Are there too many undergraduates?

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Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Jumble » Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:05 am UTC

Hi all,

Not wanting to troll but I'd be interested in you opinions. There is a debate raging in the UK over the cost of higher education, and where cuts can be made. Our newly-congealed government seems to be keen to have (or pretend to have) a public debate before wielding the axe. As far as I can tell from the media the options under discussion seem to be:
    - Raise tuition fees so that students must pay more in return for their degree
    - Reduce the number of students
    - Cut back on post-grad research (at least, that not directly sponsored by industry)
    - A mix of the above

Of course, there is also the argument that higher education benefits the whole of society and that the public should stop whining and stump up. It raises a few questions on which I'd be interested to hear forummites opinions, given that demographic that seems to exist here:
    - The last government claimed that it wanted 50% of UK society to have a degree. Can you have too many graduates? At what point does the percentage of the pubic with a degree devalue the degree, if at all?
    - What is a university degree for? Is it a route into a job, a route to advancing the industrial and economic strength of a country or the basis for advancing human society through pure research? Can one course satisfy all of these?
    - Is there room for vocational qualifications these days? The UK used to have a system where those looking for a route to a job would get a vocational qualification from a Polytechnic, whereas those looking to go into research would go for a university degree. Or, at least, that was the idea. I gather that what happened was that the Poly's were seen as second-class to the uni's and everyone wanted a degree. The system was falling apart before I jumped into the higher-education ocean. Is this inevitable?
    - I'm an astrophysicist, a cosmologist. It has no direct benefit to society that I can see - you can't make anything with it, sell it or kill anyone with it. I know there are spin-offs but the direct work is purely for academic interest, so I've never figured out how to earn a living in this and have to hold down a day job. Is this inevitable? How many non-productive, purely academic researchers can society afford, and how many should we pay for to ensure the health of basic human knowledge?
    - How relevant are these questions around the rest of the world?
There are plenty of other ways of looking at this, but David 'Two-Brains' Willetts is coming with a hatchet in his hand it seems like a good time to discuss this.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Malice » Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:02 am UTC

Jumble wrote:- The last government claimed that it wanted 50% of UK society to have a degree. Can you have too many graduates? At what point does the percentage of the pubic with a degree devalue the degree, if at all?


The more people who have degrees, the less value the degrees have, at every level; on the other hand, you can never have too many graduates, because society is more than just its economy, which is the answer to most of the rest of your questions, but onward.

- What is a university degree for? Is it a route into a job, a route to advancing the industrial and economic strength of a country or the basis for advancing human society through pure research? Can one course satisfy all of these?


All of the above. And it's also about raising the education level of a country, which helps it to succeed in numerous ways, including as a democratic society.

- Is there room for vocational qualifications these days? The UK used to have a system where those looking for a route to a job would get a vocational qualification from a Polytechnic, whereas those looking to go into research would go for a university degree. Or, at least, that was the idea. I gather that what happened was that the Poly's were seen as second-class to the uni's and everyone wanted a degree. The system was falling apart before I jumped into the higher-education ocean. Is this inevitable?


I've always felt that university degrees should mix in a little vocational with whatever they're doing. I got a liberal arts degree and I wished they had spent more time on the practical applications in addition to all the theory.
But as long as poly-techs are less expensive than universities (which they should be), they're going to be considered second-best.

- I'm an astrophysicist, a cosmologist. It has no direct benefit to society that I can see - you can't make anything with it, sell it or kill anyone with it.


There are many benefits to society that don't fall into those categories. Astrophysics is cool and tells us about our environment and ourselves; since it gives us perspective on our planet and lives, both geographically and temporally, I feel it's the closest to a scientific exploration of philosophy that we have. There's value in that, even if you can't put a number on it.

I know there are spin-offs but the direct work is purely for academic interest, so I've never figured out how to earn a living in this and have to hold down a day job.


Well, you can teach it (as an educator, lecturer, or writer), and you can also get money to study it.

Is this inevitable? How many non-productive, purely academic researchers can society afford, and how many should we pay for to ensure the health of basic human knowledge?


Well, you're not non-productive if you're holding down a day job. But yeah, society does need all kinds of specialization to make the system work. But there's a difference between "I got a degree and now I don't do anything at all" and "I got a degree, and it makes me a better, happier, smarter person, but I still contribute via my unrelated job."

- How relevant are these questions around the rest of the world?


In the developed world? Exceptionally relevant. In the rest of the world... not so much. Many places are more focused on how to give people a good basic education. Like the US!

There are plenty of other ways of looking at this, but David 'Two-Brains' Willetts is coming with a hatchet in his hand it seems like a good time to discuss this.


