Sunday, December 28, 2008

Should a bachelor's degree be a job qualification?

Charles Murray, author of Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality and The Bell Curve
wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today entitled, "Should the Obama Generation Drop Out?" (via Newsalert). Of college, that is:

BARACK OBAMA has two attractive ideas for improving post-secondary education — expanding the use of community colleges and tuition tax credits — but he needs to hitch them to a broader platform. As president, Mr. Obama should use his bully pulpit to undermine the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification. Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray sees the college degree as out of reach or a waste of time for some:

For most of the nation’s youths, making the bachelor’s degree a job qualification means demanding a credential that is beyond their reach. It is a truth that politicians and educators cannot bring themselves to say out loud: A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work.

What do you think, should college be a prerequisite for the job market? I don't think so, but many people do.


Blogger Firehand said...

A prerequisite, no; God knows how many businesses have turned down capable, experienced people simply because they didn't have a degree. And paid the price down the line because a smarter company hired those who'd been turned down.

2:13 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

College degrees became a critical credential for job applicants because of the total collapse of secondary education. With 90%+ of American youth passing through high schools that no longer require fundamental competence in the three Rs for a diploma, a prospective employer cannot rely on that diploma for anything but bird cage liner.

Unfortunately, not only is that condition unlikely to change, but the "progressive" takeover of our colleges and universities is gradually devaluing the BA and BS degrees to worthlessness, as well. What credential will take the place of the Bachelor's degree, no one can foresee.

2:25 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

That depends a lot on the job being advertised for.

Does an office worker need a BA? Does an IT Manager need a BS? Not necessarily (although Francis has a valid point regarding why a BA or BS is looked for, and there are other reasons as well why one is sought).

Does an Engineer, or a Chemist, or Physicist, or Librarian, or Doctor need a degree?

In general, yes. Although there are always exceptions, a degree from a reputable school is a quick and easy way for an employer to know that the person applying for the job should not only have the requisite skills , but should have the ability to learn new skills quickly, as well as to desire to seek out further education should it become necessary.

Speaking from my own experience base, just because a machinist has a detailed knowledge of metals and how they behave, does not mean he should be designing aircraft. His input is valuable, but the skills of a machinist alone is not adequate to design a modern aircraft from whole cloth.

3:26 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Jacob said...

I believe it largely depends on the job or one's vocational pursuit. I recall hearing one of my professors (head of the Humanities Division) say he wished the school would do away with majors. The problem with that, he said, was that for jobs in science fields, they need to know what exactly you have learned, etc. I teach at a private classical school now and they could care less what my degree is in, so long as I can teach the students.

College has become a given in our culture and I am not sure that is a good thing. It is not for everyone.

3:26 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger David Foster said...

I agree that college degrees are overemphasize--indeed, *graduate* degrees are increasingly required in fields where such requirement is not really justified--but am dubious about Murray's claim that "A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work."

How would we know? The collapse of the K-12 school system implies that the majority of young people have never been given the opportuity to really develop their intellectual ability.

Yeah, people have limits in their individual intellectual capabilities but for most people, these limits are a long way away from their actual performance. Murray's line of thinking strikes me as being someone who looked at the hideously inefficient steam engines of 1790 and concluded that--since there are thermodynamic limits on the ultimate possible efficiency of an engine--there was no point in trying to improve them.

3:53 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger mkfreeberg said...

If it's good for the business, and that business' customers, then yes a degree should be required. But that's not the litmus test we use. My impression is, those who have the most to lose, should the degree be declared irrelevant, are put in the position of saying the degree should be required. Time comes for the business to say why it is that they're insisting on a degree, and what comes out of their mouths is the biggest crock of b.s. you ever heard. Something about "I know he's got drive if he's got a degree." But how many people have drive, and don't have that degree? How many people do have the degree, and don't have drive?

Now, the democrat party has consistently crusaded to make this a degree'd workforce. Like everything else, they express this in glittery half-truths..."make education accessible for everybody," et cetera. But that isn't what it's about. It's about the cost of an hour of labor, and the effort to push that cost upward. It's the one effort on which they are completely consistent. Labor should cost a lot.

The real danger I can see, is that these businesses go out in search of candidates who are capable of creative, reasoned, resourceful, independent thinking, and they end up netting a profile that is the exact opposite of that. The degree is quickly becoming something that is acquired through fidelity to procedure, and the ability and willingness to repeat back what was told to you, Memorex style. Is our workforce losing, by attrition, the ability to think on its feet, to think outside the box?

