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Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars (theguardian.com)
378 points by tjalfi on Sept 28, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 426 comments



The fact that the article features an English professor is unsurprising. This is a supply-side problem--liberal arts degrees are in relatively low demand, but institutions continue to graduate students at unsustainable levels. No one is telling the students that they're spending 4-12 years getting an education which is worth less than what they're paying for it.

For the most part, the only jobs that hire for English and other liberal-arts degrees are universities and schools. Even so, we're graduating people at rates comparable with STEM fields. With so much supply, the price of the work is driven far down.

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cta.asp


> For the most part, the only jobs that hire for English and other liberal-arts degrees are universities and schools

This is such nonsense. Most jobs don't care what degree you have as long as you have a degree, and with an English degree you can apply for 90% of jobs. You could graduate and go on to be anything from an advertising executive, to a soldier. Most jobs don't care - it's technology that's unusual.


That's largely true for an undergrad degree. For a graduate degree, and a PhD in particular, there aren't a lot of alternative employment options. I've been told that having a PhD in those fields makes you less employable for positions in general (because why are you applying for this job, and it is uncomfortable to hire an older person with a PhD for an entry-level position).


An unqualified 30 year old going for a grad position will face the same age bias regardless of whether there was a phd in their past or just 6 years of working in ski chalets.


I don't think it's nonsense - I don't entirely agree, but I would agree with a milder version of the statement. I do know an English majors who is a director at at a top tech company, so I would agree that many companies will hire English majors.

However, that's different than saying you can get hired as an English major vs saying these companies hire for English majors.

Engineering and CS are majors that companies specifically target, in large numbers for hiring. "Related" majors like Math, Physics, other sciences, may also get recruited in the same batch.

Although English is sometimes specified as a specifically targeted major for a job, this is considerably less common.


If having that English degree makes the job more attainable than not having a degree, then in a way they do hire for English majors (even if not specifically, but by way of the class-instance relationship).


> Engineering and CS are majors that companies specifically target

In your industry.


Lots of companies outside the tech industry still have to recruit CS and other tech majors. The demand for specifically English majors outside tech doesn't come close to balancing things out.


Which industries hire for English majors? Are there good opportunities to be had, and are future prospects looking stable,upwards or down?


Industries where writing and reading comprehension arein demand, such as advertising, journalism, marketing, film, diplomacy, public relations, publishing, technical writing, law, and many more ...


For those fields, wouldn't one be significantly better of with a degree in advertising, journalism, marketing, film/media, policy (local/foreign), print/media, engineering, law?


That kind of education doesn't teach you to reason, to understand the world, and to think critically (except about a narrow subject). I'd much rather hire a liberal arts major - the vocational stuff can be learned later.


You can be a soldier without ant college education (and qualify for a direct path to Officer Candidate School with a two-year degree or equivalent credits, IIRC), so giving “soldier” as on option with 4-year English degree is literally suggesting that it is worth the same as no college education at all.


You can only enlist without a degree. With a college education you can be an officer. In that case, the degree would almost certainly be worth it.


Yeah,the OCS requirement is different than what I remembered.


That's what I'm saying though - most degrees aren't career-specific, and most careers don't need a specific degree, or any degree at all as you say.


You can get any job, but it's going to be harder and you're probably not going to be compesated as highly [0].

[0] https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21646220-it-dep...


That's true in software. Source: mid 6 figures principal engineer w/ high school diploma.

Other jobs are pickier.


I'd say it used to be true in software. Try repeating that achievement starting out today. You'll be lucky to get any sort of tech job at all.


Meh, if you're passionate about technology as a kid and end up building lots of useful things I don't see why you can't get internships which will inevitably lead you to higher paying jobs.

My company offered an internship to someone who was 17. At Digital Ocean one of the interns was 16.

Tech moves quick and the less outside responsibilities you have the more time you can commit to building and learning.


I started full time in 2008 when the recession was bad. I don't know if 2008 was a long time ago or not.

Turns out when companies are making money, they want to hire engineers to build new stuff. When they are losing money, they want to hire engineers to automate.

There were certainly some lucky breaks involved. I like to think of it as I'm lucky the doors opened, it wasn't luck that had me searching for open doors and walking through them when I found them.


I think it's still largely true. In some sense it can be harder, especially if you don't plan to go through some form of web dev path or mobile development path, but on the other hand there are more opportunities now to quickly build up your knowledge and experience and showcase it. Open source projects don't care, and the coding bootcamp craze can be a substitute to a full degree while still offering pretty good odds at job placement. There are several contracting agencies out there as well that will help you out, if you're good those can lead to full time. Once you get your foot in the door and work in a tech role for over a year (or bootstrap your own tech startup for a year), or sometimes being an intern is enough), just about every place after that will look past not having a degree.


I started learning to code in 2011 when I was 28. I've been steadily employed in this industry for over 5 years now. I have a music degree.


You should try applying for CSO at Equifax. There is soon going to be an opening available for that role and it looks like you have the necessary qualifications.


mid 6 figures? As in, half a million?


400 actually


That's right. With a music composition degree you can be a Chief Security Officer at large companies such as Equifax.


"buuuuuurn" -Klaus


You know, that's a problem too. I mean, I take that 90% of jobs aren't specialized positions. Once you need a college degree for a position that only requires general skills, or in which the employee can do just fine on-the-job training and experience, then what are those years in college for exactly?

As far as I know, people could get by with a high school degree in the 1970s: there was no significant wage difference between a high school graduate and a college graduate, and both faced similar rates of unemployment. Nowadays employers take for granted that candidates must have some form of qualification, even for positions that don't seem to require it. Has the quality of education fallen and the grades been inflated to such a point where degrees are no longer reliable signals of productivity?


What's the best way to ensure employee loyalty? Make sure they're saddled with mountains of crippling debt so they can't afford to quit!

And why should companies have their HR departments thoroughly vet candidates when they can rely on the college admissions process to do it for them?

Free vetting AND loyal slave... uh... I mean... employees! Who could say no to that!?


Degrees are not reliable signals of productivity.

I would much rather hire someone who didn't finish college but has had five years of progressive responsibility in the right area, than someone who had just finished a four or five year degree course but had never worked.


But does the progressive responsibility ladder exist for a high school graduate? Can they start their career in a job, even at an internship level?

I think you can tease out three possible factors influencing the situation here:

- more people graduating, more supply, means that even entry-level jobs are flooded with college graduates - entry-level jobs in decline, either due to automation or companies just not interested in providing apprenticeships - student loans shifting the power dynamics between employer/employee; you're more pressed to get a job, any job, so you're more likely to take up positions where you're overqualified and underpaid

These scenarios all form positive feedback loops to each other; with more high-skilled worker supply in the market, companies can grow their non-entry level jobs while automating the low-level ones; this reduction in entry jobs means that the desperate college students compete more fiercely with high school students, raising the bar for entry level jobs; the raised bar for entry level jobs forces more high school students to go into college rather than start work, which saddles them with student debt, feeding into the cycle.

I've noticed that many social situations tend to end up in such vicious, entangled circles. My dad used to call these the "downward spiral of failure" and the "upward spiral of success", and I really don't know how you transition from one to the other without a monumental effort or some kind of miracle breakthrough.


I didn't say they were. They aren't, that's the issue. A college degree overshoots the level of qualification necessary for a general skills job and comes short of the qualification necessary for a specialized position.

Also, your crosswise comparison between an experienced candidate without a degree and an inexperienced candidate with a degree only tells me that you put more weight into experience than having a degree. It really doesn't tell me much about whether a degree is a good signal, but only that it's worse than experience. Now, if you had told me that you don't consider whether a candidate has a degree at all then I'd be able to infer that they are terrible signals and carry no information at all.


I said what I meant: they're not reliable signals.

You've got a space of time in a person's life between, presumably, graduating high school and sending you a resume. What did they do with that time?

Merely having a degree doesn't say much.

Merely not having a degree doesn't say much.

Having an honors BS in CS from CMU, MIT, Stanford, or a bunch of other schools implies academic competence and exposure to a certain range of ideas. But I don't know that they can be productive outside of that environment.

Having an ordinary BS in a STEM subject from a random college that I've never heard of means even less to me. But is it zero? No.

Holding down a job for those four years is a signal, too, and it needs evaluation. What kind of job? While living at home? Did anything progress during that time? Is it relevant to what we're trying to hire for?


For most people, college education funges against job experience. It's hard to work full time while also being a college student.


> then what are those years in college for exactly?

A proxy for an IQ test?


Nope! They are an indicator to work at a fairly long-term goal fairly diligently, and jump through various hoops.


Just ask for SAT scores..


Exactly. If no domain specific skills are needed and a general education is good enough, then a high school diploma should have sufficed anyway.


Exactly this. The problem here is wanting to be a tenured professor, not having an English degree.


it’s a good rule of thumb that punching up your argument with ridiculous emotionally resonant hyperbole makes your logic seem really, really strong.


It's a good rule of thumb that comments necessitating a new throwaway account aren't worth making.


And yet, he's 100% right.


This is true for occupations like sales where the litmus test is professionalism and the ability to stick to goals. However, you will lock yourself out of occupations with degree requirements for credentialing and those with domain knowledge you gain through school like Chemistry.

I live in LA and, surprise surprise, there are a lot of writers, artists, and other folks who want to work in Liberal Arts oriented industries. Most of my Liberal Arts degree equipped friends are in sales while dabbling in their art on the side. A few of them sell a book or script every 3-5 years. The rest of them went back to school for a Law Degree or an unrelated Masters degree.


Why do employers keep putting so much value on something so worthless? There must be cheaper ways to demonstrate to employers you have something equivalent to whatever it is they think they're getting from any old 4 year degree.


Conceivably, a system of tests or certifications could be used as a reliable signal of competence. Just make a candidate go through a battery of exams. The issue is that firms most likely wouldn't have any interest in doing this and any independent organization doing this would be tempted to change into the business of selling certificates, which would make the certificates themselves worthless.

Which isn't to say that the issue is unsolvable. But it still needs solving. I don't think anyone has paid much attention to it.


It hasn't been proven that employers put so much value on a degree. Certainly a lot of people think that employers think that, but I've yet to see a real life hiring manager come out and say "I don't care how much experience you have, without a degree I won't consider you."


In B2B deals, government contracts and the like, sometimes companies like to brag about how many PhDs and Masters they employ.

If you are selling a product to a government or a big enterprise, it helps to have a lot of people with impressive credentials in your staff.


A bachelor's degree of any type demonstrates ("signals" in economic terms): communication skills, ability to follow instructions, sufficient persistence to finish a long-term project. Some colleges are way overpriced, but in general I doubt you're going to find a cheap way for prospective employees with no real work experience to demonstrate those qualities.


I think the issue is exactly that - the colleges are low efficiency, either overpriced or not a good match for the position you go to work as.

As a hypothetical, let's say that most jobs require a degree. Let's say that you use 50% of the stuff in your English Major throughout most of your career; you've eaten a 50% inefficiency on your college investment(essentially doubling the "price/skills" of your degree), you've lost time that you could have invested in obtaining those skills. Further, you are pressured into demanding a higher salary because of your college investment, which isn't matched by the skills you've received; so either your employer carries the burden of your inefficient education, or you do.

This is usually decided by the power dynamic between the two, and if you're a broke college student desperate for a job, you don't have much bargaining power, so you're shouldering all the burden. The worst part is, there's no way for you to fix this - there's no 2-year program that is 100% aimed towards your career goal, and there's no entry-level job for you to start at 0%(you're probably already starting at the entry-level even with your 50% degree). So you're stuck making this investment whether you want to or not.

One way to look at university is insurance - you're learning all these extra things as an insurance that you'll have a baseline of skills if you change your career. The issue is, not everyone can afford such an expensive insurance, but most people are forced to take it under our hypothetical.


Because doing so would signal non conformity.

