Around the Ed

Today we’re taking a departure from our regular Around the Web feature to discuss the academy and the business of higher education in a themed column. Also I had a bunch of these higher ed links and needed to get out from under them. To the Interwebs!

Let’s kick things off with another one of those awesome RSAnimate features: Sir Ken Robinson, on Changing Education Paradigms.

Getting into College

  • This graph visualizes data showing a very strong correlation between household income and student performance on the SAT. So if a student performs poorly on the SAT, as it appears that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to do, where should they turn for access to higher education? Perhaps the for-profit industry?

For-Profit Higher Ed

  • Here’s one law firm’s blog that invites you to follow their multiple class-action lawsuits against Westwood College in California, Wisconsin, Texas, and Colorado. These student testimonials are terrifying: hard sell tactics to get students to enroll, earning credits that don’t transfer even to community college, students picking up $75k in debt for a bachelors, and the school doesn’t even have accreditation.
  • The State of Oregon sues the University of Phoenix, the largest of the for-profits, for defrauding the state public employees retirement fund allegedly misrepresenting its income by failing to account for losses due to students dropping out of classes. The state also alleges that students were billed for classes they didn’t take.

Tuition and Fees

  • Inside Higher Ed reports what we already know, in the economic downturn when states are financially strained budget cuts to higher education are made up for in tuition hikes.
  • But both the WaPo and the NYT were reporting that the net cost of going to college is lower today than it was in 2005 because financial aid has risen at a faster rate than tuition. Yeah, and how long will that last?
  • Student debt is arguably the best measure for the real cost of going to college and according to this report the Class of 2009 is, on average, picking up $18k-$28k in debt. Here’s the interactive map. Note: students at for-profit colleges who may borrow as much as 45% more than their peers were not included in the study.
  • Hey, if your institution needs extra bucks why not do like this Minnesota high school is doing and sell ad space on the walls? Ayn Rand is big with teenagers anyways, so they’re probably down with corporate sponsorship, right?

Higher Ed: What’s the Point?

  • As Robinson points out in the RSA feature above, many college students are enculturated to believe that if they go to college they will receive a job upon graduation. And perhaps there was a time when that was plausible. Hell, there was a time when it seemed plausible that a 40 hour work week would earn you a middle-class lifestyle – so much for that. No doubt this desire for upward mobility is what is motivating many students to risk a lifetime of debt for an education at a shitty for-profit school without accreditation. At least with the horror stories coming out of Westwood above, it seems like the students would have been better off not going at all.
  • Yet I am still troubled by the argument that not everybody should go to college. I guess this is because (1) I went to college and it was great, (2) I’m a professor and college students justify my existence, and (3) as a professional anthropologist I think anthropology is inherently valuable. But that the life-of-the-mind and art-for-art’s-sake line of thinking just doesn’t stand up to statements like this:

    Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants.

    I mean, when “there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s” what’s the point? That’s not rhetorical question. Really, what’s the point?

Have you seen something Around the Ed that you’d like to share with the Savage Minds community? Leave them in the comments section bellow, because I’m still swamped with links! Thanks.

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

21 thoughts on “Around the Ed

  1. Call me an a-hole, but you’ve got to be pretty stupid to have a phd and find yourself being a janitor. Are these online phds?

  2. Rick,

    No, they’re not.

    Like you, the first ten times I met someone with part or all of a PhD working in another field, I didn’t have a lot of respect for them. And I went into grad school thinking, I’m not like them. But as an anthropology grad student, I’m now getting out and trying to find my way into business, entrepreneurship, or nonprofits. I know other grad students and postdocs in fields as wide as theology, anthropology, political science, chemistry, and computer engineering who are doing the same.

    See the comments section of the recent for a recent, apropos, and lively discussion of a similar issue in the sciences.


  3. Oh, and I’ll add the questions I just posted on facebook for the above link to the sciences:

    Interesting link from a friend. A couple of thoughts, after reading the comments:
    1) wouldn’t research be improved if independent young scientists (including those in other day jobs) could apply for venture capital/sponsorship from a wide variety of patrons rather than through a few gatekeeper granting organizations?
    2) If even the sciences are flooded with too many academic t-t job candidates (just like the humanities *sigh*), what’s next? I’ve seen the best and brightest of my friends in law school, med school, and finance/MBA. Are those bursting, too?
    3) And so where exactly does a young American go if so many post-WWII career opportunities have dried up?

