Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Work Smarter; Not Harder

I caught this gem of a story that covers the fact that the United States is slipping in the world rankings for churning out college graduates:

We are now ranked 12th in the world for creating college graduates.

Yes, in spite of the rise of for-profit schools, it appears that people aren't bothering to finish their degrees!

The math of this article is fairly simple: College Degree = Success.

And, as usual, southerners are blamed for dragging down this great nation.


Nowhere is that trend more apparent than in Arkansas, a state of deeply entrenched poverty, where just over 40 percent of students finish college with bachelor’s degrees in six years or less. Arkansas is one of several southern states that have seen college enrollment rates increase, even as college completion rates remain stubbornly low. The contradiction has frustrated education officials and prompted calls for action at the highest levels of state government.

Hmm. Maybe we should be giving them a medal for doing their part in not contributing to the number of people filing for bankruptcy. If you're in Arkansas, and your job options include being a pig farmer and running the General Store, I don't think that racking up $30,000 in student loans is going to help your situation that much.

People in large metropolitan areas are used to having a wide variety of careers to choose from. Chances are, you can do something with that Economics and Advertising degree. In many areas that are relatively sparsely populated, the food chain looks like this: Doctor, Lawyer, Business Owner, Health Care Professional, Realtor, Cop, Home Construction/Repair, Low-Level Bureaucrat, Car Sales, Auto Repair, Retail Worker, Bus Boy.

Yes, identify which of these lines of work needs a college degree to successfully complete the job. Either you completely bite the bullet and give nearly 10 years of your life to rotting in college and graduate school, or you take a couple of semesters at the community college before the light bulb pops on that Intro to British Literature has nothing to do with selling houses or taking drivers license photos at the DMV.

You can't really blame some 18 year old Arkansan who was the first in their family to proudly go off to college to suddenly give up when they see that it is a road to nowhere. Not only are they already leery of the amount of debt they will have to take on thanks to skyrocketing tuition, they have seen for themselves that their older friends who have already graduated are moving back home and have resumed their former jobs at the local Sonic. Other than a few degree fields like nursing, there is very little opportunity that makes relocation a viable option.

If there were recruiting fairs or stories about how their friends had jobs lined up from the beginning of their senior year, there would see a lot more interest from the students in actually finishing their degrees. Instead, they get a year or two in their studies, figure out that they aren't Rhodes Scholar material, know that the job banks are nearly empty, and realize the remaining two years of their degree is a waste. In some ways, they end up being more marketable by simply giving up on their degree rather than being branded as a graduate who will probably try to leave the minute a "good" job opens up.

It is also not surprising that students would quit going to college since many of the jobs that created the economic base that funded their schooling have moved out of the country. If mom and dad's job at the sock factory is now in China, and the rules require that parents become partially responsible for repaying many of the loans that their children are taking out, it is fairly likely that there have been many serious talks where mom and dad have had to break the news to their children that they can no longer afford to pay to send them to college.

So where is the incentive to actually finish?

Unfortunately, it is too expensive for the average person to be educated just for education's sake. When the expense of an education can't be parlayed into an economic benefit, it simply becomes a luxury that many people can't afford. We can't simply make it a goal to have a better-educated society simply for its own sake if we are going to turn around and crush the students who step up to the plate with ungodly debt and no prospects for paying their bills.


  1. Thanks so much for contributing to the continuing set of negative stereotypes festering in the national psyche about the South and Southerners. If you'd really care to know why this region is "still fighting the Civil War," I think it has just as much to do with its demonization in the media and the popular mind of the rest of the country as anything that happened prior to 1865 or during Reconstruction. Usually, I enjoy your commentary & think it's on the mark, but the cheap shot about the South "dragging down this great nation" just pissed me off. Then, there were the stereotypical names and the depiction of Arkansas as one big economically stagnant Dogpatch ( Was that really necessary?

  2. I'm sorry, nothing personally against southerners, or anyone else for that matter. But the fact is, it is UP NORTH where the big, often violent, dangerous battles took place to unionize in the name of workplace safety, fair wages, and decent conditions. It is a well known fact the South has traditionally been hostile to labor organizations. No way was the 1937 "Battle of the Overpass" going to happen down there. Today, workers in the automotive plants of the South "piggyback" onto the hard-fought labor wins of the union shops, thereby having to pay wages that are competitive in order to be productively competitive themselves in terms of skilled and semi-skilled labor.

    That's where at least some of those deep-seated conceptions come from.

  3. 1:57, did you actually read my entire piece? It's actually a sympathetic explanation why people in the south don't finish school.

    1:12: The south is/was getting all of those jobs precisely because they aren't worker-friendly. Local laws tend to heavily favor the employer and wages are much cheaper. Yes, they get 40 hour work weeks and anti-discrimination protection thanks to Federal laws, but employment is generally "at will."

  4. Actually most of the southern sterotypes predate the big union fights by some 20-30 years. In fact, most of the stories orginate from the 1890s and were more about making the northern feel superior in his tenament urban squalor than anything else. Another fun fact is that once the labour unions took over often the first thing they did was kick out and keep out any minorites onsite. Say what you will about Mr Ford's views on race and the Jews but he was willing to give anyone a job provided they work hard and did complain. Once the unions came in the first thing they did was make it impossible for a black to get a job which only changed, at a very slow rate, in 1970s.

  5. I think this was good. I wish more people would discuss the matter of "the myth of the college degree." Does a college degree really guarantee you a life of fabulous wealth and riches? Or perhaps it just gives you a heaping load of debt to pay on a degree that doesn't do much for you other than allow you to think big thoughts. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in education for the sake of personal enrichment, but not at the expense of your entire adult life (i.e. 60k+ in debt). Having gone to law school, I deeply regret it as I move into my 6th month of unemployment as an esq.

    There is a reason everything is going to hell.