates of 2012. As a writer, I hate to use clichés but Joyner, THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU.

    Your critique on this letter to the grads would have been a lot more interesting and possibly even informative if you didn’t use yourself as the focal point.

    And, frankly, I wouldn’t be so proud that, like the student aspiring to write about Middle East politics, you don’t know that Pres. Eisenhower was in during the Suez Canal crisis, a watershed event for the British (not to mention the rest of the world).

    You’re right, the grad class is not responsible for a lot of things and should not be ‘scolded’ en masse. It’s rude, among other things. But please don’t tell us that Obama’s part in the mess we’re in is ‘debatable,’ as someone who foolishly voted for that Great Deceiver, I can say he’s as responsible as his puppet status allows.

    Thanks for listening.

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