The complacent class

The students who had taken over her office were a conscious throwback to the activism of the 1960s, when Hampshire [College] was conceived as an experiment in higher education. Now they were fighting for its survival in a different time, and it was not looking good. The college announced in January that it was facing “tough financial trends” and was looking for a partner to stay afloat…

Founded in 1965 and opened to students five years later, Hampshire, a liberal arts college in western Massachusetts, is an embodiment of the progressive education principles that arose from the spirit of individualism and self-expression of that era. There are no grades, only narrative assessments, and there are no prescribed majors; students design their own courses of study.

Hampshire and a few dozen other schools founded on similar principles were once the cutting edge of academia. But now, families facing sky-high tuitions are looking for a more direct link between college and career, college officials say. As a result, many of these small, experimental schools are being forced to re-examine their missions, merge with more traditional institutions or, in some cases, shut down.

Here is more from Anemona Hartocollis at the NYT.


It's an anachronistic concept anyway. To quote John McWorter (speaking about Smollett specifically, but it applies to many),

"He wants to be a civil rights hero of the past, and he's a little uncomfortable that circumstances today don't quite allow it."

Pretty much what we're seeing here.

but was there ever a time in American history where the office allowed for no structure and such casual metrics to performance?

these kids are going to therapy for 4 years, graduate, claim to "identify as an egineer" and are surpirsed they aren't hireable.

You didn't happen to go there as an English major did you?

'...claim to "identify as an egineer" ...'

Lol! This could be a thread winner!

If Dr. B. Caplan, PhD, is correct, all education is signaling, so is it possible this school is simply out of fashion? Kind of like Bird's opening in chess? Playable but not popular? (Wiki: " of August 2015, out of 20,010 games with 1.f4, White had won 35.1%, drawn 25%, and lost 39.9%,").
Bonus trivia: Allan Bloom's bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind" is on my "to read" list, but towards the bottom.

As an aerospace engineer, I'd say that Dr. B. Caplan, PhD is not correct. Of course, my opinion is affected by my bias.

I wonder if Dr. B. Caplan, PhD would be biased against flying in an aircraft that was designed by uneducated engineers.

I always use the airplane example when people say stupid postmodern stuff. Airplanes and bridges are not social constructs.

"Airplanes and bridges are not social constructs."

I'm gonna have to steal that one -- thanks!

As we saw when that college pedestrian overpass immediately collapsed in South Florida

I guess you haven't read Dr. B. Caplan, PhD, then. He's much better than Mr. Ray Lopez, who also appears to not have read Dr. B. Caplan, PhD, but nonetheless feels free to speak for him.

In 'the case against education' Caplan estimates that about 80% of the returns to education (lifetime earning differences between collage grads and non collage grads) is from signaling, rather than human capital accumulation. He also specifically calls out stem fields as less signal-y than liberal arts majors.

I have to say I find Caplan exciting and interesting when he speaks about his research, but I found his books dry and sterile.

You are indeed correct -- I have not read any of his work. Thank you for succinctly clarifying his position on the subject.

By signalling all Caplan is saying is that a university education shows that you are intelligent (IQ, cognitive ability), conscientious, and conformity. He allows that STEM students do learn important material, but he points out that for most jobs, including perhaps much of STEM, companies would be better off hiring out of high school if they knew the applicant's IQ, conscientiousness, and conformity. Only IQ can be reliably measured with tests, however. But if a company knew those three factors it could train on the job or in house, and the kid would save four or more years, avoid debt, and start making money.

I disagree. 18 years is not a long enough gestation period for most modern Americans, particularly males. If they learn some useful stuff in the temporary holding pens, so much the better. Don't overpay for useless degree though- go to State U and study business or something if you don't have the chops for science.

"I disagree. 18 years is not a long enough gestation period for most modern Americans, particularly males."

The military has a system that effectively handles it. It's just a lot strict and physical than businesses are used to. And of course, fire departments, police departments, emergency services etc manage it by having a physical and action oriented component with strict discipline.