Bryan Caplan has a book coming out soon on the signalling model of education here's notes from a course he teaches http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/e496.html


I think in part, it's because "they" have a degree. There can be quite a bit of condescension from people who have degrees towards those who don't.. "I got a degree to get this job, you should have one too".


> Most jobs don't care what degree you have as long as you have a degree

Then why do they require a degree at all? What specific skills will a degreed applicant have that a high school grad won't?


> What specific skills will a degreed applicant have that a high school grad won't?

For one thing, the "skill" of (probably) not being from that stratum of society that doesn't get their kids through university. Asking for degrees is a subtle way to perpetrate socio-economic discrimination. (In some cases, it has to be a degree from the right set of schools, not just anywhere.) It's so easy! You don't have to look at race, or what neighborhood someone grew up in. Just this: do they have a degree or not. Saves time and protects from litigation: it's brilliant!

Getting a degree demonstrates some measure of discipline and work, and the delaying of gratification for the sake of a longer term goal that is several years away, while completing various tasks, jumping through hoops and so on. It's like a job. You have to attend to certain things on time, like showing up for exams, and meet deadlines (term papers, etc).

If you have a degree, you probably pulled an "all nighter" or two to submit something on time or prepare for an exam, and that's just the sort of dedication that employers crave.


If you have a pool of applicants for a job, all with no relevant experience, it's an easy filter. You filter out all the people who haven't proven they can do something they agreed to do for 3/4 years.


If that's all it is, there's got to be a way to come up with something that lets someone prove they are willing to do something for 4 years, but only costs maybe $250 a year.


This is mostly a problem of the Anglo-Saxon world. In continental Europe, for the most part, at least AFAIK, publicly owned universities are harder to get in, harder to get a degree from, and valued much more in the job market. The upside is that the education is subsidized by the government to the point of being roughly that expensive.

I.e. one enrolls in a privately-owned, for-profit universities if they have the money, but don't want to work their arse off to get a degree, or don't have good enough grades from the secondary education to qualify for public unis.


While they area bit more expensive than that target, universities that focus on credentialing without doing much of the rest already exist (e.g., Western Governor's University).


Remember that lots of student debt isn't necessarily on tuition fees. I went to university for 4 years with "low" fees (started at €1750, ended at €2750, now €3000), but renting a room in that city will cost you 5-6 hundred euro a month, plus other "normal " living costs like eating, transport (another €120/month). All while you're probably not supposed to be working. My loan was purely to pay for accommodation for my time there.


MOOCs will make that happen within a decade's time.


> What specific skills will a degreed applicant have that a high school grad won't?

Just as requiring a high-school diploma is a filter for the general education requirements that apply to a diploma, requiring a bachelor's degree in any field is a filter for the level of general education that comes with that, not the domain-specific skills of a degree.

And it's an imperfect filter, but its job isn't to be perfect, it's too reduce the absolute quantity of bad applications that need to be reviewed.


Right, but now it's effectively become a positional good -- you get the education to indicate being in the nth percentile by general capability. Subsidizing further education then means that people have to get more education (with no additional human capital enhancement on the market) simply to signal being in the same percentile. And refusing the rigamarole just brands you as "different" with its own barriers to overcome.


To add to what the others mentioned: critical thinking skills, and the ability to write themselves and their reader out of a paper bag.

Skills which, as an aside, don't always have as high a priority with the "more practical" degrees whose use for a certain job is more obvious.


I don't think they see it as about specific skills - rather about general skills and maturity. Also I think they value having a lot of people with deeper knowledge of a diverse range of subjects.


Statistically higher IQ and various other variables that positively correlate with work performance.


Depends what classes they take, how good their teachers are, and how dedicated a student they are!


> Most jobs don't care - it's technology that's unusual.

TBH I am far more likely to hire an English major with demonstrated technical skills than a technical person with a purely technical education.

Learning the technical skills to live up to the expectations of an entry level software or coding job is just not that hard for a decently smart person. I want to see evidence that you can think more broadly too rather than just checking the boxes.


To be fair, I graduated from a good uni with honors, so not to say this out of spite, but in my experience this evidence you speak of--in non-technical courses--says more about whether the prof liked you and you stuck to affirming or regurgitating their ideas.

Additionally hearsay is one of the worst kinds of evidence, scientifically speaking.

I wish there was more development into standardized testing... People pretend profs are altruistic and stop acting like people when they become profs.


>says more about whether the prof liked you and you stuck to affirming or regurgitating their ideas.

My best classes were the ones where the professors and I came from wildly different places. There are bad profs, but in my experience it is pretty uncommon for professors to actually want to see you regurgitating their ideas. Moreover, most of my grading was done by TA's anyway so it's not even like the prof's take was relevant since the TA's have their own agendas.

More often the fact is that, undergraduates (and many graduate level students) suck at properly arguing their point. It’s not their fault really, they’re just less experienced at building a case, operating under a time and space constraint, and less knowledgable about the topic than the person grading them.

And when you’re being contrarian (going against your professor’s thinking) you’re likely to suck even more than usual because your professor hasn’t spoon fed you an acceptable conclusion, a cogent argument leading up to it, and first principles that they agree with to build an argument from.

>People pretend profs are altruistic and stop acting like people when they become profs.

Who exactly do you think would be designing (and thereby imputing their biases into) these standardized tests?


Exactly this. The problem here is wanting to be a tenured professor, not having an English degree.


its not non-sense but it might be underspecified. the only jobs that care that you have, specifically, an English degree are jobs in academia. Corporate jobs will gladly hire an English major just because it's a degree they don't care that it's an English degree though.


From my viewpoint this stopped being the case in the UK around 20 years ago, not coincidentally around the exact same time that the numbers of graduates started rising considerably year on year. It's a simple case of supply and demand. If you went to a top uni, have contacts or are genuinely oustanding then great, you probably have the luxury of being able to walk into a decent job from nearly any degree, but if not you are competing with tens of thousands of other graduates for the remaining decent jobs. So how do you make yourself stand out? I'd suggest that a CV that shows no evidence of interest in the field before graduation is not a terribly good differentiator. Far better to have studied something related or at least have gained some work experience in the area rather than look like every other grad that's graduated and thought oh shit, must find a job, any job..


That is absolutely false. Since I have my computer science/math degree my linkedin inbox has been flooded with messages from recruiters. I can guarantee you that they are not looking for an English major.


This is not about the teaching discipline. I am a Computer Science adjunct, and the salary I get from teaching is equivalent to what the article mentions.

I only do this because I like teaching, so this is not my main source of income. I am not in the verge of homelessness because I do programming for a living. But the problem is still the same: Universities are charging astronomical tuitions and then paying a laughable part of them to teachers.

It does not make any sense, and IMO that explains in part why University education is losing its value: you get overworked and unmotivated teachers as a student, so you may better learn your stuff online.


> I only do this because I like teaching, so this is not my main source of income.

IMO, this is what adjuncting excels at: supplementing your full time instructors with professionals spending most of their time in the workforce. This more or less happens in CS, but service departments like Math or English end up replacing the majority of their instructors with adjuncts working at 2-3 colleges.

Sadly, this trend does make sense and is easy to diagnose. Instructor salaries have stagnated despite increased student tuition because states have, for the past few decades consistently cut higher education funding. I was laid off from a self-funded university unit amid a very real concern that the state's failure to raise taxes to pay for pensions would ultimately impact the university's funding, and while this was not the immediate cause for the unit's layoffs, it was absolutely a factor in whether to cover the unit's budget shortfall.


There's nothing wrong with getting an English degree. Practically any uneducated person would benefit greatly from four years of college level writing courses no matter the level of "usefulness". The problem is the overarching mentality of the culture which says "you have X degree, so you must now try to use it for X". If you judge English degrees on the same level of a job training course it doesn't make sense. They have different purposes entirely. The point of a liberal arts education is to sharpen the mind and create better decision makers and thinkers.


> There's nothing wrong with getting an English degree. Practically any uneducated person would benefit greatly from four years of college level writing courses no matter the level of "usefulness".

I think you entirely missed what the comment said. The statement wasn't about there being anything "wrong" with getting an English degree. It was that there aren't enough jobs for English PhDs and comparably too many students getting them, hence driving the salary down:

>> The fact that the article features an English professor is unsurprising. This is a supply-side problem--liberal arts degrees are in relatively low demand, but institutions continue to graduate students at unsustainable levels


All fine things, but probably not worth putting yourself into a lot of debt for.


This is not a pure supply-side problem. In general, demand for college instructors remains high and job growth in the sector outpaces the average[1]. This is not surprising given that the number of students enrolled in post-secondary education continues to rise[2]. There is plenty of teaching to be done, the problem is that the bulk of this teaching is no longer done by full-time professors.

In the last decade, universities have shifted teaching responsibilities from full-time, tenure track positions to part-time adjunct positions. Today, half of all teaching positions are part-time and include no benefits. Adjuncts are paid an average of $2,987 per semester-long course[3]. That's less than $1000 a month. If you've ever taught a college class before and realize how much preparation it actually takes, an ostensibly "part-time" position easily demands 40-60 hours of work a week.

In some fields, over-supply is helping drive this trend[4]. We produce more History PhDs than there are jobs to fill. This weakens the bargaining power that academics have on the market. But this does not absolve universities from their role in the immiseration of academics – after all, they continue to accept more PhD candidates with full knowledge that most of them will never find gainful employment in their field. This is not surprising given the fact that departments now rely on _graduate students_ to teach one-fifth of their course loads[5].

The "casualization" of post-secondary teaching is also a disservice to students, many of whom don't realize that the bulk of their instruction is now done by overworked, underpaid adjuncts who don't have the time or incentive to do their best work.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/posts... [2] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_101.20.a... [3] http://www.chronicle.com/article/Adjunct-Project-Shows-Wide/... [4] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/01/11/grad [5] https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts


> No one is telling the students that they're spending 4-12 years getting an education which is worth less than what they're paying for it.

I think that some fault lies with unrealistic expectations. Every liberal arts graduate student knows that there are only enough positions for 1 in 10 of their cohort, but each firmly believes that they will be in that 10%. Worse, many who are talented enough to actually be in that 10% self-sabotage by being unwilling to move to locations they perceive as less than desirable.


The schools exacerbate this because the professors themselves have such survivorship bias.

I once had a professor try to convince me to go for a bio phd. I objected that there's only one TT position for every 20 graduates. His response was that it's just about hard work - look at him, for example!

He didn't get my point; I didn't get the phd.


It's a risk worth taking if you think you're too good to work in private industry. Almost all liberal arts phds i know couldn't stomach working for the man.


A lot of English majors work in journalism, copywriting, advertisement. Tech companies also employ them for writing documentation.

Same for other "liberal-arts" degrees.


Not to mention writing books, writing for television, plays, screenplays, etc.


Yes, but those are rarely "walk-in, get paid" jobs


> No one is telling the students that they're spending 4-12 years getting an education which is worth less than what they're paying for it.

Because that would be like saying "hey, there is a big white elephant in the room!" to the room's occupants, when there is indeed precisely such a beast in that room.

Such as proclamation is rather more befitting of, say, the Economics faculty.


I think you're confusing "liberal arts" with "humanities." Math and science are liberal arts, though engineering is not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts_education

Humanities students do indeed go on to earn less, but the differences are much more slight than stereotypes would have you think. They also narrow as people progress in their careers:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/10/05/new-data-what...

There are indeed too many PhDs minted in the humanities, but I'd say this also applies to pretty much every field other than, perhaps, CS. Times are pretty tight for bench and social sciences as well.


> This is a supply-side problem

It's a demand-side problem. Most higher education is funded by state and federal government, and they have been cutting funding dramatically, reducing demand for skilled academics.

It doesn't have to be that way. The U.S. could fund higher education at the levels it used to, and fund reasonable incomes for the higher ed workforce. To create a less educated population than the prior generation is to go backward.


For those who have university degrees, this should be a difficult read. Next time you say to yourself, "Sure, I went to college. I know that's a privilege, but I worked hard there and made it because of my hard work and nothing else!" Remember this article.