I see it every single place I look, lately.

3:58 PM, December 28, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, the democrat party has consistently crusaded to make this a degree'd workforce

This isn't just about cost of labor. The Democrats are by and large a party of technocrats, and the focus of technocrats is not competence and results but process and credentials. The same philosophy is seen in efforts to push "comparable worth": in setting compensation the employer is required to ignore the difference in work conditions between the carpenter and the secretary and focus solely on the secretary's BA degree (and the carpenter's presumed lack of same).

4:43 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger max's skunk works said...

While I agree w/ certain of Murray's points, I'm hesitant to credit him with them. Charles Murray is what you might call a psychometric determinist. He promotes a very strong form of cognitive hierarchy and tends to apply this to all manner of human endeavors. When reading Murray, you get the idea that he believes that we are all greater or lesser versions of the same mind and that our native intelligence alone determines what we'll do in life, and how well we'll do it. It's these positions that have marginalized him even among the community of writers and thinkers who are sympathetic to some of his more controversial proposals.

4:48 PM, December 28, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like everything else, they express this in glittery half-truths..."make education accessible for everybody," et cetera.

The problem I have is that they are not doing this for the students.

The education establishments themselves capture all the surplus created by government subsidy; government subsidy doesn't actually make education less expensive. And guess who has control of this surplus: the hardcore liberals who run education in this country.

The larger the education establishment the more money is spent employing unemployable people with worthless degrees but reliably liberal politics.

If more people can be run through these schools then the reach of the liberal indoctrination machine increases.

4:52 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger quadrupole said...


I've done a fair bit of hiring. Hiring sucks. You are trying to filter through a large pool of applicants, most of whom are not appropriate, and filtering through them by hand is miserable.

So folks do a lot of things to try to improve the 'hit rate' on appropriate candidates. Requiring college degrees is one of them. If 10% of the folks you interview with a Masters in CS are even vaguely appropriate for the job you are interviewing for, and only 1% of those without it are, you tell your HR department to only bring you MSCS or equivalent candidates.

It's a trade off on costs, on the one hand, you might miss out on a *really* good candidate without the credential you list, on the other, you save *enormous* time, energy, and frustration on screening applicants.

I suspect at it's root *that's* why folks require BS (or MS) for many jobs, because it provides some statistical pre-filtering that lowers the cost of hiring tremendously.

6:55 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Mike said...

Most positions don't really even require a degree. A lot of the positions in many offices could be done by people who have no more than a high school degree. Sales, human resources and many other business-related tasks could be done with on-the-job training. Even a lot of positions in the legal and medical professions could be taught via a combination of community college classes and aggressively-paced internships.

On the other hand, in some cases, some formal education is useful. I've met plenty of people who have no formal education in software development, who don't know the first thing about design patterns and other best practices. It would behoove employers to give self-trained individuals a chance to prove themselves, but also expect that they at least have the equivalence of an education in the best practices of their field so that they can avoid hacks.

9:08 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Jungle Jim said...

I have been a university prof for the last eleven years and I agree wholeheartedly with Murray.

Roughly half of the students at the universities where I have taught either do not have the interest or the ability to learn the material. They would be better off in some type of vocational training.

9:40 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger br549 said...

Natural aptitude comes in to play, doesn't it? This is America. We can pursue what we want more or less. You may be better as a pastry chef, but went after a degree in mechanical engineering. You took all the paper tests, got the degree, yet don't perform well in the "field". I have seen people who are out of their element 40 hours a week. We all have.

Like Mike T has said (sort of) the majority of positions don't require a degree. Important jobs. An auto mechanic doesn't necessarily need a college degree. But someone designing a modern engine and / or ancillary system does. An electrician, a damned good one, doesn't need a college degree. But someone designing and specifying the power needs of a high rise building in lower Manhattan, or a huge shopping mall in Minneapolis - St. Paul certainly does. Two year degrees from community colleges or vocational schools are ample for many "maintenance" positions in mills and plants. High school is ample for most "operator" positions in mills and plants.

I had a neighbor once who said he's worked with people who are educated beyond their intelligence. Maybe they're just in the wrong line of work.

All things considered, for me anyway, I thank God for good medical schools and good doctors. Without them, I wouldn't be posting my worthless opinion right now.

