Excogitating About Empty Educations

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From the New York Times, May 26, 2018: “Last year the University of Wisconsin at Superior announced that it was suspending nine majors, including sociology and political science, and warned that there might be additional cuts. The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point recently proposed dropping 13 majors, including philosophy and English, to make room for programs with “clear career pathways.” It’s about time.


The academic world and the real world are far apart, and always have been. There are practices that only academia would endorse, while in the real world, they would countenance such criticism (not to mention lawsuits) that doing what they do would create threats to their very existence. For example, I was told (for reasons not worth explaining here) that I should not apply for my degree, but I could tell people that I had finished the curriculum. No one in the business community would take the time to read that I had finished the curriculum, but had not applied for my degree. In the real world, you have the credential or you don’t. Period. This has actually happened several times, along with changing requirements in the middle of the program and insisting that everyone comply with the new curriculum. Such things as degree requirements do not come with qualifiers such as “specifications for credential subject to change without notice.” They should, because you might invest years of time and significant amounts of money, only to find that you face several more years and a lot more money to acquire what you started out to complete because they changed the requirements and you must meet the new requirements, regardless of what they originally stated. Interestingly enough, the “regulatory agencies” that govern universities will almost always take the side of the university. Bureaucrats always side with their fellow bureaucrats, much like a “good old boy” network.


As columnist Frank Bruni states in the New York Times: “The world now changes at warp speed. Colleges move glacially. By the time they’ve assembled a new cluster of practical concentrations, an even newer cluster may be called for, and a set of job-specific skills picked up today may be obsolete less than a decade down the road. The idea of college as instantaneously responsive to employers’ evolving needs is a bit of a fantasy.” Tell that to hiring managers who endlessly complain that they cannot find “qualified candidates” who are proficient in the latest and greatest software and hardware technology. According to the hiring managers, academia should invest in the technology and the human resources in order to create trained employees who can step right into the job and start making their organization money as soon as they log on. No matter if the ROI (Return on Investment) will only span ten years or even less, this is what the business people expect from academia, unwilling to make the investments themselves.  


Mr. Bruni is correct when he says: “And they shouldn’t downgrade the nonvocational mission of higher education: to cultivate minds, prepare young adults for enlightened citizenship, give them a better sense of their perch in history and connect them to traditions that transcend the moment. History, philosophy and comparative literature are bound to be better at that than occupational therapy. They’re sturdier threads of cultural and intellectual continuity.” But the reality is much different. Most of the liberal arts degrees aren’t worth much in the business world. No matter if the liberal arts graduate has a much greater vocabulary than the business major, or that they understand history and our place in it better; or if they can excogitate better, if they can’t put all of that into an Excel spreadsheet along with graphs and charts, their skills are not needed.


American society has entered a phase where history (even the history of business trends and colossal business failures) has become irrelevant. Knowledge of the cycles of boom and bust, the economic realities that pervade our history, might as well be as important as knowing how the ancient Greeks decorated their kraters for symposiums. Mr. Bruni is correct when he observes America is enraptured with people whose academic experience is minimal, and the importance of critical thinking that only a solid academic background can provide: “In a country that’s awash in faux expertise and enamored of pretenders, that’s no small thing.” Actually, the small thing is the exiguous regard businesses have for academic backgrounds such as liberal arts or humanities, which are prodigious if you want to drive a truck, work fast food, or spend your nights and weekends hawking products in retail establishments, which are being overtaken by Amazon. The universities themselves, from my personal experience, are ready to bend over backward to find one of their engineering graduates a job, while your liberal arts or humanities degree might get you a job, as mentioned, in retail or blue collar, if any of those types of businesses even bother to contact universities to fill positions.


One of my favorite recollections from my business experience was when one of the firms where I worked was having candidates take a psychographic test (I knew more about it than either my boss or the Human Resource officer, neither of which could distinguish between a psychometric or psychographic test) to determine how they would “fit in” to the organization. One of the descriptions of personal characteristics was the term “magnanimous.” My business major boss whose salary was three times what I earned asked the Human Resource officer what candidate would know what the word magnanimous meant. I turned to him and asked “Don’t you remember Churchill’s words at the end of the war? ‘In victory, magnanimity.’”


