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College, Calculus, and the Problem with the SAT (wired.com)
74 points by kaboro 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

This is all just leading to college becoming four more years of high school. Everyone needs to go. Everyone needs a degree to "get a job".

It all seems like a giant plan to prevent people from starting their adult lives.

If you need to just get some generic "good job", then the answer is to learn what you need in the first twelve years of school. I think that's enough time.

If you want to heavily specialize, research, or otherwise go deeper; then go to university.

Our policies should encourage following these practices. To start off, we need to fight grade inflation in high school so that it's a real signal for employers. Moving the problem of certification to college will just move the grade inflation problem there, not solve it. Then employers will want to see more credentials from a masters program or something.

Don't you see? If everyone has a degree, it offers no advantage. The lower performers just end up with more debt.

I feel like an entire generation's brains got broken on the subject of education because they were lucky enough to be young when a new industry (web software) got off the ground that was simple and lucrative. So they saw a ton of opportunities to apply high-school-level thinking to entrepreneurship and make a lot of money. And they came to believe was the way the world normally works.

It's not. The vast majority of worthwhile, well-paying jobs require significant education and/training after high school. Not because it's a credential game, but because society and work are complex. And it's getting more complex, not less.


I'll also risk the opinion that there is more to life than work, and higher education has advantages for people far beyond their ability out-compete one another for corporate jobs. And I would argue, for society as a whole.

> jobs require significant education and/training after high school.

To the parent's point; Many college degrees are "just a credential" at this point; and college degree or not, training still has to happen on the job.

I see a trend of millennials (my generation) who go to school to go to school, get good grades to get good grades, not apply the education to the future. Then, there's no entry level jobs (because companies didn't have to train with a recession to get experience) and they jump between unskilled jobs they could have done with a GED or less.

We can also see this with the industry survey the other week of employers saying colleges aren't preparing software developers.

Higher education does have advantages for people beyond jobs; but only if they learn (not memorize) and apply it.

No one's brain is "broken" here. You're thinking on the individual level, the parent to your comment is looking at it from a societal level.

Once someone can read, write, do arithmetic, it's more specialized skills that are needed. There are very few jobs where four years of studying history or political science is necessary. In most cases, a few months of training could do far more than four more years of general education.

The value of a degree for most jobs is it shows an ability to learn. Ultimately, having people spend six figures to send this signal is making society worse off. Employers are looking for the qualities that make someone a good student far more than they are looking for experience criticizing ancient works of literature or solving systems of equations.

Would you go to a 50-year-old with a high-school diploma and tell them they only have high-school level thinking? Of course not. Colleges do not have a monopoly on your ability to learn. Many people read a lot of books, for instance, without a teacher telling them to.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of ways to get through college without getting past a high-school level of thinking.

This is not true. As a Millennial, I know many people in my parents' generation who did well starting with a high school degree. They may have obtained further education later, but not at the beginning. This is borne out by statistics on post-secondary degree attainment by Boomers. The only exceptions were people who wanted to jump directly into professional work, like law or medicine, or, frankly, black people, who have always seemed to have to have an extra level of education to compete in the marketplace.

The problem is that we waste most of those twelve years that we already have people captive for. The high school years are especially egregious. It's a lot of marking time that could be much more profitably used.

Maybe 20% of my high school class ever finished a college degree, of any kind. A lot more went for a few semesters, struggled through some core classes, and flunked out with a load of debt and little else to show for it. The people that are best off are probably the ones that either went into the military or straight into a trade.

The college-prep for everyone model appears to have been a pretty bad failure. The system in my parent's generation where people were explicitly tracked and split into vocational, business, and college tracks appears to have had much better results. The gutting of vocational programs really hurts; it would be easily possible to do most of a trade apprenticeship during those years.

I think 2 years post-HS education is probably optimal right now. Trade schools are often 2 years.

So founding Amazon, Google, Netflix, etc. is high school level thinking? I wish I had gone to that high school.

> If you need to just get some generic "good job", then the answer is to learn what you need in the first twelve years of school. I think that's enough time.

The 'Everyone needs to get a degree' mentality is really just part of a long term trend:

100 years ago 6 years of schooling was enough to get some generic 'good job'.

50 years ago 10 years of schooling was enough to get some generic 'good job'.

25 years ago 12 years of schooling was enough to get some generic 'good job'.

In another 25 years, 12 years of schooling will not be enough to get some generic 'good job'.

> If everyone has a degree, it offers no advantage.

A degree isn't just a way to give someone an advantage in a zero-sum game - it actually changes the way people think and makes them proficient at different types of work.

> A degree isn't just a way to give someone an advantage in a zero-sum game - it actually changes the way people think and makes them proficient at different types of work.

I don't think a degree does these things. Education does, but a degree these days is not much of a metric for one's education.

100 years ago, the industrial revolution was the only type of automation that existed.

50 years ago a computer was still potentially someone that did a math calculation.

25 years ago personal computers were just barely a thing.

If you can understand how a computer works, and build one and write programs for it in 12 years, then you probably don't have need of any further need of education.

25 years ago personal computers were just barely a thing

25 years ago was 1994. You're about 10 or 15 years off, kiddo :-) By 1995, PC's were in pretty much every office in the US. Most high schools had had them for a decade (I went to a small town midwest HS that valued football above all else... and we got our PC lab somewhat behind the better HS's in 1983). Around 20mil to 40mil PC's were sold every year during the 1990's in the US alone. From 1989 to 1994, 150mil PC's were sold in the US. I have friends now who have kids who are in university who will be third generation programmers. Digital computers themselves will be a century old in just one more generation (ENIAC came online in 1946, the 100th anniversary is just 27 years from now).

(I'm just being an old curmudgeon here, don't take it too seriously :-)

Total computer sales is a poor measurement as people would frequently upgrade or have multiple computers. One at home, one at work, possibly a laptop, and one or more upgrades really eat into that 150 million.

In 1994 an estimated 31% of us homes had a computer, and 6% of homes went online. But even here, it’s much easier to count people going online than homes with a computer.

25 years ago, if you owned a computer at home, you were a hobbyist, an engineer, scientist, or you owned a console system and were a gamer.

Yeah - servers had been around in one form or another since the 60's and even in the 90's not everyone had an office computer. Maybe if you were...again...an engineer or scientist.

You think that if somene know how a computer works, can build one, and write some basic programs that they have no further need of education?

If you can do this, you can make 60k per year. And this is low skill imo.

We don't have people who are highly educated in useful things despite 16+ years of school.

We do have people who are highly educated doing useful things. This is so incredibly obvious that I am not sure what the purpose of your statement is.

> This is all just leading to college becoming four more years of high school. Everyone needs to go.

You point out a shift never discussed: 40 years ago you could graduate and be prepared for middle class life and as a member of civic society (home ec, how to vote, etc) — for free! It was assumed that it was in everybody’s interest for everyone to have a reasonable baseline.

Now the baseline preparation isn’t free, so a significant section (majority) of adults aren’t getting adequate preparation. Is that really what we want?

Maybe we should bring the baseline in high schools up? Maybe people should leave high school more prepared?

Otherwise, you'll just be saying the same thing about the same students after college: they're unprepared.

No. Time box your time to get prepared, and do it.

Also, there is no such thing as free. Every year costs a year of your life, possibly disrupting your chances to have biological children.

A big thing I see is they keep pushing the idea on the younger generation that if you do not go to college you will fail, work McDonald's your whole life etc.

They easily load the kids up with student loans/debt and have courses/advisers readily available to sign them up and get them what they need to get into college.

I do not remember in my high school, one class about financial literacy or how the best way to pay back student loans.

No one informed us well of the risks of taking out private loans to cover what the federal loans don't cover.

No alternative options are promoted heavily, sure there may be an army recruiter or a weekend where they showcase some trades you could get into, but they never explain union/trades.

I wish they told me that at 18, I could join a Union (Carpenter, Laborer, Millwright) and enroll in a 4 year apprenticeship where you start at 60% scale your first year (Make $18 right out of high school), work while learning your skill with a 10% increase each year over 4 years so by the end of your 4 year apprenticeship when you receive your journeyman card you are making $28+, I think more people would at least consider that course if they are more hands on and like to fix stuff.

I went to HS in the 1980's and we had classes in financial literacy (though I think it was called "business" or "economics" or something like that) as an elective. It covered the basics of interest rates, what loans were and how they worked. What banks and insurance was for. The basics of how business works. Etc. We also had trades training available, everything from carpentry and metalworking to auto repair and media broadast (radio/tv). And this was a rather middling high school in a small town in the midwest.

