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Students don't seem to be getting much out of higher education (2018) (theatlantic.com)
268 points by laurex 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 257 comments



I feel like everyone is doing social media marketing - or something equally useless while the world around us is breaking down.

In the Bay Area, in San Francisco specifically, voters allocated funds to fix or replace every single Bart escalator. The best hope we have for completing this job is 7 years. Yes you read this correctly 7 years. The problem is we do not have enough licensed escalator mechanics to do the work. Money isn't the problem.

Maybe more people should go into the trades - and not be funneled into higher education. We desperately need better infrastructure, more housing, tangible things. Not everyone is cut out for college.


> Maybe more people should go into the trades - and not be funneled into higher education. We desperately need better infrastructure, more housing, tangible things. Not everyone is cut out for college.

This is a common line of argument, but you will find that many tradesmen hope their children will go to college and get office jobs.

The trades are hard on the body. Some trades are hazardous. An injury or medical problem that would be a hassle for someone with an office job can be career-ending for people in the trades.

There aren't a lot of jobs for people in middle age who can't physically work a trade anymore due to age or illness or injury -- it's about as bad as being a laid-off factory worker.

The trades also get hit very hard in recessions as people build fewer things, infrastructure spending gets cut or postponed, etc. That, combined with the serious impact of medical problems and injuries I just mentioned, can make the trades more financially precarious than they seem to be.

I'm not opposed to people going into the trades, but some of the pro-trade-education arguments need a reality check. People need to know about the downsides.


I don't disagree, so this is my opinion on how that reality reconciles against how the world needs to work for us to enjoy comfort and prosperity.

Rule of thumb for depreciation is about 2-5% of an asset decays each year and if it isn't maintained the whole thing will need to be replaced every 20-50 years. Some things defy that rule, but most things need repairs. If we live in a world where going into the trades that build and maintain everything is not considered a first-class job that allows a worker to make a first-class contribution then that is a problem.

Rather than spending money on funneling students away from the trades, money should be spent improving the OH&S outcomes of tradespeople and improving their access to tools. If someone is umming and aahing about doing a trade or becoming a social media expert, they should be able to rationally see trades as the more worthwhile job for themselves and others (obviously unless they have a real flair for social media).


That's a great goal, but I'm not sure how we get there.

Trade unions have a delicate balance between safety/compensation and cheaper labor alternatives. Developers want to maximize the efficiency of their capital and in construction, human resources are fungible.

Europe does a much better job of OH&S for tradespeople but if you look around there isn't nearly as much being built. America is the economic powerhouse it is in part because of the typically-low cost of human labor and other economies are going through the same thing now.


In Switzerland, most people go into trades. Higher education is not seen ad having higher status in any way. Also, if you call a plumber to fix your broken sink, it's going to be really expensive.


Buying meat in Switzerland is expensive. Milkmen earn 90k CHF/year ($90k) so milk/cheese aren't cheap either. It's how SUI operates; this can't be really extended to US with a completely different economy.


So most people go into trades and yet it’s still incredibly expensive to hire a tradesperson? Sounds like the market is failing.


Perhaps people go into the trades _because_ they are expensive to hire.

The market works two ways.


Well, job pay seems to be based on status anyway. Switzerland is ridiculously rich either way.


Aren't many of these trades very very heavily regulated? I'm not sure how much of a market you have there in the first place.


Given the option, people don't flock to low paying jobs, so the market works both ways. If you want to have a good pool of good workers you have to pay accordingly.


I'm not sure why you're being downvoted. It's a legit question.


Because we've all heard the "market" arguments hundreds of times here and they never seem to have much to do with reality at all. It's gotten to the point where I have real trouble assuming good faith when someone brings it up again.


Switzerland is known for high fixed cost of living. It has been said that the Swiss people don't place higher value on "lesser" tasks, so it makes complete sense that it is expensive without any relation to how much the market is saturated - it wouldn't become cheap even if the market was oversaturated, rather some people would go away from that market - because of fixed costs of living.


You make solid arguments about getting into trades. That's a field where unions have really helped out in some ways. I know they slow things down but they have also come a long way towards making people safer on the job. L&I solves some of these problems while having a promotion path can solve others. Electricians get bad knees, so at a certain point you've just got to get to the point that you can teach and not do. Or move into doing inspections.

Outside of that, one of the issues isn't that people should go into trade. But that so many jobs that are hidden behind a requirement for bachelors degree don't need it.

I'd love to see some of our industries out there take on apprenticeship programs for places where they think bachelors were required before. Probably not hard engineering fields, but my first job out of school I was a "Systems Engineer" but everything I needed to know was on the job training. Everything.


It's not exactly trade-related but as I've mentioned in the past my parents were fishermen. Similar to the trades, it's a very physically intense job that burns out your body, requires long hours and can be pretty dangerous.

After seeing how my parents ended up, it's no wonder to me why people would avoid the trades. We simply don't have the safety nets in place to protect people who burn out from those jobs, and no one wants to spend their later years in crippling pain as a result of destroying their back.

My parents were happy that I managed to get an office job.


I have an office job and I feel the need for physical activity. I take every opportunity: help out a friend to move to a new flat, help on construction site, whatever it is. I never saw physical activity as something that damages my body (besides normal muscle aches or blister on skin - which heal after some days). Is it so different to do this regularly/daily?


> Is it so different to do this regularly/daily?

Before I got into IT in the late 90's (I was 19-20 yrs), I had various construction work to tide me over. Like climbing a 4 metre ladder onto a roof with 40KG rolls of pitch, or setting rebar (the metal reinforcement for concrete) in -5C in the early morning, so when it heats up later the concrete can be poured. Just a couple of many stories where a slip was life or work ending - or being so bone cold you couldn't think.

Talking to the older guys left me with only one opinion, get out of construction.

A guy I know still from back then was cutting through a floor with a circular saw and went through the main electricity line into the building. The line wasn't on the plans... He lived by some amazing luck, but there was a very big bang.


I'm a veterinarian and switched to software partly because it was physically too draining.

Worked as a cattle vet for 8 months. I couldn't watch a movie anymore, always fell asleep. Being outside, lifting calves, the cuts and crushed toes, it was all too tiring. Maybe I didn't do it long enough.

I still work duty shifts from time to time. Eventually you hurt yourself (needles, bites, scratches, lifting animals, ...), it's just part of the job. But it's annoying, and exhausting to always (try to) be cautious and focused.

I can't think of any job that uses body functions and/or tools and is completely safe long term.

Now I feel physically fresh after my office job, and then bike everyday straight through the fields to go ride my horse. Impossible with my previous job, as I was already burned by it. I've reached a sane equilibrium : office job and 2-3 hours physical activity per day. And I definitely felt that a "field" job was draining me enough to affect my personal life.


Basically you do it until you or your friend injuries his back while trying to catch a falling sofa from stairs. After that you just pay for moving services. Seen it many times.


> The trades are hard on the body. Some trades are hazardous. An injury or medical problem that would be a hassle for someone with an office job can be career-ending for people in the trades.

Very true. I know a Uber driver who used to install and repair ACs. Unfortunately, one day, he had a mishap leading to a serious back injury. He was told he couldn't carry on in this line of work. He had no other skills or means to acquire a college-degree with a family to support. The only option he saw best fit was to drive a taxi.


This is a real problem, and probably the core of the issue the toll manual jobs takes on the body. I imagine with careful thought quite a few of these issues could be reduced.


The answer is working fewer hours. As a society, we are overworked. We should all be pushing for shorter work weeks.


Tradespeople work more hours than anybody I know, and the unfortunate reality seems to be that they have to. Otherwise projects would take twice as long, and in the event of an emergency there could potentially be nobody to answer to it.

Where I am, it's not uncommon to see an electrician or millwright working 70+ hour weeks to meet deadlines or make emergency repairs.


I don't disagree with your comments about tradespeople's hours, but I'm not sure I agree with the reasons. A lot of those long hours are due to taking on more work/jobs to make more money. That is probably somewhat due to lower income per job as a tradesman, and somewhat due to the desire to work more "overtime" to make more money, depending on the going rates in the area of work.

Moreover, it's been my experience that people in non-trade work (particularly non-exempt STEM workers) often work just as much overtime and don't even get paid for the pleasure. Granted, their base salaries are generally higher, but a tradesman working similar hours can approach or surpass that. (I say this is I sit at 2:40am waiting for code to compile...)

Non-sequitor: I misread that first word in your comment as "Transgenders" and was flabbergasted halfway into that first paragraph until I went back and re-read it :D


> Otherwise projects would take twice as long, and in the event of an emergency there could potentially be nobody to answer to it.

Where precisely is the trouble for the tradeperson? This is something for the owner of the project to worry about, not someone who does the work.


>Tradespeople work more hours than anybody I know, and the unfortunate reality seems to be that they have to

This is much different from my experience. I see office workers (the startup crowd especially) working crazy hours, practically living at the office, and actually bragging about it.

Meanwhile, most trades jobs are unionized. So you might be working long hours in an emergency, but you're getting paid time-and-a-half at least. Outside of emergencies, you get to punch the clock, and leave work at work.


>I see office workers (the startup crowd especially) working crazy hours, practically living at the office, and actually bragging about it.

The grass is always greener. Especially if you look outside startups (and outside software engineering), I would guess the overwhelming majority of office jobs occur around a roughly 9-5 schedule without significant overtime. There's a reason rush hour is rush hour.


Then maybe the projects should take twice as long. Altrough, it is highly unlikely that 70 hours a week would produce twice as much speed as 40 hours. You dont get faster per hour with overtime.


>There aren't a lot of jobs for people in middle age who can't physically work a trade anymore due to age or illness or injury -- it's about as bad as being a laid-off factory worker.

I agree with you, it's a tough racket. But I think we're going to be saying the same thing about many fields and occupations in the future. Being a drone in an office is no longer secure or, in fact, healthy.

At least in a trade you're doing more than pushing paper. to each their own.


> The trades are hard on the body. Some trades are hazardous. An injury or medical problem that would be a hassle for someone with an office job can be career-ending for people in the trades.

This is definitely true and I know a few people who this has been a huge issue for but I'm not so convinced it can be applied to the future. There is a lot more "automation" now than when the currently burnt out entered the industry, tools from nail guns to scissor lifts are now a lot more affordable and even mandated. There's also been a lot of improvements improvements to OHS and medicine in general, kids seem to be a lot more fitness obsessed too. They'll always be harder on the body, but I would expect the 50 year old tradesmen in 30 years time to be in much better condition than the 50 year old tradesmen today.

On the other hand, they keep lifting the retirement age so if this doesn't pan out they'll be even worse off.

> The trades also get hit very hard in recessions as people build fewer things

Is this objectively true? It seems to be common wisdom but I've never seen data to back it up. A lot of trades are more maintenance than new builds and can't be cut. I understand construction can take a big hit, but we still need almost as many plumbers and mechanics during a recession.


> The trades are hard on the body

We should be working on perfecting AI so that humans don't have to do this stuff.


We need to have a 4 day work week, and one day of adult education (something like a trade school but for the general population). Imagine being able to learn to rebuild an engine, or weld, every Thursday. It might take you a year or two, but you'll get it.


> In the Bay Area, in San Francisco specifically, voters allocated funds to fix or replace every single Bart escalator. The best hope we have for completing this job is 7 years. Yes you read this correctly 7 years. The problem is we do not have enough licensed escalator mechanics to do the work. Money isn't the problem.

There are 35000 escalators in the US. If a typical escalator needs to be replaced every 35 years, that works out to about 1000 escalator replacements a year.

