academics double down on their defense

Colleges are being confronted about the mixed outcomes of their graduates and they're not taking the feedback seriously.

classical scholar

One would think that following more than a year of very public debate about college education, student loans, and how an entire generation is being left behind in social and economic terms despite being educated in more and more colleges, academics who comment on measuring the effects of their work would be at least vaguely aware of what goes on outside their intra-office pep talks. But as another set of rumblings emanating from the Chronicle of Higher Ed shows, that is sadly not the case. I mentioned that in light of ample evidence that college degrees do not yield more and better jobs colleges responded by declaring that they don’t exist to be corporate job training centers and ignoring those who are starting to rightfully question if we even need degrees for a wide swath of jobs not requiring specialized education.

And at least one Chronicle essay in question took this disdain for students’ focus on jobs to an even more extreme level, declaring that while the profit minded can keep on searching for work, the lack of a liberal arts education would make them lesser participants in society on top of also making themselves unemployable to corporations who are apparently on a quest to hire primarily those graduates of liberal arts professions for their sheer creativity and brilliance.

Truly, this snap at the suggestion that colleges need to take at least some modicum of responsibility for their students’ careers was delivered with the kind of condescension that only an academic in self-imposed exile from the real world could muster. Imagine that, asking the very same colleges which advertise themselves to high school graduates as their ticket to an additional $1 million in lifetime earnings (which is really far closer to roughly $300,000 if you do the math), to account on how well they’re helping student live up to that goal.

I’m not talking about auditing every last college in the nation and holding them responsible for every graduate not currently employed because we can’t blame colleges for every stalled career or out of work degree holder, but if we take a survey of a thousand universities and note that oh, say, almost half of their grads make $15,000 a year and have to pay off tens of thousands in toxic college loans as a reward for four years of study, maybe it’s the institutions who have to bear at least some responsibility for this. If you haven’t clicked on the second link of this post, let me help you out. Those seemingly hypothetical numbers are the actual findings of a sweeping study conducted to gauge the results and benefits of a college education. In light of such a negative finding, a stand on the soapbox to rail against job-minded students seems irrational and tone deaf at best.

Insisting that liberal arts education is emphasized and students should not worry about how they’ll find a job until they get a liberal arts degree (which was another dreadful bit of advice given by academics in the very same publication) and declaring that companies want only the kind of creative problem solvers that a liberal arts program can generate, is not only irresponsible, but easily disproven by facts on the ground. Take brand new English majors and see how long its takes them to find a job in their field, then compare how quickly the graduates of medical schools or computer science departments will be able to do the same.

Let me give you a hint. One’s encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare or Greek classics will not help you solve a problem in the lab of a pharmaceutical company developing a new drug, or a bank trying to secure its networks against a team of hackers from Eastern Europe. And really, as a STEM major, I’m personally offended by the implication that only the liberal arts can breed creative mindsets, as if our realm of the academic world is composed of a pack of dullards fit only to be soulless drones, capable of merely following instructions. Yes, companies want people who are creative, but they also want those with specific skills. To think that a new surgeon or chemist or engineer is worse prepared to solve real world problems than a philosophy major, and her value as one of society’s voters and specialists is also less significant solely because of her major, is utterly absurd.

So to all the professional academics reading this, no one cares about how much you don’t want to be judged by how employable your students have become. That’s the metric by which you have been judged for several decades and your institutions are getting worse and worse at it. Parents scrimp and save, and students take on predatory loans that may haunt them until they’re senior citizens, precisely so they can use the degree you will give them to get a job. Your administrators advertise your schools based on how much they’ll supposedly add to your students’ future paychecks. It doesn’t matter how many rebellious and contrarian notions you gave them in a class they were required to take and how you tried to challenge their thoughts by resisting to refer to the real world problems they’ll face in their careers of choice.

No intellectual freedom will pay their bills and if after they and their parents spent between $30,000 and $160,000 on the courses you provide and your grads are barely making ends meet and staring at huge debts, you’ve failed them. It’s easy to abdicate responsibility and act high and mighty, pounding your chest about refusing to pander to “corporatism” and the mundane. It’s much harder to make painful but necessary reforms and disconcertingly enough, a lot of academics seem to be taking the easy way out, in stark contrast to what they tell students to do when facing tough choices…

# education // academia / academic / college / college education


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