What didn't we have? Well, I didn't know what an AP test was until I got to university and it was too late, so there's that. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

>Time box your time to get prepared, and do it.

That's kind of asking the impossible. Innovation and advancement don't stand still like that. A middle or high school should not be faulted for not knowing what technologies will be in use in 20 years. Quite literally, they can't teach technologies that have not been invented yet. So, again, they pursue the only practical strategy available to them, they teach a general course of study that gives students the ability to absorb and understand what future trainers will teach them. They can't do job training because they literally have no idea what kind of good jobs will be out there when this kid turns 30.

Just make sure the kid is able to absorb the training whatever boss s/he has gives him/her. That's about the best the schools can do. Employers and college really do have to do the rest.

I'm not saying people shouldn't learn abstract thinking. I'm just saying "get it over with".

And I'm saying you can't just "get it over with" sometimes because you can't really know what "it" is?

A kid is in middle school or high school or whatever and then 20 years later they are on an employer's doorstep. The tools and technologies that employer uses were not even invented when that kid was in middle or high school. Well, unless that kid's had some additional training in those intervening years, they're probably not going to know how to use the tools that the employer wants them to use. So it's appropriate for the employer to hire, instead, the kid who has had the training during those intervening years.

We currently call most of that training "college". If you want to call it "university", or "post high school", or "adult campus learning", or whatever, then do that if it makes it a bit more palatable. Call it whatever you like, but employers kind of need these kids to have it. And they'll only need them to have it more in the future. That's just the nature of our ever advancing society. That's actually a good thing believe it or not.

Alternatively, schools assume responsibility for giving students a broad, general background and teaching them to think abstractly, with higher education involved in teaching students theoretical aspects of their concentration.

At the same time, employers will just have to train employees on the specific technologies and tools they need them to use in practice, rather than offloading the burden to society at large.

This also ameliorates the 'retraining' problem for older workers.

Your central assumption is that four more years without a job is the only way to learn whatever you need (abstract, practical, whatever). I just disagree.

Efficient processes measure outputs/results, like what people actually learn or accomplish after all that time.

But many people in this thread are measuring inputs, like, just put in four more years of time and money and that must be good for everyone, right?

    possibly disrupting your chances to have biological children
You can have children while attending college. I did it, and I know plenty of other people that did it and it didn't ruin their life.

True, but it's not for everyone and not without its own costs and complications. That's why I said "possibly". The main point is that nothing is really free, it's costing time, opportunities, etc.

I had my first kid when I was fifteen. I'm doing alright, but I would not recommend it! Later is better. My former boss had his first kid at 40. He would not recommend it as earlier is better. The sweet spot is probably mid twenties for starting.

> 40 years ago you could graduate and be prepared for middle class life and as a member of civic society

While statistically, I'm sure this applies; I see many examples of successful tradesmen making greater than a middle class life for themselves because of their hobbies during high school; things that shop class and apprenticeships in high school teach; no degree strictly required.

Well that’s kind of my point. Tradies usually get paid during their apprenticeship so start life out properly.

Were you talking about hose who left at 16 and went straight into a trade? Still no need to pay through the nose to have a good life and be a solid citizen.

We need to move to a 4 day work week, with 1 day of adult education. This way people get a chance to keep building their skills. Employers don't care about the worker; use them for 60hrs a week, fire them when no longer needed, pay minimum wage.

I think something like this would be a huge improvement on the current system. I could also see 3 month alternations between school and work - so that the learning is more closely tied to the real world. (Even if many of the classes, e.g., philosophy, sociology, may not be directly applicable.)

I think the idea is a good one in some ways. But I can also imagine some bad outcomes, like dragging things out a long time, and being responsible to two masters.

There is a dogmatic belief that 'higher education' some some panacea around these parts.

I personally think all grades across all levels of education should be pass/fail. This would give everyone a fair chance at competing, and job interviews would be based on your portfolio of work (or internships, etc), rather than HR gate-keeping of GPAs. Oh, you had to work in school so you got a couple C's in stupid-filler-class, guess you're not good enough to work for us?

We need to start at the grass-level and remove Bachelors degrees as a credentialing requirement for as many positions as we can. Why should one have a Bachelors degree to become a CPA? Why can't you just attend a CPA trade school, or self-study? It's gate-keeping by the academic class.

> you got a couple C's in stupid-filler-class, guess you're not good enough to work for us?

I get the cosmic justice sentiment behind this, but if there is somebody else who didn’t get any C’s, and that’s all they know about the two of you, how is it unreasonable for them to just pick the higher-on-paper achiever? If everybody had a 2.0 GPA, then employers would have to pick from somebody with a 2.0 GPA, but that’s not the case.

If the employer didn't pay for the school, they shouldn't have access to the information. You either graduated from the program and the program is respected, or you didn't/program isn't respected.

On that note, perhaps we should remove school names from degrees, and you simply get a degree from an institution that has x accreditation.

The problem of course is that it's cultural.

Interviewer: So how did you enjoy your time in school?

Interviewee: Oh Cambridge was a great place!

Why bother with interviews if we can just pick those with highest scores from school?

> Why bother with interviews

Every time I participate in one I wonder the same thing.

I agree on trade schools, I imagine there is some sort of NIMBY like feelings from the existing establishment of CPA (or other groups) that wouldn’t want to see this happen. They’re used to working with “a certain type of person” and that type of person went to college. It’s like a nice neighborhood blocking public transit

Just a few nit-picks with what you're saying.

>If you need to just get some generic "good job", then the answer is to learn what you need in the first twelve years of school.

One issue here is "advancement", "innovation", or whatever else you would like to label it as. Schools can't know when a student starts 7th or 8th grade, what technologies will be in use 10 or 20 years later. So schools have to teach general subjects that confer a broad foundation for later trainers to build on. That's just schools doing what makes sense. They can't teach tools and techniques that have a very good chance of not having been invented yet.

The fact that employers are expecting employees to be able to use tools and techniques that are becoming more complex and requiring a bit more abstract thought to use with any sort of facility is exactly the reason employers are asking for college grads. They know there is no way anyone in high school could have been trained on a lot of those tools.

Finally, none of this movement towards universal undergrad precludes high performers from going further in their educational pursuits.

So in short, I do see the whole movement towards universal undergrads. I understand it from the perspective of employers. But I also see where people who maybe got undergrads before everyone had to have them might feel a bit hoodwinked. It's like they were told, "this is the advanced training." And now are learning, "No, that was just the normal training. You have to do more if you want to advance."

> Don't you see? If everyone has a degree, it offers no advantage. The lower performers just end up with more debt.

The problem with this thinking is that it is individualistic, zero-sum, and reeks of "I got mine, fuck you". Society itself gains an advantage when the labor force has a higher level of education, it also contributes to economic dynamism.

The major issue with higher education is the amount of debt that students face, aside from that hurdle we should be doing everything we can as a society to encourage students to consider higher education.

This isn't the 50s anymore, you can't build the economy on folks with a high school degree who get a union job at a factory for 30 years.

> This isn't the 50s anymore, you can't build the economy on folks with a high school degree who get a union job at a factory for 30 years.

Or perhaps high school should be teaching more advanced subjects. Compare US high school against the equivalent education level in Europe for example

The problem is that in the US we lump together multiple types of high school diplomas. In most school districts, you can specify either: 1) a College Prep track in which case you will take Algebra/Geometry/Trigonometry/Calculus, Biology/Chemistry/Physics, World and American History, English Literature, etc. or 2) a General Ed track where you will take arithmetic, science, social studies, basically 4 more years of middle school. Both sets of students get the same diploma. In other countries you have things like A Levels to differentiate the high school diploma holders who took hard classes vs those that took dum-dum classes. Without that, you end up with an information asymmetry like the market for used cars.

It all seems like a giant plan to prevent people from starting their adult lives

It literally is; the Blair government specifically had their 50%-go-to-university goal to monkey with youth unemployment figures.

The problem with keeping your scheme in high school is that you're then dealing with actual legal minors who are very close to home. You're essentially trying to track young people whose brains aren't even fully physically developed yet, and something tells me that the parents of those children are not going to take the systematic closing of doors of opportunity so lightly.

I guess it kind of works in Europe and Japan. But then, Americans reject a lot of things that work in Europe and Japan.

It offers no additional signalling advantage, but information gleaned from education will not be applied homogeneously across the economy.

your comment reminds me of this post: http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/

>If everyone has a degree, it offers no advantage.

No advantage? Everyone would have a much broader education including a specialty. Even if they don't directly use that specialty it in their future career, it's still useful.