I can't find offhand any data on this, but I'd expect that most escalator installations are only a few escalators, and so that the demand for about 1000 replacements per year is pretty steady.

Thus, I'd expect that there would be about enough mechanics to handle 1000 per year, without much excess capacity.

BART has 175 escalators. That job is big enough that to do it in one year would take over 17% of the nation's escalator installation capacity. That seems like a job sufficiently out of the ordinary that it is not surprising that it has to be spread over a few years.

I used 35 years lifetime, which I got from the escalators in a manufacturer's brochure I found--it had one that was rated 30 years and one 35-40, so I took 35. But these were heavy duty escalators. Other sources suggested 25 years, or 15-20 years. If you use a lower average life, you get more mechanics needed per year.

Regardless of the lifetime used, I expect that the year to year demand will be pretty steady, and BART's 175 will still represent a very big spike.


My guess is that the problem is in the licensed repairman part.


If trade school were truly competitive with college and University in terms of offerings, I don't imagine the Escalator Mechanic program would require more time or work than our lower and middle-class could afford.


This would need everyone to make logical choices based upon the same info.

We’re the only family I know that don’t mind if our children go into a trade. Our friends are horrified by the idea of their children not going to a university. My daughter is going to school to be an esthetician (skin care, beauty trade). In our market the ladies that do this make their own hours and make more than their husbands.

There’s plenty of money in all manner of trades. Many older folks just haven’t caught up with how much the ROI has changed since they went to school.

The other thing to consider, the more manual and dangerous trades are done mostly by men. Female labor participation rates are about to eclipse that of men. If you want more trades the smart thing to do would be to start trying to get more women into them.

From a feminist perspective not having a degree is treated as a death sentence of dependence on a man. A lot of young gals think their only option is a university degree and we’re all familiar with how few women are getting STEM degrees.


You bring up very good points.

I wonder if having more women in trade work would influence men to join.


Certified Repair/Mechanic/HVAC isn't what it used to be. After my landlord paid $3500 to replace an in wall heater, a 20min operation I easily knew how to do, I honestly considered switching jobs. Do something with my hands be outside, not stuck in an office...

Then I looked it up. The test is intense failing on your first try is pretty common. You have to do 4 years full time of apprenticeship under a licensed contractor who unless they are family (nepotism) will pay you the minimum they can get away with. (This is why you tend to see the kids take over the parents Pumbling/HVAC/Electricians businesses)

Only after all that can you finally go on your own. From then on you owe $3k/yr to the state for insurance in case you screw up and kill someone and the state fund has to pay out. You have to pay this every year along with a $350/yr license renewal and show you are active in the trade, otherwise you can have your license revoked. Take at least 8 credits of continuing education each year as it relates to your license, which you must pass for credit (to keep up with a changing field). Take out your own insurance in case you screw up kill or injure someone and they sue you. Your tax rate is significantly higher as a contractor as will be your health insurance because you no longer have a large collective bargaining power.

Doing the math I'm surprised new people join in the bay area. The only way it makes sense is if you were already here with family or have rent control. Or you do your apprenticeship somewhere cheap like Bakersfield then move to the Bay assuming you can afford rent till you build a solid list of clients.


If the world really needs more escalator mechanics, then salaries for them will rise commensurate to demand and people will train to become escalator mechanics. Until then, they'll continue with other pursuits that are more profitable to them. This is how things have always been, unless you want to reinstitute medieval guilds, and I don't see a problem with it.

Generally, campaigning to make people to do something out of a sense of moral propriety is the wrong approach to creating change.


You are assuming that the world is well ordered and that all things will balance like that, but it isn't. People don't see those jobs as options, they aren't even aware of the opportunities, and there is social stigma against being in the trades. Even if you make a nice living in the trades, you will take a hit to your social identity, making you less attractive to others. That's how toxic our culture is right now. People don't value good work anymore, they value branding and image. And we are going to collapse because of it.


I assure you that if the job is paying enough people will drop any social stigma against trades jobs right away. I'll pick a paid off nice house over showing off to my friends. Although I'm sure the new house is much easier to show off than an office job.

I have talked to people working hard physical labor jobs and they make hardly more than I do as a junior/mid level web dev but they are doing back breaking work 6 days a week.


The national shortage of truck drivers in America does not support your argument. I heard from someone at 160 Driving Academy that you can make six figures with a CDL and the trucking companies will pay you to get one.

That's not even as hard on the body as other physical jobs. It is not a well regarded and the community of peers you interact with means that it isn't a very desirable job.


Yeah sure, you can make that after you are in the business for years, own your own truck, have a flawless record, and all that. What they don't mention is you not going home at the end of the day, or the hours you don't get paid waiting for other people to unload your or load your truck, or the social isolation, or the fact that a small misstep could cost you your entire career with your CDL and driving experience becoming useless.

The reason we lack truck drivers is because of pay, it costs a lot of money to get people to forgo a family, or a home, or sleeping in their own bed, waiting around in the middle of nowhere not getting paid just waiting, plus the costs of road food, the cost of maintaining and insuring your own truck, ect.


No, just no. I have a couple truck drivers in my family and the average truck driver does not make anywhere near that. The median salary for truck drivers was $42,480 per year in 2017 per the BLS.

It's also a pretty shit job.

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/m...

There also is not a truck driver shortage

https://www.businessinsider.com/truck-driver-shortage-not-re...


Truck driving is the most mind numbing job I could imagine. But if someone was offering to pay $200,000 in my city I would take the job until I made enough to pay off my house and then unless they could significantly increase the pay or reduce hours I would leave for something else.

Also everything I have heard from truck drivers makes it sound not so great at all. They are under constant pressure to keep driving even while tired and are constantly gps tracked for performance metrics.


The guy at the driving academy might not be the most neutral source of information. Is that $100k before or after you buy a semitruck? How much does a truck cost? How often do you see your family?


That’s for union jobs, which are limited and totally nepotistic. Non-union truckers make substantially less.


> I heard from someone at 160 Driving Academy that you can make six figures with a CDL and the trucking companies will pay you to get one.

I remember visiting the Daily News (a NYC local newspaper) in the early 2000s and on the tour learned that the unionized delivery guys could make six figures. That was almost 20 years ago. The fact that the same salary as 20 years ago is still possible doesn't really say much.


It is possible to make 6 figures driving a truck but not very likely.


I disagree about there being a social stigma about the trades. It might tend to be seen more frequently among certain age groups or geographic locations but I can't recall ever seeing people be thought of that way for having a skilled trades job (I'm in the US).

Quite the contrary actually, I think they're seen as very hard working. But I've also never seen very much in the way of recommendations from others in that trade to get into that kind of work. Probably because there are few people to do the recommending. There's certainly no shortage of freshman brogrammers who will preach a career in software development as easy money (they'll change their tune when they see the ugly side of things but that's a different topic of discussion).


It isn't so much a stigma as it is a lack of advocates for trade and an abundance of advocates for white collar work. It would be naive to think there isn't some classism that causes this.


Relax. Why do you expect a bunch of escalator mechanics to be on standby, readily available for a once in a generation escalator repair project? That's not how things work.


> And we are going to collapse because of it.

It's not that bad.


When we are electing the president by the same principle, I assure you that it is even worse than you can imagine. Societal collapse is imminent. Those who are comforted by their station in life always think they are living in a utopia. You are surrounded by fake smiles adorning people forced into subservience. At one time the myth that hard work and dedication would pay off in the end kept people in line, the "american dream" they called it. Now that myth has been tempered by reality, watching the last generation work all their lives with many having little to their names and no security is what looms over the current generation. We know it's a lie. That lie was keeping things together. We are heading into an age of great civil brawling fueled by immense economic pressure caused by corruption on all fronts.


I agree! Let’s all wear flannel and be slackers!

You’re doing a throw back to the nineties comment, right?


Haha, yeah you could pluck that comment out of any decade and find (insane)people saying it.


It's also usually true.


well that escalated quickly


Your narrative is not actually evidence (even if I suspect you may in fact be right).


The evidence is in crumbling infrastructure, poor provision of essential social investment, and increasing political and social extremism.

Short-term greed turns out to be a ridiculously naive, stupid, and short-sighted way to run an economy.


Basically you have to beat people with the truth for people to accept it when it goes against their ill-conceived view of the world.


This is such a shockingly naive worldview, but I see it almost every day.

Solving needs and reaping rewards have become disconnected - this is the exact problem we're discussing here.

In fact, solutions and rewards have become opposites in some cases, so it is more profitable to create problems than to solve them. This has become a significant portion of the economy across many sectors, but especially in advertising.


It's about more than profit. People have been encouraged to seek fullfilment in their work and so chase their dreams through university and plonk out the end with a piece of paper that doesn't make them money. It wouldn't occur to many people to do work outside of their degree because otherwise what was the point of the degree?

If it were about profit everyone would work in remote mines or offshore drilling platforms from 18 until they couldn't anymore.


That assumes perfect knowledge. How many of you have ever stopped to check what an escalator mechanic makes?


You don’t need to assume perfect knowledge. There’s a reason the rich areas in town are all filled with doctors/lawyers/financiers/tech workers/engineers. They’re healthier, have better work hours, have more time and opportunity to move up the system. Anyone can see this, they would be stupid not to wish the same for their children.

And to to put one’s body in the way of significant harm, and work late night hours and give up your social life, anyone who has the option of doing something else is going to want quite a bit of premium. Not just $80k/year. Same goes for needing someone in rural areas.


I know several elevator mechanics. It pays well, very well. Also is a very dangerous job.

Its a special kind of personality. You need to be mechanically handy, and have some electronics and software sense as well. I suspect if more people were aware of what it paid, they would go for it, if they were willing to put up with hazards.


So what does it pay then?


How much dues it pay?


BLS says $80K/year.

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/mobile/e...

Not bad for a high-school education only, but when other people are millionaires because they happened to get into Bitcoin in 2011 or because they picked the right tech startup, I see why folks would rather put their efforts into getting lucky.


What a beautiful, efficient world. Sadly, what one can do instead is not budget enough for escalator mechanics, complain that the escalator mechanic union is unreasonable or that there is a skills shortage, then let the escalators break down.


On a local enough scale, it’s always about the money. If SF offered $1 million a year plus a $1 million relocation bonus to escalator mechanics, they’d fill those jobs by next week. You may say, rightly, that it’s ridiculous to pay that much - but at that point we’ve stopped talking about availability and started talking about price. So start from there and move the price as appropriate.

Now, if every municipality in the US tried to do this, there would be a legitimate shortage. The highest bidders would get their mechanics. The rest would have to wait, possibly hiring from the inevitable influx of new escalator mechanics a few years later.


Maybe treating them as a dumping ground for people who aren't "cut out for college" is part of the problem.


> Maybe more people should go into the trades - and not be funneled into higher education.

Or maybe not create this arbitrary distinction, and let people who are going to school with the intention of ultimately becoming a welder or a mechanic be able to take an English or a history class.

For some reason, people who go to college for basketball get to take art history, but not people learning to be machinists.

Maybe it's the mentality that you go to university to earn the honor of not having to work with your hands that's the problem; I also think that it's why the sciences and medicine often seem awkward there. I'm not exactly sure what the difference between a computer programmer and an elevator repairman is supposed to be, exactly.


Welders and Mechanics in training are allowed to take English or History classes, they just have to go to a different school for that because trades are not integrated into most traditional colleges.


> Not everyone is cut out for college.

Actually I quite think it's the opposite.

We should be saying, "Not everyone is cut out for escalator mechanic."

Those who aren't cut out for "real" work and traditional vocational education end up going to college to get useless marketing or business degrees. Plumbers, electricians, heavy machinery operators, drafters, are all making really good money historically due to the demands you're describing.

