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Janitors With Ph.D.s: Why We're Spending Way Too Much on Higher Education

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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 06:56 AM
Original message
Janitors With Ph.D.s: Why We're Spending Way Too Much on Higher Education

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Janitors With Ph.D.s: Why We're Spending Way Too Much on Higher Education
Some 17 Million Americans have college degrees but don't need them. Should we be encouraging even more people to pursue degrees when their economic futures are far from certain?

October 25, 2010 |

For politicians, boosting college graduation rates has always been a fairly uncontroversial goal to support. The Obama administration is doing so, rather relentlessly, through a number of initiatives designed to better prepare students for college and support them once they get there.

The assumptions are 1) that students who graduate from college have increased potential for economic mobility, and 2) the more students who earn college degrees, the more our economy will grow. But are either of those assumptions still true, in light of our new economic reality? Or are we wasting money investing in a sector that's producing thousands of janitors with Ph.D.s?

One thing's for sure: our higher education system has produced thousands of janitors with Ph.D.s or other professional degrees -- about 5,057 of them, in fact, plus more than 8,000 waiters and waitresses. When you look at all college degrees, there are more than 317,000 over-educated Americans serving us our meals, more than 80,000 shaking our martinis and some 62,000 mowing our lawns.

In all, about 17 million people in this country have completed college only to end up working jobs that require a skill level below that of a bachelors degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You can be sure that many college-educated McDonald's workers have career goals that they've been unable to achieve because of the nation's crippling 22.5% underemployment rate; some of them will, theoretically (and hopefully), move into their intended career one day. But what of the millions of people who don't switch over to careers that require a degree, either by choice or because of circumstance? ..........(more)

The complete piece is at: /

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exboyfil Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 07:15 AM
Response to Original message
1. In my wife's family
are three daughters (my wife and two siblings):

My wife - B.A. Fashion Merchandising/Retailing and a homemaker
Her older sister - double B.A. in Religion/? and a night clerk at a motel
Her younger sister - B.A. and M.A. in Education and a homemaker (she has three children under 3)

I have a M.S. and a M.B.A., and I was just promoted to the next level of engineering (I have folks 20 years younger than me one or two levels higher than me) - not complaining though - I don't have anyone reporting to me, and I like it that way

My brother-in-law (husband of one of the sisters) has a B.A. in History and he drives a truck

I do have a brother-in-law with a PhD in Biochemistry, and he have a very good job. His wife has a B.A./M.A. in Music Education, and she has about ten jobs in the field between the church and school. My other brother-in-law with a B.S. in Chemistry has a very good job with a drug company (of course he was laid off last year from another company).

Sometimes your life takes you in interesting directions. I am wondering about Robert Reich's proposal of state schools charging 10% of the first 10 years salary for tuition instead of student loans. Such a proposal would effectively tax some majors like engineering, science, and accounting at twice what they currently cost. Would that lead to more underutilized degrees, and the need to import more skilled foreign workers with H-1B Visas or outsourcing of technical jobs.

I would have to say a better route for someone getting a PhD. might be to get a teaching certification along the way, and teach at a High School. Even under current law they could spend over $100K in student loans, but only be required to pay back approximately $40K.

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get the red out Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 07:41 AM
Response to Reply #1
3. But what if it takes a degree to get a non-degree job?
I'm a secretary with a Master's degree, but in the workplace I am in having the degree helps me get that job over someone without it. However, I have worked in other places where I knew to leave the graduate degree off my application and never even mention having gone to college with my co-workers. A person has to do what it takes to survive.
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caraher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 07:17 AM
Response to Original message
2. Depends on what a degree is for
To the extent that education is about credentialing people for specific jobs then maybe there's a case. And to a large degree that particular aspect of education has been horribly corrupting; there are too many jobs where degree requirements unnecessarily shut out able people from a position.

At the same time, a good education is about something more than job training. In that sense, we don't actually do enough education (witness the traction blatant idiocy has among so much of the population). As K-12 education becomes more test-driven and privatized, higher education might be the last place teachers are allowed to speak the truth and teach people to think for themselves.
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 07:46 AM
Response to Original message
4. "... there are more than 317,000 over-educated Americans serving us our meals ..."
Over educated? What does that mean?

I disagree with the idea that higher education is really a form of job training.
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freebrew Donating Member (478 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 11:08 AM
Response to Reply #4
11. +1 n/t
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Sancho Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 08:19 AM
Response to Original message
5. I think this portrays a logical error...
Education is not simply job preparation! A minimum education is necessary as entry to some careers, but what you gain from an education is clearly documented. Overall, incomes are higher and all sorts of quality of life indicators are better.

Often with careers, education usually pays off indirectly. If you majored in history, you likely majored in something that has little demand right now. That doesn't mean that your education is wasted. The history major who can read, write, and think better may start as a hotel clerk, but is more likely to be the manager ten years from now if they apply their knowledge and skills. Otherwise, they may use their degree to be more mobile and change jobs more successfully than someone with a high school education.