>The lower performers just end up with more debt.

Hmm if only there was a way to solve something like that....

The intellectual gain is there, but sadly it is wasted on job tasks which are nor intellectually challenging, or even require the knowledge learned during college - EVEN if your education and job is in the same field.

For example, a lot of regular/consumer banking jobs today require a college degree, but did not 15-20 years ago. The job has not changed; The people that work there still mainly help people with savings accounts, mortgages, loans, etc.

But since there are so many applicants for these positions, you now need a Bachelors degree in Economics, Business Administration, or similar.

I've seen job ads for bank greeters and receptionists that required a bachelors.

Man that is crazy but I guess it makes sense if the employer can be picky. It does go to show that college has become a signaling mechanism in addition to or instead of credentialing.

>Everyone would have a much broader education including a specialty

No, there is a large set of people who go to college to get the paper they need, and do not end up with any more broad of an education at all, or no more broad, possibly less, than work experience would have given them.

This is only true in theory, not in practice. For example see the "education" that many student athletes obtain. As demand for college increases, and subsidies from the government continue, the incentive for colleges to offer a good education decreases. Going to college does not ensure broad knowledge or a quality education.

Student athletes are such a narrow subset of the overall population of a college, that using them as an example doesn't really make any kind of case about whether subsidies help or hurt.

Going to college doesn't ensure broad knowledge or a quality education, but it sure is a prerequisite to those things in this day and age. And we should try to give that opportunity to as many smart, motivated people as we can find in our country, irrespective of their ability to pay. The alternative is a return to deep class stratification. There's no guarantee that anyone will receive a quality education even at a quality school. Demanding that as a prerequisite to subsidies is like demanding that farmers not lose crops as a prerequisite to subsidizing corn.

> Everyone would have a much broader education including a specialty.

No. People inclined towards that kind of thing would go to college anyway.

Compelling others to also go to college won't have those positive results unless the high school already failed them, in which case college is just a "sorry four years of your life were wasted, let's have a do-over".

But it seems like the better answer is to fix broken high schools.

I would seriously rethink whether we need to subject young people to compulsory education at all. Mass education is a sacred cow that just doesn't want to die.

A brief glance at history would seem to say otherwise. Uneducated masses are easy to control. It 'doesn't want to die' because it shouldn't. It's a vast improvement over how people loved their lives for the majority of our existence.

Education doesn't make the masses any more difficult to control. And it isn't an improvement over anything at all. That is just dogma.

I knew my comment would get downvoted though. :P

Care to explain your reasoning? What you're saying doesn't make any sense on its face.

I know it sounds strange, as it runs contrary to perceived wisdom on the subject. That is precisely why I question it.

I would place the origin of this thinking in the crusading social reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, or perhaps more broadly in Protestantism, and later, in emerging nationalist projects (with a few outliers of course).

I think it is important to examine the origins of our ideas on compulsory education, and the crucial questions of what purpose an education system actually serves, what purpose it should serve, and how its purpose has changed over time.

I would advocate a paradigm shift in how we think about education and its place in modern society. I am of course not the only person who advocates this, but I disagree with those who would carry on the tradition of imbuing education with a social and moral mission. I would not argue against the benefits of a broad humanistic education, or the necessity of technical and vocational education in an advanced economy, but rather point out that we collectively allocate a vast amount of resources to education, and place an almost religious faith in its value. The latter points are worthy of debate.

I could write a book on the subject, and I've read quite a bit in the area over the years. I'd really love to continue with the historical side of things, as well as my own suggestions and reflections, but it's too much to properly explain here.

> It all seems like a giant plan to prevent people from starting their adult lives.

I agree with this;

Somewhere where high schools started "college prep" curriculums, students forgot that they were working towards a job. A high school diploma means something; it signals you're trained in core subjects more than ~40% of peers who didn't graduate with one. You should have more job prospects that being a server or cashier as you have a formal education in professional writing and even complex math.

I assume this was lost in the transition to "college prep" curriculum; where trade classes and apprenticeships in high school clearly show you are some degree of about to be an adult and able to enter the workforce in a trade.

"It all seems like a giant plan to prevent people from starting their adult lives.

If you need to just get some generic "good job", then the answer is to learn what you need in the first twelve years of school. I think that's enough time."

Some guy on the internet said 12 years is enough to get a good job so I guess its true? A number other than 12, the product of history and chance, must be a sinister plan to uh extend childhood indefinitely by some cabal for some mysterious reason.

(Full disclosure, I went to school till I was 28. It fucking ruled and I think everyone should do it if they want to).

I don't think that your response is in good faith.

Not everyone wants to spend a third of their life in school. And I have proof that it is not necessary in all cases by the existence of at least one counterexample:

I have a friend who did not receive a college degree. He is now a professional fabricator, and a better mechanical engineer than most of the mechanical engineers I went to school with

I wasn't saying _everyone_ needs to have a greater than 12 year education. I was pointing out that 12 years is an arbitrary number to place so much faith in. It was formalized in an entirely different historical moment.

> (Full disclosure, I went to school till I was 28. It fucking ruled and I think everyone should do it if they want to).

If they want to, sure. Hurrah for education-for-its-own-sake.

If 20+ years of school is what you want, go for it. But a lot of people want to move on sooner, and so we should use the first 12 years of education efficiently. High schools don't get to just pass the buck onto the college system for all the kids that they failed to educate. And students who don't use their HS opportunities well shouldn't have the excuse that they will just get a HS do-over in college (at taxpayer expense).

The idea was, "hey, there are a lot of people whose lives are too hard, but college grads seem alright, so let's make everybody college grads." But the actual situation was that there were only so many good lives to go around, and college just sorted out who got them. The obvious thing to do is directly improve life for all people, not doing some kind of trick bank shot to indirectly improve lives. Instead we have baristas with $60,000 in college debt. We ran this giant experiment to see to what extent college was productivity enhancing or merely a sorting mechanism. The results are in.

Bryan Caplan makes a compelling case for education being primarily a signal for grit and conformity: https://press.princeton.edu/titles/11225.html

Well, this vs. the parent comment is the true crux of the matter. Is college more about signaling, or is it more about giving people valuable skills? I agree Caplan makes a very compelling case for signaling, based primarily on the observable behavior of people in the system.

My pet educational reform is not 'free college for everyone', but rather that the gov't would pay out a percentage of the increase in W2 earnings before/after the education to the educational institution for a few years. The gov't would pay it, so it is not indentured servitude.

In order to get paid, the institutions would need to raise the W2 earnings of people who attended. I'd also like to see a requirement that the payouts be publicly reported, so that reports could identify which institutions were high achieving in this regard.

I personally think that reform might focus the system more on improved skills, and less on signaling and a fight for improved US news rankings.

What you’re getting at makes sense — the benefits to education are broadly distributed but there’s uncertainty to who exactly will receive them. It makes sense to diversify those risks.

But where do W2 earnings come from? The old boy network? Various kinds of privilege? Are you just creating an incentive to turbocharge existing patterns of discrimination? Elite colleges already do this by means of their endowments. If you’re the heir to a huge fortune, the college is happy to admit you, with the expectation that you’ll pay for a building with your name on it around the time your kids are applying.

Is college more about signaling, or is it more about giving people valuable skills?

Lumping all college degrees together confuses the issue. A computer science degree from a top-25 university gives you valuable skills. A philosophy degree from a non-top-25 university gives you no valuable skills.

Colleges like to describe all degrees as if they are similar, because most degrees give you no valuable skills, but the existence of really valuable degrees gives all degrees some signaling value.

Considering how there's a lot of developers doing just fine without having any degree in Computer Science, let alone a "top 25 university", I'd argue that a degree in Philosophy is more valuable.

How many people reading this right now make a very good living writing software without a “computer science degree from a top 25 university”? To what extent are those degrees also just for sorting?

A serious university comp sci program teaches you a lot. This is part of the difference between programmer and software engineer. Going to college allows you to gain advanced kmowledge and ideally do reseach of your own.

A philosophy education teaches a lot too. The discussion here is about what markets value and why that matters and why it doesn’t. I think trying to align education with private gain is the wrong approach. Society should promote human flourishing, not just numbers on a bank statement.

Ok, so who's going to pay the philosophy major? He's not necessarily worth that much. On the other hand, he's worth a lot of he learns something more practical. What would you classify as human flourishing? I think humans have flourished because of advancements in digital technology. Also, "society" is not a concrete individual that can do valuing. Again, who's going to pay a philosophy major?