The "easy" path these days is to go to college.


I agree with some of what you said but as an educator, the statement "Not everyone is cut out for college." doesn't sit well with me. Outside of some severe disabilities, I don't think there's anything inherent about who can and can't eventually succeed in college. Some people aren't adequately prepared for college by the time they turn 18 and that's a societal failure. Everyone should have the opportunity to go to and succeed in college but I agree that that shouldn't be the path everyone chooses. But proper incentives must be in place for that to be the case. As it stands, would you (rhetorical "you" I don't know if you personally have kids or how you would answer this questions) push your own children toward trades over university currently? Why or why not?


Some people just don't give a shit about education and go to college because of a piece of paper they are promised will get them a cushy job.

College _is not_ for everyone, and the bar for success in college is constantly being lowered because of it.


Jordan Peterson pointed out that the army has a cutoff of IQ 85 (IIRC) for their recruits. In the army’s estimation, they can’t find ANY job in the military that such people would be adequate for - and they might very well be right (it’s against their interest to reject prospective recruits). So, if such people of low intelligence (tens of millions of them in the US) are not good enough for grunt jobs, how well will they do in college?

For the silent downvoter: do you believe that anyone can do anything? I for one, have relatively high intelligence and I also get sick (cold etc.) easily. The colds rule out any kind of physical job, as much as I would like to be a jet engine mechanic for example, and I’m pretty much stuck with desk jobs. Do you believe that, in spite of my immune system being in the wrong part of the bell curve, I would do fine working outdoors?


Well, there's no set cutoff, and it's done by percentiles on the Armed Forces Aptitude Test, not raw score.

The US military tries to reject the bottom third of candidates, however, the standards are always changing depending on need and the number of people who are interested in joining.

It's true that the higher scorers preform better than the lower scorers.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2006/01/why-dumb-recruit...


I do not buy that inadequate preparation is the reason some people aren’t able to handle college. Sounds very naive and idealistic. Some people are simply not intelligent and/or disciplined enough to handle the courses and never would be - that’s harsh and I wish it weren’t so, but it doesn’t make it untrue.


Pay me enough and I will learn how to replace an escalator.


If there some sort of language barrier because half of you in this sub-thread are talking about escalators and the other half elevators.


It's an uppity-down machine in both case


Once you get a license, it will pay about $125/hour. Four year apprenticeship first, though. There is a general shortage of elevator mechanics, so go for it.


And how many hours of the day can I actually do that. $125/hour sounds real nice until you factor in the fact that most of these jobs have very inconsistent workloads so you could spend 5 hours working one day and then have no work next week or have to spend a day fixing a mistake for free.


Currently in Northern California there is more overtime available for elevator mechanics than people available to work that many hours legally.


> Once you get a license, it will pay about $125/hour.

Billed $125/hr while actively working on a particular job, or a sure $125/hr for 2000 hours a year?

The amount you bill pays for your downtime, too.


So $125/hr is what the tech takes home from the elevator service company. The company is paying for insurance and general overhead, and billing the tech out at around $500/hour. The real money is in starting an independent elevator service company after getting some experience with somebody like KONE or Otis or Schindler.


$125/hr billed or $125/hr employed?


I'll admit I don't know the first thing about escalator repair but I'm confident that a 4 year apprenticeship is absurd. Perhaps that's the real problem. The rules should be amended such that you can get an escalator repair license in 60 days. Problem solved.


> I don't know the first thing about escalator repair

I agree with at least that much of what you said.

It is near or at the top of OSHA's list of most dangerous construction trades. Elevators and escalators have extreme safety requirements for carrying passengers. I have been in enough elevator control rooms with qualified mechanics to be able to assure you that a 60-day wonder would be a very dangerous actor to let loose. After four years, I would not send a guy out on a job alone unless it was pretty simple.

Sending an elevator mechanic with 60 days of training out to work by himself is a death sentence for him, if you are lucky. For the passengers, if you are less lucky.


Are there any building management firms that have full time mechanics? Given that escalators and elevators are transporting people it seems like it would be easy to justify having someone directly responsible with its operation (like a tram driver).


Well, the way it works in practice is that most buildings have a multi-year service agreement with either the service arm of a major manufacturer, or a third-party maintenance firm. A really large property complex would probably have a mechanic who essentially is full time at that complex. But as a practical matter, you need access to spare parts, drawings, etc, so it is hard to be a one-man show. Because of parts access and licensing, I think it would be impractical for most commercial landlords to keep a mechanic on staff.

Usually for any building there is a primary mechanic who is assigned to that site, so that he has familiarity with the quirks of the system, relationships with the landlord's staff, etc. Of course mechanics in the same office cover for and assist each other.


> I'll admit I don't know the first thing about escalator repair

> The rules should be amended such that you can get an escalator repair license in 60 days.

Are you serious? These two statements of yours are only separated by a tiny sentence and obviously don't go well together.


The apprenticeship isn’t really the problem, as that’s pretty common because a newbie can really screw things up including causing deaths. The problem is the basic training. It costs a fair amount of money to setup the basic training facility and to keep it running.


"The rules should be amended such that you can get an escalator repair license in 60 days."

There are real risks fucking up an elevator.

https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/27/china/chinese-mother-killed-e...


Why was there only 1 flimsy panel between the top of the escalator and a deadly downward plunge? Why aren't there any safety layers in between? It doesn't take an expert to know that's poor (even negligent) engineering. Perhaps if escalators were better made, they wouldn't be so deadly and require years long apprenticeships for maintenance workers to not endanger lives.


Skip college, do a 4 year apprenticeship instead - is that really sound?


That depends on the person, doesn't it? I have a nephew that has had issues with ADD. He is an intelligent young man, but not cut out for the kind of butt-in-seat stamina that it takes to get a college degree. He is currently almost done with a commercial electrician apprenticeship, and has finally hit his stride. He is doing well in his job, and acing all the licensing exams. He also has the kind of personality that cultivates good customer relationships, which makes me think that in a few years he could easily set up his own shop.

Not everybody is well-served by college.


At least you get paid in an apprenticeship.


Every technical summer internship I worked at I got paid, roughly at the same rate as a junior engineer entering from college.


Do it right and you can get payed in college too. In Germany you have cooperative study programs for fields that are in high demand (like CS). Your degree takes 2 semesters longer in which you work at a company who pays you from start to finish of your study. Rates are similar to early apprenticeships if i am not mistaken. Also no strings attached, you can tell your company to screw itself after you finished your degree. Not finding enough people is a real issue in some fields.


maybe they should call the apprenticeship 'graduate school' in order to attract more people to it


Or maybe they should pay more to compensate for working odd hours and the increases chance of injury from increased driving and workload.

Guarantee there exists a number such that people want to do the job. Society just doesn’t want to pay that number yet, so it’s complaining about it and dragging their feet.


Sorry, a key aspect to any "labor crisis" is that you can't be paid very much. I mean, do you think that as one of the 10 escalator technicians in your city, you should be paid as well as one of the 500 doctors? Doctors are very important people.


If escalator mechanics are not very important people then how is there a crisis when they are missing?

Do I declare a labor crisis because I can't find senior developers to work on my website for $10 per hour?

The buyer doesn't get to decide that a job is not important so someone else is expected to do it cheaply. Either the job is not important so its no problem if no one takes it or it is important so you will pay whatever it takes to get it done.


Have you or anyone you know been killed or severely injured by an escalator? If not, thank a technician.


The comment you're replying to is clearly in snark, lamenting the low wages of escalator technicians despite high demand for their skills.


I've met with quite a few doctors in my life and many aren't that important or specialized, they simply went through the motions to get there like any profession.

We (society) like to put MDs on pedestals because the relationship to life is direct and obvious, but we often ignore just how resilient the human body is and how in most daily situations, doctors aren't dealing in difficult life or death situations.

We also tend to ignore the indirect effects of other professions' on quality and longevity of life. If a traffic engineer saves tens of thousands of people 10 minutes a day in their commute, that adds up to saving an entire life of time quickly. Just an example of indirect effects on life.


I believe the OP’s comment (about doctors being important) was sarcastic...


I wish more people knew about how amazing jobs in the trades can be. I've lived in the bay for most of my 20s now and have seen quite a few blue collar folk do extremely well.

Right now in the bay we have IBEW journeyman electricians making around 200k a year. Shoot. Pipefitters, Ironworkers, they all do well.


How many years of back breaking labour to reach those levels of compensation?


My back is not feeling so great after 20 years of full-time sitting at a keyboard, I have to say.


It's hard work but 'back breaking' would be a misconception. These guys are encouraged to work safely and smart and as a result often have careers that span 20 to 30 years.


Why are 100% of the BART escalators in such dire need of repair or replacement? Are they poor products? Are they very old? Are they poorly maintained?


They apparently bought indoor models like 30 years ago and the person responsible for that then went and worked for the escalator company. Instead of suing for fraud, we’ve been assininely repairing them instead of biting the bullet and replacing them. San Francisco Bay Area is absurdly poorly run.


Like all the lightbulbs blowing in your house at the same time, they have a lifecycle and since a decent number of them were installed in the same timeframe, they're probably coming due a replacement at the same time ("same time" being the split across the 7 years referenced).

Since you're planning on having a multi-year infra project on the go and getting the expertise rolling, it's probably worth extending it across the network (even the newer ones), as I'd assume there's some economies of scale involved in parts and labour.

Judging by other comments in the thread, they're reaching their natural life.


Most BART escalator breakdowns are caused not by "natural causes" / wear and tear but by debris (often, human waste).


> Money isn't the problem.

Yes it is. Throw enough money at it and you'll have contractors from all around the world flying in to do the work.

It's like how tech companies complain that they can't find candidates to fill their positions: yes you can, just pay >50% more than FAANG does, offer them good employment conditions and you'll have the people. You just can't find the people at the cost that you want to find them for.


> Not everyone is cut out for college.

same goes for teachers. many universities aren’t about education anymore. they are what everything else has become: fundraisers. it’s sad given the education that i have had that i can count the good professors on one hand.


There could also be other reasons for this, like rent being so high that trades people can't afford to live in the area. One of the other comments even points out that trade schools are closing in CA left and right.


> The problem is we do not have enough licensed escalator mechanics to do the work. Money isn't the problem.

Money IS the problem. And the root is an inability to have continuous political will.

The issue is that San Francisco never voted to schedule replacement of 10% of escalators every year.

So, San Francisco voted to go from almost zero spending on escalator maintenance to a large single burst outlay which will go back to zero after the aforementioned 7 years.

What do the escalator mechanics do when the spending goes back to zero?


In the old days, there weren't enough people who knew how to do social media marketing. But somehow a bunch more people learned.

I don't know. One might argue that the licensing requirement for escalator mechanics is causing the shortage. Or maybe impediments related to unionized work minimums are causing a bottleneck in the flow of people who are allowed to hold these escalator mechanic jobs.


7 years and 2.5 million per escalator. I really don't think it's an escalator mechanic shortage. For that price you can fly in mechanics and have them stay in nice hotels and have it done in a month. The problem is that the procurement process is totally dysfunctional.


> Maybe more people should go into the trades - and not be funneled into higher education. We desperately need better infrastructure, more housing, tangible things. Not everyone is cut out for college.

I think the root problem is the negative perception of not going to college.


I talked to the mason that refitted my house in 2016. He wanted to be a mason like his father, who insisted on him getting a higher education. So he complied and became a bachelor in law, then went on being what he wanted to be, a mason :)


Funny thing is in California, trade schools are shutting down left and right.


> The problem is we do not have enough licensed escalator mechanics to do the work. Money isn't the problem.