This isn't a new phenomenon, but it's a phenomenon that's becoming more acute. Even if we ignore the adjuncts, the brilliant folks who taught us all what we know subsist on less than half of the median wage for our professions, with increasingly mediocre benefits.

These are the same folks who's amazing research work is powering our industry, often with a 10 year lead time.


In parts of Europe there the expression: "That's Texas." It roughly means "That's crazy." but with a 'Murica flavor to it.

Lately, I've been finding myself frequently thinking: "That's Texas."

Let me get this straight. Take a course load of 4 double semester courses per year with 200 hours of class time total in the given year. Let's double it to 400 hours just to be safe to include exam marking and office hours. A single student paying $30k per year is paying $75 / hour / student, or an annualized salary of $150k / year.

True, you can't work all year round, but the average adjunct earns less than a single average student's tuition?! Where does all the money go? How is the market so broken?


I work part time as an adjunct at a local 4 year college in WA state and am paid a flat fee of $150 a student per class. For one of my higher level (400 level) courses, I have 4-5 students usually and prep work to keep the course current still requires at least 2-3 hours a week in addition to teaching class.

At the end of the day, I make less than minimum wage teaching these students. I'm lucky that I have another job that supports me.

Colleges and Universities are not lean organizations. My department has significant amounts of overhead - people that in some cases work full time doing administrivia or extra paperwork and they require a salary. The buildings and labs also require upkeep and technology has a fairly high turnover cost. Add in the racket that is software + books and things add up quickly.

I'd estimate that my department has almost a 1 to 1 back office staff to professor ratio - simply due to the lack of automation (and no desire to automate) many portions of the work that is done at the school. Many of the back office staff are full time and they receive a regular salary rather than a flat fee per student.


At the Univ. of California system, the number of 'student-facing' employees (from grad-students to professors to janitors and groundskeepers, basically anyone that could maybe have their face shown to a student) is 1:2 versus the rest of the staff. Guess who screams louder about HR, benefits, and other stuff? (Sorry, I can't find the source for this though, quick googling came up with nothing)

EDIT: Another unrelated anecdote: I was recently talking to a PI at Rice's Engineering program who had just finished up his spring class. He got rave reviews of the class, all the undergrads really liked it. About a week after the class reports came out, his director came to him and told him that he was teaching too well and that he should be spending more time on writing grants. If his classes liked him that much again, he would be disciplined (I've no idea how, but he was nontenured, so it sacred him enough). He then taught a 'worse' class in the fall. Whatever those students are paying for, it sure is not the education.


Grants are the most significant revenue source for a department. These are research institutions, teaching is a side effect and the thinking is that "the students are lucky for the opportunity" :)


> Add in the racket that is software + books and things add up quickly.

Don't students have to pay for software and books? Where I went to school the library didn't stock any textbooks, and there was an extra per-credit hour "technology fee" slapped on to the regular tuition? You'd think the "technology fee" would cover all required software, but it only really paid for things like Microsoft Office, Peoplesoft, etc. Specialized software had to be bought separately (glares at Adbobe) at the student's expense.


What ticks me off at my University is the $100 per semester athletic fee, but that doesn't include use of any athletic things. Still costs $85 per month to use the weight room


> Add in the racket that is software + books and things add up quickly.

Don't students pay for those separately? How does that add up for costs on the school's end?


Books held in the library, and computer/library labs with the paid software available, I'd imagine


That explains some of the cost structure of an education institution, but:

The real reason the adjunct-professor position pays so low is because that's the value applicants are willing to accept / that's the cake society assigns.

If that class of employee demanded, or held more prestige, we would see efficiency gains elsewhere in the business.


Not quite. The real question is why are these adjuncts being paid so little? It could be that for many adjuncts the desire to be there forces them to accept whatever pay. It could be a desire to teach for the sake of it or it could be a lack of options. But also, why do colleges pay their student facing employees so little? They probably don’t have incentive to increase pay and they deginitely want to cut costs.


This is why they want to unionize. Ironically, the tenure track and tenured professors are unionized as part of that institution's academic senate. Adjunct professorships probably arose out of the "postdoc" path, as well as being an academic association for industry collaborators. So temporary in nature. But the reality is different. Better off teaching K-12 at least they have a union.


It could be that unionization keeping pay down or contributing to it. It makes the unionization more valuable for incombants and keeps out competition.


> How is the market so broken?

Student debt.

Look at the housing market: in the 70s you could buy a house for much less because houses cost less because people didn't have more money to overpay. With a thirty year explosion of the mortgage industry and the idea that anyone should qualify to own a home, suddenly consumers had extra money to outbid people on buying houses. This broadly increased property prices with no signs of slowing (unless the money runs out, as per '08). All of that debt is increasing people's ability to buy (raising demand, increasing prices) but not increasing their ability to pay (suggesting some kind of time limit).

Now look at the education market: in the 70s, you could buy an education for much less because people didn't have more money to overpay. The cost of education was in line with normal market mechanisms. But with a thirty year explosion of student debt and the idea that everyone should go to college and qualify for loans if they can't pay for it, prices broadly increased.

The problem is, for many, there is no alternative. "I'm the first one in my family to be able to go to college." "Not going to college makes it impossible to find a job." "I have to get an education." When "No thanks, that's crazy, I'll do something else" is not an option, prices are going to do crazy things. Perfect example being healthcare costs.

I think "Don't go to college" is the best advice today. Learn to program early, start working as a freelancer when you're 18 and graduate from highschool. By the time your friends graduate from college with a bunch of student debt and can't find a job because they don't have job experience and employers want to hire people that know what they're doing, you'll be making and saving a lot more money freelancing with 4+ years of experience under your belt already. Experience is waaaaaay more valuable than degrees. Might as well get it early.


What a programmer centric view. 99+% of people are not programmers. You want to be in any other STEM job you need a university degree(s). Almost any reasonable paying job other than programmer require actual training and education.


Play it out 20 years and:

* 80% fewer lawyer jobs because algorithmic contracts will kill the rest of the lawyer jobs that e-doc review didn't kill already. The 20% that remain will be lawyers/programmers.

* 80% fewer medical doctor jobs because all surgery will be done by robots because it's safer, radiology will be automated because it's more accurate, and most diagnoses will be automated through DNA analysis and readings from wearables. Doctors will need training in presenting (quite possibly bad news) results to patients and training to run the machines. The 20% that remain will be doctors/programmers.

* 80% fewer jobs in "driving vehicles" or "packing things" (truckers, factory workers, Uber drivers) because self driving cars will be mature 20 years from now.

* Restaurant jobs will still be around. But the cooking will be automated for 80% of the food sold in America.

* Business process automation paired with private equity firms and competition from startups will automate away a surprising amount of managerial roles.

* 80% fewer retail jobs because Amazon has helped make it so you can just walk in and pick something up and walk out and be charged for it, without any human involvement.

20 years is the difference between 1994 and 2014. I might be wrong about some of it, but I think people underestimate how much the job landscape is going to change and how important of a skill "programming" (which means a lot of different things) will be. Everyone should learn to program. And basic income, but that's a whole different can of worms.


> Almost any reasonable paying job other than programmer require actual training and education.

Interesting; this contrasts with the claim of liberal arts graduates who maintain that simply being competent critical thinkers is all that's required for almost any job.


There's a big difference between having the skills for doing the job and having the credentials for getting the job.


> Almost any reasonable paying job other than programmer require actual training and education.

Programming requires “training and education”, too.

But for many jobs, especially if you have connections that let you bypass filters designed to winnow the applicant field down to a manageable number that throw out lots of otherwise-atrocious candidates, you can demonstrate that other than by the degree that is “expected” for the field.

Computing is by no means unique in this respect (and the big players in computing are as much known for near-total exclusive preference for top schools as is the case in the worst of other fields.)


This attitude is part of the college problem. How is having a job not training and education? Some jobs you can learn in a week but others, like programming, have plenty to learn for a lifetime. College should not be "actual training" for a job. More like a way to learn to have a better life, if you make the most of it.


> Almost any reasonable paying job other than programmer require actual training and education.

Are you implying that you don't need skill and knowledge to program?

Or that it's impossible to get skill and knowledge needed in "other reasonable paying jobs" mostly outside of formal education industry?


I think "Don't go to college" is the best advice today.

That only works in industries like software etc. If one wants to be a lawyer, doctor etc they have no choice but to go to college, right? Some American students are going abroad (Germany etc), that could be a short term option.


> That only works in industries like software etc. If one wants to be a lawyer, doctor etc they have no choice but to go to college, right?

For lawyers in some US jurisdictions, including California, no; California, for instance, requires general education of two years of college or “demonstrated equivalent intellectual achievement” prior to study of law, and several options for the study of law, including what amounts to apprenticeship in law office or judge's chambers. So traditional college or law school is not strictly required.


Except that all the top law firms hire exclusively from top law schools. And the legal field is generally oversupplied with lawyers so if you don't work at a top law firm you won't be making a great living for a long time.


> Except that all the top law firms hire exclusively from top law schools

The top law firms employ small percentage of employed lawyers. And not even a huge percentage of graduates of top law schools. And aren't even the kind of work some people going into law want to do.

Confusing “what you need to get a job at a top law firm” with “what you need to be a lawyer” is like confusing “what you need to get a job at Google” with “what you need to be a programmer”.

> And the legal field is generally oversupplied with lawyers so if you don't work at a top law firm you won't be making a great living for a long time.

If you avoid undergraduate and law school debt (and especially if you are a paid employee instead of a paying student during your legal education), you can make a great living at a substantially lower salary than if you don't; and olif you do a legal apprenticeship, you come out with real-world experience most law students won't have (and quite often a job in the office you apprenticed in, if it was a law office and not a judges chambers.)


Honestly I don't know the legal field that well. How common is it to get a legal apprenticeship without any sort of degree? (because we're talking about avoiding all college debt, not just law school debt).

If you don't get an apprenticeship, then your options after passing the bar with self-study are essentially (it seems to me):

1. low-paid government work (like public defenders)

2. setting up your own practice (hard to build up a client base initially)

3. working on contract/temp basis for another law firm with variable prospects

Law school isn't just about credentialling and signaling; it also sets you up with a valuable alumni network that helps you get work. Anecdotally it's easier for an aspiring programmer without a network to get a referral into a tech company; go to a few meetups, hackathons or conferences, build a portfolio/github, meet a few people and ask them if they'll refer you (I've both gotten a job and helped someone get a job this way). And very few people ask or care about where you went to school when they can see your work instead. Again I may just be biased because I know the tech field better but it seems to me that it's harder to demonstrate your legal skills since you can't exactly post a sample contract or legal opinion you wrote, on Github (or maybe there's a portfolio site for lawyers too, who knows).

> Confusing “what you need to get a job at a top law firm” with “what you need to be a lawyer” is like confusing “what you need to get a job at Google” with “what you need to be a programmer”.

Again, not knowing the legal field well it seems to me that even mediocre programmers do better than mediocre lawyers because of the supply-demand differences between the two fields.


> How common is it to get a legal apprenticeship without any sort of degree?

There are very small numbers of people who choose that route (and very low awareness that it even exists); as I understand, there are mere dozens actually doing it any time in California recently.

One of the more common routes, reportedly, is people who are already employed (e.g., as paralegals) in the office they become apprentices in.


considering the state of the legal job market, going to law school is its own brand of crazy, and certainly no ticket to wealth, as conventional wisdom would have it.

and getting into medical school is basically luck of the draw; there are far more overqualified applicants than necessary. thinning that herd a bit isn't going to hurt.


If you want to be a doctor you could always just go to medical school overseas without going to college first.


We don't even know if "don't go to college" is good advice for the long term (15+ years) in software engineering, let alone the fact that you're completely forgetting about other fields. Seems incredibly short-sighted to me.


Unless maybe you are going to a top 1% CS program, there is little need for a degree in software engineering. Even if you go to a top 1% school, it's unlikely you will be taught by anyone remotely as good as this guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdAfILoJWcI

And his lectures are available for free.