Dave Volek Added May 29, 2018 - 3:35pm
For years, universities in eastern Canada granted too many teaching graduates than their local markets could you. So many young eastern teachers had to came west to find work in their profession.
In contrast, western universities graduate only half the teachers they need. The rest will come from the east.
But universities are funded provincially. In other words, Alberta (west) gets the benefit of what tax payers in Nova Scotia (east) invested into this degree. Unless the teacher moves back east, his or her provincial taxes goes to Alberta, the province that did educate the teacher.
About a decade ago, the eastern universities realized this and started cutting back seats in education. But, as you said, the pace of change is glacial.
The universities should be relevant to the job skills the society demands. Could you imagine a university that only gives out humanities degrees?
I have devised a piece of social engineering that allows the universities the freedom to develop their own faculties as they see fit, but still holds them accountable for being relevant. Basically, a student signs a contract with the university that he pays a small tax on income earned payable directly to the university (not the province).
With this system, universities should become self-sufficient in a generation. If the university believes the engineering faculty gets benefit from a robust humanities faculty, it is free to figure how to do this. If a university decides to cut funding to much of its humanities--to make more funds available for other faculties--this  would be a good social experiment to conduct. If a university is not that relevant to society, it will go broke.
Jeff Jackson Added May 29, 2018 - 3:58pm
Dave, I have to admire the relevant part. It seems that universities are too far from the real economy to understand what the economy really needs in terms of workers, or maybe they just don't care as long as they can make money, especially the tenured professors. Thanks for your comments Dave and some very clear insight as well.
Dino Manalis Added May 29, 2018 - 4:39pm
 That's why recruiters should advise students and schools about pertinent job skills and schools have to deliver.  Colleges ought to assist with job searching and placement.
George N Romey Added May 29, 2018 - 6:32pm
The problem as I see it is that we see colleges as a steppingstone for a good job. However, colleges do not see themselves as job oriented but “educated” oriented. Being educated doesn’t guarantee a good job. In other words colleges and universities still live in a 1920s world when mainly rich kids went to college to be “educated.”
Jeff Jackson Added May 29, 2018 - 7:01pm
Dino, I'm with you 100%. Some colleges have guaranteed you a job when you graduate or your money back. I think that after all the time and money you give them, they have an obligation to help you with finding a substantial job. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 29, 2018 - 7:03pm
George, I'm all with you on that, especially on the tenure thing, where once they get to tenure, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. It was a nice idea in the pre-Great Depression era, but has little relevance now. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Michka Added May 29, 2018 - 7:35pm
Having gone back to work on a temporary basis, I'm "training up" three additions to the engineering department in standards and practices.  Now all three graduated from good schools, want to be MEs, but have no related job experience.  However, if we need to beat up colleges and universities, ask why two of the three can't effectively use a tape measure, or micrometer, are just "computer operators," not draftspeople, since none of them ever learned to draw, just use CAD, and there are many cases where that just won't do.  So is getting hard on ciriculumns, maybe schools need to look at whst they teach, even in viable career programs like engineering. 
Jeff Jackson Added May 29, 2018 - 8:19pm
Well Jeff, considering that most of the schools, including colleges, have abandoned all forms of "old" technology, I find it not surprising at all that they can't use those things. As much as I hate to say it, comparing to what some of us older folks went through to the modern curriculum, it appears that they (academics) have made things easier. What you have mentioned certainly would back up that premise. No more writing cursive, no more shop classes, like woodworking, metal and the like, and as much as they stress "diversity" they certainly aren't offering it anymore.
At least from what I have seen (and I have been to at least one-half dozen school systems) they aren't going faster. I admit that the education I have makes it difficult to recall when I was trying to learn those things, and I know that certain students, if given the opportunity, would have gone faster. The basics, such as you describe, have been discarded, rendering less-qualified employees for our economy. Thanks for your comments.
Rusty Smith Added May 29, 2018 - 10:00pm
As per your forum, half the students in colleges are majoring in topics that are very unlikely to do them as much good in the job market as the equivalent time would if spend learning on the job.  After 4 +years about the only thing most of them have is some pretty substantial debt.
I've had arguments with people who think I'm unfairly discriminating when I don't just look for a degree, I consider how it applies to the job I am offering.  Art History, Humanities, Hispanic Studies, Theology, or Dance have no place in most companies other than perhaps to make you a little more interesting person.  None will help you become a better employee unless perhaps you want to teach exactly what you were taught to other people who are equally deluded.
When I hired for manufacturing jobs I needed people who could read analog micrometers, most college grads with useless degrees couldn't.  If they are responsible for cutting stock and can't figure out what the decimal equivalent of 3/8ths of an inch is, I can't use them.  
I am quite tired of having applicants with useless degrees try and tell me they are being discriminated against so for a long time all I tell any applicant is that "we've selected another candidate".  No reasons, no honesty, just the fact that they weren't.
Many years ago I'd be honest, and try to coach applicants who wanted to better themselves, but not these days.
Ward Tipton Added May 29, 2018 - 11:54pm
Dismissing courses such as English ... but likely keeping more "relevant" and "timely" courses such as Metro-Sexual Systems Theories? Or other similarly subjective and ultimately, pointless courses that do not, in reality, offer opportunities to viable careers outside of rabble-rousing and community organizing? 
We have universities actively demanding that free speech be made illegal on campus. Diversity of thought? Critical thinking skills? Problem Solving skills? 
Were anyone to present me with anything other than a STEM degree, I would be very unlikely to hire them at all. 
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 7:15am
The former CEO of Chipotle had a degree in Art History, and made $25 million a year. Of course, the chairman of Chipotle also went to the Culinary Institute of America, (CIA) so they must have taught him something. I agree that many of the degrees do not teach skills the workplace are looking for, and your case proves that distinctly. Some of them might teach critical thinking, a valuable tool. I see Business majors who lack any critical thinking skills; all they can do is spit back whatever they were spoon-fed.
Even with my first "useless" liberal arts degree, I had a disagreement with another manager. I did a statistical examination of the problem and the upper management sided with me, earning only resentment from the other manager. As you state, manufacturing is very real and material-oriented, and not as "theoretical" as some of these degrees teach students. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 7:23am
I think a lot of the Metro-Sexual classes, along with feminine studies and the others, mostly turn out college graduates who can make detailed arguments on why the government needs to give them and their ilk even more money.
Funny as it seems that universities move glacially, one of the local colleges is looking for a Hip-Hop dance instructor. I didn't know that offered classes, let alone degrees in Hip-Hop, and I am sure that 50 years from now Hip-Hop dance will be as relevant as studying Descartes of Rousseau. Thanks for your comments.
Rusty Smith Added May 30, 2018 - 9:29am
Jeff Jackson in more recent years I've found many of the brightest have no degree because they can't afford college, especially if they come from middle class families.  College is cheap for the poor especially minorities, but almost unaffordable for many middle class kids who quotas don't help financially.
College is a huge investment for the middle class and I think most who make that investment really think about the payback of their major.  Many who get let in because of their families lack of finances or skin color frequently don't have to be as focused on good grades do they start college with an educational disadvantage, and seek easy paths to a degree, like Humanities or Chicano Studies, Art, Music or Dance.  Counselors and teachers encourage them to get these useless degrees and then when they get out they find out they wasted their time and money.
I also see many very affluent kids following their dreams, with Mom and Dad's blessings.  One I know now just was admitted to Georgetown, majoring in Political Science.  He wants to be a politician... good for him.  I guess it doesn't matter, no one in his family is related to a politician, he's not got a clue from what I can tell, but his inheritance will make sure he never has to work a day in his life, even if he never becomes a politician and saves the world. 
