03 March 2012

Rick Santorum, Higher Ed and American Values

UPDATE 3/5: The WSJ reports that Rick Santorum says "never mind" on the "snob" comment. He must have read my piece ;-)

I've got a short piece in the Boulder Daily Camera today on Rick Santorum's comment last week about that "snob" in the White House who wants to see more college graduates.  Here is how it ends:
Given how much Americans like to make money, remain employed, benefit from ongoing innovation and participate in the annual March Madness basketball selection pools, good advice for any aspiring presidential candidate would be to not put yourself on the wrong side of core American values.
See the whole thing here.

26 comments:

Skip said...

So is the value of a college degree somehow independent from normal supply and demand curves?

Buck said...

Well said!

It's a bit scary to count the number of political types who use the word 'elite' as a pejorative. As though we ought to aspire to be average. Populism, blech.

Gerard Harbison said...

What Santorum said was stupid, and your column is a remarkably clear exposition of why it was a political mistake.

If you believe more than half of it, though, I shall propose you change your name to Professor Roger Pangloss. We actually don't do a very good job of training students for the workforce, and we waste a great deal of their time. College athletics in money sports at big time sports schools are now almost totally disconnected from the academic life of the school. Whether college is a good investment depends heavily on what college you attend.

The problem with what Santorum said was that it runs counter to some of our most cherished myths. It doesn't mean they aren't myths.

n.n said...

Skip:

It is not. The market always rules. It is the purest form of democracy in a world where resources have limited availability and accessibility. Not to mention that we should be careful to moderate our expectations in order to avoid alienating people. While we may enjoy the same rights under the law, we do not necessarily share the same dreams, ambitions, capabilities, etc. The result of ignoring reality has been a massive distortion of our economy, science, politics, etc., which has lead to increasing dysfunction in our relationships, families, and throughout society in general.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-3-Gerard Harbison

Thanks ... and I agree. But we in the academy should be sure to distinguish between the best and the worst of academia and trying to steer the ship from the latter to the former. Thanks!

Sean said...

The article you reference is an odd read. It spends a good deal of time on March Madness yet only about half of those participating in the tournament will actually graduate from college. It also talks about preparation for a career. Yet just yesterday the NY Times had an article about how the colleges with squeezed state budgets are cutting the programs in the greatest demand. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/business/dealbook/state-cutbacks-curb-training-in-jobs-critical-to-economy.html?scp=7&sq=education&st=cse. Appearantly, the cost of highly technical degrees involving labs is much higher than those that can be done in a classroom. All the while the cost of tuition goes through the roof.
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/why-tuition-has-skyrocketed-at-state-schools/?ref=economy
And on top of that, how many people with a college degree end of up a job where one is not needed?
I believe a good education is important to career success. But the cost of the piece of paper, the college diploma, has skyrocketed and some schools are not doing a good job of preparing their student for a career. Pumping out more college graduates who have degrees in areas of low demand is devalueing the college diploma.

Stan said...

Roger,

Mike Rowe and millions of Americans disagree with you. http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html

There are none so blind as those who deliberately choose to misunderstand so as to avoid confronting difficult truths.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-7-Stan

Thanks, but I doubt it:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/09/skilled-labor-gap.html

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Also ... http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/01/mike-rowe-on-dirty-jobs.html

Thanks!

Matt said...

I wouldn't have used Santorum's approach with calling people "snobs," though I'm sure that will resonate with a lot of people. But the conclusion that we're not already sending too many people to college seems detached from reality.

We've already dumbed it down a lot to accommodate the levels of attendance we already have. Shoving more people through -Studies programs isn't going to fill any sort of skill gap that we currently have. Pushing on that rope is simply delusional, though it's often un-PC to say so.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm sure that it isn't removing even more incentives for
people to take responsibility for their futures.

Scott Basinger said...

Through my career as a professional engineer, I have come to a deep appreciation and respect for the skilled trades.

I'm not sure how you can adequately measure worth to a working society aside from what society is willing to pay, but I would be willing to hazard a guess that it would be higher than many with university education.

Mark B. said...

Santorum is a bonehead. Those who believe that 'everyone should go to college' are boneheads as well. Our colleges - excuse, me, 'universities' - are full of kids who have absolutely no interest in being there, and only attend because they were told that it was the natural next step in life.

College can be two things. It can be a temporary respite from the professional world for the children of the well to do, and it can be employment training.

Those who can afford four years taken out of their working/earning life - and pay for the priveledge - don't matter to the rest of us. For the rest, there are a certain number of jobs available that need a college degree, and a certain number of students who will fill said jobs. Sending more students through an employment training program does not create jobs for them. All it does is to inflate the number of jobs that require a college degree.

We need to increase the number of students who are proficient in mathematics and technical subjects, where there are jobs going wanting and foreign workers replace Americans. We do not need more psychology and communications majors spending four years getting drunk and then expecting a job on a silver platter.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-12-Mark B. (and others)

Thanks for the comments, but the debate over Santorum's comments is not whether everyone should go to college or not, but rather whether one is a "snob" for expressing the view that more people should have the chance to go to college.

The first is a strawman the second is, as you said, in response to a "bonehead" ;-)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

From the DC comment thread on my op-ed:

"Never was more BS uttered in so few words"

;-)

Sean said...