  4. In many ways the aim of the academic system is the perpetuation of the academic system. Education is a commodity, and the students are consumers. In an undergraduate career, you spend 4 years taking a total of 10 courses per year, or 40 courses. With the approximate reading material of about 1 to 3 books per class, depending on the type of class, that is somewhere around 60 to 80 books over the entire 4 year program. Most anyone could read this material on their own. So what is it that is actually sold by the academic profession?

    (1) the university name, a sort of branding, which identifies students as graduates from University X. (Branding is certified by the degree paper we all clutch at the end of the process).

    (2) Insight into a style of thinking, methods of research. In other words, a body of knowledge, which will be added to or not in the future (most students rarely if ever read an academic book post graduation for the undergraduate level).

    (3) A delay of earnings, that will hopefully be compensated for in later years. (The same sort of logic is applied to the myth of the American dream; it seems universities have co-opted this myth, though there is some truth to it for university students en mass).

    Celia asks, where are young American post-grad supposed to go in this post WWII society–overseas, if they can. In some ways we are returning to the later 19th century, when graduate students spent years overseas in Europe (mostly Germany) to acquire advanced education. It’s not yet certain that the core of U.S. industrialism is being moved offshore, but with the push to strengthen the Chinese Yuan, higher wages in China will force the Chinese industrial centers to advance development of more sophisticated manufacturing.

    Can American universities compete in such a global educational environment? Very likely, yes! But the prospects of a white collar job will have to change. As many of the blue collar jobs take up more automation, those jobs will transform into the new white collar jobs. Who knows, in the near future to be a floor assembly worker at GM, you may need a four year college degree with significant computer and math skills.

  5. Celia,
    Thanks for the insight. I dont have a problem with, nor do I think poorly of people with phds do arent TT professors at elite U. I have a very sick feeling in my stomach to think that 5,057 individuals who have the mental capacity to undertake doctoral work don’t have the common sense to market themselves and their skill set towards something other than being a janitor, which I doubt is something they want to be doing given their previous commitment to learning a discipline and applying it in the world.

  6. Adding on to Fred’s comment: thinking about college in commodity terms, the consumer also receives–

    (4) prestige and cultural capital that stands as proof of vetting

    (5) access to a social network of alums and faculty

    (6) the college “experience” of being a young person transitioning into adulthood

  7. Rick,

    That sounds the same to me as, “If people would only put some effort in, they’d have a job.” One of the reason the USA is over 8% unemployment is that there are no jobs for those people. You can market yourself til you’re blue in the face, but if no one’s hiring, at some point you go where you can get paid.

    Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a janitor, or abdicating “marketing yourself.” I know someone who has a PhD in philosophy but found he much preferred bicycle repair to the academic world. Perhaps he finds some Zen in it, and, I think, more power to him for doing something he enjoys.

    Finally, the intellectual skills (and personal values) involved in earning an advanced degree are not necessarily the same as, and sometimes even contradictory to, those one would use to market themselves. In fact, some people find the “market yourself” paradigm so distasteful they’d rather not participate. I was recently unemployed for about four months, and all the advice on how to market myself made me feel like I was joining a cult just to participate in society. If I didn’t have to pay New York rent I could easily see myself being happy enough to just work one of the culturally less glamorous jobs available.

    Which brings me back to the original post.

    What’s the point? Well, maybe it was the journey.

    Matt, you write that “life-of-the-mind and art-for-art’s-sake line of thinking just doesn’t stand up to statements like this,” but, why not? We’re not alive to turn a profit or win status, we’re alive to be alive, and while I don’t want to project that view on all those waiters and janitors, I also wouldn’t sign up for the view that everyone who is a waiter or janitor is somehow pathetic or a failure of the system, must hate it, and dreams of being an elite professor (or manager, or lawyer).

    Maybe, for at least some of them, they’ve just followed a course that made them happy, or made sense when they began, led them where they are, and there doesn’t need to be a point beyond that.

  8. Thanks Matt for those more positive additions to thinking about post-secondary education. One of the things my snarky comments made about these is what happens after the brief glow of graduation and the years of harsh reality? Does your number 5 last very long in the working years, say into your thirties, or does it quickly fade? Unless you get hit up for donations from your university, I find most of the network built up during the undergrad/graduate years tends to fade rapidly.