9:52 PM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Vinnie said...

First of all a good education does not require a school. Some of the best engineers I know have no degree. The best chemist I ever knew had an eighth grade education.
I fell into an adjunct position, after five successful semesters it was discovered that I didn't have (nor ever claimed to have) a degree and I was quietly let go. My students did above average on departmental finals but I guess that ability and success don't matter. All I got was the "ZOMG I touched an undergrad!!" attitude.

Jacob said...

"...I teach at a private classical school now and they could care less what my degree is in, so long as I can teach the students."

and as long as you have a degree.

12:19 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

"First of all a good education does not require a school. Some of the best engineers I know have no degree. The best chemist I ever knew had an eighth grade education."

This here is an example of what quadrupole was talking about. People who can do the work but have no paper to back it up. Such people may be brilliant and talented, but the only jobs they can secure are jobs acquired through networking, because someone, somewhere, has to bring them to the attention of someone else and vouch for their abilities. If one of those engineers Vinnie mentioned tried to get a job at Lockheed through the regular hiring system, they'd never even get in the door without lying on their resume. The only way they'd get a new job is by reputation (they have patents and/or their name is on enough work that they are well known in the field), or if their current or former boss was willing to make some calls on their behalf.

That being said, I do whole heartedly agree with what others have said, University is not for everyone, and it's high time we stop pushing a four year degree as the first step to making a decent living, and start creating more certificate or two year vocational programs that fill the need for those careers that need some generalized or specialized training and education, but do not need the BA or BS.

I mean, I have a Master's in Engineering, and the first job I got out of school was a position that could have been done by someone with a two year Design Engineer degree (with a full engineer handy for those times when a engineer is needed). I was bored stiff and got myself transferred ASAP to a position that does require the specialized skills and knowledge of an engineer.

1:23 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:33 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

In a just society, a person's skills should count for more than whether or not they have a degree. My brother Steve has only a GED but is a master machinist and welder. He was once hired by a firm that was looking for someone with a masters degree in engineering and 6 years of experience because they knew he had the skills to do the job.

Shakespear didn't have a degree.
The Wright Brothers didn't have a degree.
Jack Northrop (aircraft designer and founder of Northrop Aviation) didn't have a degree.
Bill Lear (inventor of the car radio, ADF, the Lear Jet, 8-track, and about 100 other things) had only an 8th grade education.

Don't tell me about your degrees. Show me what you can do. I've seen too many people with degrees but lacking real world skills who end up making coffee at Starbucks.

8:49 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

Larry J:

Those are great examples of the exceptions. All are exceptional people who have a body of work and a reputation that allow them to trade on their name alone.

They are not the norm.

Now, we could have a discussion toward whether or not we should have some kind of professional certification process so that those who have the ability but not the paper have a way to demonstrate their ability without spending four years at school.

9:13 AM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger CBI said...

If I sum up the discussion aright, the general concensus seems to be that a degree per se is not the key, but is either indicative of the acquisition of a specialized body of knowledge and procedures, or, as quadropole pithily notes, a means to speed up a hiring process.

Shane has a good suggestion on whither the discussion should go: how to certify (vice credential) requirements in various fields. My understanding is that various Bar associations already do that, at least in theory: what counts is passing the Bar exam, whether after obtaining a J.D. or after reading with a practicing attorney. Some other professions have certifying exams (e.g., CPA); a similar certification I believe is common in the software world. Thus, for many professions, a certification procedure appears feasible.

However, I would guess that most entry-level jobs require not so much a specific certification as (1) Basic skills, (2) A good work ethic, (3) The ability to learn; and (4) Basic background knowledge. Of these, (2) and (3) would be difficult to certify, but (1) and (4) could be done readily with some sort of "General Ability Certification"---with achievement levels, even. Think of something that's SAT- or ACT-like, that anyone can take at any age. In effect, this "GAC" would be equivalent in value to what a high school diploma once meant: certification of a level of competency.

The institution of such would be straightforward, but would be met with much opposition, I think, from the current education establishment, which is often tax-funded and politically connected. I do not see it gaining much traction in the incoming administration, but rather think it would face some harsh opposition.

12:50 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...


"Think of something that's SAT- or ACT-like,"

As long as it is not multiple choice (such tests are too easy), unless it mimics exams like the GRE or MCAT (where the questions get harder the more you get right).