Well the kind of obvious explanation for that is that success in life is probably strongly determined by intelligence. So when ~10% of the population went to college there was a high chance that those were also approximately the 10% smartest of a generation. If lots more people go to college now, that just means that it ceases to be a good predictor of success.

This has been proven. The Department of Education conducted the National Assessment of Adult Literacy in 1992 and 2003. The average score was almost identical, but the scores for college graduates plummeted. https://nces.ed.gov/naal/kf_dem_edu.asp

I mean, you could probably just sort further via what field they pursue...

When you see people with stem Masters and PhDs working as highschool teachers you begin to wonder if the problem is intelligence. Or when people with PhDs in bio/Chem are working as programmers you wonder if it's a question of talent.

The problem is that we decided to inflate education prices while deflating labor prices. You can't do both at the same time and get sane results, because each individual needs to make their labor price correspond to their (former) education price.

So you wind up with Biochem PhDs working as programmers. Neither biochemistry nor programming is for stupid people, per se, but programming hires loads of people at salaries actually commensurate with the monetized value of the time-investment spent getting a doctorate, while actual biochemistry, the field of the doctorate, has emphasized cheap labor.

A big chunk of my PhD cohort subsequently left academia, but it certainly wasn’t based on “talent” or intelligence. It was pretty much random and not at all who I would have expected from our first year.

But is that because they can't find a better job, or they just can't find a better job in academia? I find it hard to believe that someone with a Masters or PHD in stem could not find a high paying job in the tech industry. (disclosure: I didn't read the article; I'm just curious about these anecdotes I keep hearing about PHDs)

You are right but it was based on math. Graduates made $32K more per year than non graduates. But it doesn't take into account that most graduates were in careers that pay more. Doctors and lawyers can really bump the average. We needed more honest reporting of this. How much do college graduates make more per year by degree? So then people know that a BA in art history likely has a negative outcome.

Well, when we approach the problem from that angle, we have to ask what we value and why, and how that informs what work we value. Running that same analysis would find that a BA in education similarly underpays compared to private or academic STEM work, or finance, or law. So, we value work that, for example, actively undermines the stability of the economy for personal gain, or that often rent seeks on interpersonal grievances, or that drives climate change, over the raising and training youth to be positive and thoughtful contributors to society.

In that light, I wonder if that BA in art history is such a bad thing. Maybe we ought to value the work those people do more. It's a decision whether or not to do so, not some natural phenomenon of the "market" that we have no control over.

My mothers comment was that it used to be a BA in English was a valuable degree because outside of a few skilled fields employers didn't care what your degree was in. That went away with the rise of business schools. If you want to know how long the rot has been taking hold on us my mother died 25 years ago.

I also think that the value of a liberal arts degree is better not gauged solely on balance sheet economics.

I'm not disagreeing that we don't value things fairly. Just that we never were open and honest with people that these jobs won't pay more. Then add in $50K-$100K in debt and it makes the choice easier.

I still think there's a problem with the logic, even accounting for "market forces." The "shortage" of STEM workers (whether that's an actual shortage of actual capable bodies or simply a shortage of people willing to put up with being undercompensated in some regard) makes us forget that, at some point in revolutionizing college education so that it churned out only STEM graduates, you'd reach the top of the curve, the paradigm would flip to there not being enough jobs, and salaries would start to fall. What you're really saying is that those types of jobs incentivize capitalists to invest in the workforce, so we should encourage people to go for that carrot. I'm saying that the capital is already there, regardless. We should be directing that money to society's priorities (which we should actually explicitly declare), not at the whims of a relatively small class of property-holders.

I mean, the debt is also a decision. We could forgive it, if we really wanted to.

> How much do college graduates make more per year by degree?

Google [salaries by college major]. You're welcome :-)

You write: "there were only so many good lives to go around, and college just sorted out who got them."

Michal Young agrees: "A social revolution has been accomplished by harnessing schools and universities to the task of sieving people according to education's narrow band of values."


What if the problem was that some college degrees aren't useful?

Why do we assume we won't have jobs for 100% programmers? Wouldn't everyone automate every task?

Instead we have low skill grads because they never learned useful skills in college.

I guess it depends on your definition of useful. If it is purely in the economic sense, then yes, but I'd argue that misses the entire point of college.

Which was a fine argument to make when a college degree could be had with minimal or no debt at the end. The equation has changed now that a degree usually comes anchored down by significant debt.

I think going to college and then grad school provides more opportunities for innovation to take place. The debt loads of course don't help since they discourage entrepreneurship but you would hope that some enterprising state government would provide some debt / tax relief to encourage start ups in their cities.

I think it's too early to call this. Education pays off across an entire lifetime. That's in part because it takes many years for innovation to change the shape of the economy, and it is in those changes where education can really help a person thrive.

If one can't work out the value of education until 50 years after it ends, and education methods change within 50 years, can one ever assess the benefits of education?

You're conflating lack of opportunity with artificial scarcity.

The US is in a position where it spent trillions of dollars to educate young people, but then saddled them with a trillion dollars in student loans. So rather than being able to start businesses or have the breathing room to join professional organizations or otherwise build their careers gradually like in the past, graduates are forced to jump into student loan payback within 6 months or a year of graduation.

This isn't necessarily a new thing. For example, my dad was a dentist and our family struggled financially until I was about 15 (20 years after he graduated from dental school). This was due to the excessive cost of lab supplies in the medical industry, and a corrupt scheme where suppliers lend money to young practices at exorbitant interest and fees. Someone is always trying to get a piece of the action.

We should reform student loans to be the way that Stripe is doing it. A flat fee on the order of about 10% added to the original loan amount, then 0% interest for the life of the loan, and a maximum repayment each month of perhaps 5-20% of declared income.

That way college graduates could explore their career space, potentially for years, and then pay back their loans after they're established and actually have income.

Better yet, go back to how it used to be before Ronald Reagan and fund college publicly, and put more resources into building new campuses. The money for that is there, it's just been misappropriated for the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, big pharma, the war on drugs, you get the picture.

My generation (gen x) thought that war was over after Vietnam, and we certainly didn't vote for any war on drugs, or foresee the return of racism/sexism/nationalism or that essentially all of the federal government's disposable income would go to tax breaks for the wealthy and increase the national debt to the point where our children and grandchildren would be poorer than us.

^^^ This was a grave concern of the founding fathers, who realized that one generation could run up the debt and enslave the next generation without their permission, effectively disenfranchising them, which is illegal as there is no taxation without representation, so that presents an existential threat to our union as serious as colonialism.

I've been watching this same song and dance since I was a kid in the 80s, and my parents spoke often about how devastating it was to their generation when JFK, RFK and MLK were assassinated and Nixon got elected. Heck some people reading this weren't even born yet when 9/11 happened. Believe it or not, there was a time before this decades-long Middle East war swallowed the money that was going to pay for your future.

Which is why I think that all of this is by design. Artificial scarcity begets income inequality begets class strife begets political division begets the rise of a new global aristocracy.

These people are trying to create an American cultural revolution, like China's, in the 1960s.

My son went to the toughest high school in California. He didn't become a national merit commended student because "oh Californians are just simply smarter than Iowans so we have moved the goalposts for California kids". He scored 34 on the ACT = 1500 on the SAT because of hard work and sacrifice but he wasn't allowed into ANY "selective" schools because "oh your ZIP code indicates you are privileged and you must have crammed for the SAT. And hey did you hear the news? The SAT means nothing! ". He only did 4 hours of homework per night but was in a school district which educated kids from arguably the #1 University in the USA so the competition was stiff. He was embarrassed and shamed by his friends for having a B+ GPA.

He was forced to go to a state school 3000 miles away which accepts 70% of applicants - at huge tuition cost - because it was a backwards state school not implementing "The new cultural revolution!". He applied to 12 schools - none "most selective", none "extremely selective", 1 "highly selective", and 9 "moderately selective" and was admitted to 2 of the lowest schools on the "moderately selective" list. The next rank lower is "admits everyone".

Meanwhile I know parents who pulled their kids out of the toughest high school because class rank is THE ONLY THING that universities care about. They sent their kid to a low income school and their achievement test scores plummeted. Their strategy was to "win by slackibg," in the new cultural revolution! This is so they could get into Harvard and so that Harvard could feel good about itself and assuage its white guilt.

My son's dad is self made, losing his own dad at age 13. The dad took many financial risks and moved twice to be in better school districts, to challenge the son. His mom came from dirt in China (daughter of a hotel maid). Their hard work has been classified as "privileged background" by virtue of their zip code. The parents inherited $50k total and were both self made and lived like paupers until age 35 to advance their educations, then took high risk unstable jobs to catch up in life...