    Part of the problem with post secondary education is maintaining its worth in the years following graduation. That prestige and cultural capital (point 4) can only be, in a sense, preserved if more cultural capital and prestige are added to it. In capitalist terms, its like having a bank account in an inflationary environment–if you don’t add to it, it just dwindles in value.

    I do like point 6, the rites of passage, which usually is followed by the obligatory rite of passage–backpacking through Europe, Asia, Africa, take your pick. I heard of a couple who biked from Istanbul to Beijing. A delaying of the period of youth before the rigors of adulthood. Don’t we all have some fond memories of the necessary post-graduation adventure a la Paul Theroux.

  9. I don’t think that those waiters or janitors with PhDs got them in anthropology, unless they took a very wrong turn somewhere, or they decided to do their graduate work in some area or subject that 5 people in the world care about. There’s also a matter of personality, and a resistance to the compromises that it takes to get entry level experience. If you get your PhD in something like Epic Poetry, which I’ve seen, and you’re determined to directly apply it in a job, your waiting tables.
    I also know of an anthro who spoke Chinese and was an expert on Tibet. He was offered a 6 figure job out of school by a US intelligence agency as a social scientist, but turned it down. He would only have had to work for a couple of years and he would have had a lot of options.

    I’m just saying that those numbers need context.

  10. As I’m working on the topic of college admission, what scares me the most is that how many high school students, believing that a college degree will automatically get them a job, fall into the marketing trap of the for-profit schools as it was mentioned in the post. Even for those who do go to a legitimate school with accreditation, a significant number of them, due to lack of adequate support and guidance, end up quitting in their freshmen year (There are schools out there with freshmen retention rate lower than 20%). However, the loans they signed up for in the beginning of the academic year still remain as their responsibilities, which means they have to pay back the money that they borrowed for nothing. Indeed, they would have been much better off not going at all in this case.
    Now that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are committing $2 billion “to increase the number of low-income and minority students who graduate from high school and attend college” I hope they would spend more money making sure they actually graduate from college WITH degrees and WITHOUT crippling amount of debt.

  11. Rick writes: “I also know of an anthro who spoke Chinese and was an expert on Tibet. He was offered a 6 figure job out of school by a US intelligence agency as a social scientist, but turned it down. He would only have had to work for a couple of years and he would have had a lot of options.”

    I wouldn’t work for a US intelligence agency. I would prefer to work as a janitor. I applaud the gentleman’s choice.

  12. Rick writes: “I also know of an anthro who spoke Chinese and was an expert on Tibet. He was offered a 6 figure job out of school by a US intelligence agency as a social scientist, but turned it down. He would only have had to work for a couple of years and he would have had a lot of options.”

    I’m curious about this case, since there are no U.S. intelligence agency positions for people right out of grad school that pay anything like $100,000 a year – salary levels are all public, so you can see what I mean. Could your friend have been inflating the position description a little?

  13. “Could your friend have been inflating the position description a little? ”

    He wasn’t my friend, he was a friend’s brother-in-law, and I didn’t get all the details, but I think you’re right that he wouldn’t have been offered a social science position. I’m not even sure those exist in any intell agency, but an analyst position is what it was. There are analyst positions that pay that starting for a PhD willing to travel.
    I know for the HTS, which isn’t an intel position, even with only a few years experience and a PhD he’d clear a little over 110 thousand for a 12 month contract. The position that needs many years of experience for that one would be the Social Scientist II position, which maxes out at the 212,000 civil servant limit. Even the Parks Service has gigs for anthropologists that start over 50 k a year.

    Anyway, there are options for those that would rather not clean toilets is my point. Even CPAs usually have to spend a couple of years in the government to get 2 or 3 years of experience after school these days.

  14. “there are options for those that would rather not clean toilets”

    True. I wish I’d been more succinct in my previous comment (though I know yours was not addressing it). The question is whether one would rather clean toilets, and it’s one that statistics do not answer, and one to which the question of “what’s the point” seems irrelevant.

  15. An interesting question raised by this discussion is why the topic is so firmly stuck on “jobs.” Hypothetically speaking, one might imagine that anthropologists, being the sort of people willing to go to alien places and experience all sorts of new things would make good entrepreneurs. Who better to detect an unmet need in people’s lives and figure out how to meet it?

    Could it be that by being so focused on schooling and reproducing academic habitus, (non-applied) anthropology departments are leaving their graduates crippled in a world that increasingly demands more “What can I do for a customer?” than “Why can’t I get someone to pay for my hobby?”