The holding pens could be in firms doing productive stuff, is the point.

The problem with education being mostly signalling is the opportunity cost.

I would be biased against flying in a jet designed by a newly minted engineer. University is hardly the only place to learn the required skills. Indeed University studies often signal a basic level of skills that an employer can then build on with experience and additional training. Many employers could skip University and hire talented people and train them. Occurs in tech fields all the time. Instead, they let the university weed out the field selecting people for work ethic and basic skills. Then they hire people to start their real training. Regretfully in some cases that means a great deal of additional training these days.

"University is hardly the only place to learn the required skills."

The flaw in that logic is that engineering classes *are* teaching required skills, but admittedly not all. Companies would still have to teach/train a significant portion of what is taught in engineering schools, which would be a poor use of resources, and costly to the company.

As for being costly to the company, I personally know of many new hires who didn't have required skills, received expensive and extensive training, then said "Hey, thanks for the training, see ya!" Cases like that result in ZERO return to the company for the training. This is another reason why engineering school is valuable -- the cost is not borne by the company.

FWIW, a brain surgeon could learn the required skills from OJT straight from high school, but you want to be operated on by such a neurosurgeon?

Well, that first sentence was poorly-written. Let me re-phrase:

Yes, engineering schools are not the only places to learn the required skills, and they admittedly do not teach all required skills. If an employee had not been to engineering school, a company would have to teach/train a significant portion of what is taught in engineering schools, which would be a poor use of resources, and costly to the company.

that last sentence is shabbily constructed as well
"a brain surgeon could learn the required skills from OJT straight from high school..."
surlyjoe is curiousjoe about how much you know about neurosurgery?

The overall point is that engineering schools teach a broad swath of engineering and that companies have specific needs. So the match is not good and most of the value comes, not from the specific classes a student took, but in the identification of hard, smart workers.

However, one aspect that you do correctly point out, is that if companies did all of the training, students would then use the training they receive to shop for better offers from companies that could pay more because they didn't pay for the training.

To make a college less system work, the young workers would have to agree to reimburse the company for the value of the training. There is already a model for that. The US military academies will charge graduates who don't complete their military obligations.

"There is already a model for that. The US military academies will charge graduates who don't complete their military obligations."

That's a good point, but would obligating oneself to remain with a private company until one's debt is paid be considered indentured servitude?

There wouldn't be any obligation to remain with a private company. The workers would pay for the training. Either up front or via a loan. The loan could be from the company or a third party. If they stayed with the company for a certain number of year, the company could discharge the debt, probably at so much per year. Effectively, the trainees would be paid less to the amount of what it cost to pay off the loan. Obviously workers who didn't need the training would be paid at a higher rate.

That sounds quite similar to simply going to school in the first place, unless one argues that the courses would be more directly targeted to the company's needs.

And yet somehow Silicone Valley faces this problem every day and continues to grow

Silicon Valley isn't hiring a large amount of high school kids and training them. By and large they hire college graduates just like most other corporations do.

you are correct. Although people without a college degree have a lower unemployment rate in silicone valley.

Some silicone valley firms do try to recruit people without degrees but that is, it appears, increasingly done to get more "non-traditional" candidates

It also appears that tech workers are the most mobile workers often flocking to tech centers from other areas. That means that outside of places like silicon valley companies seem to relax some requirements and will substitute experience.

I was surprised to see that in silicone valley over 50% of tech workers are Asian but not in higher management.

I was biased by a number of classmates you took internships and never came back. Some of those just completed their degree by other venues later.

You mean "Silicon" not "Silicone". Please, no more silicone.

Still, odd in a way. Students coming out of college in the mid 70s, when the country was less woke, faced the challenges of the oil embargo, a recession and a crap economy that didn't generate jobs until sometime after Volcker forced down the interest rate nearly 10 years later.

At this moment, the Hampshire ethic is more widely accepted, the interest rate has been around zero for 10 years, and we're at full employment.

A little sad, truly. But probably kinda necessary.

so the cost of a "progressive" liberal arts degree increased 3x the rate of inflation?