His "education" is costing over $65K a year, 4 years which makes me wonder if this 19 year old would be better of if his parents had put $225K in a retirement fund for him instead of the useless education.  Of course he's paying nothing, his folks went there and got him in.  His perceived value of the education just might be less than the minority students they accept to keep the diversity at an acceptable level, who also can't really be expected to want to take hard courses and get a REAL degree that has value in the real world.
Your point about CEO's without educations is just proof that there are many very successful people who don't have degrees, but they are the exceptions.  It also points out the fact that often on the job experince can more than make up for a lack of education.
Ok lets put you in the driver's seat: you're hiring a lab assistant and have a stack of resumes, all are students fresh out of school.  Your have a Theology degree, a Hispanic studies degree, an engineering degree, a liberal arts degree, and a political science degree.  Whose education do you think might help them best in the job you're hiring for and why?
Now lets throw in one more, you have a younger kid without a degree who is working as a lab assistant for a competitor, you know someone who works there and they say he's doing well.  If he were also available, would you consider him, without the degree?
If you do, than might we conclude the money wasted on fancy degrees is betters spent buying a house.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 10:13am
Interesting problem, Rusty, and since I am an SHRM-CP I think I can solve it. I would first look at who had any similar experience, i.e. dealing with sensitive equipment and lab processes, since driving a truck or working as a janitor aren't really desirable "backgrounds" for a lab assistant. Once narrowed by similar experience, I would have those qualified candidates (college degree or not) take a standardized test that would measure what they knew in relation to what I needed for them to know to do the job, since there aren't any companies who want to spend any time training anyone. 
Standardized tests are completely legal (as long as they have statistically proven validity) and a great help in employee selection. I would then probably interview five candidates and ask a few more questions during the interview, (such as familiarity with equipment and processes) as well as asking for references and checking on the reliability of those references.
The selection process: 1)Familiarity with lab equipment and lab processes, 2)proven knowledge and abilities on a standardized test, 3)background checks with verifiable job histories, 4) verifiable references. (All of this college or not.)
One thing I would not do would be to insist that people who were "old" got bad grades on the standardized test, when in fact they did well. If they asked, I would tell the candidates which test questions they missed, but I would not let them see the actual test again, just the grade and questions missed.
Why? Because I believe that someone used one of these to weed me out, when I was confident I passed the vast majority of questions, and they refused to show me the score, they just said I "didn't do well." Since I was 8 years old I have consistently done well on standardized tests, and the questions weren't that difficult.  I have taken a standardized test since then and was offered a job. As a certified professional in Human Resources, misrepresenting performance, even in pre-employment situations, is unethical and can expose the firm to legal action. Thanks for the comments Rusty
Pamela Porvaznik Added May 30, 2018 - 10:21am
I'm so glad I graduated in the year before time. I was drilled in the fundamentals and it has held me in good stead throughout my career. I don't remember ever thinking college owed me a job after graduation, that was up to me. College equipped me for life, gave me wider discernment, ability to think and evaluate, opened up doors of possibility. My college tuition was $119 a semester. In contrast, my son's tuition was $33K a year even with scholarships, and his law degree cost him $250K. There's so much wrong with college today: university presidents determined to build bigger and better plants on the backs of students, for one. I predict college will be entirely online in 10 years. Clearly, it's priced itself out of the market. And if universities continue to get rid of the basics, graduates will have a harder and harder time finding jobs or adapting to what jobs will be available in the future.
Chet Ruminski Added May 30, 2018 - 10:31am
Central planning. The free countries operate without a plan and then criticize the mistakes and shortcomings. With indignation. 
     e.g. The National Marine Fisheries Service: "The National Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS), often referred to as the “NOAAFisheries Services,” is an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responsible for management, conservation, and protection of the nation's marine resources."
   Consider a similar new agency, like National Education Services. The NES would evaluate the resources, people ready to prepare for jobs. NES would look at the entire situation. Jobs available, income in positions, etc. Then NES would dictate required education to fill jobs, number of people to saturate jobs and relative data to insure positions filled with overflow options.
    Just as the endangered species act manages species the NES would manage jobs education. Just as a company manages itself to stay in business , NES would manage the work force .
    Information justifying an agency regulating education based on needs is all the heavily indebted college students unable to sustain a comfortable living. 
Even A Broken Clock Added May 30, 2018 - 10:56am
Jeff, you piqued my curiosity as to why an educational institution would ever provide guidance to not go for the actual certificate but instead to claim that you fulfilled the requirements for the certificate. I hope you provide this as a story sometime.
I went through a very intensive math / chemistry / physics / engineering curricula to become a chemical engineer. For many who were going through for a degree, that was all they cared for, and they viewed the elective courses they had to fulfill as being a waste of time. Me? I lived for the one course a semester where I could scratch the urges coming from the other side of my brain. I still use information from my Music Theory for Non-Majors. The Anthropology 101 course I took opened my eyes. I greatly enjoyed the humanities courses I was able to take, and believe they helped me become a more well-rounded citizen.
Chet Ruminski Added May 30, 2018 - 11:41am
Enter your comment here...
Dave Volek Added May 30, 2018 - 11:44am
Rather create a government agency to evaluate the needs of society and encourage universities to go in that direction to meet those needs, I prefer my idea that a university graduates pay a small tax directly to their institution. Then, within 10 years, each university will know how relevant their programs are to the society. If a university grants too many degrees that can only find work in the doughnut shops, that university had better make some changes real quick. There won't me much revenue coming from retail workers.
I also say "encourage" because I doubt such an agency will be that influential with the universities--as long as universities are getting much of their money from government.
Once again, a fantastic analysis.
There used to be a time where someone could parley a humanities degree into another kind of profession that paid reasonably well. Obtaining most university degrees shows a certain fortitude and intellect and reading/writing skills and learning skills that will be useful in many workplaces. But those days are gone. A bachelor's in psychology or anthropology is, as you say, makes you a more interesting person. The degree might help you in becoming a manager at a recycling center, but first you have put some time on the recycling line.
While it is also easy to bash the humanities, a bachelor's degree in the sciences or math won't get one very far either. If a person wants to work in this field, the Ph.D. is the ticket. Such a person should plan for seven years instead of four. However, many B.Sc.'s do find reasonable employment that those workers coming off-the-street cannot attain, but these B.Sc.'s are not real scientists.
In the end, it is the stack of resumes that determines who gets hired. If there are too many B.A.'s, not many will get hired.
Rusty again
The fact that many B.A.'s cannot learn how to use a micrometer is interesting. I believe that most B.A.'s have to take a course or two in statistics, which involves a lot of number crunching. Most B.A.'s went into the humanities because they didn't like math. So they treated their statistics courses as a course to get through and not learn much from. Most B.A.'s I know cannot conduct a simplistic statistical analysis despite their training. With such disdain for numeracy, it's no wonder they have troubles finding a job.
I too was a STEM student. At first, I treated my electives as courses to just get over with. So I put in minimal effort to get a passing mark, and put my main efforts into engineering courses and partying. 
I took a couple of my electives in the spring semester: two courses with 2.5 hours a day each for five days a week. I really enjoyed this format. And without the pressure of the engineering courses, I really enjoyed those two courses. And I think I learned something!
I really think we need blend more humanities into STEM. The BP Macondo disaster was psychological in nature, not technical. If more engineers understood the inner workings of themselves and group dynamics, we would avoid many mistakes like this. 
I don't have a quick answer of implementing of psychology into engineering. But again, if my graduate-pay-the-university-tax idea takes hold, a university that produces a higher quality of graduate and that graduate puts a little more money in the university bank account, that is a market signal that the university has created a reasonable balance.
Chet Ruminski Added May 30, 2018 - 11:56am

