Friday, February 15, 2013

Proof That College Doesn't Make You Smart

No job requires a college degree. That statement unto itself is factually true.

But the rest of Sorry Left AND Right, No Job Requires A College Degree from Forbes is a bucket of warm piss begging to be dumped over the author's head.

Author John Tamny (holder of a BA and an MBA, perhaps from the University of Texas if what teh interwebs tells me can be believed) makes the fundamental error of confusing skills with aptitude.

Again, I'll agree with the premise that a college degree is not required for any job. What's required is a certain set of knowledge, aptitude, and a few skills that you can apply productively to the job.

At the risk of being annoying, I'm going to select some of my favorite lines from the article and present them to you for discussion.

"...computers and calculators have largely made the need for math knowledge something of the past." Wow. Chalk up some good ignorance points right off the bat. This is why McDonald's has photos of the food on the cash registers so as not to confuse their employees and why it's so hard to find a cashier who can actually make change. And maybe if consumers had a bit more math knowledge maybe they wouldn't have taken mortgage loans they couldn't afford. And maybe the electorate would appreciate the federal government's fiscal issues a bit more and apply that leverage at the ballot box. Hell, maybe Congress could use a little more math knowledge to keep us out of fiscal problems in the first place.

"...universities “equipping” students with the knowledge needed to succeed in the real world after four largely wasted (literally and figuratively) years on campus." Now our children are not only chasing an expensive pipe dream but they're alcoholics and drug abusers too. Perhaps Tamny spent too much time on 6th street during his academic tenure in Austin.

"...the dirty little secret is that nothing learned during the four (or five) fun-filled years on idyllic campuses has anything to do with either form of employment." The forms of employment the author refers to are being a barista or an investment banker. This provides a bit of insight into why the investment banking field is so fucked up (and unethical) if the person pouring my latte can also handle credit default swaps. (Recall the author's previous statement about not needing to know math.)

"Ultimately the top financial firms are looking for “good athletes”; as in people who are smart and who work hard. Anything you need to know you’ll learn on the job." No experience necessary! Work from home! Apply today! Maybe the financial world needs a better analogy than the world of professional sports because the headlines there aren't shining beacons of truth.

"As fun as time spent in college is (this writer highly recommends it), it’s pure fantasy to assume that knowledge gained on campus translates to a hyper-dynamic business world. In truth, be it history, finance, engineering, English, or even pre-Med, anything taught is almost by definition yesterday’s news." A startling insight - history is about yesterday's news. Christ, can this get any more moronic? College courses provide a deep background in a field that's incrementally built, that self-reinforces and develops analytic abilities and the ability to synthesize knowledge. And don't even get me started on "hyper-dynamic business world." 

"Thinking of engineers here, and the clamoring for more engineering degrees, anyone teaching the discipline would as a rule be imparting knowledge of no practical use. Sorry, but the latter is just basic economics. If the professor had knowledge of future engineering applications, the same professor would be making billions in the private sector." It's hard to imagine a more insulting statement to academics than this regurgitation of the "those who can do, those who can't teach" argument. It's akin to saying that if finance professors knew anything they'd be making billions in the market instead of teaching. If I knew the winning lottery numbers I'd be rich. It's farcical. And apparently the author is unaware that an engineering professor's primary job is to do leading edge research, not teach.

"An engineering degree signals that you’re smart, and probably hard working, but the major itself doesn’t make you smart." For someone who doesn't place much value in college degrees, he's kinda put engineers up on a pedestal here. I know for a fact that an engineering degree doesn't make you smart - there are plenty of engineers running around out there who aren't all that smart. What he conveniently forgets is the whole idea of GPA, grade point average. Sure you have an engineering degree but is your GPA 2.5 or 3.9? The latter tells me that either a) you were born with a gift or b) you worked hard to achieve.

Which brings me to this statement: "Employers [are] interested that you were smart enough to get into Yale in the first place." So now it's all about the good ol' boy network, damn that achievement thing. Give the secret I Slappa Thigh handshake and we'll put you on the trading floor tomorrow. Sure, being accepted into Yale is an achievement. But what matters is what happens on exit - what did you accomplish while there?

Finally, here's the author's parting advice: "migrate toward a field of employment that you’re passionate about. If so, you’ll never be lazy again and you’ll be very successful." I wonder what measures of success he'll apply to all those underwater basketweaving majors? Hopefully they're not handling funds in my 401(k).

For the record, I have a B.S. and M.S. in engineering. And apparently I'm qualified to write for a magazine.

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