So is the problem that there aren't enough mechanics, or not enough licenses?


This sounds like a job for Bicycle RepairMan!

I think Monty Python was aware of this 40 odd years ago, although it’s one of the few clips not on YouTube.


>> we do not have enough licensed escalator mechanics to do the work

I call BS. An "escalator mechanic" sounds like a profession that could be trained in a year, or far less if the person is some other kind of mechanic. The reason why this training doesn't happen is likely there's not much money to be gained, if anything at all. Or maybe there's a union constraining supply of mechanics, or both.

I agree that there needs to be more vocational education, and less stigma against it. But the claim that the problem above could not be solved with liberal application of cash is dubious at best.


There's several issues I've noticed as a student. First, kids are told to go to college immediately after high school. If college was high school 2.0, this would be fine. But college is completely different from high school; it's significantly more expensive, more free form and more rigorous (at least compared to most high schools). I see so many students who clearly have no clue what they want to do, why they're in college (beyond "my parents want me to") or how to accomplish their goals.

Having seen the sheer quantity of kids struggling with simple stuff like cleaning, cooking and not drinking themselves to death, I'm becoming more and more in favor of a mandatory service at the age of 18. Maybe not military like the IDF, but some sort of program where kids are forced to go away from home and learn to be self sufficient. Little Bobby should learn how to scrub a pot and clean a bathroom before he's entrusted with a 240k education. I took a gap year and I was significantly more focused and disciplined than I was in high school. And way better than the majority of my college peers.

But even worse than being unprepared for college, I feel like we've been fostering a poor attitude towards learning. I grew up in an academic family, so to me, learning wasn't a stage of life. Learning was an essential aspect of being alive. Going to college wasn't some arbitrary merit badge that society deems necessary. It was a natural extension of whatever field I wanted to study. I see college as a tool; I need to learn certain topics in order to get what I want in life. Of course, I'm very fortunate to have taken a gap year and worked as a programmer. If nothing else, I know that I like programming, I'm good at it and I'm willing to suffer through the painful parts. It's kinda good to know that before I spent 240k on a CS degree.


Some form of mandatory alternative civilian service may be of use here in the US. Hypothetically, 'cutting the apron strings' may improve physical fitness, national identity, common understanding, and widen the shared views of the conscripts. Here in the US, the Vietnam war was the most recent event where nearly every family and citizen was affected and were forced to interact with each other.

Anecdotally, vets on campus tended to be more 'serious' than ones that were not drafted. That said, most vets would have elected not to have undergone the experience regardless of their level of involvement in the war.

Also, the costs of such programs are very high. If you look at military conscription today, it is limited to countries with small populations or ones that are actively threatened. Mobilizing, feeding, housing, and caring for nearly 450,000 people is not an easy task. The net benefit of this conscription is ambiguous as well. Denmark used to use their conscripts in the care of the elderly and in wildland firefighting, but has since degraded that from their service. Doing so here in the US may be of benefit, but not at the costs that would be sustained. Such work is better left to the professionals, typically.

I'm not even close to an expert in this field, but a cursory look at it suggests that the cost/benefit ratio is not close. However, the same can be said of nearly any educational endeavor, yet we know that on a decadeal timeline it pays for itself many times over.

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

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


The problem is the mandatory part. Even the standard education is in large part optional for both students and parents. Its a gross violation and overstepping of fundamental liberties to have grown up free to turn around and point at our descendants to then say they must be forced to serve.

The Vietnam Draft will go down in history as a gross human rights violation of a generation of young adult men. That war was a proxy battle of world powers to send their young to die to line the pockets of their militaries and their contractors all in the name of ideological and economic conquest paid in blood.

In contrast, the WW2 draft is vindicated in how influential US support was in turning the tide on both fronts. US involvement invariably saved millions of lives and helped stop tyrannical genocide across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Violating the liberty of your citizens for that kind of end is probably righteous, but don't let the widows and parents bearing the flags of their fallen sons hear I said that - they died in large part to save the citizens of other nations, not for their own.

I strongly support a public works program that anyone can enroll in for a contracted number of years. Anyone lost entering adulthood should have something to fall back on that can help them contribute to society - and we sure as hell need it in the US, the infrastructure is crumbling disastrously and the country is massive and can use a substantial amount of hard labor maintenance. It is just that none of the financial incentives are there, or regulations are perverse enough to skew away private capital from fixing many of these issues. Regardless of why, we can see a ton of work we would like done, but don't have the money to afford ourselves, individually, or even as small businesses, but can accomplish collectively and publicly with something like a revitalized civilian corp of engineers.


> Of course, I'm very fortunate to have taken a gap year and worked as a programmer.

I told my youngest sister to take a gap year to figure herself out. She didn't, and now years into college she has decided to switch studies, just like I did. Luckily we're Dutch and this is actually a realistic possibility for us.


>Maybe not military like the IDF, but some sort of program where kids are forced to go away from home and learn to be self sufficient.

That's called "adulthood."


I very much agree that the default should change on college coming directly after high school. Sounds like we had pretty similar paths -- I also took a year off after high school, and did a lot of traveling that I funded by programming (I had a fair amount of previous experience). I feel like that year gave me a ton of perspective that I didn't have before, and while I knew that I liked programming beforehand, I think I gained some new appreciation for it. The one "issue" with that year off is that it's clear to me that I could have foregone college and still done well for myself working as a programmer, which definitely doesn't make me more motivated to finish college, since I much prefer working to going to school...but I'm not convinced that that's actually an issue, and I'm definitely really glad I took that year off. I'm much more disciplined and focused than I was before.


> mandatory service You can't be serious now


Just to piggy back on this comment: there is a strong case for mandatory military service. Just going to list bullet points.

- Would help people mature before diving into the next stage of life, especially immature people whose upbringing has failed to imbue them with responsibility.

- Would boost civic participation. When everyone's kid is at risk of dying, everyone pays attention to who we're going to war with and why.

- Would provide structure for people when they are at the point when they could do the most damage to themselves or society (young adulthood).

- Would strengthen military power; every citizen would have at least a small amount of military training, if we really need it.

- Would greatly diminish stratification of social/cultural/economic groups. Would help get people out of the bubbles they grow up in.

- Would increase physical fitness and health of the population.

I see very little downside to a mandatory 2 year military service.


There is a huge real downside, and it is a massive one, is compulsory military service begets reasons to use the military.

Most of the free western world has recognized the invalidity of a large standing army or extravagant military spending. Money going into war is money totally wasted, literally burned up in bullets and bombs and lives.

In the US at least Eisenhower was already talking about where we are today becoming a problem back during his presidency 60 years ago - that the private enterprise built on military contracts would lobby congress to see the military used and expanded to give them more money. The US has refined to an artform the practice of making conflicts to send its young to die in to line the pockets of investors. One of them was both the former CEO of a major defense contractor and the damn vice president under the guy who started permanent endless war against a concept in a desert on the other side of the planet for going on twenty years.

The west and world at large should be happy to not need to train and send their young to suffer and die in war. Nuclear deterrents have functionally eliminated threats to homelands protected by them. Russia and China might be antagonists on the world stage against the capitalist establishment but they are also nuclear powers and thus no war can ever be waged against or involving them directly. It all has to be theater, destroying arbitrary swathes of third world nations in proxy wars meant to justify profits on both sides for private men who sell bombs and need to insure there is somewhere for the government to drop them.

The US and almost all western democracies should be moving towards demilitarizing entirely. There are still useful functions of militaries in defense of borders in most nations - fighting pirates, smugglers, etc - but nation-state level actors will not move against anyone pointing weapons that could glass their whole country in an hour, so wasting the valuable time of millions of young adults preparing for a war that cannot ever happen is all around a disastrous waste of time and money.

There is also the fundamental freedom angle of it. If you want to have kids spend the last two years of public education enroll in something akin to a communal public works labor program instead of teaching them Shakespeare and ancient Sumerian history they will never use that would be more defensible, but it is grossly inappropriate of anyone to say that full adults should be forcibly conscripted en masse against their will for no reason that could remotely justify the breach of their liberty.


Agreed that military service is not the ideal direction. I'd prefer some form of service closer to say, charity or Peace Corps. Now whether people would fund that is another question entirely.


Kaplan can talk until he's blue in the face, but why aren't people going into the trades right now if it's such a good idea? If it's explained by the market value of a college degree, what's he going to do about that?

There are some negatives to working in the trades. For one thing, manual labor takes a toll on your body. I've watched tradesmen work at my house and at my workplace. If they're my age, they're broken and hobbling.

How can somebody survive that for long enough to have a decent retirement? How do they survive recessions, which typically affect the construction industry? An economist should be able to show us how to tip the balance. Show us.


> Kaplan can talk until he's blue in the face, but why aren't people going into the trades right now if it's such a good idea? If it's explained by the market value of a college degree, what's he going to do about that?

Because the government is subsidizing education. His suggestion is simple: cut/lower the subsidies.


Okay, just make life harder for everybody. Nice.

How does subsidizing education, thus creating more college graduates, increase the value of a degree?

There must be some sort of monstrous arbitrage going on, where young people have figured out a scheme for boosting their market value, and employers are utterly clueless about it.

My own suggestions would be to provide better protections for blue collar workers, such as better enforcement of workplace safety laws, stronger unions, health care, pensions, and a generally stronger safety net.


> Okay, just make life harder for everybody. Nice.

If you spend less on one thing, you can spend more on other things (or tax less), so I don't see how that follows.

> How does subsidizing education, thus creating more college graduates, increase the value of a degree?

I would think about it like this instead: subsidizing education lowers the cost, making it more attractive than it otherwise would be compared to the alternatives (e.g., trade school).

For example, if the government decided to subsidize Ford car purchases, more people would buy Ford, right? Doesn't mean Ford cars became any better.


What I mean by the value, is what employers are willing to pay. Even Kaplan admits that college graduates get paid more. The subsidy should drive more people into college, but depress the wages of college graduates.

In fact, Kaplan admits that college increases pay more than it increases productivity -- that it benefits graduates more than it benefits countries as a whole, suggesting that something about college education enables people to keep more of their own production.


> What I mean by the value, is what employers are willing to pay. Even Kaplan admits that college graduates get paid more. The subsidy should drive more people into college, but depress the wages of college graduates.

The fact that college graduates get paid more seems adequately explained by the signalling model he presents. How else do you explain the big pay differences for college graduates vs people who dropped out early? They are bigger than you'd expect from just skill/knowledge gain.

> it benefits graduates more than it benefits countries as a whole, suggesting that something about college education enables people to keep more of their own production.

Kaplan would agree would you there, he thinks it makes sense for individuals now to go to college, but as a society it doesn't make sense to subsidize, because it is mostly just signalling, and there are cheaper ways to achieve that.

An analogy he uses is that say you are at a movie theater, and you could see better if you stood. It could be true, but it doesn't follow that everyone could see better if everyone stood.


>The fact that college graduates get paid more seems adequately explained by the signalling model he presents. How else do you explain the big pay differences for college graduates vs people who dropped out early? They are bigger than you'd expect from just skill/knowledge gain.

Well, one thing to consider is that you can structure things so that you avoid all the hard classes until the end, and then leave without taking them. I found myself in this situation and had to 'boss rush' all the hard STEM classes at once, which wasn't fun and probably usually results in someone just dropping out.

Confirming this isn't what's happening might be one explanation for the sheepskin effect. (Of course, just because it might be doesn't mean it is, I think Occam's Razor favors Caplan here).


It sees like "signaling" is just an arbitrary label attached to any exception to a simplistic market model of higher education. We know the effect is occurring, by definition.