Even A broken clock, Consider that Philosophy 101 and Introduction to Differential Equations are both single semester courses. It seems to me that 4 or 5 Philosophy 101 courses could be condensed into one single semester course. Looking and evaluating all courses based on ROI and efficiency, I believe any four year degree could easily be covered in two years . Calculus 1,2,3 and 4 could easily be covered in one semester .  College for Profit should be replaced by College for Education. Education now is the most backward inefficient program immune from constructive reformation . There are multiple schools that receive in the vicinity of a Billion Dollars a year.   And more !!!
Rusty Smith Added May 30, 2018 - 12:45pm
Jeff Jackson thank you for the well thought out and detailed answer to my question.  I rarely see that combination in a response.
Over time I've found that the best candidate is a person with a great attitude who has successfully been doing the same job for a competitor and is well liked there, is almost always the best person to hire even if there are other people applying who have more impressive qualifications, including fancy degrees.
In most jobs the educational requirements are a formality that have little to do with most people's work, since their jon the job training is much more applicable in most companies.  I therefore put a lot of emphasis on an applicant's ATTITUDE. 
I can get most willing employees the training the need to do most new jobs, but I can't teach attitude, what they walk in with is usually who they are and ultimately determines how good an employee they will become once they are trained.  That being said I tend to lean towards applicants who show signs of an outstanding work ethic and attitude because I know most will ultimately learn the job and those will be superior employees for the duration of their employment.
As a result I've had many fights with HR departments that wanted to take all the subjective tools I use out of the equation and limit me to questions that were directly derived from the Job Description.  They don't like to count things like a referral from another outstanding employee, who puts their own reputation on the line when they tell me "they think this person will make an outstanding employee", and that's how I often find my best employees.  I am a bit subjective and usually quickly discard employees who are "difficult or evasive" in the interview, since don't expect they will change if I employ them.  
On the other side I am very lenient about resumes and the interview process, because I now many of the best employees have lousy resume and or interview skills.  It's my job to find the best candidates for MY job, regardless of how poorly they interview.  They aren't being hired to take interviews, they are being hired to do other work. 
In the distant past I have hired people with no experience who helped my department and did a good job, over people who had years of experince doing the job but never were great workers.  I've hired people who could hardly write for jobs that didn't require writing skills, over people who were well educated but not enthusiastic about the job.  In all the companies I worked at I eventually got a reputation for hiring great employees and having a great team.  I don't think I could have gotten there if I was limited to questions about the person's ability to do the job.
Dave Volek Added May 30, 2018 - 1:07pm
Well said again. There seems to be an art to find the best people for a particular job. No one knows for sure how a new person will fit into a new company until a few months have passed. There's been no technical analysis that I know that has proven to be great at finding good people.
In my current department, people tend to stay a long time. But when a job opening comes up, there's a 50% chance the new hire will work out and a 50% chance he/she won't. There's been little correlation between credentials/experience and job success in this department.
I am one of these people who doesn't interview well. I got most of my jobs through references.
Bill Kamps Added May 30, 2018 - 1:53pm
Jeff, history is important.  If we go back 100 years or more, college educations were more of an education for its own sake. Harvard was founded in 1636, surely back then the reason for going there had nothing to do with "getting a job". 
There was no notion that learning something in college helped one in business.  Usually only the rich attended college, they learned the liberal arts, and European languages so they could travel to Europe and see the world. 
People who ran shops, ran mills, small factories, those who were part of the industrial revolution were more self taught.  Henry Ford, self taught.  Yes they employed a few science people who did attend the university, but for the most part, no one needed a college degree to go into business.  This does not mean that college didnt have its purpose, it is just that its purpose was different than its alleged purpose today. 
With the ease of Student Loans, the universities have run amuck in my opinion.  Tuition and fees have sky rocketed faster than health care costs, because everyone can get a loan to pay their crazy fees.  In big companies yes, a degree is more or less required, but most jobs are in small companies, and in small companies mostly people care if you can do the work.  Students need to think long and hard about going deeply in debt, to get a BS or a BA. 
Rusty you are correct, that attitude or passion is the best judge of success.  A bit of intelligence doesnt hurt either.  Those who are motivated, will figure things out. 
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:03pm
Pam, you are exactly right that college costs too much. I am told that some of the online universities are more expensive, some less. The problem with online universities is accreditation. An unaccredited degree is almost worthless in many instances. Many job descriptions now require a degree from an accredited college. As well, I have had numerous offers from people wanting me to take online courses for them, for a fee, of course. The amount of debt that students are accumulating is staggering, but if the government suddenly says that all college debt is forgiven, I want to be paid back my $35,000 for my last two degrees. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:06pm
Chet, I would be OK with an agency that recommended education for jobs, something that the free market has "supposed" to be doing for sometime now. I don't like the idea of an agency determining what all our nation needs in terms of education, I think the markets, while slow, can address that problem. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:08pm
Even, the putting off on applying for degrees will someday see publication, but for legal reasons, and also because of outcomes so far undetermined, it cannot be documented. I would like very much to get it over with, but, again, there are legal constraints at present time. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:12pm
Dave, nice comments and good insight. I think a solid understanding of psychology is a good thing for managers to have. For example, one of my HR classes talked a lot about tests, and some of the students really needed to take industrial psychology, because they had no idea of the legal ramifications, and I took the time to recommend that they take industrial psychology before they dreamed up some really dangerous (for the company) things to do. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:16pm
Rusty, congrats on your success in picking great candidates. I think your HR department wanted more objective analysis because legal challenges of hiring practices based on subjective notions do not stand up well in courts. There are psychographic tests that measure attitude, and they will stand up as long as statistically valid. Thanks again for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 4:20pm
Bill, unfortunately technology has come so far that even the lowest of jobs can require a fair amount of tech savvy. Take, for example, dispatchers in trucking. The trucking industry (and I am sure of others as well) has become drenched in technology that takes some computer knowledge to master. In my case, my degree that taught me critical thinking became quite valuable when things didn't go right. Very few of my cohorts had degrees, and while they were good at their jobs, most of them came to me when they really needed someone who was good at synthetic thinking. Thanks for your comments.