If you get a degree, lots of what you learn will be outdated fast. The most important things you learn will be on the job actually making things.


>> We don't even know if "don't go to college" is good advice for the long term (15+ years) in software engineering

> Unless maybe you are going to a top 1% CS program, there is little need for a degree in software engineering.

I think you missed what I just said. You say there "is" little need. But I'm not looking at the present. We still don't know if we do for the long-term. (Well, lots of people think they do, but they're only guessing, not going on evidence obviously.)

Note that it's simply not true that people would learn the same material independently that they would learn in a classroom. Yes, it is theoretically possible, and some people can pull it off, but it's not at all universal or even common. A lot of people need the environment to learn better. Online lectures just don't cut it for everyone. So yes, "you need to go to college" can be true regardless of how good online lectures are, and we still don't know if what people get out of a CS degree will on average give them an advantage compared to those who don't get one in the longer term (though I don't really have statistics for the shorter term either).


> The problem is, for many, there is no alternative. "I'm the first one in my family to be able to go to college." "Not going to college makes it impossible to find a job." "I have to get an education." When "No thanks, that's crazy, I'll do something else" is not an option, prices are going to do crazy things. Perfect example being healthcare costs.

That's not always true. Most people seem to think they "need" a car, yet the price of cars isn't astronomical.

But you're right that even though the cause is noble (education available for everyone) our current mechanism of funding it results in runaway prices and for-profit scams.

I don't think everyone should not go to college and learn to code though. I think in the near future coding will be a basic piece of literacy, but only one piece. I think it's reasonable to imagine a future where just like people study english and learn to do some writing in english 101, they will also learn the skills to munge a csv file or write an sql statement in programming 101, and both will be part of a well rounded education.

The last thing this industry needs is a flood of high school graduates creating shitty insecure websites. I say this as someone without a degree, who knows first hand that although it's possible to make it w/o a degree, it shouldn't be anyone's first choice.


> That's not always true. Most people seem to think they "need" a car, yet the price of cars isn't astronomical.

Cars are not subsidized in the same way that healthcare or education are subsidized, though. There are fancy, expensive cars for people who want/can afford them, and there are more modest cars for the rest of us. There are lots of manufacturers of cars from around the world (and those cars from foreign manufacturers are available locally).

Of course, there are fancy expensive schools, and cheaper schools, but the subsidies (or maybe some other force I'm unaware of) seem to make the 'cheaper' schools still get more expensive every year.


Student debt is half of the problem. Really, the problem is that the primary source of funding for a university is the state. Over time, states have reduced the amount of money they give to schools because they can increase tuition to make of the difference. Since students are forced to then take student loans from the federal government, it in affect becomes a scheme for the states to milk money from the fed, but saddle the debt on students. So, yes, student loans are a problem, but the larger problem is that the states have proportionally removed money from the universities.

As to how to fix it, it's complicated. If the fed wants to continue to pump money into universities, they could federalize them, but it would be a huge transfer of power to transfer control of universities from the state to the fed. There's accreditation, the board of regents, and a variety of other organizations that would then be federally controlled. On top of this, since a university is such a large piece of a local community and requires infrastructure to support it, it makes sense to manage it locally. Further, the state would probably just play the same game if a university was federally controlled and still milk money. Really, the states need to realign their priorities and increase funding for the university system if they want stuff like this to stop. Removing federal student loans would help alleviate some of this pressure, but there's still pressure on universities to move to adjunct faculty to reduce costs as well, which is what the article was about.


This explanation makes no sense, what you are describing is MORE money entering the system.


Money is not neutral. That is, increases in the supply of money and credit do not produce uniform increases in all prices. Otherwise counterfeiting would be a mere nuisance.

More money entering an economy will certainly allow buyers to bid up prices (as with houses and college tuition). The question is which other prices are being bid up even more rapidly and which are remaining flat or declining on a relative basis.

These sorts of problems are why both illicit and legalized counterfeiting are so pernicious.


I don't think this is true. If you want to be a software engineer, take the courses, meet people (future founders), network, and freelance on the side. Also try to get scholarships.


> In parts of Europe there the expression: "That's Texas." It roughly means "That's crazy." but with a 'Murica flavor to it.

According to this article [1] in Washington Post, the first occurrence of Texas as "crazy" in Norwegian dates to 1957. Makes me wonder if it's used this way in other European countries too, and whether or not the etymology is independent.

It's worth noting that unlike the term "Amerikanske tilstander" ("American conditions") in politics (as shorthand for implying your opponent is pushing for whichever stereotypically bad thing about American politics fits best in the specific policy area), the use of "Texas" refers to wild west movies, and so is about 19th century lawlessness, not modern Texas (though there certainly is still a stereotype of Texas as being at least, well, somewhat Texas)

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/2...


Norwegian who lives in Texas here. Can confirm -- in Norway this term is ancient and has its origins in fascination with "Wild west", "cowboys and indians" and all that rather than some fixation with e.g. George W. Bush.

Exact use of the term could have certainly evolved over time, of course.


Actually Texas has cheap, well-funded state schools. It is financially a well-managed state.

Maybe you should switch to saying "That's Illinois" or "That's Chicago", they're the dysfunctional state now.


It also is the #1 force fighting against basic biology education in the US, the #1 safe harbor for patent trolls, and a state that is single handedly leading the charge on making inexpensive women's health clinics literally illegal.

So no. The fact that Texas can fund state schools of reasonable quality with the spoils of these actions does not dismiss the fact that it's one of the most frustrating states in the union from the perspective of modern education and industry.


We're more likely to start referring to them as Texas than change the term.


Perhaps a more modern take might be Florida Man.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Man


you can’t argue logically with leftist insult attempts. norwegians very much believe themselves to be better than you and will sneer at you after affronting you with silly outdated stereotypes. it’s adorable


What's adorable is that you think it has anything to do with left/right politics, especially given that it was pointed out that it was down to Western movies, not about present day Texas, and that it's use implies an insult.


In some aspects. In others, such as public health, it is not.


The figure of speech is used sometimes in Poland and I do believe the origins are related to the popularity of Wild West movies in the past. Currently when used it rather stands out as an oddity though, not something commonly used.


Never heard it here in Sweden.


We have that saying in Turkey as well. The funny part is, I've been living in Texas in last 4-5 years and Texas is actually a great state, especially if you stick with metroplexes such as DFW or Austin.


Uh... it's a great state to be in ignoring the havok that it causes the rest of the US.

Why is the US science education so bad? Texas. Almost exclusively. Its primary opponent: California. Texas causes similar problems in many other fields, including patent law and taxes.


That's interesting. See my other comment - do you think the etymology is the same (western movies in the case of Norwegian)?


Marketing. By marketing, I mean research grants, sports team equipment and training, and anything else that increases the prestige of the school (research sometimes leads to patents for the school, so there's additional benefit to that). You have to attract students willing to pay and good teachers and researchers to attract more students. The entire market is reputation based to the point where reputation is often (usually?) more important than results.


But there's a problem with how that stuff is bundled. I went to a school that lavished money on its sports programs (at least relative to the team's performance) and many of the sports programs were supported (in part) by mandatory student fees.

If I had the option to go to the school without paying for the team, I would have certainly done so. Though the school was still 'worth it' but dang it, I could have had more consumer surplus.

Another issue (probably not the first piece of fat I'd cut) is title 9 sports - schools have to make sports programs accessible to women and men and they most commonly do this by creating women's and men's teams. I don't have a good understanding of the law but there might be a better allocation of resources if they simply opened teams to both sexes rather than creating sexually differentiated teams.


> But there's a problem with how that stuff is bundled.

Sure. I wasn't endorsing the system, just explaining it as I see it.

> schools have to make sports programs accessible to women and men ... might be a better allocation of resources if they simply opened teams to both sexes rather than creating sexually differentiated teams.

I think that only works in a world where women and men are both physically capable equally in all aspects. That's not reality though, and at the high performance levels these teams play at, that difference is likely exacerbated to the degree that for many sports mixed teams would really just mean a starting lineup of one sex, which is not exactly succeeding at making it accessible if that's the goal.

Interestingly, if there were enough variation in the peak mental abilities we might see a similar segregation at peak performance levels. I suspect that while there is evidence that men and women often have different mental aptitudes, that's on average and at peak there is little difference in potential (even though there may be a difference in occurrence). E.g. There's plenty of evidence and reason to believe the strongest person that ever lived in the world is male, but there's not a lot of evidence to believe the smartest person that ever lived in the world, or even in any one field, is male (even if it may by likely to currently be one sec or the other based on ratios of interest).


I don't see it the same way, sure the power of the purse and all but if the Federal Government can't coerce states to follow immigration law as a condition of accepting some federal grants, we may as well say that the feds can't tie money to behavior and just let the chips fall where they may.

I get that women and men have different physical capabilities but why split it on gender? Why not split it on race? There isn't much racial equity in some sports, apparently some races can't compete as well as others and the demographics speak for themselves. Better yet, why not split sports by work ethic? I'd be more inclined to do sports if I could play with people who are similarly disinterested and the status quo isn't very accessible to me: a person who over eats, sleeps in, and forgets rules. I'm sure we can map that to a disparate impact somewhere.

Or ignore the discussion entirely and say "we'll let colleges decide how to handle their sports programs".


> I don't see it the same way, sure the power of the purse and all but if the Federal Government can't coerce states to follow immigration law as a condition of accepting some federal grants, we may as well say that the feds can't tie money to behavior and just let the chips fall where they may.

I'm confused, I wasn't making any case for that. I'm not sure where we got to Federal funding tied to specific program attributes.

> I get that women and men have different physical capabilities but why split it on gender? Why not split it on race? There isn't much racial equity in some sports, apparently some races can't compete as well as others and the demographics speak for themselves.

Do they, or is that primarily a matter of socioeconomics and class providing less traditional opportunities for certain ethnic groups, leading them to funnel effort in alternate areas, such as sports? It could also be a cyclical system, where many role models for a race are currently in specific areas (such as entertainment and sports) influencing newer generations. I wouldn't be comfortable attributing it to genetic variance of physical capability without a bit more info.


>I'm confused, I wasn't making any case for that. I'm not sure where we got to Federal funding tied to specific program attributes.

Federal funding coerces schools into offering women's sports programs.

> I wouldn't be comfortable attributing it to genetic variance of physical capability without a bit more info.

Why do we have to attribute the difference to genetics or physical capability to make sports programs accessible? What about mental capability? Mentally impaired, physically okay individuals compete in the special Olympics. Why not create a class for people who are using performance enhancement drugs?


> Federal funding coerces schools into offering women's sports programs.

No, leaving aside whether funding they aren't forced to take can coerce anything, it mandates equal sports programs. They don't have to offer women's sports programs, if they don't offer men's sports programs.


I'm going to call this thread an instance of Graham's Law: the probability that men on Hacker News will eventually find a way to drive the conversation to a discussion about the relative intelligence of women is 1.


It's a semi-taboo subject that has little chance of being discussed rationally in most places. There's a small chance you might be able to get away with it here without someone with an agenda showing up to derail it, either on purpose or with extreme and unfounded views, just like every other part of the internet.


Let's be really clear: this system is working as intended. America has always had a ruling wealth class. As time has gone on that class has changed who they try to yoke for wealth extraction & control.

It used to be that masses of factory workers were required, so those people were carefully set up for wealth extraction until they unionized and did an organized rebellion.

America's knowledge workers are where America's value is, so economic yokes have been installed at the most profitable point: where people receive higher education.

Honestly I'm not sure the EU is THAT different, I think you just do it at a different time.


Administrative salaries, new buildings, and athletic stadiums.


It's not just the adjuncts, it is graduate students, too.

I've got friends who are working on their PhDs while teaching 4-5 classes (at other locations). I considered being a TA a few years ago, but you couldn't have a second job. The stipend as a TA was $1300 a month + tuition for 40 hour weeks (may have actually been "20" hour weeks, not certain). Yeah, right.