Kaplan can't figure out why anybody in their right mind would pay me to work for them. (I can't figure it out either). So it must be "signaling."

A better description would just be to admit that we don't understand the market value of higher education, and there are effects that contradict a simplistic market model, either because the model is false or we aren't feeding good information into it.


|subsidizing education lowers the cost, making it more attractive than it otherwise would be compared to the alternatives

The saddest thing, is that it clearly hasn't. Tuition costs have sky-rocketed, as has interest rates on education loans. It's become absurdly expensive.


> If you spend less on one thing, you can spend more on other things (or tax less), so I don't see how that follows.

As an additional note, universities right now are getting a huge subsidy: not only through tuition and student loans, but also from exemptions on income, property, and most importantly, endowment taxes.


The key problem I think, with higher education, is that we force students to take classes in the name of liberal education. If no one is required to take a class, then students might not take that class, which leads to that professor's usefulness, and perhaps career, coming into question. If anything universities are increasing not only the number of classes a student has to take, but also increasing seemingly-pointless labs and other classes taught by graduate students, so they can then pay those GTA's. It's almost like a pyramid scheme.


That's a side effect of Caplan's main objection, that a college degree has become a credential, used for signaling, and not indicating any real merit or learning. Once students recognize that (and they have), they put in the bare minimum to get the credential, and administrators respond by forcing new minimums. It's still possible to get a good education if you choose your institution, classes and professors wisely, but it's frustrating for motivated students to be surrounded by slackers. In a good learning environment, you're going to learn as much or more from your peers as from your teacher.

I highly recommend his book: The Case Against Education - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076ZY8S8J.


An important thing to note is that in many areas colleges may not be the best way to learn a subject. I personally am ok learning from old blog posts and online documentation for most everything computer related and personally even slightly prefer it to college classes. However, as you mentioned I need a credential so sit through classes to get it and do near the minimum to get a good GPA and pass all the classes. There is simply no need to take challenging classes which may not teach exactly what I am interested in and take the risk of wasting upwards of 1,000 dollars on the class and getting my credential permanently stained with a bad grade if I misjudge the difficulty and fail. It is simply less risky, far less stressful, and typically easier for me to learn by not challenging myself at college wherever possible. Especially with education as cheap (many cases free) and accessible as it is online I find it hard to view anyone not slacking and attempting to learn much at college to be a fool.


I don't presume my institution is representative (nor that it isn't), but for what it's worth, most students I see are not slackers at all. Students often choose the harder courses, and many of them require a significant amount of work (a typical CS course requires 12 hours of work outside lecture and many require much more).


I wasn't a slacker until I took a computer graphics class that consumed more of my time than my other 4 classes combined, and I still failed it on a technicality (out for a job interview the day partners were assigned for the final project. Wasn't allowed to do the project alone, there were an odd number of people in the class. If you fail any "section" of the class, you fail the whole class. After back-and-forth with the professor, I contacted my class dean. He said he'd contact the professor, didn't, told me it was too late to change the grade, and then quit)

After that I realized grades were fairly arbitrary and explicitly aimed for Ds in classes I didn't care about and settled for whatever in the classes I did care about.

I've been doing graphics since high school, it was one of the few classes I was really excited about, and it's what I'm currently getting paid to do. I've never failed any other class.

In my opinion, the first two years of CS actually matter. Fundamentals like data structures, algorithms, and maybe even operating systems classes are great. Beyond that, most CS programs tend to be severely outdated - you'll learn more from internships and co-ops than another 2 years of classes.

Of course, take that with a grain of salt since I did know exactly what I wanted to do coming into college.


> I still failed it on a technicality (out for a job interview the day partners were assigned for the final project. Wasn't allowed to do the project alone, there were an odd number of people in the class.

University professor here.

Perhaps it's too late now, but I would encourage you to make a strenuous effort to get your professor in as much trouble with the administration as you can. I don't know who the "class dean" is -- but contact this person's department chair, the departmental undergraduate director, the dean of engineering, the dean of students, the provost, anybody, everybody. Whoever will listen.

What you experienced is not okay. I'm sure it's not an isolated incident, but it's also not the norm.


Thing I learned about the two bad professors in the school of engineering I went to was the Chair was beyond sick of their shit.


I had a similar experience when I finally made an effort to get to know the higher UPS in my car department. they often know already who the problem faculty are and are more than happy to help you deal with them. unfortunately, I think most college students are unaware of how in-department politics work and/or are just inherently unwilling to escalate things.


Sorry, forgot my audience. :) STEM folks tend not to be slackers (in their subject). Caplan also mentions this is where most of the measurable learning takes place. And there are non-slackers, to greater or lesser degree, in every class. But I saw a lot of them in the required classes ("core" or "diversity"), language classes and business classes. Most slackers self-select out of STEM, except as required.


For a CS degree, the slackers can read the slides at home, do the assignments from home, and only come in to do the exams. You're not going to see them until the graduation ceremony. (At least, I didn't.)


How does doing work remotely make one a slacker (other than the aspect of not physically transporting yourself)? And if you're capable of completing a course without being present, what does that say about the course and or your capabilities?


It doesn't; what I meant to say is that "just because you don't see slackers doesn't mean they're not there".

As for the courses and the professors' capabilities, there are a bunch of systemic issues there. One is that "number of students who fail out" is a metric that is used to measure program performance, so first year is usually full of courses that are review for like half a given cohort. Another is that one often gets tenure for research, not teaching ability, so some professors optimize accordingly.

For what it's worth, there are plenty of folks who will tell you that you should "slack off" on a degree and just start a startup instead.


Eric Weinstein talked about the same thing in an Interview a while back: “I think that what happened, if we think about it historically, is that we had this beautiful period of fairly reliable, high, evenly distributed technologically led growth after World War II, up until about 1970. We predicated all of our institutions on this expectation that this growth was some sort of normal thing we could depend upon in the future.”

But then, that growth ran out, and as Weinstein says, “We were left with all of our institutions looking in some form or another like a Ponzi scheme.”

Was from here: https://youtu.be/LruYnDjkOgU?t=895


100% this. I think half of my undergraduate degree simply consisted of taking waste of time classes that have absolutely zero benefit to my career. Those courses should be replaced with this: general skills (like reading skills and math skills to algebra level) and then general career skills. These are skills which your field of study specifically requires - public speaking, laboratory report writing, technical writing etc. It varies from major to major.

For the general skills stuff, that is all remedial stuff that should be obtained prior to entering formal college. Students should have mastery of those subjects before even being admitted. Have community colleges do remedial course exclusively (or some way to self-study online and test out).

For those 60 units of old "general education" replace it with 30 units of general career skills and 30 units of applied career skills. So the course track would go like this - first 30 units is exclusively your 30 general career skills then the next 60 units is the traditional academic track that most people take currently for their major. The last 30 units is exclusively used at applying those skills to various project-based work.

For all those old course that are currently considered general education, make them all optional, not required courses.


The issue with a liberal arts education is not that certain classes are mandatory: it's that the mandatory classes are simply not useful or general enough.

An easy solution would just to make replacements. Have students take introductory classes like data science, logic and reasoning, ethics, public policy, etc.


The most frustrating thing that happened to me in college was my school fucking my graduation requirements on their online portal and basically not telling me until my final quarter I actually had to take three more electives.

I was prevents from graduating on time because I needed to take 9 credits of... whatever. Why? Am I really a better person for being made to spend the extra time and money taking some bullshit class I barely remember?


A professor's usefulness is their research. Teaching is an added benefit for the public. Universities are not trade schools.


That's the platonic ideal of a professor's utility, yes. In practice it's more of a mixed bag. Once you leave the top ~100 colleges the scales stop being tipped towards research nearly as much.


Not all universities are primarily research institutions. And I think you'll find that the majority of courses are taught by adjuncts or TAs who are being paid exclusively to teach.


I have posted about this on https://windowsontheory.org/2018/05/02/short-non-review-of-c...

I am of course biased as a faculty (though I think his policy prescriptions would negatively effect public schools more than private universities such as Harvard), but I think Caplan's analysis is extremely shallow.

First, note that if he's right, higher education should be an incredible drag on the economy - we're taking 4 highly productive years out of the workforce. Such an extreme conclusion shouldn't be that hard to test without resorting to anecdotes and contorted reading of data. Educational policies and subsidies vary so greatly between different countries and even states, that if it was such a colossal waste we should be seeing it in the higher GDP or productivity of the less educated countries and localities. (The article is in general very US-centric for an issue that is not specific to the US at all.)

When a locality has less access to education, there would be naturally less of a "credential arms race" and so more people that have just as much base talent but did not go to college. Why aren't employers flocking to those places and hiring high school graduates who would be so much cheaper?

I know one theory Caplan has is that completing college certifies "conformity" and "tolerance for boredom": is spending 4 years and tens or hundreds or thousands of dollars the only way to test for these properties?

Also (at least from my experience in the IDF) conformity and tolerance for boredom are very important for the army, arguably moreso than many other employers, yet they do fine with high school graduates.


>>> I know one theory Caplan has is that completing college certifies "conformity" and "tolerance for boredom": is spending 4 years and tens or hundreds or thousands of dollars the only way to test for these properties?

Working any entry level office job from age 18-22 would be a pretty good test. I would not have survived it.


Do people care about that?

This isn't a trick question. I've had two jobs for the last three years; one was sporadic, part-time, and technical, and the other was full-time horrid mostly-unskilled drudgery. I'm not sure whether or not to list the drudge job on my resume.

Maybe I'll A/B test it...


I dunno. Typical corporate requires way more conformity then college, especially low levels where you get to be victim of abusive management. Also, I did not found college boring, real world jobs had bigger ratio of boring repetitive but still necessary tasks then college.


Higher education is insanely our of touch with reality. Literally, on any given campus you'll hear "we don't produce jobs, we produce degrees" all while they boast $$$ on their website over what you'll earn.

It's disgusting. I was a yuge Bernie fan in 2016 because he addressed one of the biggest issues our society faces - why do we allow the universities to endenture our youth?

There's simply no reason. The material is all online. Usually in a better format than what your university is offering. Testing isn't something special that only universities can offer. Hell at this point it's mostly grad students teaching anyway... (Personal experience)

We should do away with university. Learn online, test at a local institute (much more economic), but for the love of God let's give the 20 year Olds dorms still cuz that's an experience we all need to have. Coed.


> but for the love of God let's give the 20 year Olds dorms still cuz that's an experience we all need to have. Coed.

If this is true could you explain what I missed out on?


Not sure if OP meant it seriously or sarcastically, but the pro-campus housing argument runs:

* being collocated with other students provides an academic safety net for the underprepared (it's easier to get your neighbor to explain physics at 10p than a person on the internet who's in your online class/ at your training center)

* it provides peer pressure for the undermotivated... its harder to say "this workload is unreasonable, I'm not going to do it" when you see your roommate and all your neighbors slogging through it

* proximity forces social interaction, which builds social skills in those who wouldn't have sought them out

* it's great fun. Easy to achieve critical mass for parties or other recreational activities. These events in turn build friendships an a valuable network after college.


Depends on the type of person you are. I didn't like them much, but lots of people had fun and formed great memories and friendships.


Why should tax payers be paying for, "people having fun"? I mean people have fun, form memories and make friendships on holidays too.


I think the point is that we should preserve the tradition of young people living in large houses together even if fewer people end up going to college. Tax payers don't necessarily have to pay for it.

BTW, if you spent time living in a city near other young people, you probably didn't miss out on much by not living in a dorm. Some people really thrive in that environment, but personally I prefer the apartment-style living in an area with a lot of young people (college campus or city with young people) that I transitioned to after freshman year.