"The institution of such would be straightforward, but would be met with much opposition"

That would depend a lot on whether or not businesses valued the degree holder over the test taker. Education institutions WOULD want a say in how any test was built. They would also encourage that HR departments look at the score a person got on a test (hey, if a company wants to see my GPA, they'll want to know if their applicant aced a test, or squeaked by).

Any kind of professional testing would incur the scrutiny of the professional organizations, who, understandably, want to keep their membership professional. In engineering, new engineers can take the FE/EIT exam (Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineer-in-Training, a grueling 8 hour exam), and then, after 4 years of professional work as an engineer, they can take the PE (Professional Engineer) exam, which some places will accept in lieu of a degree. All of the professional engineering organizations have input into the test contents to make sure the exams are not dumbed down under political pressure.

1:05 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

A high school teacher once told my parents that I was not "college material." After getting a BS in engineering and two masters degrees, I think he might be right.

I probably wouldn't have been if the academic standards had been at the level they were when that nasty old teacher was in college.

We're poorer for the change. College is not and should not be for everyone. Nor should a degree be a requirement for many jobs.

Requiring a degree is a lot like "zero tolerance" policies - they both take hard work out of making some decisions.

1:55 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger max's skunk works said...

You can't use those forms of testing. They've been deemed discriminatory ( see Griggs v. Duke Power Co. ).

A significant advantage of degree requirements, to employers, is that these avoid the liabilities incurred by skill and aptitude evaluations.

But degrees aren't always good substitutes for testing. Employers tend to signal the discounts they apply to degrees by inflating degree requirements.

2:05 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

"A significant advantage of degree requirements, to employers, is that these avoid the liabilities incurred by skill and aptitude evaluations. "

verily spoken, indeed

2:30 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Newtons Bit said...

There's a lot of BS in this thread. Companies looking for a person with a masters degree in engineering and 6 years of experience (which means a professional license) do not hire machinists or welders instead. Welders and machinists may understand what a building looks like when it is put together and the cheapest ways to detail some things, but they do not understand how it BEHAVES. There are some things that you can only pick up with some serious study which is usually accomplished by a 5 year degree program. You cannot pick up calculus, dynamics of structures and mechanics of materials just by welding two pieces of steel together.

That said, when it comes to non-professional jobs, such as accounting or business or even IT, one doesn't need a degree so long as they have the skills. My father was an accountant (without a degree) that was in charge of a regional area for his company. But it took him 30 years to get to that point. He worked his way from the very very bottom to get to that point. He did it by being good and working hideous amounts of overtime. He also had to watch kids straight out of college get promoted over him and continue up to the upper levels of the company while he was still down at a regional level.

2:57 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Musings from the Smartest Man in the World said...

A degree should depend on the job. Being an enlisted man I deal with officers all the time, 99% of whom have gone to college. Does it make them smarter or more capable.... No. It makes them more educated. I know plenty of people that are very well educated, but can't tie their own shoes.

3:14 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

What randian said.

3:29 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger Manos said...

What exactly do you expect from Obama - he's a former prof. Of course he thinks everyone should have to study at the great seat of modern knowledge.

And he thinks that's at a US college.

8:38 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger David M. Knights said...

Read Mark Steyn's comments on this subject. He maintains we need to telescope current education and get folks into the workforce before their late 20s or early 30s as happens frequently in Europe.

10:59 PM, December 29, 2008  
Blogger El Duderino said...

