THE CASE FOR BLUE COLLAR ARISTOCRATS. David Foster considers the returns on human capital.
[Received wisdom] is that those hardest-hit by the recession/depression are those lacking college degrees. Viewed in the context of the Manpower study, it would seem that the real problem is not so much college-educated vs non-college educated, or blue-collar vs white-collar, but rather high-skilled vs unskilled.
The post suggests there's circular reasoning in the pursuit of a university degree.
For at least the two decades, there has been an almost religious degree of reverence paid to college degrees. The message has not been “go to college because knowledge is valuable in its own right,” or even “go to college to learn skills you will need for your career,” but rather “get a degree so you can get a good job.” The emphasis has been all on the piece of paper. And when a piece of paper is valued for the circular reason that..it is valued, then you are in a bubble, whether the pieces of paper in question are shares of stock or college degrees.
The argument is true in part, but people pay attention to what's on the piece of paper. I understand from the State of the College presentation that enrollments are down in business and up in allied health, with knock-on effects on enrollments in general education courses accordingly. Students pay attention to the return on their investment (which might not be the best strategy: studying occupational therapy because it's interesting and challenging makes sense whether the returns to investment banking are higher or lower; studying it for the return on investment only is a path to frustration).

Per corollary, labor markets have ways of allocating resources. Where there are relatively few electricians, carpenters, or welders, there will be wage premiums. To some extent, labor markets are already recognizing the shortages. Rockford Toolcraft has avoided layoffs and schedules overtime. AG Manufacturing has been ramping up production of automobile throttle components. These companies are unlikely to be pleased by school administrators who view industrial arts classes as a dumping ground for potential dropouts.

RUNNING EXTRA. In Camille Paglia's world, it's time to revalorize the trades.

The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

The elite schools, predicated on molding students into mirror images of their professors, seem divorced from any rational consideration of human happiness. In a period of global economic turmoil, with manufacturing jobs migrating overseas and service-sector jobs diminishing in availability and prestige, educators whose salaries are paid by hopeful parents have an obligation to think in practical terms about the destinies of their charges. That may mean a radical stripping down of course offerings, with all teachers responsible for a core curriculum. But every four-year college or university should forge a reciprocal relationship with regional trade schools.

Market tests and market incentives are much more effective, and I fear that university faculty (whether they buy into the core curriculum or not) would still view the trade school as a place to push weak students. Decent people who can play well with ideas but fear table saws are like that.


David said...

Thanks for the link.

Stephen Karlson said...

You're welcome, and thanks for noticing my rail oddities post.