Neil Lock Added May 30, 2018 - 4:49pm
Jeff: Thanks for a really good article. And you've been most assiduous in the way you have dealt with the comments. Only one small thing... You had an article that had lots of Cs in the title, and now one with lots of Es. Which makes me worry, where did the one with the Ds go?
But seriously, my view on education is simple; the purpose of education is to teach people how think straight, and how to learn. Once they have those, they can educate themselves.
Dave: Your idea of universities lending to, and demanding repayment from, their own students is straight out of the free market playbook! That's exactly how university level education should be organized. Government shouldn't be involved at all, at all. The problem is, only Oxford and Cambridge (and maybe a few US private universities) have the capital resources to do that.
Rusty: Thanks for your contributions on this thread. Mind you, for me you're far too kind to politicians and their spawn! But that said, you're right that the ability to learn how to do the job - properly - is more important than some piece of paper that certifies that you listened to some boring lectures, and managed to jump through some hoops afterwards.
Aaron Johnson Added May 30, 2018 - 6:17pm
We're trying to change mindsets at my university but it can be a challenge. We often run in resistance to change our pedagogical strategies and finding ways to utilize technology in our classes. But we are making some progress. Then again I'm in the College of Business and not humanities.
Aaron Johnson Added May 30, 2018 - 6:19pm
Would you say a beginning introduction to analytics class should be a requirement for all business students?
George N Romey Added May 30, 2018 - 6:23pm
One issue is that a college degree is now required for jobs that should not require a degree. Not all students can be Stem and as it is we already have an over abundance of Stem graduates. We need to go back to people learning on the job and learning in life but the politicians and universities themselves will continue to push the sanctity of a college degree.
Rusty Smith Added May 30, 2018 - 7:28pm
Jeff Jackson I can't say I've never been fooled but I have found that strong recommendations from a current employee whose work and work ethic I respect has usually turned out to be a better way for me to judge potential applicants than my interview judgement.
Strangely because I hire a lot I've been asked to coach several people while they filled out those online personality tests and found if I answer consistently with what I'd want to hear as a hiring manager, my answers seem to be acceptable.  I think consistency also plays a part, there are always several questions that deal with each issue and you need to be consistent.  All 3 that I helped with were for low level jobs and all 3 got the jobs.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 9:26pm
Thank you Neil for your kind words. I think Dave's idea of universities granting or loaning the money to students is a great idea, and if you look at the trust funds of Harvard (last look it was $3.9 billion) and those schools they could definitely do it. But I would fear that the university officials would boost their salaries to astronomical levels and the money would soon be gone. They value themselves far too much for the public good, and, for example, one of our local colleges had legal problems with one of the staff and they still paid this person hundreds of thousands of dollars while they were suspended.
I have at times mentioned a boss that was all "bookwork" smart, and had very little practical knowledge of the business, and I am sure that he was making a great salary. There is bookwork smart and real-life smart, and from some of my experiences, American business could use more real-life smart managers. Thanks for your comments Neil.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 9:32pm
Thanks for your comments Aaron. I think that the universities are moving into technology that, while possibly useful, they are applying technology for the sake of technology, many times influenced by students who mistakenly think that technology is the answer to everything. I'm all for analytical classes, but they need some practical applications. My statistics classes were good for some real-life problems, but they only applied formulas, and not what I refer to as "synthetic" thinking. Synthetic thinking is to take what exists, rearrange it and apply it as a solution. One of my best professors was always saying "be scientific" when looking at problems, and he made a world of difference in my education. Thanks for your comments Aaron.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 9:37pm
George, I too have heard of the glut of STEM graduates that employers say aren't really what they are looking for in a candidate. I, and a lot of other people, would like to see companies make commitments to employees, train them and retain them, but the 1099 contract employment scheme has taken over as the main way for companies to maximize profit, if only for the short-term. Companies like Proctor and Gamble and Nucor keep employees, train them and have them ready when opportunities arise, and that enables them to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, because they already have the human capital to meet the market demands. Thanks for your comments George.
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 9:47pm
Rusty, the term work ethic means so much nowadays. I have seen too many "work/life balance" folks for whom the term meant that they didn't do overtime and would leave at quitting time even if there were problems to be resolved. I have never been that way. There was one time when I was working a fleet for someone on vacation and I stayed for almost three hours (I was salary) overtime on my Friday night to make sure that everything was done correctly. I got four employees where they needed to be, with no outside expenses, everything just part of a well-designed and perfectly executed plan that I stayed late to ensure it went as designed. By the way, my boss only resented that plan, because it made him look bad because he had never accomplished such a feat. Word of mouth in business and recommendations is usually the best advertising one can get. Thanks for your comments Rusty.
Bill Kamps Added May 31, 2018 - 6:20am
Jeff, obviously  more jobs today require more skills than 100 years ago, but that doesnt mean they need a four year degree.  The truck dispatching application you refer to may require some "computer skills" but I doubt that means a person needs to go to a university for four years to get those skills. 
My biggest complaint with universities is the run up of costs. Usually this is to pay for every grander buildings on campus, and students are getting stuck with lots of fees for things they dont need or use.  A lot of students were not even questioning this because it was all paid for by the loans.  People are finally starting to question whether the degree is worth the money being spent on it.   That is a good thing.  The college degree has been over sold.  It is not the panacea for a good job, and it is very expensive.  Some degrees for some students are worth the money, and some are not.
Most colleges dont exist to staff jobs in corporations.  Most exist to sell seats in their classrooms.  They will adjust their class offerings accordingly based on demand.  They dont care a fig what happens after you graduate, or even if you graduate.  Just like airlines dont care what you do once you get off their plane, they are in the business of selling seats on a plane.
Given that 70% of adults in the USA dont have a degree, there must be a great many jobs out there that dont require  a degree.  Sure the big company jobs do, but most people dont work for a big company. 
Ward Tipton Added May 31, 2018 - 7:49am
Remind me to never apply for a job with Rusty. 
HR people get all excited when they see my CV, but as soon as I walk in the door (I walk much like a gorilla due to curvature of the spine) and hear my Southern accent and the first words out of their mouths is inevitably "Warehouse" and my attitude goes right out the window as I walk out the door. 
Me and HR people and personality tests? Bad combination. Want someone to get the job done? I'm your huckleberry. 
Chet Ruminski Added May 31, 2018 - 9:41am