It's pretty screwed up. It's a privilege to be in higher education but it is also pretty crushing and you've got to be a soldier to deal with it. The worst part is I've almost never met anything but great people who willingly put themselves through it.

It's why as an overeducated graduate student, I'm against expanding education more and more (like free community college for all). The incentives are way off currently, not sure what the solution is, but it has to change.


If it includes room and board and some insurance plan, $1300 a month isn't bad? My brother had a something like that at his university and ended up saving most of it because you really don't have a lot else to spend it on.

Sure, I wouldn't start a family on that, but it far surpasses what I lived off of right after college.

EDIT: It looks like the article was about people late in their careers. I was assuming that adjunct faculty positions were only entry level or for grad students.


Graduate stipends almost never include room and board, as far as I know. This may be different if you're in a high-rent area (UCLA, Stanford, NYU, etc), but in general, your rent comes out of that $1300.

They do currently include decent health insurance, at least. No dental/vision, obviously.


> Graduate stipends almost never include room and board, as far as I know. This may be different if you're in a high-rent area (UCLA, Stanford, NYU, etc), but in general, your rent comes out of that $1300.

Nope, still gotta pay rent. Attended Columbia for grad school, had to compete in the Manhattan real estate market on < 30k a year for an apartment.

> They do currently include decent health insurance, at least.

Ehhhh, it was of the 'if I get hit by a car and I am in the hospital for two months, I won't go bankrupt' variety. Better than nothing, at least.


> They do currently include decent health insurance, at least. No dental/vision, obviously.

Probably school-dependent -- I'm aware of one that does have dental at least (I forget about vision but I think it has that too).


I can confirm dental and vision is offered to grad students at the school I went to. It wasn't included in the stipend but it is cheap.


It doesn't include room and board. It may include health insurance but you're going to pay your monthly fees out of the stipend.


> It's not just the adjuncts, it is graduate students, too.

> It's pretty screwed up. It's a privilege to be in higher education but it is also pretty crushing and you've got to be a soldier to deal with it. The worst part is I've almost never met anything but great people who willingly put themselves through it.

Isn't that selecting for exactly the kind of people they want in academia though? Great people who would willingly put themselves through pain just for the sake of advancing knowledge? I'm not actually convinced that if they paid a better salary it would necessarily end up selecting for people better suited for academia -- not saying this because of lack of skills, but because if you're worried about making money the moment you start, it seems pretty plausible that you (or far people in your shoes than would feel so otherwise) would be distracted by it the whole time and not working purely for the sake of advancing your science.


That's very possible.

Surely there's some middle ground between incentives that attract too many people and underpaying dedicated talent? Even if you were to get paid more, the work is so intense and extended (grinding for years), those just attracted by money would have more attractive alternatives.


I thought a TA appointment was 20 hours per week?


It actually may have been, don't mean to exaggerate. It's been awhile, can't recall and Googling isn't pulling up anything.

That being said, with the nature of being a graduate student and being on campus always, if it was "20 hours" a week it was really 30+. I do have a separate university related job now and the hours are anything but consistent. But you may be correct.


Why would you think something as specific as that would be standardised?


I went to 4 years of university. I do not have a degree. I have help write over 100 shipping applications, and led teams as large as 45 people. Everything I've learned and use in my daily work has been self taught. University computer science taught me very little, I have spent my own time reading and learning continuously since then.

The truth is, the brilliant professors are surrounded by mediocre professors, who in turn are dwarfed by the numbers of administrators and staff. At the vast majority of universities you are unlikely to get taught by anyone especially brilliant.

A university education was a bit of an expensive luxury in the past, now with the internet it's far more true.


University of California salaries are shared publicly. I haven't actually crunched the numbers but it seems like an average salary is around 150k for professors in research based fields. That's well over half of the median salary in almost any profession.


This varies hugely by school. A lot of state run Universities have very competitive salaries because their reputation depends on retaining rock star professors.

Adjuncts are a different story.

I taught as an adjunct part time at a state school where professor made $150k. I made $5000 per course. I did it more of less for fun because I like teaching. Which is not bad for extra pay on the side but terrible if it is your only pay.

Edit: as a side note, the department head told me she fought to have adjunct Comp Sci professors make more because the field is in such high demand. I am sure English adjunts at the same school make far less.


Are compsci phds in high demand in academia, or do they suffer the same oversupply condition as the general professorial market?


The irony is I don't have a Phd or Masters for that matter (I do have a BS). The universities much like industry would rather have someone with huge relevant industry experience than someone who has a Phd. It looks better on their marketing to say "We have the person who invented X, used by millions of websites" or "We have this best selling author" (in the English world) than "We have a person who got their Phd"

That's for adjuncts though. I think for full-time professors they have PhD requirements per the accreditation boards that they need to maintain. But once the quota is met they can hire anyone.


There is less of an oversupply because it's easier for CS PhDs to just go to industry (possibly in a non-research position) than it is in a lot of other fields, but I think it's still unrealistic to expect every CS PhD who seeks a tenure-track position to find one.


Actually, I would think it would be easier to get a tenure track professorship as a CS PhD. The number of CS-related grant opportunities is staggering.


Easier than in other fields, yes, but also definitely not so easy that anyone who makes a serious attempt will manage it.


You can't compare an adjunct professor to a full-time (assistant/associate/full) professor. I would not consider adjunct professors to be 'academics' as they do not typically do any research. They're basically lecturers, not professors.


>Adjuncts are a different story.

The article gives a median income of under $50K for non-adjuncts. Of course, that includes assistant/associate professors.


It varies greatly by school and reputation.

I doubt it is because of associate professors. More likely it is because of the size of the school, location, and type. I bet there are a lot of community college students in there.

A quick look in my area (New England) shows associates starting at about $60k and going up from there. But New England has a high cost of living so it is all relative.


I'm out of my element here so someone in the industry can correct me, but from what I can tell academia is a tournament economy, like law. Those at the top (tenured professors) make all the money, everyone else struggles to get by.


Probably it's even more of a tournament economy that that. Tenured professor, possibly with an endowed chair, at a top-tier university would be considered by most to be a pretty nice life--especially in areas where the cost-of-living is relatively modest. If they're in a field they can earn consulting dollars, all the better.

Tenured professor at some small liberal arts college usually isn't doing as well.


Those are full professors, not adjuncts.


Those are not full professors, they're assistant and associates as well. Adjunct professors are a different story b/c that is not meant to be a full time job. Adjunct professors typically teach a single course and do not do any research or participate in any administrative tasks for the department/university.


UC averages are also skewed by doctors at places like UCSF.


Not the numbers I mentioned. I was referring to the salaries in the physics department (my department). And I wasn't limiting my search to full professors. There are plenty of assistant and associate professors making well over 100k.


> These are the same folks who's amazing research work is powering our industry, often with a 10 year lead time.

No they're not. STEM professors get paid quite well.


If anyone thinks getting through college is "hard-work", they are fooling themselves. It's literally designed for morons to pass.


Could you please stop violating the guidelines and post civilly and substantively instead?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It's fitting that the lengthiest non-anonymous example is the English teacher at San Jose state. Her salary might seem normal in other parts of the country, but it's very skimpy in San Jose/Silicon Valley/Peninsula

http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?q=ellen+Pe...

For comparison's sake, here are what physical education teachers in Palo Alto Unified make:

http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?a=school-d...

Here's San Jose Unified teachers (they don't seem to have P.E. in the job titles):

http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?a=school-d...

Not singling out P.E. teachers or K-12 in general -- look up any Palo Alto area job type (police, technicians, etc), and they're all in the same range. And living in this area myself, I completely believe that scale of salary and benefits is needed if you want employees who can live within 50 miles of Palo Alto.


Dang, better money than the average software engineer.


I'm not sure this is sustainable for either PAUSD or SJUSD given the pension obligations.


If someone had written an article about struggling actors turning to sex work and sleeping in cars, nobody would blink an eye. Acting pays little for the same reason being an academic pays little. Lots of people want to do it, but there is limited demand, hence only the really exceptional folks make any money doing it.

Obviously, people shouldn't need to sleep in cars. But the answer to that is a basic income. It's not treating a specific group of people specially just because they have college degrees and are more relatable to the elite than folks who work at Wal-Mart.


I want to comment that academics provide such an incredible amount to the world we live in.

In a time of bullshit thought leaders and companies like Equifax who will tell you obvious lies, the academic discipline with its rigor, criticalness, and policing against self-promotion is a kind of last-bastion for intellect in the West. And even that is sort of cracking.

BTW one country has already tried the “you can only get useful degrees that have immediately available needs route”. It was the Soviet Union, in which everyone was an engineer, to such absurd levels Gorbachev got his degree in “Steel Metallurgy of Ball Bearings”.


The Soviet Union also turned Russia from a vast industrial backwater into technological superpower. I’m not sure about your point.


>I want to comment that academics provide such an incredible amount to the world we live in.

So does water, but that doesn't make it valuable; relevant question is the value of one more teacher. Given the extreme oversupply, the answer is "not much". Markets are speaking; it's up to workers to listen.

To be sure, you can make the case that academia is underfunded for these roles; but I estimate that you'd have to spend like a fourth of GDP to get a reasonable salary for every qualified academic who wants to do that. See this previous HN discussion on the matter:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12566996


> academics provide such an incredible amount to the world we live in.

This is true, but it's not terribly efficient about doing so. Much of it provides little to no useful return, and some of it actively harms the world we live in. If we wish to talk about the value of academics, we must honestly look at the whole balance sheet. Value isn't just about revenue, but costs, as well. And with rising tuitions and falling class quality, the ROI of a college education isn't as high as it used to be. For students and for society in general.

> the academic discipline with its rigor, criticalness, and policing against self-promotion is a kind of last-bastion for intellect in the West.

I'm really struggling to word this in a polite way without discarding facts (sorry if I'm rude), but, what kind of fantasy led you to believe this is or has been the standard for academia?

- Academic discipline is more about knowing how to file papers and abuse TAs and post-grad students for free work, rather than about following scientific processes. There's been truckloads of articles lately about insufficient scientific rigor on published papers - especially in the social sciences. The glut of students, professors and information has lead to more noise than signal. Self-referential theories get presented as fact, where papers reference other papers still in peer review. Student thesis subjects are encouraged to focus on the professors' work in order to increase citations and prestige. Controversial papers are encouraged instead of scientific papers, which has caused all sorts of problems in academic journals and the parasitic journalists who write clickbait from them. And then there's the ever-present massaging of data and discarding of any contradictory samples.

- Self-promotion is absolutely huge in academia and has been that way for decades. That's how "publish or perish" came to be a staple of the industry. Not to mention the prestige factor in selecting mentors and advisors, politics in academia between people at the professor level can get extremely vicious. Elite oligarchies are as fixed in academia as anywhere else. And if they can't teach, they just move into administration and promote themselves there. Administration is probably the worst part of a modern educational institution - full of waste and corruption. Like how Katehi got rehired at her chancellor-level salary after a year's vacation after that pepper spray incident at UC Davis. Academia is literally infested with bad actors. Not to say there aren't good ones, but the bad ones are especially well connected and hard to evict. There's no policing against it except against the people who get caught before they're successful at entrenching themselves.

- Critical thinking isn't even remotely a curriculum requirement anymore. Many classes actively discourage critical thinking, and instead encourage rote memorization or directed analysis instead. In some classes, if you dare to challenge the narrative presented, you might receive Title IX sanctions for your oppressive actions from students and professor. After which you'll then be brought before a panel, denied representation and judged by a biased group more focused on maintaining image and federal funding than on the truth. And this might be from something as small as questioning the statistics or the sample set from a study. Students are encouraged with safe spaces and other policies that prevent them from processing or even seeing opposing viewpoints. That is not "criticalness". It's pandering.

