Skip to comments.Universities Are Really Vocational Schools
Posted on 10/16/2012 12:43:30 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word answer: money. That's one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside Higher Ed. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not primarily about acquiring knowledge ("human capital"), critical learning or leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong, but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately affluent life.
To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that "parents of applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help students get a good job." With regards to the prospective students themselves, "only" 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is important/very important. Most of the counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.
Fast-Growing Jobs: Nurse, Cashier
All of this relates to the new labor-market reality that Mitt Romney actually referenced in the first presidential debate: half (more or less) of recent college graduates have had a decidedly unfavorable post-graduate employment experience. This problem is not going away any time soon: 30 percent of adults already have college degrees, and the proportion is rising. Yet relatively high paying technical, managerial and professional jobs account for a smaller proportion of the labor force -and that proportion is not growing rapidly. Yes, the number of experts in nanotechnologies is growing percentage wise a lot -but numerically, the number of nurse's aides and cashiers is growing faster. Big-box discount stores, beauty parlors, and bars collectively employ more persons than sophisticated firms in the STEM disciplines or high finance. So one of my favorite and talented recent graduates is now working at Lowe's, not the public-policy think tank he is eminently suited for.
There is a hint in all of this that colleges must strive to be more "vocational," to stress practical majors which provide skill sets needed in the real world. Labor market data suggests there may be a grain of truth to this, but a look at an interesting new study by Philip Coelho and Tung Liu of Ball State University shows that actually many traditional liberal arts majors do just fine in the labor market. Look at the table below (which I greatly abridged) where Coelho and Liu use PayScale.com data to report mid-career earnings by academic major.
High Paying: $90,000 or more per year
Medium Paying: $65,000 to $80,000 per year
Low Paying: Less than $55,000 per year
Source: Philip Coelho, Tung Liu "The Returns to College Education," PayScale.com
While STEM disciplines like engineering, math and physics dominate the very highest-paying majors (many averaging over $100,000 a year by mid-career), graduates in history average almost as much as those in business management ($70,000 vs. $72,100), and philosophers ($76,700) actually make more. English majors slightly out-earn those majoring in hotel business management. Art history majors actually average more than those majoring in human resources. It appears to be a vastly overblown notion that a well rounded individual majoring in a non-vocationally oriented field in the arts or humanities is destined to do poorer than the business and communication specialists. The per capita student endowments of Williams and Amherst are among the highest in the nation, in spite of the fact their generally affluent graduates are mostly majoring in fields with little direct labor-market relevance.
However, I think colleges are threatening to lose their very critical advantage that comes from employers putting a value on a piece of paper (bachelor's diploma) sometimes worth a million dollars or more. As administrative staffs have proliferated in recent years, the placement offices of schools have only modestly shared in the largess. Schools have been far more likely to add sustainability coordinators and diversity specialists than job placement people.
Too Little, Too Late
Yet being a highly expensive screening device, colleges need to maintain their economic advantage by seeing that their graduates get matched with employers. The for-profit schools do this well, but the traditional university all too often has viewed dealing with the corporate world as being vaguely demeaning and dirty. Belatedly, many schools are promoting internship programs, but in some cases it is too little, too late.
No amount of placement or internship hype, however, can solve the basic mathematics problem - one-third is a larger number than one-fifth. Roughly a third of adults have four-year degrees, but only one-fifth of jobs are in the relatively high-paying fields. That is why we have a small army (115,000) of janitors with bachelor degrees. Rather than adding two million more enrollees at community colleges (as President Obama advocated in the first presidential debate), maybe we should have two million fewer Pell Grants or student loans in order to help, in the long run, to restore balance between supply and demand for college graduates in high- paying fields.
Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches economics at Ohio University, and is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
If universities are really vocational schools then they can lose all the extraneous courses and prerequisites and slash costs by 10s of thousands of dollars per year.
No need. There are plenty of 2 year schools out there where kids can get very good training for work within two years of HS. THEN if they still want a formal education, they can pursue it part time with... the money THEY earn!!!
The very best advice a kid can get right now is go to a Tech school or other 2 year program first.
My daughter and daughter in law went to college to find a husband. I know that sounds horrible but how many women spend close to $100,000 on a college education, meet a man at school, then get married, work for a few years, start a family and quit working. I am glad that my daughter and daughter in law are stay at home mothers but we spent an awful lot of money on their educations.