  16. Rick says “I know for the HTS, which isn’t an intel position, even with only a few years experience and a PhD he’d clear a little over 110 thousand for a 12 month contract. The position that needs many years of experience for that one would be the Social Scientist II position, which maxes out at the 212,000 civil servant limit.”

    I’m not sure where the $212,000 limit comes from. The OPM salary schedules list $179,700 as the maximum doe the Science and Technical branch, and even for the Senior Executive Service. The last Social Scientist II position I saw listed was at NOAA for $21.55 a hour, about $40,000 a year. Remember that for the Feds a Social Scientist I position is a higher level – Social Scientist III positions only require an B.A., Social Scientist II positions an M.A., Social Scientist I positions a PhD.

    HTS is in a separate category, since these positions are both overseas and needed a salary boost to attract anyone to them. When you wrote about an “intelligence agency” I assumed it was the CIA or NSA or DIA, not HTS.

  17. I am currently working on my PhD, which will be my fourth degree. I love education. I’ve also worked a lot, in a bunch of different roles from supermarket shelf stacker to data analyst.

    When I finish my PhD, I’m not particularly interested in working full time, and, provided I’ve enough to get by, I’m not particularly interested in money either. I like staying at home with my family and pottering in the garden, I have a very low expenditure, and I don’t give a hoot about the latest iWotnot.

    Work, for me, is not the goal of my life. It says nothing about my success or otherwise. It is a means to having enough, just enough, to keep doing what I want.

    So I will be (and have been) one of those statistics of someone who seems to be immensely overqualified for the work that I do.

    It has nothing to do with my not having the skills to market myself better. It has nothing to do with my having a PhD in a duff subject. It is simply the way in which I choose to live my life.

    But rock on with the judgment guys! I couldn’t possibly get in the way of spurious assumptions about the stories behind statistics seeing as I’ve failed to be suitably middle class and all.

  18. “The question is whether one would rather clean toilets, and it’s one that statistics do not answer, and one to which the question of “what’s the point” seems irrelevant.”

    I’m sorry, I misunderstood; that is an interesting question. I’ve met some pretty weird PhDs, and anthropologists. My question would be if a person is happier waiting tables or cleaning toilets, then why get a PhD? I’m having a bit of a hard time believing that it’s the latter, rather than the former. I’m gonna be skeptical that if I ask someone why they are cleaning toilets with a PhD, that it was their plan all along.

    Barbara Piper, “I assumed it was the CIA or NSA or DIA, not HTS.”

    You’re right, I was factoring in overseas and danger pay, which I should have pointed out. But, to do the job you are guaranteed the pay, so it becomes a matter of semantics; a bureaucratic game. Technically, if you don’t suck you will get a bonus now too, which is a new gov’t thing. I should have actually looked it up, rather than just repeating hearsay. I also mixed up the I and II scheduled pay scales, but a person with a PhD and specialized knowledge can make at least 86k, give or take. You can make that knowing the right language if you know where to look. You may also have to take a lower level job just to get those jobs, because most gov’t job require 52 weeks of experience for a GS 11 or 12. My main point was that inflexibility might be what’s going on here. Most people spend a couple of years doing something they don’t want to do forever, in order to gain the experience they need to do what they want. Those unwilling to do the former, will likely not be doing the latter.

  19. People and circumstances change. People get PhDs and then become janitors (or computer repairmen, any other job on this strange class scale). I do agree that most likely circumstances often force one’s choices. Which is another good response to the suggestion that people who have PhDs but clean toilets are pitiable for not being able to market their obvious skills and obtain more outsider-approved employment.

  20. Apropos of the discussion here, I just read a short Harper’s article by David Graeber in which he suggests that the rise of higher education as the American avenue for social mobility was a direct outcome of the loss of the frontier as the American escape valve for social mobility, and uses that hypothesis to explain the bubbling over of the 60s, and the right-wing resentment for academics in the 80s and 90s, and the resonance of military options with the working class in the 00s…

    He’s really writing more to explain to American leftists the appeal of the Republican onslaught, and impotence of the Democrats, and writing back in 2005 – but he makes a good side-analysis of the place of higher education in people’s lives.

    Basically suggesting that everyone wants to believe in social mobility, and the ability to do good with their lives, and for a while, higher education was seen as a good road to those things, but like all avenues, it hits up against the limitations of the class pyramid’s limited job availability, and barriers like unpaid internships.

    Someone put up the article here, original at Harper’s.

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