I’d like to frame the question a little differently; is a four year degree worth the expenditure? At my alma mater, UCONN a slightly better than average state university, it will cost an in-state resident $75,368 to get a four year degree – assuming they graduate in four years or $134,216 for an out of state resident. I believe that at least half of the kids at a university like UCONN do not belong in college at all. They are wasting their time and their parent’s money. Many of these people will never graduate at all – I’d love to know exactly how many. They leave college after a couple of semesters or a couple of years with nothing to show for it but debt and PC indoctrination. I was lucky. I only borrowed $12,000 to get my BA, but I don’t think I ever “needed” it. Of course it’s sometime difficult to tell what you need when you have it.
The rocket scientist kids who go to UCONN on scholarship or get into an Ivy would probably be successful regardless of where or whether they attended college. To these students, a $75k or $135k expenditure on their way to a MD, MSP, JD, DDS, etc. may indeed be money well spent. But for the C student at State U who is there not because of an innate love of Beowulf in OE or a burning desire to plumb the intricacies of the Krebs cycle, but because every other kid in his/her high went on to college what do they get for their money? I don’t believe anyone can point to a definitive value that’s added. They’d be better off getting an electricians license and a panel truck and getting to work.
If parents knew half of the horse hockey that passes for instruction at UCONN and schools like it, they would stop payment on the tuition checks. Chinese TAs who know very little English. VIP professors who teach two classes out of three a week to 800 student sections, the third class left to the much maligned, dreaded and aforementioned foreign TAs. Absentee professors who cancel class because they they’re not “into it today” to the applause of children unaware that this charlatan just scammed their parents out of $40 or so. I don’t even want to get started on the PC shit and indoctrination that goes on. Please believe me when I assert that it’s every bit as bad or worse than you’ve heard and has probably gotten worse since 1992.
As to the original question, should a college degree be a pre requisite for a job, that would of course depend on the job and the person. The absolute worst hire I ever made was a young man with a BS from Brown and an MBA from UNC, he was useless. The best hire I ever made was a young lady with the thinnest resume you will ever read. A high school degree, an inner city high school at that, was the pinnacle of her education. But what her resume and her crappy high school education didn’t tell you was that she was a hard worker who took instruction well.

4:09 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger br549 said...

Mommy: br, what did you get on your final exam?
br549: Drool.
GE: Your hired!

6:28 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Bill Dalasio said...

While I agree with much of what Murray has to say, all I can say as to finding a receptive ear within the Obama administration is "best of luck with that". One of Sen. Obama's major bases of support was among the overeducated - those whose educational credentials outstripped their actual accomplishments. Much of the change they favored was "restoring them to their rightful place" ahead of the likes of George Bush and the people who like to shop at Wal-Mart. I mean, wasn't one of Sen. Obama's major life accomplishments supposed to be the fact that he went to Columbia and Harvard? Wasn't one of the major criticisms of Gov. Palin the fact that her degree came through (heaven forfend) a chain of state schools?

7:41 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

Companies looking for a person with a masters degree in engineering and 6 years of experience (which means a professional license) do not hire machinists or welders instead.

Most don't but one did (Integraph Computers). They were establishing a new CAD/CAM lab back in the 1980s and needed someone who could run it and show off their capabilities. They knew his work (he'd built most of their prototype engineering workstation cabinetry for years) and knew he could do the job. He did until he became bored with it and found another job more to his liking.

8:37 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

I forgot to add this story:

Back in 1943, Lockheed's chief engineer (Kelly Johnson) was awarded a contract to design and build a new jet fighter (only the second jet in American aviation history). The contract stipulated that the first flight had to take place within six months of the contract signing. Oh, and it couldn't disrupt any of Lockheed's existing war production.

Johnson took a very small number (about 40) of his best engineers and machinists and set up shop in some tents. The engineers and machinists worked long hours side by side every day. In many cases, experienced machinists fabricated the parts they knew from experience would be required and the engineers then drew up the plans. Everyone was very experienced and knew what needed to be done. The plane, the XP-80 Shooting Star, made it's first flight successfully only 143 days after the contract was signed and Lockheed's legendary "Shunk Works" was born. Had the machinists waited until the engineers designed every part, they never would've made their deadline. That is a historical fact.

8:56 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Manos said...

There are plenty of engineers who never graduated or went to college - my grandfather and brother among them - both very successful at firms they founded.

My older brother dropped out of high school and by the time his friends graduated college he was their boss.

I went to a state school and got a degree in history then went to work in IT for the past 11 years. I am not at the VP level for one of the largest corporations in the world.

My younger brother got a full scholarship to an almost ivy league and is at the director level at an IT start-up, his second.

The keys to our collective success had little to do with the educational system.

9:09 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger br549 said...

Well, the greatest boss / business owner doesn't know everything. He delegates. He finds the best he can afford to put in the positions he needs filled. If you're the brightest bulb in a group, wherever you are, you're in the wrong place if you want to be brighter still.

I don't really want to get down on schools. I'd give my eye teeth to have the freedom to walk around for as long as I want inside M.I.T., Stanford, and similar schools. You just know what they are working on is endlessly fascinating as well as mind boggling, science wise.

10:04 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger David Foster said...

A very interesting piece on credentialism from Paul Graham.