Student loans are easy to come by. Furthermore, the students who go to "progressive" liberal colleges aren't known for their pragmatic financial sense.

It seems the cost of everything that comes out of progressivism grows at a rate higher than inflation. Given time it really starts to sting.

That other, more famous university on the eastern side of MA effectively has the same grading policy by giving out A's like candy.

But much more selective admissions. (Especially for Asians.)

Still better than an outright fraud to taxpayers like Trump University.

Not even a good comparison.
1. TU wasn't a university and didn't seriously pretend to be. You'd need an IQ of 75 to think that it was an actual college of any kind.
2. It didn't last very long.
3. It scammed only a relatively small number of people.

'Trump University' (a.k.a. 'Trump Entrepreneurship Initiative') was a set of seminars on the real estate business. The taxpayers weren't defrauded. The people who signed up arguably were, as there is reason to believe the instructors were people with a background in sales rather than real estate.

Grades are also deemphasized in Ivy League schools. Do they count as complacent?

I’d say inflated versus deemphasized. Think the average is like an A- for classes.

It’s not untill Ivy business school where you get the “sign this contract. It says you cannot use your grades on resume/to apply for positions.”

A- for class average counts as "grades deemphasized" in my book.

The market has spoken. Other colleges now freely fill the market for college degrees with minimal work or substance. How else do you explain AOC receiving a degree in Economics from Boston? It seems that most colleges are more than willing to offer Woke classes taught by faculty that expect little from thier students beyond silly left wing dogma.

AOC has a degree from Boston University in Economics cum laude, it is reported.
Figure that one out

She skipped the chapter on budget constraints.

Nope. Her degree was in international relations, with a minor in economics. IR majors commonly have to take a sequence of economics courses, approx 12 credits. It's a reasonable inference that she added a couple of courses on top of the IR sequence and was permitted to call it a minor. (I'm guessing she had principles, intermediate micro, international trade, and a few others).

OK she slept through some intro classes. Yet still graduated with honors.

so the b.u. economics minor - explains the ignorance about economics
and the relations degree explains the cluelessness
about international relations

Back in the day in my experience, IR was a microcosm of higher educations problems. Less than the sum of its parts. You had some good courses, but the menu of requirements was simply arbitrary and the academic advising left-handed. It's an extension of the problems political science suffers as a discipline. Geography departments suffer from these problems in spades.

That IR degree puts her nicely on track to be UN Ambassador, then Secretary of State, then charismatic but iron-willed dictator -- proclaiming her love for the people from her palace balcony

Don't cry for me, Alexandra!

Release Donald Trump's transcripts.

By the way, I doubt that Boston University is a lame school. Just a Google search of rankings: "Boston University's highly ranked graduate schools include the School of Law, School of Management, School of Medicine, College of Engineering and School of Education. Boston University's ranking in the 2019 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities, 42. No doubt, It's a good choice."

In what world is #42 good? Especially at $49,000 a year.

Yeah, particularly when you compare GMU's college ranking of 136 to Boston U's ranking of 42.

Agreed. They’re both poor.

The difference is that GMU costs $30,000-$40,000 less a year. So I’d imagine the ROI is much higher.

Of course, everything you imagine is true. How about some facts.

At least Trump is smart enough to want to deregulate, allow private enterprise to work, respect property rights, etc. Rather than assuming he knows how to take over the economy, he wants to let private firms do what they do best. Even if his grades sucked he clearly learned more than AOC. So perhaps a person who graduated last in his class in his class at Wharton in the 60's learned more than the bartenders Boston University is graduating cum laude these days.

If AOC is a cum laude Economics graduate of Boston University that speaks purely on the quality and rigor of the program. And perhaps is a signal of how awful higher education has become.

You do not wish to believe that someone who got an economics degree from a good school should be able to disagree with you.

Look up the phrase cognitive dissonance.

What I find hard to believe is that someone with a minor in economics could believe that the 'Green New Deal' was anything but fantasy.