- Deceiving students in academia is also a thing. Once again, there's the whole problem with scientifically bad papers being encouraged, published and referenced without peer review. These things make it in to curriculum and don't get pulled out after a retraction. Some classes will teach you that you shouldn't critique at all. Class books are often written by the professor to supplement their income, and contain their own pet theories. They put out a new edition every year with minor changes just so you can't buy a used book. And you've obviously never sat through a lecture rant on the professor's pet grievances. Lecture after lecture on the evils of western civilization from a person who literally couldn't survive outside of it can really tire you out. And honesty about career applicability for degrees is at an all-time low. Partly because some of the people teaching you have limited career aspects themselves and don't like to stare the facts in the face. Dishonesty about the value of the information presented and its critical reception is kind of the worst kind of dishonesty when you're charging someone a year's salary to listen to it.

There are good things about a university education. And not every situation is this bad. But it is not the ivory tower you're perceiving, and likely hasn't been that way for the majority of your lifetime, if not all of it. The honest, naked pursuit of science and truth always been the ideal, but rarely the reality. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. But we've got to be more honest and objective about problems in academia if we have any hope of fixing them.


@justabystander wow your reply was long and very detailed and you put a lot of effort into it.

Let me add one more point, and see if what I said merges with what you said. If not I'm completely wrong.

A lot of books, like The Idea Industry by Daniel Drezner and also Science-Mart by Philip Mirowski say that the cutting of university budgets since the late 60's has led to such an undermining of their stability that Academics have had to engage in a stupid, pointless, survival battle of numbers, conformity, and politics. I'm sure the politics was there beforehand, but they make a convincing case that critical thinking and independent research is much more possible when you're not afraid of losing your funding all the time / scared in general about your job.

An additional point to this is that a lot of individuals see the cutting in college funding as the GOP's revenge for the 1960's, because a lot of the behavior of that era was seen as coming from college campuses. UCLA was actually free up until 1967 when Governor Ronald Reagan began the process of charging tuition.

So in conclusion, academia does have a lot of terrible things about it, but I think say 60% of it is fixable simply with a better relationship and funding style between universities and the government.


you may have a very idealistic idea of academia.


> the academic discipline with its rigor, criticalness, and policing against self-promotion is a kind of last-bastion for intellect in the West

If academic discipline really taught rigor and critical thinking, do you think the subjects of this article would be putting themselves through such horrible experiences?

From what I've seen, critical thinking (which I do regard as a highly desirable capability, on a personal level) has to be acquired outside of any established institutional framework. An institution which actually teaches critical thinking is at a disadvantage in many circumstances, because it reduces compliance and hence organizational strategic focus. That disadvantage means that well-established institutions almost always have ways to shut critical thinking down. Those which don't tend to be out-competed by those which do.


Basic income without universal housing, healthcare and education is more-or-less a poverty sentence.


The actor comparison is pretty insightful, as a lot of the same dynamics apply:

- There are far more qualified people than could ever be eaten up by the demand for them.

- In practice, most workers of this type can't make it their only job.

- Though a small fraction at the top are extremely well compensated.

- Unionization can allow workers to capture more of the surplus (and has, for actors), but the oversupply is so extreme that it still wouldn't make the job a viable career path for the typical qualified applicant.

My previous HN exchange on this point: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10964421


>> Obviously, people shouldn't need to sleep in cars. But the answer to that is a basic income.

Here we go again. Please show evidence that it works. Oh right, there isn't any. Please point to a reasonably complete economic model that shows it will work.


Substitute basic income with whatever form of safety net you prefer. My point is that the government shouldn't be intervening specially on behalf of adjunct professors, because we have an easier time relating to folks with college degrees than to ones working retail or food service.


Utopia for Realists[1] has several chapters on the basic income experiments of the 70's, and the conclusions people have reached when analyzing the data from them against various control groups. Entire towns provided with basic income had higher rates of kids graduating, lower rates of domestic violence, lower medical costs, and less homelessness.

It contains extensive citations, and costs about twelve to seventeen bucks on Amazon[2], depending on whether you buy it as an e-book, paperback, or hardback. If you don't wanna spend that much money, buy it and send a picture/screenshot of the receipt to egypt@urnash.com, and I'll cover it for you.

1: https://thecorrespondent.com/utopia-for-realists/ 2: http://amzn.to/2xJ4IKP


It works. Why wouldn't it? In the US, we spend roughly 4-10k* per capita in welfare, housing and transfer payments. That means we already spend enough to instead give 4-10k/person/year in BI.

In NY, homeless people cost the city over $40,000 per person! And there isn't even much to show for it!

Wars on and Poverty and Drugs have spent billions, also without improving living conditions of the most vulnerable economic group!

At what point can we say enough is enough?

And here is some proof for you: Experiments in 'just give people money or housing' have proven more successful than traditional social services(1,2)!

BI is more fair, more efficient and has an added benefit of removong incentives for crime or other deviant behavior.

Besides, it is more morally just. We are all here in this world where most of the wealth was created before we were even born. Everyone is entitled to at least a small portion of it.

*Depending on which programs you include in this category, namely SS, medi- caid and care.

www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/09/22/552850245/episode-796-the-basic-income-experiment

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/04...


BI is generally talked about as giving money to everyone, not just those in need. You're talking about something different that has not actually been tried anywhere. A lot of things would change if you gave BI to everyone. A lot of things.


Basic Income Experiment is in the title of the first link, so no, what I said is not something entirely different that has never been tried.

Giving it to everyone elsE besides those in need would just be like a progressive tax break.

If your concern is it will disincentivize work: it is true there will be some drop in the labor participation rate. However, that drop is unappreciably small in comparison to the amount of corruption and number of total jobs in the economy that do not add any value to society. If your concern is that "people won't produce things we need," you should be focused on bankers, healthcare lobbyists and insurance companies, a significant part of corporate America, academia, government, teacher's unions(see: 1), etc.

In fact, removing the above corruption in the labor market and replacing with BI may actually increase incentive to work by opening up opportunities for innovation, and creating good faith in governance within the labor market.

1-https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VObBmEBSTXU


Does Chelsea Handler fit your definition of "exceptional"? She's made it as far as I'm concerned.


With companies no longer requesting university degrees, online learning (like watching Harvard courses) becoming more popular and in some countries university being outragous expensive, the future of universities is bleak because people will stop going there. And that of acadamics teaching is even worse.

The internet will cut all middleman, and teachers being the middleman between you and knowledge, or gatekeepers to degrees. If people do not add value - and empty classrooms show many teachers do not add value, in my theoretical CS and math classes professors only wrote proofs on the blackboard for 1.5h and then left - the internet elimates you.


University degrees are a form of social signaling. It's a status symbol. I've met many self-taught developers with liberal arts degree from top ranked schools. I have no doubt their degrees helped them get their foot in the door and job hop and advance in their career.


True, but the 'credentialing' is becoming less and less valuable, ie. more credentialing is needed. I've had industry people looking to hire from our department (BioEng) come to our classrooms and tell us that a MSBE is a entry level requirement both in terms of pay and hierarchy. Not just one, but a few of them have one this.

It is not enough to just have a BS/BA in a STEMy field, you need the MS as well. I think it's fair to conclude that the credentialing is then worth less at the undergrad level.


Many courses and students benefit from learning in person across many subjects, CS included. Sometimes it's the push they need, sometimes it's the value their classmates bring, sometimes it's the value the professor brings.

Online courses are great, but they don't replace everything. I don't think the future of universities is bleak. The explanations above considering that we have a surplus of Ph.D.'s seems to be a lot more likely of a cause to this. Simple supply and demand.


> Online courses are great, but they don't replace everything.

The MOOCs don't work well because they are 100% virtual. What they need is a bit of in-person, human touch. I'd like to see a system where online courses are being supervised by "educational coaches" who are not necessarily experts in the field, but experts in motivation and maximizing results.

Imagine a remote location, where there are no universities. A number of people could take completely different online courses there, monitored by the same coach. The role of the coach is mostly to witness the effort of the student (great for motivation) and counsel the student as to how to apply his effort most efficiently. The coach could help organize local study groups as well, if there are enough students. Technical questions could be handled by online forums and the MOOC staff. The training of the MOOC counselors could be a MOOC course itself, to spread the system organically.


I imagine the MOOCs could replace intro courses where classes are currently over 100 students. For smaller specialized classes at the upper undergraduate levels (and K-12 with its lower class size) a good teach modifies how they teach depending on specific students and the class over all. We have had a mass system of learning without a teacher for 500 years. The printed book.


The future of lower-tier universities is bleak. Once MOOCs have been refined, top-ranked schools will dominate market share, and if they play it right, will make a lot of money. Who would rather take classes at a run-of-the-mill state school vs. an Ivy League university online?

And when that happens, it will open questions about the antiquated college admissions processes of said universities, which evolved from the physical limitations of campuses. Who is the more ideal job candidate between person A who was admitted to an Ivy League because he/she had the know-how and resources to play the college admissions game vs. person B who didn't, if person B is able to get higher grades on said Ivy League coursework? This will no longer be a hypothetical question when MOOCs have matured. This effect will put downward pressure on tuitions, which will be a good thing for students, while at the same time enriching the handful of colleges and universities with enough of a brand name to make it in the MOOC world.


I very strongly doubt that. The market for a piece of paper is way too strong. That's why this stuff is expensive. Everyone can do this stuff, so the surest (and most advertised) way to get a leg up in the economy is by getting a piece of paper.

That effect only seems to be growing. That said, certainly do agree with you in principle.


"The market for a piece of paper is way too strong."

Penguin, PwC and EY have already dropped university degrees as a requirement.

"The move comes just months after accountancy firm Ernst & Young, one of Britain’s biggest graduate recruiters, made a similar announcement, saying in August that it would no longer consider degree or A-level results when assessing potential employees"

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/18/penguin-ditche...

"It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken."

http://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/15-08-03---ey...

Also related

"Goldman last year also made other moves to help it identify strong candidates who may not attend Ivy League schools by scrapping first round interviews on college campuses in favor of a video platform."

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-goldman-sachs-hiring/goldm...


High school drop out here, I'm in a management/special projects position at a software company. My ability to self educate allows them to use any language, tool or framework relatively quickly without swapping out staff that have been approved for that purpose by academia. Given my short tenure in the development market in comparison to the price I command at least in my case not having formal education is actually more valuable than having one.


I've hired dozens of managers and developers over the years and had no clue if they had a degree or were self educated.

I adhered to Aaron Swartz not degrees when hiring

http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hiring


Also plenty of good trade careers to be had - get paid while you learn, be your own boss, useful skills for your own place/life, zero debt, plenty of work (so hard to find a good tradesman). I know what I would choose if I were 16 again.


The whole system reminds me of professional taxi drivers and Uber drivers. The established education system is based on legal proof and bureaucratic paper trails(analogous to taxi medallions), made to guarantee some level of competence(being a taxi driver vs Uber driver).

The whole prestige of academia isn't access to information: internet has more academic content than any university(e.g. Sci-hub, Arxiv, book sites, online courses). Universities own vast collections of lab equipment/tools/devices which universities can afford due economy of scale(serving groups), this "lab-grade" stuff is out of budget for most people. Of course there are areas where research can be done with older, cheaper and simpler equipment, but cutting edge science is confined to top-hardware owners: An example is amateur astronomers having much less capable telescopes and recording equipment, but still capable of advancing science with affordable devices.


> The whole prestige of academia isn't access to information: internet has more academic content than any university

This is not the case at all for many fields. In my branch of linguistics, for example, the majority of important literature is not available online. A person cannot teach themselves this field; you need access to the print resources in a large library at a handful of universities. Now, since the dawn of ebook sharing sites, my colleagues and I have been gradually scanning resources and uploading them to Libgen or the like, but progress is slow and we have barely scratched the surface.


> in my theoretical CS and math classes professors only wrote proofs on the blackboard for 1.5h and then left

Weird, my professors answered questions that I and my coursemates had.


No it won't, because the reason they ask for a degree has little to do with actual coursework.