11:00 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

El Duderino has a point, in that the expense of a degree is not always worth it. This is part of the reason we need to stop pushing a degree as a condition for jobs that don't need one. Universities (and High School Guidance Counselors) also need to get better about telling kids that a liberal arts degree is not a guarantee of a good job and often a liberal arts degree is nothing more than the first step to a graduate degree or an MD/JD/MBA/etc.

Of course, Universities don't want to tell people that because a lot of kids would not bother to even start school then. It's a student and parents responsibility to have an education plan. Personally, I'm glad I waited a few years and spent some time in Uncle Sam's Canoe Club before starting school. I built some discipline and when I left the Navy, I had a plan regarding my education and I am glad I went to University instead of pursuing a vocational specialty, but I know a lot of my mates did pursue the vocational route, and they are all doing well and I don't think any less of them. I think a lot of young people would be well served by working as an adult for a while before heading off to school.

11:44 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think the individual employers ought to make this decision. If they want to maintain their requirements and overlook many qualified applicants who don't have a college degree, then that's their loss. The market will eventually correct itself. The best that we can hope for is that Obama will resist the urge to interfere in the market for education.

12:46 PM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger K-Man said...

There are two unspoken reasons for employers requiring university degrees, even for entry-level jobs. No one wants to mention, let alone address, these two reasons, but we must if we're going to see any positive change in today's pervasive credentialism.

First, in my direct experience, degree requirements are a nifty way for employers to get around antidiscrimination laws. Those pesky dark-skinned minorities, older workers (especially no-longer-pretty older women), disabled people, and the poor of all colors who might clash with the carpet are far less likely to have a bachelor's.

The present reality of younger women being the majority of those in college, conversely, makes it far easier for bosses to hire adequate numbers of eye candy, even if said eye candy can't necessarily do the job because they have fluff degrees in such majors as women's studies. The credential is the thing.

Second, employers know that most prospective employees have huge amounts of debt for that precious bachelor's or master's. An indebted workforce is a docile workforce.

This might be a cynical view, but I'm convinced based on things I've seen over the past 20 years that there is much truth in both points.

By the way, Griggs v. Duke Power was gutted by a later Supreme Court decision in the late 1980s. Otherwise, the obvious next step would have been to say that college degree requirements are likewise discriminatory, and we just couldn't have that, could we? I don't have the case name handy but will provide it when I get a chance.

2:25 PM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger vivictius said...

I see a couple reasons for requiring college degrees. The first one is the fact that a high school diploma does not even show the ability to read these days. The other is to simply limit the type of people applying for a position.

I am a field engineer working in highway construction, i.e. an engineer who doesn’t actually do any engineering. An engineering degree is required for my position even though I can’t remember the last time I used anything I directly learned in school (not for work at any rate). The degree requirement does, however, limit the people applying for the positions to with a technical background. In general, there isn’t a lower level of certification that insures that applicants will have there required personalities and skill sets.

I do agree that many if not most degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on. Most liberal arts degrees do not teach you any skills which can be used to pay back the cost of the classes. This is fine if you are doing it simply out of a desire to learn about the subject, but if that is the case, why bother with the degree process? I take the occasional class still, when an interesting one fits my schedule but unless it is one work related (have to maintain those Continuing Education Credits) I generally audit the class.

3:44 PM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger Mike W. said...

hell no. Hire the best person for the job.

8:15 PM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger James Johnson said...

I'm 39 years old. With only a GED, because I was such a "bad" young man, I'm heading into $40,000 of debt, and I'm heaping a full time online classroom schedule to my already 50 to 60 hour professional work week.

I have had two licensed professional careers (emergency nursing and finance), and have had a successful Massage business. I'm surrounded by degrees in Liberal Arts, pschology, and music, that have nothing to do with practical work, yet I know they have complete advantage over my work experience if I ever have to re-enter the job market in this scantron resume era of

Online school is a nightmare as I'm forced to take classes in Diversity, and Eco-Science, that I'd rather not pay for. Online, I'm missing out on the college experience, and the degree truly feels like a piece of paper, with no tangible, experiential pay off for the daily grind of the curriculum. I also live in Seattle, where a masters degree is the new bachelors degree.

I'm just frustrated. There's obviously worse tyranny's than forced school. But, I think my circumstance is the product of a boomer ideal, where the unintended consequences are cheapening education, and placing a lot of people in an expensive, precarious positions in sustaining their own lives.

