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Very quickly, because I’m using my humanities degree to get this order of fries.

October 26, 2010, 7:41 am

You know, one of the benefits of a liberal education is that one can learn to think critically, and this article raises more questions than it answers:  317,000 waitresses with bachelor’s degrees!  Time to panic and lament like in Player Piano that one is expected to have a Ph.D. in Food Delivery and Note-Taking!

Or, maybe, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.  If you took a snapshot of me right after college, you’d see someone who was working two part-time jobs. Oh, that education, wasted folding clothes at Dick’s Sporting Goods!  Wasted entering check amounts in the bowels of the bank!   Prob’ly shoulda gone straight to McDonald’s.

Of course, I was doing that because I needed to earn money to buy business professional clothing, for my job that would start in the fall.  What I need to know in order to make sense of those statistics is how long those workers are at that job, and what they earn over a lifetime.

Look, I know as well as anyone that the time where one could get a B.A. and be set for the rest of one’s life is gone, if it ever existed.  Degree inflation is insane.  But I don’t really see any evidence here that supports Vedder’s thesis that we’re educating all the wrong sorts of people (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) when the jobs he points to are ones where the overwhelming majority of workers don’t have a higher degree.  Educated workers are doing vastly better in this recession. The recession hit recent college grads pretty hard, judging by the unemployment rate.  It hit those with no college over three times as hard.

I have a lot more to say on this, but briefly: discourse on the value of higher education dangerously conflates what one will do immediately after graduation, or in any single job, with one’s entire life prospects.  It conflates what one should major in with whether a department is worth funding and with whether coursework in them is worthwhile.  These are different questions. The smart money says that they have different answers.

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