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Why should a BA/BS be valued?

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• Is the world eternal? YES
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Here is a provocative piece by Charles Murray arguing that employers should not esteem BA degrees over degrees from community colleges. A representative quote:

The benefits of discarding the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification would be huge for both employers and job applicants. Certifications would tell employers far more about their applicants’ qualifications than a B.A. does, and hundreds of thousands of young people would be able to get what they want from post-secondary education without having to twist themselves into knots to comply with the rituals of getting a bachelor’s degree.

It’s a little odd, I think, that Murray seems to value education primarily with respect to employment. I thought the aim is different: not necessarily to make capable workers, but to make more-educated people. Silly me.

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4 Comments

  1. Kleiner says:

    Even IF the primary end of education is employment (which it is not), I still think you can make a good argument for a BA. Most jobs will require some ability to think, communicate, and problem solve. I don’t have the data in front of me, but we’ve all seen the studies which demonstrate that studying a broad based curriculum (liberal arts) promotes these skills. I would think that only the bluest of blue collar jobs (working at jiffy lube) would require none of these skills. Sure, these skills are not easily quantified, but it is just vulgar modern technological thinking which suggests that only the quantifiable has value.

    That said, I am open to the idea that college is not for everyone. Too much attention gets paid to the mega-expensive private 4 year colleges when we discuss higher education government policy. I do think community colleges and large state schools (like USU) that have whittled-down liberal arts requirements have an important place in our higher education infrastructure. And since Obama promised that everyone who wants to go to college should have a govt that helps them pay for it, those cheaper schools will have to have a larger role.

    Still, don’t electricians, plumbers, auto-mechanics, CPAs, and retail salespeople need a vocabulary with which to work through personal and political questions? Where will that get that vocabulary if not from reading Sophocles, Plato, Milton and Shakespeare? Even if we drop the ideal of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, isn’t the end of education citizenry rather than mere employment?

    One last point – do we really need someone arguing against the liberal arts? Isn’t that like shooting a seal that has already been clubbed?

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  2. Jake Housel says:

    Charles Murray should read Jon Erskines essay “The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent.”

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  3. Another quotation from the article: “A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work.” Murray, by the way, is one of the wonderful blokes who brought us THE BELL CURVE, which tells us that intelligence and “success” follow a similar distribution pattern. Sure, whatever.

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  4. Kleiner says:

    I might cede the point that a number (perhaps even a large number) of college students are not able to do ‘genuine college level work’. But I identify a different cause. It is not because they are not intelligent enough, it is because they are culturally impoverished. Because our students are not well read, they don’t have a storehouse of images from which to draw. They don’t a common language of shared cultural stories and have a very short cultural memory (only a few generations). How often have you tried to make an analogy that is drawn from literature in class, only to be get blank stares?

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