I've read that the best way to deal with university costs is to raise tuitions and financial aid in equal amounts, thereby transferring the cost to those who can afford it and away from those who cannot. Not sure if that would work in the UK system, though; not familiar with their financial aid set-up.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:49 am UTC

I'm strongly of the opinion that there are too many people ill suited to doing a degree in the HE system right now; Certainly at Bangor (we have a combination of several very good departments, and a number of mediocre ones; the latter seem to get a percentage of people who are basically the dregs of tertiary education though UCAS clearing) this is the case.

An interesting idea put forward by a friend of mine is "graduate taxation" whereby your higher education is free, but you're subject to a low rate tax for the rest of your working life, to pay for it.

Most importantly we need a stronger vocational track and a push to get people to choose the option which suits them best, not what their parents or the media want them to believe is best; One of my friends who's got his chemistry BSc is now training to be a Joiner...
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby ianf » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:23 am UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:An interesting idea put forward by a friend of mine is "graduate taxation" whereby your higher education is free, but you're subject to a low rate tax for the rest of your working life, to pay for it.


I would fear that this would act as a disincentive to people to attend university - an open-ended commitment for the rest of your life? If, instead, it were time-limited and to cover the cost of the tuition it would end up being the student loan system we already have.

I'd also be wary of a "graduate tax" from a ring-fencing point of view. My guess would be that as soon as it become an additional sort of tax, the link to education would disappear and it would then just go into the general "tax bucket" and the universities would get whatever proportion the government felt like giving them.

In practical terms, I don't see this idea as being significantly different from student loans.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby cerbie » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:38 am UTC

Jumble wrote:The last government claimed that it wanted 50% of UK society to have a degree. Can you have too many graduates? At what point does the percentage of the pubic with a degree devalue the degree, if at all?
The point at which the degree must be made easier for students to acquire, for the sake of making that 50%.
What is a university degree for? Is it a route into a job, a route to advancing the industrial and economic strength of a country or the basis for advancing human society through pure research? Can one course satisfy all of these?
Depends on who you ask. I'm 100% on the side of it being there as a goal for a well-rounded learning exercise for/in one's culture, and that people who want them for jobs (but do not actually care for the learning itself, especially in the chosen major field), are doing themselves and society a disservice.
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Is there room for vocational qualifications these days? The UK used to have a system where those looking for a route to a job would get a vocational qualification from a Polytechnic, whereas those looking to go into research would go for a university degree. Or, at least, that was the idea. I gather that what happened was that the Poly's were seen as second-class to the uni's and everyone wanted a degree. The system was falling apart before I jumped into the higher-education ocean. Is this inevitable?
I don't know. The US is not quite in the same situation, but we are in a very similar rut. Western society in general seems to look down on learning practical trades, despite ongoing need, and continually-mounting evidence that learning things that involve actual sensory perception offers positive benefits for other learning going on, as well. There's no reason that smart people shouldn't have to learn to make things and fix things. And, IMO, Engineering majors aught to be required to make and fix things, even for lesser degrees.

I'm an astrophysicist, a cosmologist. It has no direct benefit to society that I can see - you can't make anything with it, sell it or kill anyone with it. I know there are spin-offs but the direct work is purely for academic interest, so I've never figured out how to earn a living in this and have to hold down a day job. Is this inevitable? How many non-productive, purely academic researchers can society afford, and how many should we pay for to ensure the health of basic human knowledge?
As many as society can afford, which, unfortunately, is not a terrible help. Let's take on example: you guys had this May guy, who could have bought a decent car for the cost of making his freaking guitar, who managed to get one of those "non-productive" degrees, eventually. Does it really matter that the the core of the degree itself is not paying his bills, aside from maybe having inspired a few songs?
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How relevant are these questions around the rest of the world?
Extremely relevant. One huge problem is that everyone without a room temp IQ and horrible home over here across the pond is pushed to academia, never really being exposed to other options (or given academics and vocational schooling--the horror!), even if they would really be more suited to not following that path, creating a glut on students going for egghead learning, where votech ends up too much ignored. In the end, this is costly, both in cultural and economic terms. But, for some reason, a 150-IQ plumber is a thing to be avoided at all educational costs, even it makes for a miserable several years at school. Some countries push students on various tracks in different ways. But, I haven't quite understood why there is such a worker/learner separation, though its details seem to vary by country. Force kids to do both during primary education, then let them choose later on. That alone could save costs, I think, by not pushing kids to university learning so much.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Indon » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:47 am UTC

Well, if you're getting too many people with degrees, clearly you need more people with the right kind of degrees - degrees in fields leading to automation of fields in which you don't need a degree to perform labor.