Wait, who told him about this? I was a NMS finalist (which is as far as you can get on test scores alone) but no one mentioned to me why I didn't get further.

Getting a scholarship past finalist status is kind of subjective and dumb. 2/3 of them (scholarships) are from corporate sponsors. Meaning you get them if you’re a finalist and your parent works at a sponsor org.

The money is small either way, but you can leverage the finalist title hard at some schools. I, somehow, got a full tuition ride for that stupid test. My school stopped offering that much a year later but I’m sure there are others that still do.

The NMS has different PSAT score requirements by state.

Yes, but check your sibling comment. I had a high enough score but that's not the only requirement. And no one gave a specific reason I wasn't chosen, I just got a form letter saying none of the sponsors picked me.

What program/field did your son want to enter? I know of at least one engineering school (mine) that would have accepted him in a heartbeat and is decently selective for a public school.

On the otherhand, the story of being a high acheiver/worker and getting basically no aid or 'scholarships' rings a bell. I'll never understand why a single income family deserves more in aid then a two income family when having a second income is often just preference and not necessarilly financial hardship or difficulty finding a job.

The aid system is all messed up. I looked at going back and am wondering why I'm considered to the IRS, but not schools

Based on past experiences, I wonder if you had a daughter would they have an equal amount of struggle. I'm guessing there would still be zip code discrimination but it wouldn't be as large.

Could depend on the school and the major. Seems like women have an easier path to get into top engineering schools, whereas men have an easier time for top liberal arts colleges.


There is so much misinformation here on college admissions.

First, class rank is not reported by a majority of high schools, and many top high schools specifically for the reasons you mentioned. Beyond that, the class rank statistics don't often apply to top schools because regional admissions officers know the schools well and would rather have a middle of the pack student from a top high school than a top 10% from school X. Regional adcoms exist exactly for this purpose, and the top schools have more than anyone else. Colleges weigh GPA, test scores, course rigor, essay, and extracurriculars the highest by far.

You list your son's test scores, but don't list his GPA and course rigor beyond B+, which if I take that on a 4.0 scale is a 3.3ish. That sets him up to be an imbalanced applicant (by test scores compared to GPA) for most schools in the top 50ish by selectivity, especially if he wasn't taking the highest course rigor available to him. I'm guessing the "moderately selective" schools were hanging around a 30-45% acceptance rate yeah? UC's are tough for instate Californians (plenty of issues there but it's not a cultural thing or zip code thing).

> he wasn't allowed into ANY "selective" schools because "oh your ZIP code indicates you are privileged and you must have crammed for the SAT. And hey did you hear the news? The SAT means nothing!"

Go pull up the Common Data Sets for all the schools he was rejected from. You'll find top SAT/ACT scores all over it. You'll also find top other things too. Your son was rejected because college admissions are getting more and more selective and his GPA didn't match his test scores. Essay and EC's can always factor in as well, though it's hard to know how those affected him. But I can assure you his zip code was not a factor - the most geographic diversity colleges look for is by state.

By the way, your son didn't have to pay much tuition with its scores. Many schools give out automatic scholarships for those test scores, regardless of NMF status.

The national merit scholar thing is stupid on many axes. For one, its just a formula on your SAT score, we already have an SAT score, why is there some official entity awarding prizes based on a simple function of that score? Colleges can use whatever function they want. The whole thing should go away.

Despite the name, the National Merit Scholarship program is a private entity affiliated with Northwestern University.

It isn't official in any way; it is simply a scholarship for students with high scores on a particular test.

The only effect that it 'going away' would have, would be to discourage intelligent students from attending colleges they otherwise could not afford.

It never made any sense to me either. I scored 1600 on the PSAT and got a stupid letter. Big deal. It didn't matter then and hasn't mattered since.

All of my time before and during college would have been better spent focusing on meeting people and forging relationships with successful people than worrying about academics.

This is the secret unspoken script underlying the whole dialog about college admissions. Membership in an exclusive club. I got into a good school and blew it because I didn't have the wisdom to see through the tatemae about college and academia generally. Don't be foolish like me.

Be advised that as SOON as you pay the $80 admission fee to that college, the college's rank (and bank account) goes up.

You either raise the stats of the student body, and get admitted.

Or you would lower the stats of the student body, therefore, you are rejected, RAISING the "selectivity" of the college.

One of those stats is number of national merit scholars, finalists, and commended students. Believe it!

National Merit status is based on your PSAT score.

Lots of schools don’t even report rank, and you’re fine to not include it, so that can’t possibly be the only thing they consider

This year, 8x more people got a PERFECT score on the SAT, than just 3 years ago. So the universities decided - rather suddenly - to ignore achievement, hey let's use another metric, like zipcode and class rank and gpa, to determine admissions!

The SAT changed the scale, that's why.

Wouldn't a perfect score be perfect regardless of the scale?

You can actually get questions wrong sometimes, but they also made the questions easier.

So don't send your kid to the toughest high school in California?

You now that inheriting $50K is a bit privileged, right?

And NMS Commended Scholar doesn't mean anything?

Have you considered you are actually Hispanic, but didn't know it?

Census Definition: "The 2010 Census asked if the person was "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino". The United States Census uses the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."

"other Spanish culture" can mean literally anything. I personally consider California heavily influenced by Spanish culture, so by virtue of you living there, you are Hispanic according to that definition. Race is not a component of of being Hispanic, only culture.

> Hispanic, but didn't know it?

The flip side of this is that my son can legitimately (in the eyes of anybody who might question that legitimacy) claim hispanic heritage: his mother immigrated to the US from Mexico 25 years ago. I’m pushing him to study as hard as he can because I suspect that any college he applies to will accept him just to tick the “admitted a hispanic” checkbox on their annual diversity report, and I’m worried that he’s going to end up surrounded by people who have more academic achievement than he has and find himself struggling to keep up.

Only you and your family will know how well your son is prepared. It's up to you to help guide him into the best decision.

Bitter much? Admissions is complicated and golden tickets are rare.

The PSAT based National Merit designations vary by maybe 10+/- points across states because they normalize to the top 1% per state rather than the top 1% nationally, and to the extent that National Merit means anything it's not entirely nonsensical to do so.

That said, being a one-track academic box checker is only going to hurt your child in the long run, as will dwelling this kind of thing instead of making the best of it.

Likewise, I know many people who got into pretty solid colleges and programs despite being "flawed gems" as their interests and accomplishments more than made up for the fact that they maybe had specific subject weaknesses or weren't carbon copies of every other high-GPA box-checker.

I also know many people who turned down prestigious schools (Cornell, University of Chicago, etc.,) to do interesting and fairly unique programs at less known schools and who have done quite well.

Also, parents having tough backgrounds isn't the same as children having tough backgrounds. By your own words you skimped and sacrificed to give your kid advantages, and that those advantages are recognized is only reasonable.

And if despite all those advantages your kid hasn't developed any aspect in particular to set them apart (and let's face it, for the most part test scores and grades are more about being par than being apart or ahead), why should anybody be going out of their way to recruit them? (For many out of state schools the only reason they bother is more tuition money.)

> Bitter much?

This is really tone deaf.

My view is that everyone should study calculus more or less for the same reason we almost all study Shakespeare or The Bill of Rights or whatever. Its an enormous human accomplishment whose cultural impact virtually cannot be overstated and a basic understanding of these sorts of things is the birthright of every human being alive.

Sure, but calculus is even less tangible than Shakespeare and the Bill of Rights. Good luck getting the folks who don’t care or struggled through algebra to stay engaged.

Scratching my head...that just isn't true. For example go throw a rock into the sky and watch its path. Calculus. Very tangible.

I'm curious how you envision a calculus class that would make the topic more tangible. I think we can agree that typical calculus classes are more abstract (for lack of a better term) than typical english, history, or science classes.

Physics and calculus should be taught as a single class, it's a mistake when they are separated.

I'm a physicist and it happens to be the case for me that I didn't really _get_ math until I understood I could do physics with it. So you'd think I'd agree.

But after I was sensitized to it by physics, I've come to see pure mathematics as just as interesting and worthy of being taught standalone. In fact, one does mathematics an enormous disservice by suggesting that its tightly coupled with physics. Roger Penrose himself points this out in The Road to Reality: mathematics is actually substantially larger than that part of it which we require for physics. That fact alone is fascinating.