No, they are free to disagree, but if they want to be right they should have worked harder

People can disagree, can hold different values, etc

But attack Trump if you will. I don't care. Think that AOC is smarter, it is silly, but people can be silly.

Release Donald Trump's transcripts.

He's been out of school for 50 years. BTW, do we get to see BO's?

Notice how you change the subject.

Release Donald's transcripts. He bragged that he was in the top of his class at Wharton.

Add this to his other lies.

The main reason Trump does not want his tax returns released is not because they will show criminal activity, but that they will prove that he is not even a billionaire.


But also Bill is right. Trump’s daddy bought his way into Wharton. It’s not even that his grades were low, note that he also threatened to sue if anyone released his SATs...

Tax returns show income, not necessarily wealth.

Who represents the complacent class in this article?
- Students not expecting to be graded
- A college not adapting to the times
- Families seeking a more direct link between college and career
- A labor market expecting graduates with predictable majors

For a college that admitted its first class in 1970, it has a remarkable list of graduates. Ken Burns is a graduate. GMU became an independent college about the same time, in 1972, but it is a public university. Hampshire's endowment ($50 million) is less than that of GMU ($85 million), but Hampshire, a private college, gets no state funding. Thus, average tuition at GMU ($19,000) is substantially less than at Hampshire ($50,000). GMU is so much larger than Hampshire (less than 1,500 students vs. 35,000 students), one would assume GMU's endowment would be many times that of Hampshire. Do GMU graduates not donate to the endowment? In any case, the percentage of graduates at Hampshire who go on to obtain a graduate degree is among the highest in the country. There's a belief that a liberal arts education will not prepare one for today's economy, but it's a false belief. A good liberal arts education teaches analytical and communication skills, which are essential skills today. Graduates of Williams College, for example, go on to leading positions in the professions, in business, in government, and in academia. We need more liberal arts graduates, not fewer.

"A good liberal arts education teaches analytical and communication skills"

True enough, but its much less clear that most universities provide or even offer a "good" liberal arts education these days. Williams, to take your example, rejects 85% of applicants (from an already heavily self-screened pool). The average SAT score is 1468, which is about the top 2% of the students who take to the SAT.

These graduates had tremendous ability before they ever got to Williams. What value Williams adds is much less clear.

Well the top firms do on campus recruiting at Williams. Not to mention an elite built in network at the age of 22.

I doubt Goldman, KKR or McKinsey is recruiting at the local community college or UMass.

It’s a very expensive way to legally avoid the Duke Power employment testing rules.

One could envision a scenario where those firms hiring criteria is a 1500 SAT + a skills test.

You guys overestimate the effects Duke Power by an absurd amount.

McKinsey still makes college grads take an exam prior to even being considered as a candidate. No one is suing them for disparate impact. Get real.

1500 SATs is necessary but not sufficient. You want ambitious, conforming, and preferably with a built in network. But even that’s not sufficient. You’re selling elite. Elite means elite school.

You guys overestimate the effects Duke Power by an absurd amount.

No we don't. In one of my old offices, we had a one page test to screen out dyslexics, because the job involved reading strings of numbers and letters and data entry. Legal affairs made us eliminate it. And, of course, there's case law from one city after another in which judges insisted civil service exams be gutted so they didn't screen anymore. Sonia Sotomayor was implicated in one such case.

Davidson College, a liberal arts private college, is one of the top ranked schools in the nation, and it's ranked second, behind Princeton, in Kiplinger's annual ranking of colleges by value. Indeed, most of the top-ranked schools in Kiplinger's ranking are liberal arts schools (Williams is ranked 11th).

. A good liberal arts education teaches analytical and communication skills,

Good, bad or indifferent, they don't do that in any systematic way which would differentiate them from any other sort of institution. They do, however, need a marketing pitch and their faculty need fictions they tell themselves.