Even with direct career education, go visit countries where the percentage of college educated people is higher than the US, and you'll quickly see the difference. The US has not invested in education seriously since the GI Bill and Sputnik, and we have fallen behind Scandinavia, Korea/Japan, and even some central European countries. They are eating our cookies. South American countries are investing heavily in education now and beginning to catch us. If we don't keep up - we'll be a third world county. Nokia is from Finland where they have the highest test scores and best schools. Finland invested heavily in education starting 40 years ago, and it has paid off. Hyundai in Korea is another example of rising companies from a country that began investing in education so that the population is more competitive. You get the idea...
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Wednesdays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 08:44 AM
Response to Reply #5
8. Amen. College diplomas are now seen as merely tickets to wealth
My family has always viewed higher education as a means to better yourself as a person, not a hurdle to get over so that you can get rich. :eyes:
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jberryhill Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 09:09 AM
Response to Reply #5
9. +1

When colleges got into the "a college education will make you rich" game, it's no wonder that people feel cheated.

I know some very successful people who do not have a college degree, and very well educated people who are just getting by.
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Zoeisright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 11:24 AM
Response to Reply #5
12. Exactly. The dumbing down of American is apparent when you look at recent elections.
College trains you to think logically. We need a hell of a lot more of that in this country.
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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 08:25 AM
Response to Original message
6. Nobody Should Be Forced to Be an Ignorant Teabagger
Education doesn't cost as much as it pays--to the community, the family, and the nation.
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mudplanet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 08:29 AM
Response to Original message
7. I take the point BUT, there is a lot more to an education than preparing
for a career.

Unless you study business. For the most part, they don't even pretend that a business curriculum is designed to give a person an education.

If you equate the value of an education with how much your lifetime income increases, there are a lot of people being sold a bill of goods.

My father did that. Couldn't afford med school so he became a lawyer and read contracts for fifty years. He couldn't understand why I went back to college three times. Said it just wouldn't pay. And he was right - I've never made a dime.

But even though I'm poor I don't regret any of my educational experiences.

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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 09:54 AM
Response to Original message
10. Shhhhhhh! If people quit going to college, then college staff/faculty might lose their jobs,

and that'd make things worse than they already are.

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onpatrol98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 11:40 AM
Response to Reply #10
13. Do we want people to quit going to college?
What is the point of the OP? Not being sarcastic...I just think I missed it. Is the complaint that people get degrees but then don't end up in their career fields. I think the OP correctly stated there are many reasons this can happen. Is the complaint the cost of student loans? I agree, but there are ways to pursue a degree with exorbitant student loans. IT GENERALLY TAKES FOREVER...but many students work and pay for college without student loans or grants. We still live in a country that truly rewards high academic achievement. For the high school student ABSOLUTELY COMMITTED to their grades and return high scores, there are schools willing to offer them scholarships. Perhaps not to the school of their first choice, but if they're flexible, to another.

Is the point - a misguided effort on the part of parents and students? Perhaps we should encourage our children NOT to go to college. That sounds a bit like the GOP ad telling Hispanics not to vote. In some communities, we have to push a college education. For some fields, it is for career preparation. I don't see a way around that. I don't even know if I want a way around it. There was a time when education mattered long as you looked a certain way or knew the right people, it didn't matter if you were uneducated or even if you were dumb as a brick.'s still this way sometimes. For the rest of us, we'd better pursue a higher education, and better encourage our children to do the same.

Perhaps the rest of polite society can throw up its hands at the irony of PhDs pushing brooms. In my community, it means a lot more than that. I'll keep convincing kids to go to college and helping them avoid huge student loans.
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Sancho Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 03:39 PM
Response to Reply #10
14. Ha local college is losing tenured faculty in droves!
Why? Because just about anything they do with an advanced skill makes more money and has less political BS from above. Believe me, my wife and I have both worked teaching public school, teaching college, working for corporations, and as "self-employed". We both love teaching and I personally enjoy research that I can do in a university setting; but the money and daily respect is rarely a reason to work as faculty at any level. Any new creations or inventions produced while working at universities typically belong to the college. If you are on your own, they are yours. Deans and administrators are sometimes political hacks. When working outside in specialty areas in your own business, you make LOTS more - in my case about triple.

You are correct about one thing...the dregs are the ones that sometimes get stuck teaching or even holding down routine jobs in business. The Peter Principle is alive and well.

When college faculty don't get raises for a couple of years, they are abused arbitrarily from above, and their intellectual property is not really their own; many reasonable people simply walk away. Good colleges are aware of this problem and carefully try to hang on to their faculty.
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DailyGrind51 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-26-10 04:50 PM
Response to Original message
15. Thank you!
You would be amazed at the number of those of us age 50+ with multiple degrees earning less than $30K per year now. I happen to be one of them.
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