Automation expands the economy because it allows more of us to be eggheads and cure cancer and whatever while all the actual work is done by a legion of robots, but we need a lot of eggheads to get the ball rolling, too.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby mr_pathetic » Sat Jun 19, 2010 4:46 am UTC

I don't think everyone should go to college because some aren't just cut out, but I do think access should be leveled to allow those who want to go, but can't afford it in. The charge as much as you want model only allows the ridiculously wealthy to get in and done debt free.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby mmmcannibalism » Sat Jun 19, 2010 4:59 am UTC

mr_pathetic wrote:I don't think everyone should go to college because some aren't just cut out, but I do think access should be leveled to allow those who want to go, but can't afford it in. The charge as much as you want model only allows the ridiculously wealthy to get in and done debt free.


Which is why there are state schools; while its certainly not easy anyone capable of college can work their way through with a feasible amount of student loans. Then, the private institutions can run a good operation from rich families and use the money in part to give scholarships to brilliant students who lack well off family.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby mr_pathetic » Sat Jun 19, 2010 3:15 pm UTC

The sad thing is, at least in the US, even many of the lower lesser known schools are hiking their tuition to what the poorest can't afford. Even if you can get grants or scholarship the amount most of the time may not even be enough to cover books and fees let alone the rest. I was lucky in that I found a college two hours away from home in the state next to mine that did not charge me out of state, but not everyone is that fortunate... out of state is often like a real knife in the back. Granted you can declare residency after year most places, but lack of money is lack of money and the office doesn't care if you are short 100 bucks or 10,000.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jun 19, 2010 5:58 pm UTC

I think there's an optimal number of people getting bachelor's degrees at a traditional college, and I suspect it's less than 50%. (Even the ~33% we have in America might be too high.) I think, however, the response needs to coming up with alternative modes of education which better serve the remaining subsets of the population, rather than the extremes of going starry-eyed over "education" and supporting the current model for people it doesn't seem to serve particularly well or abandoning the people ill-served by the current model to the wrong side of an artificial divide.

For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Sat Jun 19, 2010 7:15 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)


People often think that others could do with less education, but they rarely think they themselves should have had less ( or should have had book club instead of education). One reason I suppose is that it's easy to mistake other people's learned skills for inborn talent, especially in another field than your own. Also, you learn a lot more in an education than just the official curriculum. You kow this about your own education, but it is harder to see what others have gained in 'soft skills'.

That said, you might well have a point. People should perhaps ideally have some years of work experience before tertiary education, to bring some perspective and experience, and to know what they want from an education. Not just for English majors.

But it is worth considering why people don't generally do this. One problem is that companies are not exactly jumping to give interesting jobs to smart high school graduates who will stop to go back to school within a few years. Another is that tertiary education is everywhere a relations market, and in other respects too aimed at a specific, young age group. I guess there are more practical reasons.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Jun 19, 2010 7:18 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)

Well, in terms of business, an English degree has quite a few positives to it more than just the literature. Quite a bit of skill training that is beneficial. Now history degrees...

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jun 19, 2010 8:22 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:People often think that others could do with less education, but they rarely think they themselves should have had less ( or should have had book club instead of education).
It's not that I want people to have less education so much as I want them to spend less on education, while hopefully getting a similar or better product. The education, in my mind, is the result rather than the effort put into it, and oftentimes it seems like the only utility of some college degrees is that it proves you expended the effort on the test that is college.

Zamfir wrote:But it is worth considering why people don't generally do this. One problem is that companies are not exactly jumping to give interesting jobs to smart high school graduates who will stop to go back to school within a few years. Another is that tertiary education is everywhere a relations market, and in other respects too aimed at a specific, young age group. I guess there are more practical reasons.
Indeed- but it's noteworthy that this does happen with jobs and grad school. Many employers (particularly in technical fields) will pay their employees' tuition to send them to grad school, generally with an obligation to continue working for that company.

Now, a master's degree is significantly shorter than a bachelor's degree, and would be focused on that employee's specialization, but I think it gives us an idea of what would need to be different to get a system like this to work. The high school diploma would need to be enough to get the person working in an engaging enough job / the person would need to not see not going to traditional college as settling / giving up.