Reminds me of the former Eastbloc countries where you will find scientists as janitors and living in terrible conditions. Not that people who are not scientists don't live in terrible conditions but you would never expect a maths or physics professor to be unemployable.

Even here in NL there are niche websites that pretend to be dating sites but that actually are sites where students are hooked up with 'sugar daddy's' effectively prostituting themselves to be able to finish their academic education.

This is a hot topic in the news here right now.


Don't even need to go east. Cuba is that way right now. Bartenders, cab drivers, and prostitutes with PhDs.



The PhD system is a Ponzi scheme. There are a few lucky winners, and a vast army of overspecialized people with little real-world options.


In Eastbloc countries that was done as a form of punishment, often for not toeing the party line. It was true across disciplines: medicine, law, etc, when otherwise they would have "good" jobs. (I'm clarifying, not justifying.)

I thought in The Netherlands that higher education was effectively free.


Higher education in NL is about 1800 euros/year for citizens (limiations apply in age, etc.). Living costs, study materials etc. are not included. You can loan ~1100/month max from the government, which currently is at 0% interest, but starting 2 years after finishing your studies you'll be required to pay it off in the next 30 years. (? unsure about this timespan)

I hadn't heard about said hot topic, but one of the reasons might be that recently the government stopped remitting part of the student loan as a gift after graduation.


One example:

https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/binnenland/2017/09/sugar-d...

They're all over the news, probably the best unpaid marketing campaign in a long time.


> I thought in The Netherlands that higher education was effectively free.

But life is not.


Say it with me friends and colleagues,

Union.

This is the future for all of us, when programming becomes commoditized just as teaching has. When our salaries are pushed to the bottom. We are not owners, we are not capitalists, we are not bosses, we are people with a skill you can learn on the internet and a corresponding talent for it.

Either a) this will happen to us as programmers, b) we have credentialing and gatekeepers to keep supply low c) we have a union to collectively bargain, or d) radical changes in the government save us from this fate.

In the U.S. (d) seems impossible. Programmers as a group seem to be virulently opposed to (b). So choose, unions or barbarism.


The word "barbarism" is quite an exaggeration.

Teaching salaries are low relative to education level because lots of people are socially pushed toward teaching (obvious example: many people's mentors are teachers). Programming doesn't have this dynamic.

I'm not opposed to unionization - I joined the new grad student union when I was getting my PhD. But I think you should focus on programmers' specific problems, like long hours and low vacation time, not on problems from other jobs which have low relevance.


We aren't there yet, things are still much better for us than teachers, yes. But I'm proposing we do something about it now, while we are in demand and have power instead of waiting until it gets that bad.

Programming and teaching are similar; they are prestige positions (for now) that mark you as one of the professional class, people who do them are by and large hugely passionate and would be unhappy if forced to do something else (many programmers I know started before school because they loved it, do it in their spare time, etc). Passion in capitalism gets taken advantage of and exploited, since dispassionate economic assessment is how a 'rational' actor works in economic models; passion is a weakness from the perspective of wealth accumulation and economic success. The thing that links the fields in my view is passion.


Yup. If you want money, you need leverage. Unions provide that.


As a variation on (b), the supply of programmers can be kept artificially lower via "over-complication and obfuscation", to make basic operations more difficult than it needs to be. It sometimes feels like bureaucracies choose this strategy to keep themselves "necessary" and overpriced.


No sometimes about it! The maim purpose of bureaucracies is to provide those with nothing to contribute an opportunity to parasite themselves on the labour of the genuinely productive.


e) You will no longer be able to call yourself a "full stack" developer that can work in any field. Employers will only look for developers that are good at programming, and a expert in a niche field. For example, bioinformatics.


Your example makes me laugh, having worked with bioinformaticians. A lot of their stuff is just counting stuff from moderately large data sets and making some graphs out of it.


Unions are great at establishing entrenched interests.

If you need to qualify to join a union, or to do a specific job in a union, the qualifications will be owned by the companies which are politically powerful.

Imagine being unable to qualify as a C++ programmer unless and until you've qualified on Microsoft Windows and Visual C++.

Imagine being unable to qualify as a Perl programmer at all, because Perl isn't one of the technologies owned by a major corporation.

And, of course, doing freelance work, or contributing to Open Source, makes you a scab, stealing work from Poor, Honest Union Workers.


>Unions are great at establishing entrenched interests.

s/Unions/Companies/g

Unions can be for unskilled labor. They can exist without qualifications and gatekeeping. That's why I presented that as a distinct option, separate from them. All they need to do is bargain with employers to make working conditions better. That's it. Unpaid overtime "just this once because we're all part of the team, guys" every month? We strike and make a deal that says you have to pay us OT. 80 hour weeks on salary for 40? ops strikes and your system goes down and nobody fixes it until you make a deal and cut hours. Employer tries to put a clause in your contract that says they own your side projects? They have to go through the union first, and programmers vote hell no.

The rest of the stuff you've cooked up inside your head are sure things I can imagine but they have nothing to do with unions; they are imaginary FUD.


Unions still must restrict the supply of labor, or else they're not unions, which would destroy Open Source, or at least Open Source which isn't appendant to a company which pays programmers to work on projects.

Otherwise, by using GNU Emacs, you're depriving a union worker of their wages, and, since GNU Emacs gets updated even when there's a General Strike on, contributors are scabs, and union supporters have, historically, killed scabs.


The massive and well-funded propaganda effort to destroy unions at all costs has been extremely successful, as we can see from your post.

I have never heard of, read, talked to, or even imagined that any living person would consider contributing to open source to be "depriving a union worker of their wages" or "scabbing". Have you ever even heard of an actual existing union before? Have you ever known someone who has participated in (well, let's be generous: imagined) a strike? Has any union ever banned its members from donating their free time to charity? Are you listening to yourself?


You can't imagine anyone could have a conclusion different from yours.

The union propaganda campaign must be working.


> Unions still must restrict the supply of labor, or else they're not unions

This is true insofar as setting a floor on any of wages or working conditions is, strictly speaking, a supply restriction.

> which would destroy Open Source

No, it wouldn't.

> Otherwise, by using GNU Emacs, you're depriving a union worker of their wages

I'm a member of a union that represents programmers. None of our contracts restrict the use of open source (or even paid off-the-shelf) products by the employer.

Contracting out custom programming work isn't even prohibited, though it is redtricted.


The explosion of administrative staff is crazy universities keep cutting teaching positions and increasing admin.


I'm not sure why you're downvoted. This is a real problem that is palpable for anyone that has worked in higher ed since the 1980s as most universities have moved to act more and more like for-profit entities. The reasons for this move are complex, and one result is a rise in well-paid administrators and low-paid adjuncts with a decline in tenured faculty.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/mar/30/academic-b...

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/07/14/new_book_argu...

https://www.agb.org/trusteeship/2013/5/changing-academic-wor...


> most universities have moved to act more and more like for-profit entities.

I think this reflects a larger trend.

Most institutions are taking on the rituals of the dominant organizing principle in society: the corporation.

I believe this is why church groups are having "annual general meetings" and that formerly not for profit institutions are mimicking the organizational structure of corporations: meetings, hierarchical teams, layers of administrators etc...


Isn't that just how large organizations are run? How else would you run a large organization except with layers of hierarchy and meetings?


That is how large INCOMPETENT organizations are run. And yes, large organizations have a trend towards incompetency.

Walk into a meeting, look around. Add up everyone's per hour salary. That is what having that meeting costs. Now look around and consider what each talking about the relevant bits to everyone else would take until a decision was made without the meeting. That's potentially how much more not having the meeting costs.

You'll conclude two things. Meetings are crazy expensive for the organization. Meetings can be worth it when the alternative is even more crazy expensive. But the meeting should be as efficient as possible. And you want people to only be in them when there is positive value from doing so.

I just ran a standup. I do this every day. 8 people for 15 minutes. Let's suppose their average salary is $50/hour. That's a $200 meeting. I spend another 30 minutes per day summarizing it, making notes available, and elsewhere keeping a status page up to date so that other people don't have to ask about that meeting.

That extra work keeps another 5 people from showing up. That keeps me from having to have another set of meetings with those people. That keeps the meeting from ballooning to 30 or 45 minutes per day.

In a good organization you want everyone thinking about meetings like I just did. Yes, lots of meetings are needed. Yes, important people will spend most of their time in meetings. But make it efficient. And eliminate any meeting, and any person from any meeting, that doesn't pull its weight.


I don't see how your point is anything against a 'corporate structure' with multiple layers of heirarchy. You are just describing how to run a good one.


My point is against justifying having more meetings and deeper hierarchies over time on the basis of, "Oh well, that's how large organizations should be run."

Organizations should be run with the necessary minimum of meetings, hierarchy and administration. Universities have entirely lost sight of that. And our response should not be a complacent excuse that this is how it should be for any organization of that size. Our response should be to call them out on being severely incompetently run, with no excuse other than the self-aggrandizement of useless bureaucrats.


Competent self-managing sub-organizations.

Big corporations do require bureaucracy, but smaller entities use bureaucracy as a substitute for competency and autonomy.


A 'sub-organization' is just an alternative description of a heirarchy. Those sub-organizations will have to come together to make macro decisions, like which departments need more funding, how to handle building expansion and shared facility use, etc.


In my experience, smaller flatter organizations rarely require a synchronous large meeting for those issues.


Our largest organizations don't have pervasive hierarchy and meetings which break down at extreme sizes. Markets for example are self organizing around price. Countries may or may not be even larger scale organizations.

You can find smaller scale versions that operate on similar principles. https://hbr.org/2013/11/hierarchy-is-overrated


A market isn't an organization, and how would a university organize itself like a market?


Your begging the question by assuming things without hierarchy are not organizations. Look at the shifts in say the Chinese economy as overall planning was reduced and it was far from a 100% binary transition. Or in a larger scope countries are organizations with leadership but rarely low level direction.

As to Universities Students already self organize around major creating an internal market. Some Universities try and limit the sizes of various Majors, but that's far from necessary. You generally allow professors to seek outside funding for post docks etc without command and control oversight.

You could use internal markets to make various decisions such as funding allocation. Though self organization is often just as efficient.

Net result, you can easily have a University without a president/CEO. Their are even plenty of historic examples of this.


Markets aren't organizations.


US Doctors are a clear counter example. The group chooses it's own members and kicks people out.


I would disagree that's a market.


Doctors are not recruited and trained like McDonald's workers. The barriers to entry and barriers to retention put current and potential doctors in direct competition with each other. The field also deals with people moving on to something else.

So, it looks like a duck and smells like a duck to me.


That doesn't sound like a market at all.


There’s a notion that much of the hierarchy that exists in the world is unnecessary, and perpetuated only because it’s the status quo. A university for example doesn’t strictly need to manage the professors - you could have a very large university where the professors primarily manage themselves, with only a small administrative group. An organization arranged in this way wouldn’t need many meetings.


How would you decide budgets for those professors? How would you determine which departments are growing and where you need more resources? How would you budget things like building expansion, maintenance, shared facilities?


A student and faculty congress. There is precedent for this, many such bodies already have authority over millions of dollars.


I think it's worth trying. A 100% faculty based university, with student employees and contractors doing the more low level administrative work. The faculty would take on the high level admin work, e.g. the IT or CS departments managing computer systems in partnership with the students.


In my church experience part of the annual general meeting isn't imitating a corporation meeting - it _is_ a corporation meeting. This is because the church has wisely put its earthly assets (mostly the building and operating money) under a corporation.

My experience comes from presbyterian churches which have some highly analogous features to corporations deriving from theology and predating by thousands of years the modern corporation. Thus there is a annual "Congregation and Corporation meeting", which is really two meetings for convenience held at the same time but which are formally started and ended separately. Participation is almost identical save that the "Congregation" can have communicant members that are minors and therefore not legally voting members of the earthly corporation.