Dave, You said:

"Then, within 10 years, each university will know how relevant their programs are to the society. If a university grants too many degrees that can only find work in the doughnut shops, that university had better make some changes real quick. There won't me much revenue coming from retail workers."


That is after the fact like natural selection. 10 years is valuable time that deserves attention. I would prefer before the fact preparation eliminating any more useless degrees and the time and money spent on them. It appears that the bonus money from student loans has been spent more for attracting more student loans than improving the education product.
Rusty Smith Added May 31, 2018 - 10:07am
Ward Tipton you might be surprised to know that I expect most of the people I hire in Birmingham to have Southern accents and place little value on good looks or youth for most jobs where good looks won't enhance job performance.
I'd rather hire a married middle age and slightly overweight person than a hot young one who turns heads every time they head for the copier.  I don't need the office distractions, I want a worker, and prefer one that isn't going to leave in 6 months, or take time off to have a kid.  I also don't need the office drama over office dating competition and the associated rejection issues, things are just a lot easier without them.
Dave Volek Added May 31, 2018 - 1:24pm
If we are to remove "useless" degrees from universities, I think it would be better for each university to make its own decision in this regard. 
Let's use psychology as an example. A bachelor's degree in this field will likely not land anyone a job where these skills can be employed. It's quite evident that a doctorate degree will be required to earn a reasonable living in this field. 
Under my system, the university would not see much of a return with bachelor's degrees in psychology.
So a university is faced with several choices, knowing full well that most of its bachelor psychology graduates are not going to be employed in this field.
1) It could limit the number of seats at the bachelor's level. This still gives the impression that the university is open to this popular education.
2) It could see the bachelor's level as a feeder for its masters and doctorate programs in psychology.
3) It could cut back the bachelor's program dramatically, just providing enough basic psychology courses needed by other faculties. In other words, no bachelors, masters, or doctorates in psychology.
Looking at their long-term funding, some universities will choose the third option. With some universities reducing their psychology offerings, other universities will see the opportunity to keep their current psychology offerings as a means of earning future revenue because there are fewer competitors. 
Let the universities make the decisions, not some government agency.
EXPAT Added May 31, 2018 - 3:11pm
Universities, indeed all academia began as Centers of thinking and culture.
Over the centuries, as the world industrialized, they became more and more to be training centers to support business needs.
There is a need for schools like MIT to further technology, But there also needs to be Juilliard.
Liberal Arts teaches us to THINK, while  your Wisconsin example wants to teach us how to PERFORM.
In my opinion, society not only needs to be gainfully employed, they also need a reason to live.
Chet Ruminski Added May 31, 2018 - 9:35pm

Expat said: "In my opinion, society not only needs to be gainfully employed, they also need a reason to live."


That is the essence of my argument that prosperity leads to peace. Prosperity fosters good will and gives people a reason to live.  All people everywhere . Giving a few people power and facility to hoard money at the cost of misery and suffering to the majority is abysmal.
Ward Tipton Added May 31, 2018 - 11:09pm
@Rusty Smith
I was largely referring to sitting me down in a room with HR personnel and personality tests ... I would come up short every time LOL
EXPAT Added Jun 1, 2018 - 12:19am
Chet Ruminski.
You misinterpret my statement. "...society not only needs to be gainfully employed, they also need a reason to live. "
Prosperity enabled the British Empire to subjugate much of the world. Without a dominant Navy, they would have been limited to subjugating the Irish and Scotch.
Conversely The Buddha was born a RICH Indian Prince, but walked away from prosperity to learn truth! History is replete with aesthetics who shunned prosperity to find the meaning of life, and/or to serve their fellow man.
Osama Ben Laden was a billionaire. That didn't make him peaceful; did it!
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 1, 2018 - 1:46pm

I addressed the examples of abuse that you provided with my last statement in your post post .  I said :   "Giving a few people power and facility to hoard money at the cost of misery and suffering to the majority is abysmal."


     Our financial system has developed into a simple fee system supporting betting on the outcome of certain activities .   The value of stocks based on earnings has been superseded by contracts that  have no benefit, derivatives. Here and around the world that practice has removed trillions of dollars from the consumption economy . Reversing that practice would revive the consumption economy. Prosperity to the masses. That would give people reasons to live.
Rusty Smith Added Jun 1, 2018 - 5:58pm
Dave Volek I would like to see us stop subsidizing useless degrees that provide no job advantages unless you teach or entertain.  
If you want to learn all about Art, Dance, Music, the Humanities, or Hispanic studies, pay for it yourself.  Put that money towards things like Engineering, Chemistry, Law, and Business.
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 1, 2018 - 8:10pm

Apparently the consensus acknowledges worthless degrees. So now we are faced with the problem of warning kids of the dangers of getting a college education. The sobering realization is status quo and tradition will keep stressing the value of a college education. So instead of entering the work force some kids will accumulate huge student loan debt foregoing 4 years of income and work experience. 


