kitchen table math, the sequel: party on

Saturday, October 9, 2010

party on

"University administrators are the equivalent of subprime mortgage brokers," he says, "selling you a story that you should go into debt massively, that it's not a consumption decision, it's an investment decision. Actually, no, it's a bad consumption decision. Most colleges are four-year parties."

Technology = Salvation


Crimson Wife said...

Good luck trying to land a decent-paying job without attending college unless you're really handy and can get yourself an apprenticeship as an electrician, plumber, or other high-skill tradesman occupation.

Even the "success without a college degree" stories typically feature college *dropouts* like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg rather than those who never went at all.

Should students be smart about which college to attend and which major to study? Absolutely. Spending big bucks for an unmarketable degree is foolish.

Should students who are undecided about their future seriously consider joining the military to gain maturity & discipline plus money towards college? Yes.

But I completely disagree with the claim that college is a bad financial investment.

Allison said...

I'm glad someone else said this and got it printed. When I tell people that college is basically 4 yrs of students drinking, drugging and whoring, they tend to get very defensive.

But the truth needs to be said: almost no majors require real work, majors that used to require it have been watered down so that the difficult courses can be avoided, and even in majors that do have work, many students are "recreating" thursday thru tuesday, knowing just how little they need to do to get by.

There is little left of the idea that college is to improve oneself intellectually, that you will go (even to an elite school) in order to partake in a vigorous intellectual climate.

Every parent with a high school student should be reading Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons. That is an accurate (though perhaps too positive) account of what college is like now.

Crimson Wife said...

I hear these kinds of claims all the time and it just makes me scratch my head. I graduated in '99, which wasn't *that* long ago, and my DH was in grad school from '03-'06, which is even more recent. I didn't notice the millennial undergrads having an appreciably lighter workload than mine was, and I had to put in at least 45 hours per week to maintain a decent GPA studying biology. My DH, who studied engineering, probably put in closer to 60.

Anonymous said...

I had to put in at least 45 hours per week to maintain a decent GPA studying biology. My DH, who studied engineering, probably put in closer to 60."

Sure. But where did you go to college?

A non-rigorous major at a non-rigorous college is totally different from something with content from a real university.

Think MIT Engineering vs. Cal State Humbolt xxx studies.

Spending $100K-$200K for the MIT education might make sense financially. Spending $100K-$200K (which, I think, an out-of-state student could do ... God help them) for the Humbolt education would not.

I suspect that the "average" college is much closer to Cal State Humbolt than MIT.

-Mark Roulo

Tex said...

Actually, they're usually FIVE-YEAR parties.

The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It

Allison said...

Speaking as an alum of MIT, the drinking-drugging-whoring was out of control in the late 80s-mid 90s when I was there, and it's worse now.

There's the frat culture of drinking and drugging, even at MIT, where frats don't have the status they do at say, Duke, and yet still have plenty of issues. Every weekend, the majority of the students at those frats are binge drinking and doing all of the other terrible things that go with it. It was normal for female students to tell you of being so drunk as they went from party to party at the MIT frats that they passed out in snowbanks--and they took more pride in that than in attending class.

Frats weren't the only place with that culture, though. Lots of dorm life centered around drugs, parties, etc. Partying started on Thursday night. And this was in a school with no NCAA sports.

Now, there is a piece of this at MIT, Yale, etc. which is study-hard/party-hard: if you put people in pressure cookers, they can only respond to so much pressure before their will power to resist lowers. So they end up at the fringes of behavior for this reason.

But UC Berkeley undergrad life was just as drunk and drugged, and wasn't anything like a pressure cooker. It was just the norm in large swaths of the population--the frat population, the jock population, the dorm population, the kids who lived off campus, the ones who like phish, the ones who liked raves, etc. As in, everyone who had a life.

Sure, there were some students working hard who were blissfully unaware. And if you have not falling down the rabbit hole enough to recognize when people are altered, then you will not understand the asinine behavior you are seeing is due to drugs or alcohol. But you said you worked hard for a "decent GPA" in a hard science--because if you worked 10% less hard, your grades wouldn't have been "decent" to you. But you could have worked 70% less hard and STILL gotten passing grades, even if they weren't "decent". Once you've fallen off that particular path and are struggling, there's not a lot of incentive to keep working hard. It's easier to learn the minimum you need to get by.

And again, if you're at San Diego State instead, you were working this hard in the first place.

Allison said...

now, CW, to this issue of you being a bio major and your husband an engineering major, I've assumed you were at Harvard because you're Crimson. Did you know a lot of hard working liberal arts majors?

Because at UC Berkeley, the English dept school catalog should make parents weep--it's the English dept, and it's filled with movies. Not books, movies.

Here are 3:
English 190
Title: Research Seminar: Women’s Films of the ‘40s & ‘50s
In this course we will examine a range of examples of the genre “the woman’s film” of the 40's and 50's, emphasizing maternal, paranoid, romantic and medical discourses, issues of spectatorship, consumerism, and various “female” problems and fantasies. We will also look at feminist film theory and its conceptualization of subjectivity and desire in the cinematic apparatus.