The pitch I'd give for pure mathematics is that its really the study of precisely what we all do on a daily basis when we "reason" about things. Our daily experience suggests reasoning is useful and in many ways concrete, but a detailed study of the process almost immediately produces challenges and paradoxes and great landscapes of mystery.

I agree that mathematics is much bigger than applied mathematics. However, for precisely this reason, pure mathematics, like philosophy, isn't for everyone.

The main argument for teaching it this way is a pedagogical one. If it took physics to prompt the geniuses of the day to discover calculus, then following in their footsteps is probably the easiest way for us to get there as well.

I think philosophy is much more for everyone than physics or mathematics. I can't conceive of a model of the human condition which I would want to adhere to that said philosophy wasn't for everyone.

We _all_ think about value and about the relationship between what we think and what happens in the world and these are the fundamental elements of philosophy. If people feel that philosophy isn't for them, its a failure of the teachers rather than the people.

Its my opinion, anyway, that children don't always know or appreciate what they ought to learn and that adults do them a disservice when they fail to teach them that which is not immediately interesting just because they don't want to learn it.

Some amount of practical philosophy or received wisdom is necessary for everyone, just like some amount of mathematical awareness. The formal study of philosophy as a discipline, like that of pure mathematics, is not for everyone. For most people it would be deeply unpleasant for almost no benefit.

I'm not 100% sure if I agree with this or not, but a related idea is that physics shouldn't be taught without the necessary math as a pre- or co-requisite. I'm thinking particularly of non-calc-based mechanics classes, which I loathe.

Another definition of tangible is "clear and definite; real". In that sense, abstract mathematical concepts are certainly less tangible than those other two examples.

Throwing a rock into the sky isn't "doing calculus", in the same way that the first caveman to throw a rock didn't "discover calculus".

> Its an enormous human accomplishment whose cultural impact virtually cannot be overstated

That's just your opinion. I think Shakespeare is trash. I don't think most people can even comprehend the Bill of Rights.

We should replace Shakespeare with Super Mario. Outside of socialite circles, literally no one cares about Shakespeare. How many kids you see walking around in Shakespeare T-shirts or reading Shakespeare on the school bus? Those kids are into Super Mario, and so are many adults. Super Mario is the embodiment of art, international relations, technology and engineering of the sum-total of humanity at the time. Shakespeare is just some words.

I'm rolling my eyes so hard they could fall out of my head. You can only form an opinion about Shakespeare (or Mario (though the kids are into Fortnight these days, they tell me)) if you are exposed to them. Both things have enormous cultural importance and are part of the human experience and all people deserve to be able to engage critically in culture.

Shakespeare very well could be trash. The Bill of Rights is by and large a shockingly hypocritical document. But both are part of our history, along with a lot of other stuff about which we could say all sorts of things visa vi what ought to be in a curriculum. But my point is that humans deserve to know their history and their culture and that takes resources and time and energy which are, in the final analysis, justified by the inherent dignity and rights of people.

> But both are part of our history

Shakespeare is not part of my history, I'm not English, nor am I anglo-american. Shakespeare was never important, only popular, but that's easily confused in the US. Just one of the first generations of celebrity-worship culture.

> humans deserve to know their history and their culture

People get culture from family and society, not from government run schools.

>And over the last couple of decades, there’s been a rapid but uneven growth of students taking AP Calculus in high school. Low-income students are much less likely to attend schools that offer AP Calculus—and then they often end up in freshman calculus at college sitting next to lots of well-off students who have already taken the equivalent of freshman calculus in high school.

Complete anecdote here, but I did not take AP Calculus in high school. Many of my Calculus I classmates had taken AP Calculus in high school. However, taking AP Calculus in high school did not seem to provide them any advantages, in fact it seemed to disadvantage them. The issue was that they had learned the various formulas for derivatives, etc but had not gotten a deep appreciation for limits. At the college level, understanding and appreciating the concept of limits was much more important than memorizing formulas ( IIRC they actually provided the formulas for you during the test). Many of the students who had taken AP were frustrated when the problems were not amenable to a blind application of formulas, and required deeper understanding of limits.

When I took our equivalent to AP calculus, it was basically just plug'n chug - not a whole lot of conceptual or intuitive learning. Hell, I didn't even learn the definition of the derivative until first year at college, using limits.

Should be noted though, that this was long before the advent of youtube and all the excellent learning channels / resources you have today. So much of the math and physics would have been a breeze given the tools and options we have to day.

That's because most high school math teachers in america don't know calculus and have a poor understanding of basic math concepts. I had a few math classes with students from the teachers college while getting my math degree and they were consistently the worst performing students.

Re: YouTube it really is amazing. I got an engineering degree circa 2004 and am not proud to say have only recently finally grasped many concepts that I “learned” and was tested on back then. (Esp in mathematics) The quality of educational materials on YouTube is exceptional.

If they were in Cal 1 and had taken AP Calc, they probably didn't do particularly well on the AP test or they would have tested out.

Not necessarily...

my son started a mechanical engineering program about 2 weeks ago, and the recommendation from the school was to take Calc at the college even if the student had passed the AP test.

I understand their interests in that, but I also feel like even if my son had done better on the AP test I'd have encouraged him to follow that advice, given how much of the following curriculum relied on that base.

I got the same advice when I got to college with my heaping pile of AP and IB test credits. In retrospect, I should have focused solely on my major, eschewed the double minor and "honors" classes, and graduated in six semesters of very light study.

Instead, I took some chemistry classes that I already technically had a double-cover of test credits for.

If the kid got a 5 on the AP test, no college should ever be telling them to take the course anyway. If they got a 4, that advice should be rare, and confined to classes on the degree track. Maybe if they squeaked by with a 3, and somewhat important to the major, that might be good advice, depending on the student. Otherwise, if the institution does not have confidence in the test, it shouldn't be granting credit for it!

" Otherwise, if the institution does not have confidence in the test, it shouldn't be granting credit for it! "

Having taught at the expensive and prestigious institution in question, I can say that there may be a gap between what the institution has faith in and what the instructors experience.

I mean, yeah, if it's a class outside of your major then sure. My son (and I, when I went) skipped freshman comp. I encourage my son to get through via whatever means is easiest, and in his case, I believe it's getting some extra time in the seat in a calc class.

If there is a gap between "the institution" and "the instructors", that is a problem large enough to overwhelm any problems that may exist in standardized testing.

The motive of an instructor is presumably to ensure that, by the end of a course, every student will be adequately prepared to meet a minimum standard of knowledge, regardless of their preparedness prior to the beginning of the course (subject to prerequisites). At a wider scope, the instructor, as a member of an instructional department, is also motivated to progress students towards possession of a total body of knowledge deemed adequate by their peers to either practice in the field, or continue on to a more intense program of academic study.

The institution is motivated to collect tuition, receive grants, accumulate prestige, and pester alumni to support goals that are not necessarily academic in nature. The only instructional goal is to produce graduates that will not embarrass the institution.

The student is motivated primarily to get a degree that is their admission ticket to a broad swath of jobs otherwise unavailable to anyone without a degree. They are motivated secondarily to actually learn about subjects that interest them personally. The student's sole reason to take SAT, ACT, AP, IB, CLEP, &cetera is because the academic institutions reward those passing test scores.

The principle in play is that it should not be necessary to instruct any person that already has the knowledge. If the standardized tests are insufficient to establish that, the instructors should then be applying the same methods they use on students that have taken their courses, on prospective students that have not, and only recommend taking a course that would otherwise not be required by the institution, when it can be shown that the standardized test signaled a false positive.

That is, a passing score on the test should not automatically grant credit, but should allow a brief interview with a professor that teaches the relevant course, who can then determine by any means they care to use whether or not the student already possesses the knowledge to pass. If too many false positives are found, the institution can then revise its treatment of the test scores.

Some schools give generic credits but still require freshman students to take the "core" classes there. I'm pretty sure (it's been a few years) I got 6 credit hours towards graduation but still had to take Calc I and Freshman English. I did avoid having to take college level Spanish but I don't think I got any credit hours for it.

Well, when I was a student I tested out of the 2 freshman comp classes. When I was teaching Freshman Comp, it was routine for folks to test out of one or both.

I dunno if that was a great idea, given the skills I was seeing on display from the students who had done that, but personally I did get the credit and was able to avoid the class.

My university thought so poorly of the AP Calc exams that they didn't let engineering majors test out of their applied calculus courses.

Interesting - my daughters both took Calculus in high school and they spent a lot of time on limits prior to learning the rote mechanics of derivatives. I was surprised by that - after 30 years of practice using derivatives I'd sort of forgotten the basics and was pleasantly suprised to see how in-depth the curriculum at our high school is.