11:51 PM, December 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years ago I read a job notice posted on the bulletin board of the local library. In which it was stated that to be considered for employment for the nine dollar an hour part time job they were offering one had to have at least two years of college...As someone who has worked in four libraries (1 jr. high, 2 high school and 1 college) I couldn't help but laugh at this because anyone who knows their ABC's and count their toes could do that job...

The BA degree is a sham that allows employer's to legally discriminate and is one of the reasons so many college grads fail to launch and are still living in their parents homes...

9:08 AM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger David Foster said...

"this scantron resume era of"...part of the problem is that every open position gets a huge flood of e-mailed resumes (it was bad enough with paper resumes) and in response, initial screening is delegated to a junior HR person who has little knowledge of the actual job being filled--and hence can only look for the keywords that the hiring manager has told him is important--or, increasingly, to an automated keyword-searching software system.

9:11 AM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger K-Man said...

As promised in my previous post: the case that undid Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) is Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 US 642 (1989). The interesting thing is that Griggs has received a lot of attention over the years, but few have commented on Wards Cove, nor did it receive much media attention at the time. But Griggs is effectively dead because of Wards Cove.

The idea that university education confers some sort of indication that someone is "educated" or can stick through a project to completion is ludicrous. Too many universities have had to institute remedial courses in basic subjects to make up for what the public schools did not teach, and at some universities, the remedial course has replaced the old standard one, simply because so many students are unprepared for college.

Dumbing down all courses, combined with grade inflation and the students' expectations that they will receive an A just for paying for and attending the class, has frustrated many university professors. These phenomena have accelerated since the mid-1990s, when a new crop of students with a distinct entitlement mentality began going to college. Not all universities have done the dumbing down, but too many have had to.

Then consider the drunken, drug-laced debauchery that is part of the wonderful experience at many university campuses...

Even in the early 1990s in newspaper job listings I was noticing that social workers were expected to have a master's to qualify for a job in their field then paying just $20,000 a year. The credential inflation, where a master's is required when a bachelor's was once sufficient and a bachelor's is required where a high school diploma was once enough, is as pervasive as grade inflation.

For too many students, all these credentials are meaningless anyway in terms of the job market. I can show you examples of master's theses that contain elementary spelling and grammatical errors that no one caught. Who's fooling whom here? The reality is that degree requirements are back-door means of discrimination, and perfectly legal thanks to the death of Griggs. And employers know this.

10:27 AM, December 31, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the guy who made the statement about peoples intellectual abilities needs to define intellectual. Does he mean most people are too stupid to go to college? Or does he mean that most people aren't suited - temperamentally or otherwise - to pursue four or more years of intense scholarship? There's a difference.

Let's face it: A lot of people find sitting in classes, reading huge amounts of text, writing reports, taking tests, and being constantly judged on the results a completely useless and obnoxious way to spend their time.

The lame, last-ditch argument I always hear in favor of the degree requirement is that it "proves you have the discipline and determination to complete something." In other words, unless you have a BA or BS you won't be taken seriously as a person or as a worker. It would seem that there must be less expensive and time-consuming ways of proving your mettle.

12:23 PM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger br549 said...

Colleges / universities themselves are probably behind much of this, as self preservation is pretty strong. And higher education is the 7th largest industry in the U.S.

Community colleges do offer many remedial courses that were supposed to have been taught already. Many spend the first two years there, getting the "bullshit" courses out of the way and spending the serious money for only two to three years. Four year degrees are now five years - if not six - for some.

I do wonder just how many grads, by percentage, are actually employed in a position for which their degree prepared them. I regularly seminar rooms full of people with more formal education than my own.

1:03 PM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

"Community colleges do offer many remedial courses that were supposed to have been taught already."

I took that route. When I left the Navy, I had a few college credits under my belt and the University would not take me as a new freshman, I had to enter as a transfer, and for that I needed 12 credits. Instead I spent a 3 semesters as a full time student at the local tech college taking the refresher courses and building credits (my Math education from HS was pathetic, so another run through Algebra and Calculus was much needed). It was actually better than if I'd taken those classes at the University because many of those classes at the Uni would have been in vast halls with 300 students whereas at the tech college, it was a class of 15-20.

1:50 PM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger Shane said...

George Will has a take on this topic.

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