Perhaps what Santorum was trying to do was was channel some of the thoughts that Charles Murray had written in his latest book, Comimg Apart. The first chapter of that book deals with how different and more segregated our economy has become and argues that the really powerful decision makers live lives that are completely detached from what 90% of ordinary citizens live yet those power brokers make decisions that profoundly affect the 90%. the fact that you had to coin the "iron rule" in your book the climate fix shows just how detached the elite decision makers are. If they truly understood ordinary citizens lives, thy would not propose solutions that would be so devastating to working class family budgets.

MIKE MCHENRY said...

It depends on your point of reference. I grew up in a blue collar family in the 50's and 60's. Neither of my parents graduated HS never mind college. My father certainly would have perceived Obama as a snob. He had an oxymoron that he would apply to Obama types: an "intellectual moron". Santorum's remark is certainly aimed at the blue collar worker. On the other hand I can see how this would be taken in a college town like your own.

TheTracker said...

"My father certainly would have perceived Obama as a snob. He had an oxymoron that he would apply to Obama types: an "intellectual moron"."

I don't know that your father's insecurities are really relevant here.

There's really no defense for Santorum's rant, especially given Obama's record. One might argue that better teaching and accountability in K-12 should be a higher priority than more students in college, but the Obama administration has pushed that very aggressively, clashing with the teachers' unions in the process.

You could argue that advanced degrees aren't for everyone, but Obama has pushed community college and technical programs very aggressively -- he's saying most people need some college, not that everyone needs a four-year degree.

You could argue that colleges should do a better job of educating students or not charge so much, but these are hardly things under Obama's control, nor are they good reasons not to go to college.

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

.

...but rather whether one is a "snob" for expressing the view that more people should have the chance to go to college.

The chance to go to college? How about the chance to become indebted with student loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy in order to get a degree that in very many cases is in gross surplus on the market. You could have just as easily said "the chance to become a loan slave."

Just a few years ago we had "the chance to own a home" responsible for the easy credit policies (no money down, stated income, et al) that fueled the housing bubble.

While the "everyone should have a shot at college" mentality may be bad and even ruinous for many students, it is certainly good for the professoriate.



.

TheTracker said...

"The chance to go to college? How about the chance to become indebted with student loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy in order to get a degree that in very many cases is in gross surplus on the market."

Did you not read the article? Unemployment for college grads at the height of the recession was ONE THIRD what it was for those that didn't graduate from high school.

Quit whining about your student loan debt. It's the definition of a #firstworldproblem.

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

.

@19

Yes indeed. Those college grads working at Burger King and living in the folks basement were in fact employed.

A college education, like a house is a good thing if and only if the benefits outweigh the costs. Like the housing bubble the higher education bubble is making that good thing true for fewer and fewer students.

However it is still a GREAT thing for administrators and the professoriate.

BTW, my education has long since been paid in full.

.

Will Nitschke said...

Trade schools make sense, but everyone should go to college? Hair dresses? Motor mechanics? Catering services? Carpenters? Painters? Construction workers? The list goes on.

College is great if you can afford the luxury and have the right temperament. But with life span increasing and technical training becoming more complex, and in consideration of the long term outlook, can social democracies actually afford such things?

Matt said...

Roger,

The question to ask in determining if a college degree for everyone makes economic sense is not what percentage of college grads are employed/unemployed vs those who don't have degrees.

The proper question to ask is what percentage of college grads are employed in jobs that will pay enough to cover the cost of the degree.

It doesn't matter how the degree is actually payed for. If they don't get a job that will pay for the degree, then that person earning that degree is a net economic loss.

This likely doesn't matter if the student has enough money going in to cover the costs, but if they have to ask anyone else to pay for it, then this definately matters.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-22-Matt

Thanks, but neither I (nor Obama) has asserted the following:

"The question to ask in determining if a college degree for everyone makes economic sense"

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

The higher ed bubble continues its expansion.


http://www.zerohedge.com/news/january-consumer-credit-surges-government-blows-sudent-debt-bubble-epic-proportions

Matt said...

Roger,

You said in your Boulder Daily Camera piece

"For instance, a college degree is a reliable ticket to a good-paying and secure job. In 2011, the U.S. for the first time saw more than 30 percent of its adult population holding at least a bachelor's degree. Increasing demand for higher education is a matter of simple economics: median pay for those with a bachelor's degree was 70 percent higher than those with just a high school diploma. Even more significantly, during the peak of the economic crisis those without a high school diploma saw their unemployment rates reach almost 18 percent whereas those with at least a bachelor's degree saw unemployment rates top out at just 5.6 percent."

Unemployment statistics bachelor's degree vs high school diploma is the wrong way to evaluate whether a colledge degree makes economic sense.

It only makes economic sense if the degree gets the student a job that will pay for the degree obtained. For a lot o majors, particularly liberal arts majors this is not true and those degrees do not make any economic sense.

A student geting a degree that does not make economic sense is fine as long as that student and or the student's parrents can afford id. It is not fine if they are asking other people to pay for it (the government for example).

Matt said...

Rojer,

Also, The median income for those with batchelor's degrees being 70% higher also does not by itself make the degree make economic sense.

There are many costs that go into getting the degree beyond tuition, such as forgone income due to delaying the start of working full time by several years.

For the degree to make economic sense, the extra income beyond what could be earned without the degree must be enough to yield a net return when set against the full cost obtaining the degree.

I would argue that much of the increase in demand for college education is actually a result of high school students being fradulently convinced that having a degree makes economic since without any considering of what subject the degree is for.

From what I have read, when you look at employment rates and income between different degrees, many degrees, especially liberal arts degrees have over all net negative economic value.

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