Having said that - the big problem is that in high school it's really hard to appreciate what good calculus is, whether you understand it or not. Once you're a practicing scientist or engineer it becomes obvious.

My high school calculus class was similar. I remember spending so much time on limits that our introduction to derivatives was to "invent" derivatives as a last question on our limits exam.

Anecdata vs. Anecdata: My high school calculus course (AP Calc BC, so college Calc I and II) was phenomenal. It let me jump into Calc III at college and get an A+.

Ideas that there is a huge difference in high school vs. college math is more that there is a huge difference in math teachers and course expectations.

Yeah that was my experience too. I did a lot of calculus in high school, but it was.. High School Calculus, and I was definitely good at doing high school plug-and-chug math.

College math is entirely different and I think the arrogance from the former worked against me. In retrospect I should have just taken actual college classes.

My high school AP Calc BC was good and prepared me for both getting a 5 on the exam and the subsequent classes. Letting high schoolers take college courses should be much more of a thing than it currently is. There is some dual enrollment, but we have a situation where there are large number of students ready for college courses at the beginning of high school. The local Basis Independent school has all students take AP World History in 8th grade.

We have a thing called "high school" that is completely unstandardized. How someone as smart as Paul Tough really believes that GPA from one school can be compared to GPA from another is beyond me.

I really wish I hadn't taken AP Calculus in high school. I sort of got it, but it wasn't intense enough to really grab me and my study habits were non-existent. I took multi-variable calculus as a freshman and was mostly in over my head despite my B+/A- (thanks curve!), and that was it for me and math. Definitely contributes to my impostor syndrome when doing anything more computer sciencey than a CRUD app.

I took AP calc in high school, but paid 0 attention and basically plugged all problems into a solver and passed with a mediocre grade. I didn't even end up going to school after that.

> Definitely contributes to my impostor syndrome when doing anything more computer sciencey than a CRUD app.

Agreed, I've started working on low level side projects that involve more math and theory and often find I kicking myself for not caring in school and not furthering my education

Well, it’s never too late, you know! I stumbled through my own CS degree putting as little effort into the math classes as possible - I saw them as a roadblock/filter I had to get through rather than anything particularly useful. Then, a few years after graduation I was doing some graphics work and I had to create a block arrow that could orient itself in any direction. I started working through the calculations to determine the slope of a line and the slope of the perpendicular line and I kept thinking, “man, I know I learned this in algebra, I sure wish I remembered any of it…”. So I picked up a used algebra textbook and read through it and worked some examples until I understood it. I’ve been re-making my way back up through my math education that way on and off for years (I’m up to differential equations now) and it’s actually sort of pleasant since I can take as long as I want or just put it away and come back to it later when I feel like it. I get some odd glances from people when I pull out a calculus textbook (“are you taking a class or something?”), but I understand it all _way_ better than I ever did as an undergraduate. Plus which, I’m able to help my kids with their math homework because all this stuff is actually fresh in my mind.

I do a whole lot of stuff "more computer sciencey than a CRUD app", and I took a whole lot of calclus thanks to my computer engineering degree. I absolutely never use it. You need calculus to design a transistor. So far, I've yet to run into a situation where I need calculus to write code unless the code is literally solving a calc problem, which comes up incredible infrequently.

> I've yet to run into a situation where I need calculus

Actually, gradient descent and Lagrange multipliers come up quite a bit in machine learning. Of course, you can just apply them without understanding them just like you can apply the graphics formulas for rotational motion without understanding them, but when something does go wrong, it sure helps to understand the principles behind them.

Linear algebra and calculus are an essential part of machine learning. I use my knowledge of these topics almost daily

You need Bose Einstein Statistical Mechanics (or QM or...) to design a transistor.

This is such an important topic. During my years in law school, I oversaw a volunteer mentoring program that brought 5th grade kids from a local Title 1 school into the law building and paired them with law student mentors who helped with homework for 1 hour a week. The year ended with the law students assisting the kids in a mock trial presentation. One of the aims of the program was to help these kids feel comfortable in a setting of Higher Education, and to give them the opportunity to associate with/ask questions of graduate students. Many of the kids had never been on a college campus, or came from homes where no other family member had attended college. The law professor who founded the program, Brett Scharffs, has written more extensively regarding the program, and his findings are much more than simply anecdotal regarding how programs such as these can give kids a leg up, or at least give them a vision of what "can be". I agree whole-heartedly with Paul Tough's statement that higher education and social mobility have become very intertwined.

"Their high school grades had turned out to be much better predictors of their academic ability and college potential than their SAT scores."

I have to admit I'm surprised by this, but it seems to be backed up by research: "As SAT scores are a more consistent indicator of aptitude, one might expect them to better predict a student’s chances of graduating college than high school GPA. But Chingos’ research shows exactly the opposite." [0]

By the way, I enjoyed reading Paul Tough's previous book "How Children Succeed" - if you are curious, here is a great excerpt from that book: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5721868

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/prestoncooper2/2018/06/11/what-...

The SAT score buckets in the analysis max out at >1100 so not very useful. The grade buckets are also not very useful as the top range 3.67 - 4.00 probably includes > 50% of students at most schools (thanks, grade inflation). It also fails to adjust for college difficulty. Students in the >1100 bucket are obviously going to more difficult schools than the <800 bucket.

This isn't really all that surprising to me given the goal of the study is to define who are the candidates most likely to succeed at continuing to practice the same set of characteristics that got them to college in the first place (e.g. work habits and endurance).

I had a similar surprise when I first saw that data, but it does look to be solid. The conclusions drawn from it, leave a little more to be desired, as I think these newer studies seem to forget that there have been numerous studies regarding SAT/ACT's and GPA as predictors for college success.

I'm not an expert on this topic, so I googled a few older studies, (and skimmed them). The trend of SAT/ACTs being relatively good predictors for college GPA's seems to continue up until around 2008, at which point it starts to diverge more appreciably.

(2001) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e2a8/25cfc687ce1be8be48a693... (2003) https://eml.berkeley.edu/~jrothst/publications/rothstein_sat... (2006) https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED563073.pdf (2008) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S01602...

There are tons of variables to all of this, but its a hard sell to suggest that SAT's have always been poor predictors of college GPA. To me, it seems more likely that changes to both the testing and to the way colleges are run over the past ~30+ years is likely the root cause. College was already like glorified HS when I was there, I can only imagine how bad its gotten over the past few years. And if college is copying high school, is it really surprising that HS GPA is aligning with college GPA's?

> dominated by students from wealthy families.

SAT prep might be correlated, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. I grew up in the poor suburbs of Detroit, and nobody was talking about college when I was a kid. I’d say 3/4 of the kids I went to primary school with didn’t even apply to college. Now that I’m in the “wealthy” suburbs of Dallas, though, the kids that my kids go to school (and my kids) have been talking about college admissions since they were in elementary. If you grow up with parents who went to college and who can probably afford to send you to one, it’s just part of the atmosphere.

Rich kids are connected. How many poor kids get personally tutored by someone gifted in math? Rich parents can not only afford it, but have the network to convey the demand in the first place.

It's not just a test score thing, parents legitimately want their kids to be better than them, to not be an embarrassment, to live a good life, take your pick. A rich person knows this means education as much as it means test scores.

Rich kids get fancy tutoring for free from highly educated family and friends.

Absolutely, this is something I've been saying for ages.

People from upper middle and upper-class families know what it takes to land a prestigious job at the banks / law firms / consulting firms / etc. Chances are they themselves work at such firms, or that family members / friends do.

Kids naturally want to do what their parents or other mentors do, so they get exposure to those professions early on, just by association.

The parents will start investing early on, and depending on where you live, it can start already at pre-school age. Sounds ridiculous, but that's how it is in some circles.

So by the time they're 13, they know how important grades are, along with the correct extracurricular activities. Everything is laid out for the kids to succeed and maximize their chance at top schools - which in turn feeds them into the professional world.

I'm from a very rural place myself, where like 5% of my HS class went college or university - and it could go years between students that went to prestigious schools, and even less that joined the ranks of investment banks, HF, PE, management consulting firms, biglaw or boutiques, etc.

By luck I got in touch with a good mentor that had worked in high-finance for years, and had the same type of background as me. His advice was for me to play the "country boy from nowhere, trying to make it big in the city" image, because it was so removed from the homogeneous mass you'd see in the financial district.

Firms love to prop up people like that for PR and hiring.