The kind of people who like living in dorms should then live in dorms (many reproduce dorm-like conditions after school anyway by sharing a house with other tenants) and the people who don't would rather not be compelled at a societal level to do it "because its so much fun for some of us".

I had a year of rooming in college with a perfectly fine guy but I wouldn't ever want to do that ever again and got nothing particularly memorable out of it. I guess it did teach me that I desperately need privacy and personal space? Too bad I already learned that any time I went on vacation and spent too long in a day walking around a mall or theme park.


“Indeed, in the average study, senior year of college brings more than twice the pay increase of freshman, sophomore, and junior years combined. Unless colleges delay job training until the very end, signaling is practically the only explanation.”

The author genuinely can’t conceptualize that people who fail out in the fourth year might, on average, have learned less in the first three? The line “practically the only explanation” even calls out the flaw in the author’s own logic. Lol.


That's his point.

The advantage of getting through the fourth and final year is the signal that it shows you are not one of those who did worse.


I understand where the author is coming from, yet, perhaps because he is constantly surrounded by well educated individuals, he failed to point out the unmeasureable benefits of going to college. When a person is exposed to the diversity of different people normally found at a college their view of the world is expanded. This generally increases their empathy and broadens their humanity.

You just don’t get the same exposure at a trade school or through an apprenticeship. Perhaps the real solution is that colleges should offer training in the trades. You’d benefit from classes on how to run a business and do taxes and accounting if you’re in a trade and want to start your own business.

And just because the direct access to the knowledge is not retained, doesn’t mean the residual knowledge is completely lost. If I never learned Calculus I’d have no idea where to start if I wanted or needed to pick it up again, but because I did, I have a much easier time refreshing myself.

As a programmer, I jump from language to language often. When I haven’t used a language in a while I forget a lot of it, but once I start using it again, I recall and pick it up much faster.

So, while those researchers proved that if you don’t use it, you do indeed lose it, they failed to see if a quick refresh of the material proved their skills more than someone that never learned the skill at all. I’d imagine the results would be as I’d expect and those that previously learned it did much better than those that never learned it.

And finally, the author touched on what is more directly the issue. College ciriculiums are simply not well designed. If more majors were designed like engineering as his example, their would be more useful and their for used knowledge acquired during a students years in college and therefore more skills would translate into their field.


Student here - I was struck by the "summer learning loss" quoted in the article. Everyone I talk to has this, myself included. The greatest reason for this, personally, is subject diffusion. This is especially true from freshman to junior year; we are required to take a dizzying number of classes that not only have nothing to do with our job field, but also have nothing to do with each other. I understand that it's important to "gain broad interests", but I retained very very little until my junior year, when all of the irrelevant courses had been completed. This issue may be coupled with the signaling problem, in that not only is the senior year the only year of college that employers care about (because you get handed a credential), but also because you take so little away from school until that point.

I'd say that paying for college should be scaled with the earning benefit it imparts, freshman year costing very little, and senior year costing a majority of the total degree. Thoughts?


If there's "summer loss"? What about when you leave high school and college?

What happened to the notes you took for your classes at the end of the semester? I suspect that they are thrown away and never seen again.

I suspect part of the problem with education is that we don't learn how to learn, and that we done very little work on how to retain those skills and connect them to our world.


I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are getting at. With the internet in it's current state, notes from college years 1&2 are useless... I could go on Wikipedia and YouTube and get the same, if not higher quality, information about those subjects. FWIW, I still have all of those notes. The understanding and intuitive development is what suffers, not having the information available.


You do not develop understanding by merely looking up resources and reading about it.

Reading something alone will create not create fluency and understanding.

That is why we take notes. They serve both as records of what we learned, a learning tools, and a place to synthesize knowledge and understanding.

I also use wikipedia and lookup youtube videos, but I don't merely read or watch about it. I engage in an active process of learning and synthesizing information.


> I understand that it's important to "gain broad interests"

Its important, but I definitely agree with the OP its not ~40k a year and 3 prime years of your life important.

Its also something high school should be presenting. Its the literal last step that the state has in producing productive members of society from its curriculum, and they waste it on Shakespeare driving generations to "hate" reading than trying to diversify their students interests to get them excited about career prospects and opportunities they can rise into.

Its evident in how totally directionless and lost most college freshman are. They did what they were told in gradeschool, don't remember a fraction of it, and are now being drilled with the same kinds of banal "diversification" classes of lecture and monotony they have toned out for a majority of their life at that point.

Experiencing diversity is something that requires a desire to experience it in the first place. Forcing people to do it when all they want is a job that pays them a living wage is at least disrespectful to their self determination.


Here's the way I look at it: learning loss is almost inevitable, but I think it's less of a problem than it appears.

What I think we should instead pay attention to is the rate of re-learning. Something may take significant time and effort to learn the first time, and after say a year or two, one may forget it. But when re-introduced to the concept (when you may actually need it), I think one can re-learn it quite rapidly.


Information loss is inevitable when that information isn't used enough to become inately retained. When we focus on a particular area of study, what we learn is self-reinforcing. If I study calculus and discrete math, my understanding and retention increases in each subject, because the overlap between them connects mental pathways. If I study calculus and eastern Asian religions, retention suffers because my brain cannot make meaningful connections between the two. This lack of coherence in what I'm learning means that I'm wasting my time with one of those subjects ;)


It seems like the countercultural anti-college rhetoric that’s sprung up recently is focused on the individual level, which makes sense. But I’m concerned that it misses a broader and incredibly important point as a result.

Roughly a third of American adults have at least a Bachelor’s degree. I (unsurprisingly) haven’t been able to find any hard data on this question, but does anyone want to take a guess at what percentage of innovation they’re responsible for? It’s certainly over a third - my shot in the dark is 90%. Measure innovation however you see fit.

You can explain away some of that gap with factors like parental education and wealth, but I’m not convinced you can explain away all of it. Skilled trades may be great for the individual, but they don’t really drive innovation. Neither do social media managers, of course - not every college graduate can be a unicorn CEO - but I’m still convinced that college education is a substantial net positive in expectation.


I don't know. You're making the leap to suggest that 33% of Americans are responsible for 90% of the innovation. I don't think that's the case at all. It's probably more like 0.1% of Americans are responsible for 90% of innovation. Or in other words, 32.9% of the population of Bachelor degree holders don't add any more innovative value than the 67% of non-Bachelor holders.

Or to put it another way, there isn't a direct correlation between Bachelor's holders and innovators. Sure there are some ridiculously smart people out there, and probably most of them have some formal higher education. But their education probably isn't what made them ridiculously smart; instead it was probably their education that helped shape their thinking and possibly opened some doors.

And of course there are many examples of innovations that came from people without degrees. Many technology company founders that we would today consider innovative did not necessarily hold a Bachelor's degree.

In short, I think your connection that 33% of Americans are automatically innovative just because they have a degree is quite the stretch. A degree doesn't have any correlation to ones aptitude for innovation.


I think you’re either thinking of innovation more narrowly than I am or underestimating the number of people who contribute to it. I don’t think you can attribute, say, the development of a new drug to a single person in most cases. Or the implementation of a machine learning model. Or the changes that have led to massive improvements in the efficiency of clean energy in recent years. Or, if you want to really stretch the definition of “innovation,” the development of financial instruments to help investors better allocate capital and manage risk.

The list goes on, of course. But what I want to illustrate is that entrepreneurs with “a-ha” moments don’t have a monopoly on innovation. Far from it.

Now, going through that list of innovations again, what proportion of the people involved do you think have a Bachelor’s degree or more? I promise I didn’t intentionally cherry-pick at all - I suspect the pattern will hold if you come up with your own list, provided that you limit it to the last, say, 50 years. And at least in the examples I gave, the fact that the people responsible overwhelmingly have college degrees isn’t incidental, it’s a result of the fact that deep subject matter expertise is needed to push the envelope.


>From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing? Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow? When will the typical student use history? Trigonometry? Art? Music? Physics? Latin? The class clown who snarks “What does this have to do with real life?” is onto something.

Yet another attack on the liberal arts that misses the point of education entirely. An education in a variety of fields is about what it means to be a person in a world among other people and the natural environment. It's what makes democracy possible (https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10858.html). If we reduce education to mere employment training, we might as well revert to medieval feudalism where your entire life is bound to your economic production.


Overwhelming majority of students don't have classes on art, music, history, physics or poetry. Majority of students who sign for advanced-math classes can actually follow them enough (not necessary to A++ but enough to). There are some minimums of these, but that is all there is to it, unless you decide to sign for these or pick art major. I am not saying that everything was practical or useful, but the way article describes the school amounts to building a strawman. Most college students go for various business degrees and those do have classes like business writing and technical writing. It might have bad pedagogy, but the intent to teach those things is there.

The other thing is that I think that we should teach history, because what happened in history is closely related to how world functions now. So having rough idea that things happened (which is pretty much what high school history teaches) is something good to have.


> Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow?

Because they're for math majors. And less-advanced ones are filters for potential math majors. Me, I hated that stuff. Engineering math actually taught useful skills.

> I’m cynical about students. The vast majority are philistines.

I was a horrible TA. I was mainly an RA, but had to TA one semester. I had no patience for the "what do I need to know for the test?" ones. Especially pre-meds. But ~five kids loved me, because we all cared about the ideas.

It was actually easier as a professor, because I had TAs to deal with most students. Only the ones who cared bothered to see me personally. Or maybe I was just too rude to the others.


Politely disagree. I'm going to take engineering math to mean ~4 semesters of calculus (differentiation, integration, multivariable, and differential equations) as well as maybe a Linear Algebra class and a discrete mathematics class (probability, set theory, combinatorics). I would argue only the discrete mathematics course is practically useful

Anecdotally, as an engineer in industry, I use very little of the engineering math. Number sense and sort of general quantitative reasoning are used.

Let's suppose for sake of argument that I actually used engineering math though. Analytic solutions to derivatives and integrals (2 semesters of calculus) are largely useless because of applications like Wolfram Alpha that will solve these problems for you. The small class of ODE/PDE problems that are handled by analytic undergrad math classes will most often be solved using numerical methods such as Runge Kutta. Linear algebra is actually super useful in practice because you can use matrix solvers to solve systems of linear equations -- but a first course in undergraduate linear algebra is often just basic by-hand computations on matrix systems, and don't discuss higher order concepts at more than a shallow level (spans, invertibility, spectral decomposition, canonical forms, etc.)


I'm old. There were no PCs then, so the analytic stuff was useful. What I remember most about the pure math classes were proofs about whether or not something was solvable. But never anything about how one might actually solve anything. And far too much number theory. All too abstract for me.


Yeah, well I totally agree on that end. Proofs are almost never practical for anyone.

Number theory is also a huge bore


I personally was pretty happy I got to take the math classes full of proofs that were “for math majors.” I feel like if you just want something practical you can go take an engineering class.


> If schools aim to boost students’ future income by teaching job skills, why do they entrust students’ education to people so detached from the real world?

Well, precisely because university does not exist to increase future income of its students. It's mostly about extending human knowledge in a formalized way called science, and producing enough doctors to let the institution continues in the future. If one aims to study practical skill there is dozen of other options: engineer and business schools, vocational schools, etc.

I agree however that there is a worrying inflation of required degrees to get an entry position anywhere and that's a waste of time and money for all parties involved.


> Well, precisely because university does not exist to increase future income of its students

Then it's not worth subsidizing with government-backed loans and grants. That money would be better spent elsewhere.


What a load of crap... "why do schools focus on unmarketable skills?" Gee, I don't know? Maybe because we shouldn't be teaching kids that they only exist to learn about a trade so they can be another cog in the machine? Because there are things worth learning beyond just what's valuable to the job market and every person should be given the opportunity to branch out and be diverse in their studies?