Well, naturally. Your organization has a revenue stream (donations). It has expenditures (church upkeep). To avoid embezzlement, wasteful spending, & getting scalped by necessary services, you conduct group review of budget goals & the books.


> most universities have moved to act more and more like for-profit entities.

At my alum mater, the state cut support to the state universities to practically nothing. Voters saw how much money the big universities were making on college football. They consistently voted to cut the money to the university system.

Only problem? Most state supported universities did not have a football program.

My university:

* turned to Chinese/Indian nationals (no financial aid/full price)

* raised everyone's tuition (went from low-cost school to higher-end)

* raised other fees

My university is in a part of the US that has low cost of living. So at the very least, the profs are unlikely to be homeless - yes even at the wages specified.


You basically typed out what I would have typed, but got lazy and just said "reasons are complex."

There's something of a joke/quote in university circles about how universities went from "state funded to state supported to state located." When you get <= 5% of your budget from the state, the state support means nothing and this is the situation for most big state unis.

Also, you forgot the Saudi Arabian nationals whose govt fully funds their US education (though this program is becoming more restrictive in recent years with the Saudi govt selecting specific eligible degrees). I'm not trying to start a flame war here, but my personal experience is that many of these Saudi students struggled deeply, this fact was known by the administration, but the giant full-price checks were essential to keeping the lights on.

Other Fees: Yes, the rise of fees that are starting to rival tuition. Fees are a convenient way to lower the sticker shock of tuition while keeping the total cost the same. My former uni made a big promise about "freezing" tuition for years at a time, but all they ended up doing was jacking up the fees to compensate.


> My personal experience is that many of these Saudi students struggled deeply.

I'm just curious, could you elaborate on this? Are you referring to them not being able to cope up academically? Or the cultural difference or racism.

I've known a couple of these students back from my college and they seemed to be doing alright.


This sounds like something people could perceive about Clemson so I'll use them as an example.

In SC funding went down while tuition went up and lottery scholarships went up. The university budget is around $800 million / year and the athletic department across all sports is about $80 million / year. Of that budget, it's entirely self sustained but it's also almost entirely spent. It's performance has no impact on the rest of the university except for alumni engagement/excitement. Even if it were making a $20 million dollar profit it's still a drop in the bucket compared to the total university budget.

At the same time, applications are through the roof and there's not enough room to take everybody (but they are investing in new buildings to increase capacity). The ratio of in state to out of state has always remained close to 60/30 though.

Admin costs have increased but the prestige factor has gone up significantly as well. Clemson went from being the #70 something PUBLIC university to a top 20 in the span of 2 decades.


The cut in state support coincides with a successful propaganda campaign that turned the public against academics and science.


I didn't think of that ... but not surprising. The cuts in my state started in the Bush era under a Democratic governor.

Very sad that a Dem aided and abetted this.


I wonder what percentage of the admin is dedicated to chasing money. While I was working as an undergrad assistant the grant writing process was insane and I rarely saw the professor overseeing research. He was walled off in his office writing grant proposals.

I learned that for the budget of most research projects, 50% was administration. That is 50% wasn't for researchers, the lab, labor, or equipment. Part of the 50% administration budget was paying for the oversight of said budget.

I am no longer amazed when government projects go severely overbudget anymore. Its designed to do that. Not just the contractor but the government itself. Budget a project, get the vendor, project goes over, create a department to track costs, budget goes over, write a new law to track budget, budget goes over, create another department to track budget, budget goes over, write a new law to track budget, ad nauseum.


In my experience (former PhD student and instructor and my spouse is a full-time faculty and program director), if you're a tenured faculty member at a R1 university, then grant writing is your job. You're expected to be self-funding and the only way to do this is to grind out grants and pass the work onto graduate students and staff. And, you pay a ~50% tax on your grant award as 'overhead' to the university, so you have a lot less money to work with than the sticker value that gets awarded.

At the university level, arguably the second most important person in the administration is the President of the Foundation and they don't even technically work for the university as the foundation is a separate legal entity. This person has a massive private army of fund-raising staff that shakes the alumni money tree looking for gifts large and small.

But, that doesn't mean that universities don't also have money chasers. My former uni had a special division in the recruiting/admission office that focused on high-value future alumni, aka, children of rich and famous parents. These kids were brought in for tailored events, private meetings with faculty and admins, and received a general red carpet treatment to try and lure them to the university.

Related, Malcom Gladwell has done some great work dissecting the money making machines of the administrator class who go after $100M+ gifts (far more money than 99.99% of researchers could acquire in a lifetime of grants). And, how this gift giving continues to pile on at elite schools while starving everyone else of gifts.

http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/06-my-little-hundred-...


I'm surprised more high-tier universities don't supply tenured PIs with dedicated grant writers, or at least easy access to them.

Many of my social circle work as grad students at a private R1 institution, and I've seen a vast difference in the experience of students with a PI who self-funds and writes grants all day - less interaction, most of the teaching and mentoring is done by postdocs - and a PI that has an alternate source of funding like clinical work - grants are still needed but less often, much more hands-on input to projects, much more direct mentoring. It seems like the top universities could definitely chip in to help ease that load on the researchers: science as a whole stands to benefit.


> I'm surprised more high-tier universities don't supply tenured PIs with dedicated grant writers, or at least easy access to them.

At least at my university, there were a few technical writers that would help out writing grants and papers. AFAIK they were underutilized. It may vary by field and from PI to PI, but, in general, PIs wouldn't accept anyone else's writing. Everything that was penned by a technical writer was rewritten.

> most of the teaching and mentoring is done by postdocs

Or (best of all, in my experience) some older tenured full professors that don't care about getting funding anymore (or funding is thrown at them because they're famous). A few professors in their late 70's would spend entire afternoons helping me get something to work.

That may be further evidence that the real drain on mentoring is the constant need to write grants. Sad that some really enjoyed mentoring younger people but they couldn't until they were about to retire.


> I'm surprised more high-tier universities don't supply tenured PIs with dedicated grant writers, or at least easy access to them.

Who would pay them?


Presumably they'd pay for themselves because the universities would bring in larger future grants, because the output would be increased, because the academic staff would be better utilized.


The amount of money the university got from those grants would be lower, though, because they'd have to pay the grant writers. That sounds bad. What if instead the professors just applied to larger grants and worked overtime? That's what they do right now, and it works.


Some of the Ivys take around 65-70 percent, and a few places (admittedly with very specialised facilities) are over 100%--spend a dollar on research, spend another (edit: had written two) on admin.


To be clear, a 60%-70% overhead rate implies that the university is taking 37-42% of the money (for each dollar spent, another 0.60-0.70 goes to university). In addition, other expenses like tuition and equipment have no overhead taken out.


Tuition/stipend for grad students and equipment most definitely has overhead, at least from my experience in the UC system.


Tuition is funny money though, it's money the university is charging itself for nothing. You pay tuition to take a 3 credit class that never meets, doesn't have an instructor, and has no assignments. It's just there to justify the $10k a semester or whatever the university wants to charge the grant. Grad students in CS at least are expected to provide their own equipment, also.


Sure, but it's almost always quoted as a rate like this.

Equipment is a special case in that "capital" equipment is usually exempt from most or all overhead. Smaller things are often not though, and some things are very difficult to charge to a grant at all.


This is wrong. 50% overhead means for every dollar in, an additional 50 cent "tax" is paid as overhead (thus, out of 1.50 total, 1.00 goes to the research, 0.50 to the overhead).


A cynic might think failure is success for them.


"Don't worry, we can have an adjunct professor do it on the cheap."

And then they come to us for tax dollars, while also slashing their involvement with local communities. Why should education tax money go to universities that are so woefully inefficient and bloated with money when it could be spent on primary and secondary education, or better access to preschooling?


I dated someone who worked an administrative position... she would complain of coworkers who would do nothing all day. She said her job was being done by three people when only one was needed. The lack of oversight and actual work being done was alarming. Who administrates the administrators? No one.


It seems like there should be a market for low overhead small schools with high paid teaching staff.


Right? I've thought about this as well. My guess is that:

1) Nearly all university students are making their decision when they're 18, so a lot of them are mostly interested in non-academic aspects of their school

2) It seems really hard to actually start a new university. Anecdotally, every university I can think of is quite old.

3) This is probably related to (2). The benefits of universities aren't really dependent on good professors. The advantage of top schools in both educational progress and student outcomes can probably mostly explained by signalling, filtering out weak students before they arrive, university culture, and networking. None of this has much to do with professors.


> filtering out "weak" students before they arrive

This has a huge effect on pushing schools to the top. You can take a public institution (eg University of Washington, since they're notorious for this), put an artificially high bar on entering a program (eg UW CSE since, again, notoriety), and take in all the public money you want while only admitting the top 10% of students. The school is happy for the brain blast, the state is happy to fund a "prestigious" university, and the people are happy to fund so many smart students attending their university instead of another. Everyone wins, right?

Wrong. One of the many problems with this technique is how a university quantifies what is considered a "weak student". Is it low test scores? Bad entrance essay? No planning on the part of the student? Whatever Pearson Hall or McGraw Hill will set on their outsourcing offerings? It's a giant can of worms in terms of what individual strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can either enhance or limit academic performance.


For the university "market", the only game in town is prestige, which teaching quality plays into very little, if at all.


That's especially true for some professions (like law) but less true for most others.

For other fields, school prestige can help you get that first job, but the value of being able to say you were educated at X drops quickly once you start working. Once you've been working for a while, your portfolio, social skills, professional network, and track record are far more important than the issuer of your degree.


They're called “community colleges” (faculty are paid less than universities, but they still have a comparatively high-paid overall teaching staff because the faculty get all the teaching duties, none of it is farmed out to really low-paid grad students.)

And, yes, there's a market for them.

(This is also what a lot of private, non-research schools sell themselves as, and some actually fit the bill without being abusive frauds, though the money available and historical ease of getting away with being an abusive fraud in that area has made it hard to find the wheat among all the chaff.)


They were looking at doing this at my last job (small private university).

We already outsourced custodial and food service. Do student accounts and financial aid really define us as a university? Are they part of our core competency? Do we do them particularly well relative to competitors?

Of course not. So why not outsource them?


Please please please tell me where these schools are. I have two teenage sons on college tracks in high school, and absolutely terrified at the bankruptcy inducing sums bearing down on me like a freight train.


Several years ago in the animation industry things like Animation Mentor, AnimSchool, etc. popped up to provide cheap(er) classes that were much higher quality than what was offered at almost any big 4-year institution. They were able to do this by paying working professionals side money to generate content and provide student feedback. Code bootcamps seem to be a continuation of this theme.


I believe this is the model Olin tries to follow. In general, institutions that don't offer graduate programs can afford to focus on undergrads. You can see this with the small liberal arts colleges, although they generally fail at low overhead and tend to succumb to the donor-industrial adminstrative complex.


Couldn't agree more. It's not so much about the prestige but guaranteeing good employment options.


The admin staff is a problem but does not seem to be the main problem: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/fancy-dorms-arent-the-m....


Universities are like dictatorships where only staff has a vote on if the top executives should stay in their job. Since professors are tenured and are therefore not beholden to anyone, the top executives are highly incentivised to increase the pool of voters that they have leverage over in order to create a stable coalition. This pool is administrative staff.

This problem is further aggravated by the fact that students often choose Universities based upon reputation and are therefore rather insensitive to price increases, so extra spend on administrative staff is easy to find. In addition to this the government gives away student loans that matches rising tuition costs and because you can't get rid of student loans in bankruptcy it is an attractive asset class even for private lenders.


I work for a university and while I think there's some justification for increases in some roles - many universities desperately need internal equivalents of an 18F/US Digital service type entity among other things.

Other situations are complex - grants/external funding impose substantial administration requirements (while being larger and larger shares of revenue) or require substantial administrative expertise, often require things like outreach programs which PIs don't want to deal with, etc.

But at the same time, I think administrative salaries are frequently unconscionable.


Exactly!

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-...

"...some of this probably relates to a difference between personal versus institutional risk tolerance."


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