Book list: Gledhill, C.: Home is Where the Heart Is; Doane, M.: The Desire to Desire; Kaplan, E. A.: Motherhood and Representation
English 190
Section: 3
Title: Research Seminar: Alfred Hitchcock

Book list: Spoto, D.: The Art of Alfred Hitchcock; Truffaut, F.: Hitchcock; a course reader.

Course Description:

Unique among Hollywood directors, Hitchcock played on two boards. As a master of entertainment who had nothing to say, he produced work as thoroughly trivial as it was utterly compelling. But thanks to the French reception of his work in the 1950s, Hitchcock also came to be considered a master of art, the Auteur par excellence. If his films had nothing to say, they hardly needed to; in their unparalleled formal originality, they distilled the pure essence of cinema itself. The course will focus on this dialectic between entertainment and art, between saying nothing and being everything. We shall pay particular attention to a Style that is, on the one hand, commodified as a “touch” that all can recognize, and, on the other, recessed in strange, inconsequential, gibberish-making details that, far from courting recognition, seem to defy it.

Please note that students will be expected to attend weekly film screenings, Thursdays 6-9 P.M., in 300 Wheeler.
English 190
Title: Postcolonial Cinema

Films: Ray, S.: Pather Panchali, 1955; Lean, D.: Lawrence of Arabia, 1962; Pontecorvo, G.: The Battle of Algiers, 1966; Sembene, O.: Xala, 1975; Frears, S.: Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, 1987; Kassovitz, M.: La Haine, 1995; Denis, C.: Beau Travail, 1999; Haneke, M.: Caché, 1995; Meirelles, F.: City of God, 2002; Costa, P.: Colossal Youth, 2006; McQueen, S.: Hunger, 2008; Boyle, D.: Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

Course Description:

This course examines cinematic productions originating in or concerning themselves with the former colonial territories of the European empires of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will cover some general film studies theories and methodologies; conduct an overview of postcolonial theory; and address critical trends in postcolonial cinema studies. A substantial reader (critical-theoretical writings by Kracauer, Benjamin, Bazin, Metz, Spivak, Shohat, Minh-ha, Rosen, Stam, Guneratne, et. al.), regular film screenings, participation in class discussion, and two 10-page research papers are required.
Sure, there were actual seminars in Shakespeare, Stein, and others. But plain as day, section after section of demanding seminars are cancelled because of lack of enrollment and instead, students watch movies for credit. This is just the tiniest window into what is wrong with the liberal arts and letters nowadays.

SteveH said...

My issue is that the K-8 education world (and others) are pushing college as the solution for many who would least benefit, or may never get the degree and end up with huge, unforgivable loans.

That piece of paper is either meaningful or it isn't. Either it matters to an employer or it doesn't (whether you like it or not). Is it simply an easy way to sort job applications in poor job market? Is it just a really expensive way to show that you can complete a task? That piece of paper has been meaningful for many generations (good or bad), but the K-12 education world is making the problem much worse.

We are told that going to college is a good investment, but do they ever break this down by college and degree type? My niece has a degree (film production?) from UCONN with top grades. After two years, she still doesn't have a job that requires more than a high school diploma. It hasn't been a good investment yet. It may never pay off, but if she had taken the money she paid for college and invested in a stock index fund, she could retire early.

If some degrees are meaningless, then why does it matter to employers? Why not take the easiest courses and party for 4 years? It can still be a proper investment, even if it doesn't prepare you much beyond high school. Many job specifications require a college degree, but they don't get too picky after that. Whose fault is that?

I think the K-12 education world is making this problem worse and that they are doing no favors for many kids. Rather than torture some kids through Algebra II in high school, they could set up an early admission process for the local vocational school. Rather than flunking out of high school, students might find themselves prepared for a well-paying job in about the same time as it would take to finish high school. Actually, some states are promoting some form of this option.

Businesses could decide to hire kids with good grades right out of high school. If they work out, then students might work toward a college degree on the side, perhaps paid for by the company. Some of my best students were the ones with daytime jobs. Unfortunately, they were trying to get the piece of paper that was holding back their careers. The job specification was holding them back, not their skills or knowledge.

If you push more and more kids into college, but don't prepare them any better than you did 40 years ago, then college costs will be nothing more than an unnecessary and expensive entrance fee to a bad job market. This has nothing to do with 21 century learning. It's supply and demand. It may be a good investment (with high risk), but that doesn't imply that it's meaningful.

Anonymous said...

College has become an important investment for the simple reason that employers no longer have any faith in high school diplomas. But as larger numbers of people get college degrees the financial value of a degree will inevitably go down. So, then you get the situation where people are deep in college debt but not making nearly enough money to pay it off.

You get stuck between a rock and a hard place. You can't get a decent job without a degree but the salary from that decent job might not come close to actually paying for that degree.

This is why we have to dramatically improve k-12 education, so that employers can once again feel comfortable hiring high school grads. We can save college for students who want to go into fields that really do require further training and education.