Colleges give you all those supplemental classes so that you'll be well-rounded. Sure, you'd graduate faster and spend less money if you only took the classes that were immediately relevant to your career, but math proofs and math in general aren't always practical... it's about training your brain to solve problems, and the more abstract you can think about and approach a problem, the more creative you can get with your solutions.

And it's not even just about skills... college is a whole different ball game than High School in terms of meeting new people. High School is all about cliques and for a lot of people (myself included) was fucking miserable. College allows you to meet a diverse set of new people who may or may not share common interests and for me, at least, allowed me to grow as a person in ways that don't necessarily translate to anything "marketable".

Sure, not everyone is meant to go to college and the mentality that our parents had when we were younger, that "you have to go to college or you'll be flipping burgers for the rest of your life" is toxic, but those of us who do want to pursue a career that requires a higher education shouldn't have to spend the rest of our lives in debt just to do so.


> Because there are things worth learning beyond just what's valuable to the job market

That's just your opinion. Unfortunately, it's supported by the entrenched education establishment, but that doesn't make it true.

The cold hard reality is, if you aren't college material, don't attend some vocational school, and don't learn a trade, you're in for a life of hard labor or burger flipping. It's going to be a completely crap life for most people.

> those of us who do want to pursue a career that requires a higher education shouldn't have to spend the rest of our lives in debt just to do so.

Yeah, one way to reduce costs would be to remove all the extraneous coursework that's of zero value to society.


> Yeah, one way to reduce costs would be to remove all the extraneous coursework that's of zero value to society.

Some of that "extraneous coursework", I'm thinking of things like theather, drama, and dance, brings billions of dollars to the economy every year. For example, Broadway alone generates billions in spending annually [1], with some of that spending going towards the transportation, hospitality (hotel, food) [2], and merchandising industries [3].

[1] https://variety.com/2014/legit/news/broadway-economic-impact...

[2] https://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-d...

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/theater/hamilton-inc-the-...

(Edited for formatting)


Music major here, played in Carnegie Hall. Now I'm a code monkey. Yes, the arts have economic value to society. But even someone majoring in them in a grad program isn't usually going to be making money directly on that stage, much less someone who takes an elective.

I'd argue the real value of the arts in education is that they enrich the lives of those people taking them. This is particularly true in grade school, because it's usually free. Once you start to get into debt for these enriching passions, it becomes a calculus of worth. The best way to enjoy the arts is to have sufficient stress-free time to enjoy them, plus a small amount of discretionary funds depending on the art. If you don't have that, you can be an amazing artist with no time, energy, or money left to enjoy your own talents.

I think also a major problem in our society is the centralization that easy and prevalent media access causes in the arts. Instead of hundreds of local artists, you only need one Lady Gaga. She's great, but there's also a huge amount of value in taking in the arts of local people who you know or who are part of your community. It fosters diversity, local community, and a sense of pride and identity in a place. It also helps ensure that there will be more quality superstars in the future, as everyone has to start somewhere.

Anyway, all this to say I agree, and then some. People just often focus on the extrinsic value of the arts - economic or their side benefit to STEM performance - when the intrinsic value for each person who partakes in them is the most important. Sing in the shower :)


> Anyway, all this to say I agree, and then some. People just often focus on the extrinsic value of the arts - economic or their side benefit to STEM performance - when the intrinsic value for each person who partakes in them is the most important. Sing in the shower :)

The discussion isn't whether or not you personally find intrinsic value in art. The question is, of how much utility is it to include this kind of thing in an educational curriculum when there are many people struggling financially.

When everybody's off public assistance and the unemployment numbers are at 0, we should discuss enlightening some people with the fine arts. Until then, we should be spending that money in order to train and educate people in a way that will make a material difference in their lives.


I'm sure the less than 1% of people involved in that industry are super happy the rest of society subsidized their fun and creative lifestyle.

I guess flipping burgers and not having enough money to pay your bills is all okay because a select few (of most likely already privileged kids) got to sing and dance for money.


Studying history seems like it would have immense value to society, but negative value to short-term corporate interests, and, by extension, may not be in the best interests of the individual. The same could be said of the study of ethics.

I must say “seems like” because there’s really no scientific way to prove this (most of the time...although there are some interesting micro-studies in behavioral economics). But if you think about it even a little bit, I think you would agree that having a “collective memory” about causality in society is incredibly valuable to the interests of the citizens of that society, even if it has negative economic value to individuals.


Just ask the burger flippers how it's such a great value to society. Unless you mean middle/upper class society, then yeah, sure. For the poor, helps them in no way imaginable.


Well it's not like the business/tech majors are helping the poor either. If anything, they help keep people poor more than the history majors do.


Did you miss the part where I said it has a negative economic impact on individuals, even though it may net more good to the collective as a whole? It’s a sort of free-rider problem, and I don’t fault any individual for playing the game.


I think the biggest part of the problem isn't that there are liberal arts degrees, it's that they aren't clearly labelled "these are for the rich kids who never need to work".

Same for any "business major", of course, except double major in accounting on CPA track.


If you consider the amount of public funding that goes into higher education, degrees for 'rich kids that never need to work' is not a good use of taxpayer dollars. In effect, the liberal arts degrees themselves are the problem.


> Same for any "business major"

Dunno about that, many of my middle class friends with degrees in Finance, Marketing, MIS, etc, went on to secure well paying jobs right out of college, and now 5-6 years later are doing really well for themselves. Also I know people who went to big 4 consulting out of undergrad with liberal arts degrees.

I think it depends more on the school than the major. A shitty school with bad career coaching that doesn't teach you how to 'sell' yourself to prospective employers will have unemployed software engineers.


I'm all for the movement to teach math and science differently so students garner a greater appreciation for critical thinking, but when the author suggested learning literature, poetry, and history are wastes of time, I strongly disagreed.

The arts and history teach us empathy and give us context of the human condition. There is so much more to being a cog in the machine, as you said correctly. The more I see the way people behave in today's "current events" realm, the more I believe these things are more important than ever.


Referencing my earlier comment [0]. Caplan never says that the arts a waste of time. Refutes your view [1], main points are that this is an idealistic view; that enrichment requires willful participants which many if not most students are not, enthusiastic teachers, and good material. Says he loves the "useless" knowledge personally.

There's a reason that there's not much societal interest in many humanities topics covered in college outside of it. It's just apathy.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19440353 [1] https://youtu.be/kCLGURUubzc?t=1893


> The arts and history teach us empathy and give us context of the human condition.

I disagree. These courses should be merely electives, if offered at all. The average person doesn't really have time for this stuff, they have a long road ahead of them and they need to spend more of their formative years preparing for the hard conditions of adult life.


You know what makes adult life harder? Being surrounded by close-minded, uneducated people who lack perspective and critical thinking skills.

I'm not here to defend useless humanities classes taught in high schools and colleges. Many of them are quite bad, but we need to raise the bar, not eliminate it.


Yeah, I guess being in poverty isn't so bad as long as you have an open mind and critical thinking skills.

Always with the intangible 'benefits' to people.

If what you're worried about is 'critical thinking skills' perhaps there should be a course modeled for that exact outcome.

How does learning about ancient history make you open minded? How does fictional literature make you open minded?

Maybe you should open your mind and consider that the lower class of people in society are really bad off financially and that our education system is doing exactly 0 to rectify that fact.


You seem to be all over this thread, so maybe you're replying as much to all the people disagreeing with you as you are to my comment specifically. I believe there's a bigger place for vocational education than it currently occupies, but I take issue with your disparagement of the humanities.

The humanities are important, both for individuals and for the body politic. History gives us a critical lens for looking at the present, fiction develops imaginative sympathy for others, grammar lets your voice be understood. Why should being poor exclude you from the use of history -- recognizing when you're being used by a rabble-rouser, literature -- understanding and being understood by your neighbors who may be different from you, or grammar -- being able to participate at even the most basic level in public debate? That's disenfranchisement. How do you suppose poverty is maintained?

And that's just the argument for humanities education for those in dire poverty. For the striving lower-middle class, music, art, civics, philosophy, and economics give you ways to understand yourself as a citizen and how to use wisely those resources you have.


> Why should being poor exclude you from the use of history -- recognizing when you're being used by a rabble-rouser, literature -- understanding and being understood by your neighbors who may be different from you, or grammar -- being able to participate at even the most basic level in public debate? That's disenfranchisement. How do you suppose poverty is maintained?

These are all nice sentiments, but not based in reality whatsoever.

How many kids drop out of high school because they view it as completely pointless? If you're in the 10th grade, you know you're not going to college because you can't afford it or you have the self awareness that you're not a good fit for one reason or another, why finish? What good is that 12th grade civics lesson to you?

If you think humanities are important, teach them on your own time on your own dime. The majority of people live in the real world, and the real world doesn't care anything about you, only what economic value you provide. You have to have money to live in this society, until that changes, humanities are a large waste of time for a large portion of the population.


Edit: removed snarky comment. Congratulations, you got under my skin.


Yeah, and that's why you would be so gullible when you reach the working age. You'll be listening to everything you're told because you'll never know any better.


I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

You know who sounds gullible to me? An 18 year old kid taking out 10's of thousands of dollars for a 'liberal arts degree.' Literal definition of gullibility IMO.

I guess at least you'll feel better about yourself knowing you know 'things' while you're working at Starbucks.


Idk, if I had 10’s of thousands of dollars I’d pay that to have at least more than 2 women doing the same degree as I am.


I, for one, would not have attended an undergraduate program that didn't have a strong humanities/core to round my intellectual endeavors. I knew I'd be reading ancient literature, philosophy, economics, psychology, and a number of subjects I'd not touch independently, and this encouraged/enhanced my general curiosity.

While I entered the school intent on majoring in Biological Sciences (genetic engineering), music is my second love and I was quite fortunate that UChicago had a fantastic music history/theory department. While picking up "marketable" skills in science/research, I picked up a double major in music, the musical skills of which have improved my playing every single time I have stepped to the piano since.

In my view, university should be about setting oneself up for a productive life. For most, this should include marketable skills, as well as enriching and non-obviously employable skills.


In an economy that increasingly demands college degrees to survive in, pushing for a mandatory "well-rounded" education is ridiculous. All you're effectively doing is pushing people out of the education system who seriously need it.

In my experience, enforcing a "well-rounded" education also fails in practice. Most of my peers in college sought out the easiest possible courses not directly related to their degrees in order to satisfy the university requirements.

Pursuing a "well-rounded" education should be a choice. You just can't teach someone who is unwilling to learn.


I think this is a good perspective if you're coming from a background that can easily afford to pay for it. I got a taste of this joy and intellectual freedom while attending University, and I definitely felt a strong call to remain in that environment, with the encouragement of my Professors. However, unless you're coming from a background with sufficient funding and stability, higher education is a means to an end in attaining a steady, well-paying career.

I think we'd benefit from two distinct tracks, which I'm starting to see more in practice: one track is to take the traditional college approach, the second is to take more practical training specific to your profession. I think in that way the students specifically trying to build careers for as little money and time as possible would benefit greatly, while the former group would still enjoy the traditional "college experience". Vocational training has been the case for a long time with "blue-collar" jobs, and I hope we will see more progress for "white-collar" jobs as well. I also get the arguments around building tools for complex reasoning and the time investment required, but a lot of us just don't have 4-5 years to invest.


In the second half of the article, the author talks about this:

> We can’t measure education’s social benefits solely with test scores or salary premiums. Instead we must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in—an educated one or an ignorant one?