"Look at us, our hiring is so diverse and inclusive - here's our analyst form a third-world country, here's our minority, here's our first gen college grad! ...But never mind that 80% of our hires share the same socio-economic background..."

When I got accepted into a top school which feeds students into finance and consulting, I immediately noticed that the majority of kids came from the same wealthy areas. Had to forego a ton of off-campus student activities, because I couldn't cough up hundreds to thousands of bucks for skiing trips at luxury resorts, sailing events, etc.

Why not skip college and just have a standardized test to get a degree?

It used to be possible to become an engineer that way. If you had enough experience working with licensed engineers, and got recommendations from two or three of them, you could take the PE exam without any academic credentials beyond high school.

Sadly, even engineering has become credentials-obsessed now.

I think with some things this is possible. Start a school that is just about testing. Make sure it has a good reputation for catching cheaters. Post the passing grades online, with a photo of the student. Some people/employers just want written documentation.

>Post the passing grades online, with a photo of the student

This goes against FERPA.

Wester Governors University is like that to some extent. A class is completed when you pass a test. So some people that already have the knowledge get the degree pretty quickly.


What would you test?

What does college serve as, other than simply a testing service?

Four years to "find yourself", get drunk, and generally waste time? That's what the majority of people do (in the US at least).

The majority of my undergraduate classes amounted to:

* practicing reading * practicing writing * practicing participating in group discussions * practicing demonstrating concepts (maths and proofs) * practicing a second language

For most of those courses, I could have been handed a syllabus of topics to learn on my own, and then taken a final exam- I'd already had plenty of practice writing and speaking at that point outside of school, so everything but the second language requirement for my degree could have boiled down to a few weeks or months.

Having access to professors, multiple subject areas, libraries, laboratories, computing environments, field-excursion opportunities, alumni networks, university partnerships, visiting vaculty, lecture programmes (both inside and outside ordinary course materials), and opportunities to meet and know students from a wide range of backgrounds, interests, inclinations, personal histories, and political inclinations, are all part of my own college experience.

There was also introduction to specific skills, some of which proved useful, and subject areas. Numerous of my courses outside my major areas of study or even areas of general interest have proved highly durable and relevant, in ways I could never have guessed. The opportunity to develop my own skills in research and areas of interest as well.

And, I realise several decades later, numerous missed opportunities.

Along with some socialising.

I'm not of the view that uni is for everyone, or that its benefits (or financing) are fairly sold. But it most definitely can and does have considerable value.

I very much support achievement based credentialing. Like earning an Eagle Scout. With two caveats.

There still needs to be minimum hours invested. Skin in the game. Even someone with mastery over a topic must still do something constructive, useful, formative. Work on a project. Mentor, tutor others. Teachers assistant. Whatever.

For undergraduate degrees, there still needs to be off topic study. Ethics, humanities, finger painting, banging the rocks together, study abroad, whatever. Anything to expose young minds to stuff outside of their own bubble.

So you set an hour limit that is appropriate for the average person and ensure that 50% of people are not ready and the other half are wasting their time.

Are you criticizing the current system? Or my proposal?

Criticizing the part of your proposal that would require a minimum time investment.

Because everything worth knowing is in a book or on a test? Because experience doesn't matter?

No matter. What's your plan?

I'm sad that at least two people prefer Taylorism (grades) over humanism (achievement).

“In his new book, The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us, Paul Tough explores this divide, and interrogates whether going to college has become a privilege of wealth and whether it can still lift people out of economic insecurity.”

How the hell do you “interrogate” an abstract proposition? We may as well not even have words if we’re going to use them this thoughtlessly.

This article also illustrates what is clearly the biggest problem with standardized testing... those stupid tiny desks!

Does anyone in the photo from the article look remotely comfortable? How are you supposed to focus on the material in a potentially-life-altering test when your adult sized body is crammed into a chair arguably sized for someone in middle-school, with your writing work-space only slightly larger (or possibly even smaller) then your papers and shoved directly against your body?

> "The most selective institutions, she found, spend a lot more on each undergraduate than other colleges do, and they give a significant boost in lifetime earnings, on average, to the students they enroll."

OR rich kids tend to go to rich colleges (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) and were predisposed to high incomes anyway -- one study showed that rich kids WITHOUT college degrees earn more than poor kids WITH them [1].

> "It has more or less always been true that the SAT, on balance, benefits college applicants who already enjoy lots of financial and social advantages."

Here's the problem with this analysis: what's the alternative? 50 years of education research no one's come up with a more meritocratic method than GPA + test scores. What, you going to rely on personal essays? And you think that's a fair, objective standard??

If not that, then what? Mandatory racial quotas like Carranza is trying to implement in NYC high schools?

> "Their high school grades had turned out to be much better predictors of their academic ability and college potential than their SAT scores."

What was the sample size he interviewed? A cohort of ~3.3 mil students graduate high school every year and ~66% apply to college, so it's a total population of around 2.2 million students going to college every year. Did he get a representative sample size? I doubt it.

Research has consistently shown the data with the highest correlation coefficient of first-year GPA (FGPA) in college are standardized test scores + GPA [2]. This should be common sense, there's obviously wildly different standards in high schools across America, GPA by itself is a noisy signal.

> "If they lived in Michigan or Virginia or North Carolina, they would be unlikely to be admitted to their state’s flagship university. But in Texas, their hard work in high school earns them admission to the finest university in the state."

Yes, but how many qualified out-of-state students were excluded from admission because of this system? If the goal was to admit a cohort of the most academically qualified student body then this system is, by definition, unfair and not meritocratic.

Let me say I am very much pro-diversity. But a lot of what Paul Tough is selling here is wishful thinking -- essentially throwing out standardized testing in favor of high school curricula, which the research shows is uneven and not a meritocratic standard.

[1] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2016/02...

[2] https://facultysenate.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/...

The article mentions Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as examples of people who succeeded without college, but I find that to be absurd. Being accepted into Harvard and then intentionally dropping out after 2 years is all the difference in the world from never applying to college.

Not to mentioned that they could afford to try and fail.

It's been discussed to death, but the sad fact of life is that a lot of elite students from unresourceful simply can't take the chance on playing the startup game. They don't have the money, and can't risk potentially throwing away 5-10 years on a pipe dream (statistically speaking).

Rich kids with money and connections can afford that. They can graduate from HYPS, try to startup route, and if all fails - no worries, they can always go back to the traditional career route, albeit a bit delayed.

Ask a first gen HYPS student from low or lower middle-class what their plans are; Probably not a 12-month "ideating" leisure trip to SV on their family money.

I'm afraid I have to disagree. The key ingredient is unusually high IQ, not money. If I had a choice between being born with a very high IQ or in a moderately wealthy family (10s of millions), I'd choose the 1st without thinking. The family money rather reduce chances of striking success because they make people lazy from childhood. A 12 month trip to SV gives exactly nothing by itself. We could randomly select 1000 college grads, give them 100k and send them to SV for 1 year. The success rate will be 0.0%. What really helps on the SV path is (1) very high intelligence and (2) real industry experience. If you have the former, you can get the latter by joining one of the few known firms and spend there a decade. Then use your savings and connections to try your own idea. I don't see how family money help to skip that decade of experience or how they help to become smart.

In which the author, who dropped out of college, describes how Calculus is designed to be a "gatekeeper to college success for students", says that this is "good for student confidence", but also that he personally "wouldn't re-enroll and finish his BA".

I graduated with a degree in history. I am now a front end developer.

STEM classed and SATs are a hazing experiment. They are a distraction from getting a job and delivering value and enjoying life

I highly doubt either of those are hazing experiments. STEM knowledge (and indirectly, classes) are extremely relevant for many very important professions. The SATs were supposed to be a standardized way to gauge college-preparedness by colleges because GPAs are subject to many per-school disturbances (inflation, etc.) I would actually the SATs are outdated, but neither they nor STEM courses are "hazing experiments".

I think the parent is maybe using hyperbolic language, but I think, at least from my direct experience and second hand accounts, it is fair to say that, especially entry level and foundational, courses in STEM in US universities are used to "thin the herd". At my state school O-Chem and Physics I contributed to high drop and repeat-take rates. These things sure feel like "hazing" especially when you are told and then experience that the upper division courses are nothing like that, and you are suddenly treated better, from an intellectual standpoint.

This is exactly what I was trying to convey. Additionally, how crazy is it that I am able to work in an analytical capacity as a Software Engineer despite never having taken such difficult courses.

The notion that I can't ever in my life do technical work because I didn't pay $3,000 each for a B- in Orgo or Calc I or Intro to Comp Sci? Laughable.

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