There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits, as the Washington Post reports.
“In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the United States is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.
“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the United States has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest bond fund, Pacific Investment Management Co., has put forth a less free- market (and less coherently argued) version of the same viewpoint. “Philosophy, sociology and liberal arts agendas will no longer suffice,” he declared. “Skill-based education is a must, as is science and math.”There are many problems with this simplistic prescription, but the most basic is that it ignores what American college students actually study. Take Frezza’s punching bag, the effete would-be museum curator. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that no such student exists.
“According to the National Center for Education Statistics, humanities majors account for about 12 percent of recent graduates, and art history majors are so rare they’re lost in the noise. They account for less than 0.2 percent of working adults with college degrees, a number that is probably about right for recent graduates, too. Yet somehow art history has become the go-to example for people bemoaning the state of higher education. A longtime acquaintance perfectly captured the dominant Internet memes in an e-mail he sent me after my last column, which was onrising tuitions. “Many people that go to college lack the smarts and/or the tenacity to benefit in any real sense,” he wrote. “Many of these people would be much better off becoming plumbers — including financially. (No shame in that, who’re you gonna call when your pipes freeze in the middle of the night? An M.A. in Italian art?)” While government subsidies may indeed distort the choice to go to college in the first place, it’s simply not the case that students are blissfully ignoring the job market in choosing majors. Contrary to what critics imagine, most Americans in fact go to college for what they believe to be “skill-based education.” Continue reading “Art history at the crossroads”
A detailed and searching discussion by Michael Bérubé of the ongoing crisis in the humanities recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as excerpted briefly below:
“Let me start with the bad news. It is not even news anymore; it is simply bad. Graduate education in the humanities is in crisis. Every aspect, from the most specific details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose, is in crisis. It is a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels.
“It is therefore exceptionally difficult to discuss any one aspect of graduate education in isolation. Questions about the function of the dissertation inevitably become questions about the future of scholarly communication; they also entail questions about attrition, time to degree, and the flood of A.B.D.’s, who make up so much of the non-tenure-track and adjunct labor force. Questions about attrition and time to degree open onto questions about the graduate curriculum and the ideal size of graduate programs. Those questions obviously have profound implications for the faculty. So one seamless garment, one complexly interwoven web of trouble.
“In the humanities, when we talk about the purpose of graduate programs and the career trajectories of our graduate students, the discussion devolves almost immediately to the state of the academic job market. For what are we training Ph.D.’s in the humanities to do, other than to take academic positions? Graduate programs in the humanities have been designed precisely to replenish the ranks of the professoriate; that is why they have such a strong research component, also known as the dissertation. But leaving aside a few upticks in the academic job market in the late 1980s and late 1990s, the overall job system in the humanities has been in a state of more or less permanent distress for more than 40 years. Continue reading “On the humanities crisis”
Social Security’s disability program is overwhelmed by so many claims that judges sometimes award benefits they might otherwise deny just to keep up with the flow of cases, according to a lawsuit filed by the judges themselves.
The Social Security Administration says the agency’s administrative law judges should decide 500 to 700 disability cases a year. The agency calls the standard a productivity goal, but the lawsuit claims it is an illegal quota that requires judges to decide an average of more than two cases per workday.
“When the goals are too high, the easy way out is to pay the case,” said Randall Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges and a judge in Charlotte, N.C. “Paying the case is a decision that might be three pages long. When you deny benefits, it’s usually a 15- or 20-page denial that takes a lot more time and effort.”
The lawsuit raises serious questions about the integrity of the disability hearing process by the very people in charge of running it. It comes as the disability program faces serious financial problems.
The disability program’s trust fund will run out of money in 2016, according to projections by Social Security’s trustees. At that point, the system will collect only enough money in payroll taxes to pay 79 percent of benefits. That would trigger an automatic 21 percent cut in benefits.
Congress could redirect money from Social Security’s much bigger retirement program to shore up the disability program, as it did in 1994. But that would worsen the finances of the retirement program, which is facing its own long-term financial problems.
The lawsuit was filed by the judges’ union and three judges on Thursday in federal court in Chicago. It names the agency and Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin as defendants. Colvin took over in February after Commissioner Michael Astrue’s six-year term expired.
The union announced the lawsuit at a press conference Friday in Washington. A Social Security spokesman declined to comment. In an interview, Astrue disputed the union’s claims. Continue reading “U.S. disability system in crisis”
Today’s college age generation has been disillusioned by a decade of recession, the decline of the U.S. in the world, and a general loss of confidence in democratic capitalism as a promise for their futures.
Hence they are less likely to buy into the idealism and work ethic of 90s kids. But who knows, maybe they have better critical instincts. David Brooks is worried about all of this, as he writes in today’s New York Times:
“Twelve years ago, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic, called “The Organization Kid,” about the smart, hard-working, pleasant-but-cautious achievatrons who thrive in elite universities. Occasionally, somebody asks me how students have changed since then. I haven’t been perceptive enough to give a good answer.
“But, this year, I’m teaching at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, and one terrifically observant senior, Victoria Buhler, wrote a paper trying to capture how it feels to be in at least a segment of her age cohort. She’s given me permission to quote from it. Buhler points out that the college students of 12 years ago grew up with 1990s prosperity at home, and the democratic triumph in the cold war abroad. They naturally had a tendency to believe deeply “in the American model of democratic capitalism, which created all men equal but allowed some to rise above others through competition.” Continue reading “College students worry … and think”
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As a topic, bullying has received considerable media attention in recent years in its linkages to online harassment, school shootings, suicide, and even a notable candidate for political office. While bullying can be overt or subtle, it nearly always involves a power imbalance based on some kind of difference in behavior, appearance, culture, or belief. Perceived standards of the “normal” or “natural” get used to rationalize verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. In The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools (New York University Press, 2012), Jessie Klein argues that these notions of normality are far more significant in bullying than individual pathology.Bullies may the active agents in causing harm, but larger groups or an entire “bully society” may be the real problem, especially when we consider that this is not just about kids. Writ large, bullying can be seen to inhabit the workplace, the political arena, and the mediascape.
Continue reading “The bully society”