> Normal human beings make a solid point: We can and should investigate education’s broad social implications. When humanists consider my calculations of education’s returns, they assume I’m being a typical cynical economist, oblivious to the ideals so many educators hold dear. I am an economist and I am a cynic, but I’m not a typical cynical economist. I’m a cynical idealist. I embrace the ideal of transformative education. I believe wholeheartedly in the life of the mind. What I’m cynical about is people.

He also cites a number of studies that show that the desired benefits of "training your brain to solve problems" either don't materialize or are non-existent after a few years.


>> Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing?

Because they're trying to teach you English, as opposed to business and technical writing?

Same goes for history, maths proofs, etc etc. They're not trying to teach you how to get a job, but how to think mathematically, etc.

Not that school succeeds in teaching those things. I don't think I learned anything at school. But I did learn many of the things that school was trying to teach me, on my own. Because the things that school tries to teach you are actually useful, kinds of knowledge that cultivate the personality and make you a better person in all sorts of ways.

We should try to change education to be more effective teaching you what it does, not changing what it tries to teach you.


>“I have been in school for more than 40 years. First preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and high school. Then a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, followed by a doctoral program at Princeton. The next step was what you could call my first “real” job—as an economics professor at..”

and

>”Suppose your law firm wants a summer associate. A law student with a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford applies. What do you infer? The applicant is probably brilliant, diligent, and willing to tolerate serious boredom.”

I feel dedicated people with an above average IQ could achieve similar things, but this sort of pedigree tends to speak more towards socioeconomic class than sheer intelligence. Where intelligence and high socioeconomic class seem to be a signaling with degrees from impressive schools.

Makes me wonder how many smart working class kids we are missing out on. The high IQ kids who went to schools not ranked in the top 100, those that would have excelled at MIT but for whatever reason never applied and now does who knows what, not performing to their potential. We have so much inbreeding, where we continually get the same kids from the same backgrounds missing out on an entire segment of the population.


Having worked in tech for a few years in non-tech roles (analytics, product) I was looking for a code bootcamp because I didn’t want to look back and regret not deeply learning in a way that I felt like I could not do with self study alone.

I was skeptical but decided to start in SF earlier this month at the best rated/most reputable one I could find.

Obviously still early on, but I can say that I’m already grasping concepts better than I have just doing code academy/coursesa/reading SO alone on and off over the years.

It’s very possible there isn’t anything special specifically about this program, but if you basically commit to doing nothing but one thing for 16 hours a day (full day on site with projects, lectures, and then homework at night) plus weekend study for weekly tests then you will get better at anything.

Most colleges, though, aren’t really structured to support students to become good at just one thing. Though I’d also argue they aren’t necessarily designed to be job factories.


You can take CS50 and following or the MIT MOOCs on edx.org and learn more about CS in a few weeks than I did during my entire freshman year of the university of Aalborg.

Sure it’s introductory, but so was my freshman year.

I don’t really agree with the article though, I enjoyed philosophy and history as side tracks doing my entire schooling, and I use the creativity and insights I got from those a whole lot more than I ever use economics or math.


I'm not from the US (born in Eastern Europe), but I'd like to share some of my own experience.

I'm 26 now and I barely finished high-school because I thought it was a waste of time and I was working on my own projects and learning everything I could on my own about CS. My last year at school (turned 18 just before the start of the school year) I found a job as a QA in a small outsourcing company and didn't even attend classes. I didn't even care it wasn't a dev job. I wanted to be around devs and see how it is to actually work in a real company.

Now the important question here is... Why would they hire me, a person that can legally work, but not having a high school diploma? There were a couple of factors that played in my favor. First - it was basically a contract for 1 year, with 3 months of trial period. I was supposed to take the place of a woman that went in maternity. Second - I wanted a laughably low salary, really low. To me it was a lot of money at that time, but I didn't know my worth. Third - I did really well on the interview and I managed to prove to the owners of the company that I can do this job.

They hired me.

I did my job well and after the trial period my boss pulled me to the side and offered me a permanent contract. I said yes without even thinking. He said that it's usually normal to ask for a raise after your trial ends and I asked for something stupid like 5%. He smiled at me and gave me a 100% raise and the position of a dev.

I got lucky. I've thought a lot about it, but I really think that luck was on my side there. I obviously did the job good, and to this day it's the company I've worked the longest for - over 3 years.

By the way I got A's on all of my final exams (had to book holiday to go and take them haha) and got my diploma. After that I decided to enroll in university, but it was just the same as in high school. After 1 semester I couldn't escape the feeling that I was wasting my time. I continued, but in the end I dropped out. I think I made a mistake enrolling in a CS course. I should've went for something that's interesting to me, but not necessarily to do as a living like Economics, Physics, Philosophy, History etc.

I like the idea of higher education and I'm still thinking about enrolling and pursuing a degree in a different field, but I wouldn't go for a CS degree again. My 8 years in the industry now have taught me everything I need to deal with it.

EDIT: Grammar, spelling


Anecdotally the other day I was talking with two friends and former coworkers we realized that one of us had completed grad school, one of us had a undergraduate degree, and one of us was a college dropout(that one's me) and we all have the exact same job at the exact same level.


> From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing?

uggggh this, this market-driven bullshit that assumes "business" should be the end goal of all human behavior

English classes focus on literature and poetry because maybe you should have some sense of beauty, because you should have some vague idea of what a good fucking sentence looks like instead of just learning to write the abominable circumlocutions of this year's dialect of Business English. Because maybe reading stories about people in interesting moral dilemmas can help us think about how we'd react in a similar situation and be able to say "hey wait I am starting to act like that asshole in that one book, it sure didn't end well for her, okay what else can I try then".

Because part of the job of education is to pass on a culture to the next generation along with raw knowledge.

> Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow? When will the typical student use history?

What's the old saw about people who don't learn history? They're doomed to repeat it? Do you really want kids making the same mistakes your parents made, because they didn't see any of the results? "Oh hey let's vote for this obvious confidence man for the lulz, what's the worst that could happen", one year later we have literal fucking Nazi groups rallying in the streets?

uuuggggghhh yes let's all just learn exactly what we need to learn to be useful to some big corporate entity, let's learn nothing that will make us ever question its inhuman, amoral, profit-first motives, I am sure this will have absolutely no problems whatsoever.


I don't get it, I don't understand how the author of the article has a PhD if this is what he thinks. Like,

> Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow?

Because that literally _is_ mathematics, and the point of working through them is because students can actually understand them and learn to do the same thing with new problems. How does he expect anyone to create or discover anything new with just arithmetic 101?

There's a kernel of a good argument in that signaling probably is one of the main values that students get from a college degree, but it's overstated to such a degree that it crosses over into idiocy.


Economic signaling is a thing in economics [0] and it isn't talked about much as while they are jobs that do "require" college degrees while not really using the education taught and thus just essentially use it as a signal, most economists think lots of useful concepts taught in school are used in higher skilled jobs requiring degrees and thus aren't just used as a signal.

This guy likely just picked an economic topic that isn't talked about much and wrote a book about it to sell his brand/make money by focusing on the minority cases and using clickbait articles like this where he equates all college degrees as useless signalling and thus not worth the cost of education to promote it.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)


Also, it is not actually true that almost no students can follow math class. Math classes too difficult to be followed by literally most get easier over time. The article author exaggerate on those points to the point of lying, so that it is easier to make points.

Also I did not spend all that much time by history or poetry in school. It is possible to select overly too many such courses I guess, but it is in no way necessary or expected.


Forcing students to read classic literature is as harmful to their sense of beauty as gym class is to their desire to exercise. All you accomplish is teaching them that reading is something unpleasant, to be dropped as soon as possible.

A possible better route to teaching appreciation of classic literature would be focusing on debate about which popular media is best. Natural competitiveness will make people take this seriously, and at some point people will figure out that comparisons to classic literature, discussion of formal rhetorical technique, etc. are highly effective tools for debate. Pretty much no kid will read Shakespeare for fun, but if it means proving that their favorite media is better than somebody else's favorite, it might be worth the effort.


College isn't just about jobs. I studied philosophy, got two diplomas in it and now I write software for a living. Do I regret it? Of course not. I learned a lot in college. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about learning, other people, and the world. I'm glad I didn't waste those four years learning computers, something I was much better able to do on my own. Yes, if the only goal is to learn job skills only, most colleges and most majors shouldn't exist and they certainly shouldn't be pursued. I know it's hard for the author to fathom, but there are other reasons to learn. Many people enjoy learning and it improves lives in many immeasurable ways. It's so shortsighted to look at a college education as simply a path to better jobs that may or may not exist. Frankly, it's a stupid, small minded idea that seems to be pervasive in America's culture of stupidity. Isn't our society stupid enough without people railing against higher education? Perhaps if more people could attend college, if the costs weren't astronomical we'd have a better, more educated society and culture instead of the stupidity that dominates. That's reason enough to encourage people to go to college, let alone all the personal reasons mentioned above.


This article isn't the full picture of Caplan's view. I haven't read his book, but here's a timestamped talk [0] at The Heritage Foundation where he addresses this argument. To summarize, he says that he loves "useless" knowledge but that it should be enriching (points to amount of busywork), and that it requires that students are willing participants, which he argues that many of them are not.

Caplan says that the book has an entire chapter dedicated to refuting this argument, which I can't speak to.

[0] https://youtu.be/kCLGURUubzc?t=1893


I don't think this is true for science majors. Maybe this article is more about the economics of your career.

But:

> ...students who excel on exams frequently fail to apply their knowledge to the real world... the same goes for students of biology, mathematics, statistics, ...

I think this holds better for high school. That's were we (myself, at least) got into the "test-zone".

Looking back it feels like it was deceitful to emphasise tests.

However, the main point from my side is this: I happened to have a good math lecturer at university (i.e., in higher education) that launched my research orientated subsequent years. I don't know if the problem is "higher education" or maybe just mentorship. I think it's a mixed bag for different people.


> When will the typical student use history? Trigonometry? Art? Music? Physics?

Seriously?


Make college available for everyone for free, but make asking for and talking about degrees illegal in job interviews.

Force employers to actually vet people for what they know and can do and not force otherwise capable people to jump through expensive hoops to display pseudo-signals.

Not only will we be able to help people improve their skills as a society, but I bet college enrollment goes down across the board because most jobs aren’t that hard. Most jobs don’t actually need degrees, it’s just that degrees make hiring much easier.


> Force employers to actually vet people for what they know and can do

How do you propose to do that? At least with developers you can make the candidate do some toy project or whiteboard but that process is woefully flawed and controversial.

That’s tech, but what if you’re hiring for something more abstract, like Human Resources or sales?

What if you just need a person who can learn quickly and is easy to work with?

Almost every job I was in changed significantly within a year of being there. New tasks, new responsibilities, new teams. I grew with the changes or I left when I wanted a change. Screening upfront for specific skills only in all but the most narrow jobs will have limited usefulness.

It seems to me the best way to accomplish this is to have a clear statement of the role, provide excellent on-boarding and make hiring and firing much easier, so you can quickly end a relationship that’s not definitely not working.


> make hiring and firing much easier, so you can quickly end a relationship that’s not definitely not working.

Firing is already pretty darn easy in most states. At will employment is pretty much designed to accomplish that.


Clearly yours is an unpopular opinion, but I often find myself similarly minded. To me, there should definitely be places/institutions of learning, but I think a lot of problems come from the bundling of learning, assessment (not including formative assessment, which is a teach tool) and qualification. Perhaps a decoupling could ease us into a situation where where the institutions help people engage in lifelong study alongside work, since the idea that the qualification is a prerequisite has been removed.


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