In truth, the vast majority of private institutions have long since jettisoned any architectonic institutional mission and been captured and subverted by the trans-institutional faculty culture. They don't have any real raison d'etre except to employ people and provide fees-for-services. Where I'm from, we have three general research universities, three which a strong polytechnic foundation, about a dozen special-focus institutions with enrollments under 600, about eight intensely academic institutions which can at least claim they collect youths with intellectual gifts, two institutions which retain an evangelical personality, and (at most) two which retain some residue of a Catholic personality. The rest could evaporate and the world would be worse only for their employees and some local merchants.

It bothers you that there can be progress without measurement, doesn't it?

No it doesn't and the thought hadn't occurred to me in the course of this discussion.

It bothers me that youngsters are going into debt for scant value-added.

Here again is the link to Kiplinger's ranking of colleges according to value:

There is not even an attempt here to establish the value, if any, added by the college.

Here's the web page that summarizes the Kiplinger methodology (what I linked before was just the rankings): Sure, it's just a ranking (take it or leave it), but the point of linking it is to show that there are those who have determined objectively that liberal arts colleges are good for the students.

"We need more liberal arts graduates, not fewer."

No one is stopping you from donating liberally.

We don't need that at all. We'd benefit at the secondary level from more vocational schooling, with greater rigor and focus among the minority sluiced to academic education. We'd benefit from briefer and more spcialized programmes at the tertiary level, whether vocational or academic.

I am an empiricist. Has anyone done a long term study to see if the graduates of Hampshire College are gainfully employed and socially productive?

A while ago, Hampshire College decided to stop flying the American flag; thought it was far superior to the country that created it, it seems. Well then, I don't see any reason for America to regret the passing of Hampshire College. It can join Antioch in the line of dinosaurs lumbering to extinction. As the saying goes, "get woke, go broke."

Well, there's Ken Burns, Liev Schreiber, Jessamyn West and Barry Sonnenfeld. Plus many other nice, earnest-looking folks who at least appear socially productive. Googling any college will now produce an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of "notable" alums

With pictures, I might add. The real question is, which one is Tooker Gomberg?

There is a history of the increase of the system of electives beginning around the time of the rise of mass public schooling in the 1920's (in the USA at least.) The book, A Great Idea at the Time, the story about the development of The Great Books volumes, discusses this some. The top universities were gradually increasing the percent of courses students could take as electives and reducing the number or required 'common core' courses. There are many threads to the arguments at the time, not the least of which is one, ironically, that most people do not benefit from a liberal education so why force it on them? Instead let them choose their own path to self-fulfillment, or choose electives more suited to where they think they will be employed. Many of the arguments were about the importance of studying the classics, exactly the sorts of books in The Great Books volumes. In a very real sense those volumes were a response against the trend in electives. My impression is the percent of electives at top schools didn't expand much until the increased numbers attending college after WWII under the G.I. Bill provisions, and then of course there was the deluge of increased enrollments when the 'Baby Boom generation hit their college years. By the late 1970's, even after students had to declare their majors by their sophomore years, the options for designing their own sets of courses had reached it's peak, more or less as it is today. Perhaps one way of measuring the trend is to look at the numbers of people graduating with double majors.

Intelligent, informative commenters are in short supply. Stick around. more.

If we had a sensible higher education system, enrollments at public institutions would decline by about 1/3 and at private institutions by about 2/3. Hampshire disappears, the world's a better place.

In other words, it doesn't work so it's going the way of the Dodo

>"Hampshire and a few dozen other schools founded on similar principles were once the cutting edge of academia"

That's some World Class Delusion, right there.

Here's how playwright David Mamet described his four years at the very similar (to Hampshire) Bard College: "Sex camp".

Bard is a teaching institution which does not offer vocational majors and maintains fairly selective admissions. I don't believe it's all that unconventional among the modest number of schools which fit that description; it just has a more arty clientele (Michael Brendan Dougherty is an Bard alumnus). It's also been around for several generations (having been founded by the Episcopal Church). Hampshire is novel, has weak admissions screens, and (IIRC) doesn't have conventional majors or allows you to dispense with them.

Peter Thiel on the 'education bubble' ...

Hampshire College is where Ray and Lorna Coppinger worked. Sad to see it flounder.

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