Chet Ruminski Added Jun 1, 2018 - 11:54pm
Enter your comment here...
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Jun 2, 2018 - 1:56pm
"Mr. Bruni is correct when he says: “And they shouldn’t downgrade the nonvocational mission of higher education: to cultivate minds, prepare young adults for enlightened citizenship, give them a better sense of their perch in history and connect them to traditions that transcend the moment. History, philosophy and comparative literature are bound to be better at that than occupational therapy. They’re sturdier threads of cultural and intellectual continuity.” But the reality is much different. Most of the liberal arts degrees aren’t worth much in the business world.
IF  the intent of liberal arts courses was to 'cultivate minds' instead of indoctrination of labile minds with leftist dogma we might be able to employ more. 
I hired perhaps two dozen scientific people in my career and tried to use head hunters  to gather a selection of  talents we might need. The request to those folk was to send me certain scientific majors but not biology. The result was mostly a stack of resumes of biology graduates and little else. As a result we never interviewed any from head hunters and perused the literature and worked scientific shows for candidates
Those who want to match graduates with opening jobs appear to think that political indoctrination is more important than securing a good job. Since the 1960s basket-weaving and other fluff courses are still popular for some strange reason and do little to fill open job requirements. The other thought is that we have too many folk that can never graduate with  a useful degree [50% of all college attendees do not secure a degree] so they have no other option. 
A sad situation where career counseling is necessary at the HS level. Apparently the zeal for political indoctrination is more important for college 'professors' and such. 
Tamara Wilhite Added Jun 2, 2018 - 7:29pm
Too many liberal arts degrees are an expensive proxy for an IQ test or simply political indoctrination plus a certificate one assumes will lead to a job.
Half of these rioters are rioting because they went 100K into debt to get an X-studies degree, were trained as professional activists ... and now face a government that won't hire them as chekists and removed the "diversity mandates" that forced many private businesses to hire these types in HR as a condition of receiving government contracts.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 2, 2018 - 8:35pm
rycK-Liberal Arts degrees do cultivate minds in the right situation. Most lawyers were political science majors. My Liberal Arts degree certainly cultivated my mind, and, while there were some left-ish profs, they didn't get too far into it. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 2, 2018 - 8:36pm
Tamara, thanks for a rather astute observation. Very telling observation indeed. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 2, 2018 - 8:41pm
Chet-The wages of blue-collar work stagnated from the 1980s until well in the 2000s. Most high school graduates went to college because the blue-collar jobs of our fathers didn't have much of a future. Now, after 30 or so years, the lack of blue-collar workers is showing and wages are finally going up. It's about time. Meanwhile, the colleges swelled and many programs that were rather small grew because of all the applicants to universities. I foresee a lot of colleges downsizing out of necessity. What I am interested in is the online universities who I still have doubts about, especially when I get students offering to pay me to take their online classes. Thanks for your comments Chet.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 2, 2018 - 8:42pm
Rusty- Engineering, Chemistry, Law, and Business maybe not as many lawyers, OK? I was talking with a few of them (there are lots of them around anymore) and one of them said that if you didn't graduate from an Ivy-League school, your prospects were not good.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:50pm
Tamara White
"Too many liberal arts degrees are an expensive proxy for an IQ test or simply political indoctrination plus a certificate one assumes will lead to a job."
I agree, fully, with this comment. We must recall that IQ tests were denigrated during the LBJ era because certain folk determined they were unfair to certain minorities, but not Asians or Jews. Liberals countered the Bell Curve findings with the notion that there were other more important 'intelligence' metrics and IQ tests discriminated against blacks. What, then, does an IQ measure other than IQ??
Half of these rioters are rioting because they went 100K into debt to get an X-studies degree, were trained as professional activists ... and now face a government that won't hire them as chekists and removed the "diversity mandates" that forced many private businesses to hire these types in HR as a condition of receiving government contracts."
The need for "diversity mandates"  by hiring people with training in such areas was a political theme designed to gain employment for those who followed the leftist dream. 
The government and university system are co-conspirators here in warping the job markets with candidates who have no or little attributes for many or most jobs. 
Another futile attempt at redistributing the wealth  is rotting away. 
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 3, 2018 - 2:50pm

Rusty and Jeff,

   Regarding the hypothetical lab assistant position selection. An actual test comprised of the practical application of skills in actual working conditions would demonstrate ability to perform a job.  That would be concrete evidence .  I understand the expediency in resolving an applicant into data. Both the practicality and cost. But the most that can be derived from interrogative sourced data is probability. Why aren't demonstrative tests used in hiring?
Rusty Smith Added Jun 3, 2018 - 3:01pm
Chet Ruminski I resist demonstrative tests because they don't allow me to consider one huge factor, ATTITUDE.  Lot of jobs can be done well by most people who get proper training, and most people can perform tests at a level they never intend to maintain if hired.  
I've hired people who never held the job I'm hiring for instead of people who have experince at that job, many times, because I knew the Attitude of the person without experince would make them a superior employee after a few months on the job.  With testing, the person with experience would have prevailed, but been a much worse employee in the long term.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Jun 3, 2018 - 4:44pm
Chet and Rusty
I have hired many scientists for our research group to work in my group or in others conducted by colleagues. The "the practical application of skills " was assessed, in our cases, by a lengthy presentation of scientific work that was published or or publishable quality. This gives a panel of perhaps a dozen scientists chances to ask pertinent questions as to how the experiments were conducted and designed and why. 
"because I knew the Attitude of the person without experience would make them a superior employee after a few months on the job."
Attitude is only one attribute and not the principle one for scientific work. I have gathered evidence for several scientists to be discharged that had great attitudes but could not seem to perform on the job. 
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 3, 2018 - 5:35pm



"people can perform tests at a level they never intend to maintain if hired".