RE: My daughter and daughter in law went to college to find a husband
Now c’mon, they did not go to college for the explicit purpose of looking for husbands.
They went there to get a degree and happened to meet the men who would eventually be their husbands.
But then, lots of people meet their better halves this way.
Maybe, maybe not but the point is both of them only worked for about 5 years before leaving the work force. Was $100,000 each a good investment of our money? Just something to consider.
Best policy states and feds could follow would be to reroute the funds going into grants and diversity / gender / sandbox programs and put it into two year schools and technical skills.
By technical skills I mean the ability to apply specialty tools and materials to create or repair things plus a working knowledge of the science behind those things. The ability to do useful (shop) math with a pencil and paper should be mandatory.
If the student really likes the field or wants to advance in that or another field then a four year school can provide the ability to understand the math behind what their computer does for them and the social skills needed to perform in a group.
I really believe that some amount of philosophy, history, critical thought, English language, etc. should be required of any advanced education...I really grew tired of "scientists" who could neither spell nor recognize the worth of other disciplines.
That really depends on the kid.
But a lot of the salary correlation simply has to do with the caliber of student: physics majors tend to be very smart, history majors quite smart, education majors not so much, etc..
Yes, the engineering and accounting degrees, for example, add vocational value atop the student’s intrinsic value, but high quality students don’t necessarily need that.
True... but it's not in their interests to do so.
If you can study “liberal arts” for four years and then “do just fine” in the job market - that says that college is irrelevant when it comes to vocational performance. Exactly the opposite of what this article’s headline proclaims.
If college is just a place where you “learn how to learn” and you do all the actual job-related learning after graduation and on-the-job, then it is one hell of an expensive and inefficient way to do that.
Seems to me a good community college program could teach people “how to learn” in a semester or two and put them into the job market.
College grad FReepers:
1. How much of what you studied in college did you actually use in your careeer?
2. How much of your career success came from the field of endeavor that you studied (major or even minor)?
What, no love for Computer Science, Information Systems?
Good degrees to have and lots of decent paying jobs if you live in the right areas.
“Liberal education” used to actually mean something. It was what you needed to learn to be a free(”liber”)man, or gentleman. Not that it was a monestary. Graduates were expected to be able to apply it in practical life, especially in the professions: ie law, medicine, etc.
Now it is for working fast food or any old thing. No worries, though, they bother with the high falutin’. You pay them not to wake up early and to drink like a wino for four to seven years.
After 20+ years, about 70% overall, and nearly all of the engineering/math/physics courses. I still find my old notes/college text books useful. By the way, the other 30% come in handy when discussing politics/econ/history with others.
2. How much of your career success came from the field of endeavor that you studied (major or even minor)?
100%. I've been continually employed as a mechanical engineer since graduating.
In answer to your questions:
1. I majored in Computer Science. The job for which I was hired required a degree in that major or something closely related to it such as Information Systems.
2. My success on the job has a great deal to do with the course work I did for my college major. I had a lot of experience, much of it self-taught, with computer programming and networking prior to completing my degree. However, the college work I was required to complete improved my skills in those areas. So, in my case, my college major gave me a competitive advantage over others who might have self-taught computer skills, but have no formal degree.
A mining engineering degree from the Universisy of Nevada is worth more than a Medieval Studies degree from Harvard. An actuarial degree from Baldwin Wallace is worth more than a philosophy degree from Wellesley. An accounting degree from Miami University of Ohio is worth more than a women’s studies degree from Vassar. A pharmacy degree from Xavier University of New Orleans is worth more than a teaching degree from Columbia. A real estate development degree from Drexel University in Philly might be worth more than any degree in the United States! (I have no affiliation with any of the schools mentioned.)
Ph.D.’s are even worse!!!
A Ph.D. from almost ANY school in the humanities actually steals nine years of your life and excludes you from the job market.
Depend on it... MOST of the kids in college are there to prolong their ‘incubation period’ and party as much as possible at mom and dad's expense (your expense and mine as well, if they get assistance $$$$ from the government) They want to extend their immaturity and childhood as long as possible.
I am not talking about the focused and hard working ones working toward graduation with a real motivation.