Wisdom from Arnold

by Russ Roberts on October 25, 2011

in Education

I like what Arnold Kling says here about the purpose of the university. Impossible to excerpt so just go read it.

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{ 21 comments }

Krishnan October 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

There are now many studies that indicate the problem with education in general – and about what that $200,000 (or so) buys – Universities admit these supposedly bright students, throw a 500 page catalog at them and say “Now go choose some classes” (yea, I know, not so open – but yea, there is less structure and students do not get the kind of feedback/mentoring they need)

Arum and Roksa’s book “Academically Adrift” is a searing indictment of Higher Education – in summary, their studies show that a very large percentage of students show almost no improvement in their analytical and critical thinking skills after 4 years and tens of thousands (hundreds?) of dollars in expenditure – Add to this, the pressure to “retain” and “increase” those that graduate with degrees in science/engineering with students that are poorly prepared to begin with as they exit high school, and we have a true crisis in education.

I am not shocked at the ability of the students to write – it is depressing.

A University education is not a jobs program – but a place where students should be taught to learn and read/write – and able to think critically – in ANY field – not just science/engineering. We have a housing bubble because of Fannie/Freddie created by CRA/Dodd/Frank … and we have a education bubble by increasing student aid even as universities fail to educate and students fail to learn – and they wonder why they cannot get jobs – or why they think they are ready to run some non profit – heck, they may not even know what “profit” is – or perhaps know it as “evil”

Greg Webb October 25, 2011 at 5:55 pm

A University education is . . . a place where students should be taught to learn and read/write – and able to think critically – in ANY field . .

Agreed. Too much of academic life is focused on attending a prestigous university to enhance social contacts rather than develop and improve reading, writing, and critical analysis skills. But, this is nothing new.

Anotherphil October 25, 2011 at 11:27 pm

A University education is not a jobs program – but a place where students should be taught to learn and read/write.

I think those are skills that should be learned in high school. That having been said, notice that with some noticeable but to rare examples-academia is dominated by leftists who are more eager to inculcate than educate.

BigEd October 25, 2011 at 8:59 pm

“Too much of academic life is focused on attending a prestigous university to enhance social contacts rather than develop and improve reading, writing, and critical analysis skills.”

Something tells me you attended a less-than-prestigous university.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 25, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Something tells me the writers of this blog attended a less-than-prestigous university.

Ike October 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Nikolai, I can’t tell for certain whether your comment was an ad hominem against Russ, or an accusation that Russ was engaging in an ad hominem of sour-grapes origin.

The lack of clarity on that speaks poorly of your critical thinking skills (which I attribute solely to your own intellectual capacity and rigor, as I know nothing about your degree of education.)

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 26, 2011 at 6:45 am

I have the best legal education in the world, as shown by market results. Two of my class mates made more money practicing law than any other lawyers in America.

Anotherphil October 26, 2011 at 8:46 am

I have the best legal education in the world, as shown by market results. Two of my class mates made more money practicing law than any other lawyers in America.

Are you “occupying” them? Geez, you seem awfully adverse to cpaitalism, except when it’s legal predation. And please spare us the drivel about “justice”.

Jon October 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

Wait…you got the best legal education in the world because your classmates are successful? That doesn’t make any sense. You get out of education what you put in. All that shows is your classmates got good education.

Methinks1776 October 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Is there an echo in here?

Observer October 25, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Something tells me that Nikki never graduated from any University.

brotio October 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm

If Yasafi is really licensed to (mis)treat children in California, then it’s a sure bet that Nikki could also find a college that would allow him to graduate.

Bastiat Smith October 26, 2011 at 12:48 am

I was going to post something, replying with content, but then realized that washing dirt would be more productive.

GiT October 26, 2011 at 1:02 am

I’m not clear what exactly I’m supposed to gather about the purpose of a university from Kling’s post. Is it supposed to be a trade school? An institution geared to transmitting skills catered to the shape of the labor market of a given period?

One wonders what any of that has to do with being educated.

Jim from Kansas October 26, 2011 at 6:40 am

I think the angst revealed by the college student is part of the “new normal” with regard to college education in general. To whit: an oversupply of labor means companies can be more selective and have added “college degree” as a job requirement. Reasonably capable high school students recognize this and are flocking to college, taking on remarkable debt in the process. My youngest is a high school senior and will be going to a local university next fall (nothing prestigious about it). It is very much a “jobs program”. He knows exactly what job he will be pursuing after college graduation and will be structuring his classes for success in that one objective (career-specific classes, work studies, internships). The hope is to do it as fast and cheap as possible. We think we can do it with no student loans. I have absolutely no confidence in this college (or any other for that matter) to teach him “critical thinking and analysis” skills, “broaden his horizons” or deliver on any of the other exalted claims colleges make to justify their 8% annual tuition increases. That’s been my job for years. We realize that a college diploma is the “price of admission” for many jobs today and that’s what we’re going after.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 26, 2011 at 6:57 am

Jim,

You might want to think about a different approach.

First, the economic evidence is overwhelming that cities are going to be even more important in the future than in the past. I would strongly suggest that you son ask, first, in what city does he want to live. The head of Gallup has a new book on the is subject, the Coming Jobs Crisis.

I would suggest your son move to that city and attend the college there as a resident. Under no circumstances would I go into debt.

Beyond that, study literature and psychology, writing, math and science. People here do not understand why one studies literature. Unfortunately most people who teach literature don’t know either. It is because the people in the stories give you mental images that you can use to understand real people, for example, when you make a sales call. I once had the opportunity to talk at length with Harry Beckwith (Selling the Invisible) who got a great education at Stanford. He made a simple true statement. You read Shakespeare and Beowulf because these are the people you are going to call on when you make a sales call. Look at the posts here and try to figure out who the people really are from the literature you have read

Krishnan October 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

Re: Jim from Kansas: yes, “College” (i.e. a “degree”) has become the price of admission – there are many who have advanced the hypothesis that all this mess started after Griggs versus Duke Energy (1971) (Supreme Court of the US made aptitude testing difficult/dangerous to employers – who may be sued for “discrimination” – Colleges/Univs are happy because now they are in the position to command customers and so prices keep rising …

It has unforutnately become a numbers game – there are many on campuses who are bean counters – “How many students/credit hours did we generate? Why did it fall in this class/department? Do anything to keep those credit hours increasing” Even as K-12 quality remains a problem, Colleges and Universities know they have a good deal because many come to get their “degrees” and race to the bottom “How can we graduate more in less time? How can we maximize revenues by maximizing credit hours and student loans from the Feds?” Even as quality falls, even as students leave less and less educated, GPA’s rise (“We do not want our students to look worse than students from THAT college”) …

Anyone serious to learn and improve MUST take charge of their own educational destiny – yes, there are still many who toil to do a good job of teaching analytical and critical thinking skills – interested kids should seek them out – and they will find help and mentoring as they want, need -

Bill October 26, 2011 at 8:26 am

“ON EDUCATION
At school. you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the art of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge.”
William Johnson Cory (1823 – 1892)

Gil October 26, 2011 at 8:46 am

That’s akin to saying “work is the tedious stuff you do for eight or so hours a day, five or so day a week to pay the bills”.

Greg October 26, 2011 at 9:10 am

How is that akin to saying anything like that? Some work provides the same opportunities for critical self-reflection, most work doesn’t.

ChrisN October 26, 2011 at 11:51 am

The world is full of educated derelicts

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