That is true also after starting the job. Reflecting on my own experience I have said that every new hire is impeccable for 6 weeks. After that the long term attitude is revealed. The only unique benefit from a demonstrated working skills test is the subject can actually be observed performing tasks that would require the desired skills. I would now say that a determination couldn't be made from a skills test alone but that a skills test should be the prerequisite for continuing the process.




     I assume you are pointing to the need for multiple tests to be comprehensive. I guess I am being subjective because I have always hired from local talent that I was already familiar with. I had already judged attitude, as Rusty mentioned, before even accepting applications.


rycK the JFK Democrat Added Jun 3, 2018 - 5:47pm
There is much emphasis in the last few posts  on 'attitude,' not being sure how you define this, it appears to be very important in your case. 
Can you, then, accept a new employee with a positive attitude, but with lesser skills compared to another with  reversed attributes?
Multiple tests may or not show talent if not backed up by experience and results in the last job or in school.  In my cases, only certain folk with narrow skills [tissue culture, immunoassays, production of monoclonal antibodies, etc.] would be able to perform the most basic skills. 
From this I might infer that the people you seek can be easily trained and you expect them to 'fit' into the job nicely with others of their ilk.
I can certainly agree with your approach IF certain scarce skills are not needed for your candidate. For deep technical skills this does not work. 
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 3, 2018 - 11:24pm

ryck, My original premise placed all the emphasis on an a test of the applicants performance of required skills in a replicated work situation. I discounted tests requiring a thoughtful response. I described the results as ability vs probability. Rusty's comments called my attention to attitude because I had subconsciously been assessing attitude because I knew most of the people having the qualifications I was looking for.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 4, 2018 - 12:28am
How does one measure attitude? I would say there might be some psychographic tests for it, but then, attitudes change over time, and the person new to the job is certain not to have the same attitude as the person who has been with the firm for a long time.
The U.S. Foreign Service (the State Department) has an initial test of knowledge, and then you go to "assessment" where they put you in situations and see how you deal with them. McDonald's (at least at some point in time) would have you work several days to see how you worked, and then they made the decision of whether to offer you a job.
I have no objection to a firm having you work there for a few days (and pay you, of course) to see how you interact with other employees and how you do the job. The idea of a trial offer has some merits, but I'm not seeing much of that. However, there are many jobs that now hire "temporary" workers, and they see how you work out, and then might, or might not, offer you a job. Makes sense to me.
Rusty Smith Added Jun 4, 2018 - 10:37pm
Jeff Jackson some companies do have probationary periods, and some hire though temp agencies first, but they all have their own problems.
First problem is that people who know their job is on the line almost always work hard until their probationary period is over.
Second is that courts tend to look favorably on employees who were rated well in a probationary period and then let go after that.  Employees and their attorneys often argue that nothing short of insubordination is a good reason to let someone go after that.  
That's why attitude is soooooooo important.  If an employee doesn't have what it takes to keep performing, they are a much poorer choice than one who is more qualified but has a lousy attitude and will always be a poor or mediocre performer, or even a pain in the rear employee.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 5, 2018 - 3:44pm
Interesting point Rusty. Ohio is an "at will" employee state, meaning that all employees are kept "at will" and any employees can be fired at any time, even with no reason at all. The lawyers would have hard time defending that, at least in Ohio. Thanks for your comments Rusty, always interesting.
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 5, 2018 - 6:11pm

Dave Volek said:


"If we are to remove "useless" degrees from universities, I think it would be better for each university to make its own decision in this regard."


I think after having received trillions of dollars and producing some worthless degrees that colleges and universities are incapable of recognizing short comings in curricula. Looking at the human side the jobs that are going with these degrees probably wouldn't qualify the conferee for a loan equal to the cost of the questionable degrees.
Chet Ruminski Added Jun 5, 2018 - 8:19pm
Enter your comment here...
Rusty Smith Added Jun 5, 2018 - 8:32pm
Jeff Jackson Calif is also an at will state but we have very liberal courts and an abundance of lawyers with nothing better to do.
I've been in court several times because lawyers convinced employees they were discriminated against when they weren't retained or even not selected for a permanent position after they did the work rather poorly at my company though a body shop.  So far Ive not lost in court but I must add I've spent horrendous amounts of money defending my decisions and it's not recoverable.
Every case I've fought involved a minority applicant, of course, they are the only ones who can legally claim I discriminated against them because they were part of a protected class.  One went so far as to claim I disliked strong black women who were performing jobs that are usually performed by men.  She had to be that specific because I had many other black women who enjoyed working for me.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 6, 2018 - 7:58am
Rusty, I certainly can understand that happening in the People's Republic of California.
rycK the JFK Democrat Added Jun 6, 2018 - 11:59am
Rusty Smith
"I've been in court several times because lawyers convinced employees they were discriminated against when they weren't retained or even not selected for a permanent position after they did the work rather poorly at my company though a body shop.  So far Ive not lost in court but I must add I've spent horrendous amounts of money defending my decisions and it's not recoverable."
You are, obviously, part of the dreaded  bourgeois and what you have earned is above average so it was attained unfairly. [:)]
That is why I left California and a definition from Jeff: [People's Republic of California.].  
Rusty Smith Added Jun 6, 2018 - 3:05pm
rycK the JFK Democrat I like many things about where I live but California sure has been trying hard to get me to leave and take my money with me, especially when I hit retirement age.
Even long before it pays for affluent Californians to buy a condo in a neighboring state, and "officially reside" there.  If they do California pays for their condo, with the sales tax savings.  Yes, you get a condo for free just by moving your official residence to another state.
I have quit buying California Municipal bonds so when I leave the state they won't tax my earnings.  I'm no longer interested in California real estate for the same reason.  I won't invest  in most California businesses, Calif is just taxing them too much and seems to be trying to regulate them out of business.
One day all that will be left will be the poor and illegals, then they can pay for their own stuff.  Then the bright ones will realize there is a use for things like basic Mathematics.

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