Jahoclave wrote:Well, in terms of business, an English degree has quite a few positives to it more than just the literature. Quite a bit of skill training that is beneficial. Now history degrees...
Yeah- it's harder to find a job where written communication is largely unrelated to what you do.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby G.v.K » Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:24 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:People often think that others could do with less education, but they rarely think they themselves should have had less ( or should have had book club instead of education).


i disagree.

for myself and quite a few of my friends that i have spoken to on this topic, less 'education' would have been preferrable. the reason is that education was synonymous with achieving results on standardised tests and was of no inherent personal interest. once you have found a few things in life you genuinely find interesting and engaging, you realise that the time spent studying a bunch of stuff that you no longer remember anyway could have been better spent.

to take the book club example, if i was genuinely interested in books, a book club should always be preferrable and probably a lot more educational than sitting for an exam on literature.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby mr_pathetic » Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:49 pm UTC

Some of the basic courses I had in college weren't all that bad... a few I did hate with a passion. As far as standardized testing goes, the biggest problem with that begins in grade school long before university life. That is a load of B.S. that is part of a separate, but still important problem. I agree with Van in that it isn't so much less education we need in any area, but pull out a bunch of the fluff and really get your money's worth.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby cerbie » Sun Jun 20, 2010 3:13 am UTC

G.v.K wrote:
Zamfir wrote:People often think that others could do with less education, but they rarely think they themselves should have had less ( or should have had book club instead of education).


i disagree.

for myself and quite a few of my friends that i have spoken to on this topic, less 'education' would have been preferrable. the reason is that education was synonymous with achieving results on standardised tests and was of no inherent personal interest. once you have found a few things in life you genuinely find interesting and engaging, you realise that the time spent studying a bunch of stuff that you no longer remember anyway could have been better spent.

to take the book club example, if i was genuinely interested in books, a book club should always be preferrable and probably a lot more educational than sitting for an exam on literature.
Seems like the problem was trying to get you passing the test, more than learning the material. One of the more useful aspects of a curriculum at a university is the diversity: you end up with well-rounded experience, doing things you otherwise would not have, because they would not have seemed interesting.

Standardized tests actually seem rather odd, though. Aside from the SAT or ACT, I don't know of any used in the US for academics. Do they really do that crap in other developed countries, passed the time I student is forced to be in school?
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Marquee Moon » Sun Jun 20, 2010 4:35 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:I think there's an optimal number of people getting bachelor's degrees at a traditional college, and I suspect it's less than 50%. (Even the ~33% we have in America might be too high.) I think, however, the response needs to coming up with alternative modes of education which better serve the remaining subsets of the population, rather than the extremes of going starry-eyed over "education" and supporting the current model for people it doesn't seem to serve particularly well or abandoning the people ill-served by the current model to the wrong side of an artificial divide.

For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)

Hmm that's very true. A lot of people in my country go to Uni (in part) for 'recreational education', as opposed to job centric education. Myself included. There's nothing wrong with recreational education, but I believe it is less worthy of a government subsidy. Job centric education helps society in general because it drives economic growth, and it also increases social mobility. (poor students can study with a subsidy even if their parents can't pay) Recreational education on the other hand is more of a luxury good, and subsidising it is sort of middle/ upper class welfare. Creating institutions specifically for recreational education would let people choose more suitable amounts of recreational education and also allow the govt. to discriminate better between job and recreational education when giving out subsidies.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Sun Jun 20, 2010 10:08 am UTC

Marquee Moon wrote:A lot of people in my country go to Uni (in part) for 'recreational education', as opposed to job centric education. Myself included. There's nothing wrong with recreational education, but I believe it is less worthy of a government subsidy.


The line between 'recreational'and 'job-centric' is very hard to draw. Only a minority of people actually continue in a career closely related to their studies for more than a few year. This is even true for very job-centric studies like engineering. Ideally, a good higher education teaches people thinking skills that are more widely valid than in the small field they study. The things you learn are just as much practice material for more abstract skills as they are useful facts in themselves.

I know quite some people who studied mechanical engineering and now work for software or financial companies. Does that mean they did a 'recreational' study? Should they pay back their subsidy? How about physics and other sciences? If you don't become a researcher after studying something like that, does that make it recreational?

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Jumble » Sun Jun 20, 2010 10:13 am UTC

This is a fascinating idea, but surely the idea of splitting 'vocational' and 'recreational' education risks recreating the old polytechnic / university split. Although it seems a theoretically sound move, as I mentioned it didn't work out in practice. Partly this may have be down to the older professions (primarily law and medicine) which were still associated with a 'proper' university degree, which seemed to leave other professions (teaching, nursing, midwifery, etc.) striving to move towards a degree rather than a vocational certificate in order to win respect. Once they had followed this path the rest of the sheep stampeded along behind and the vocational polytechnics faded away. How would you avoid replicating this?

The other issue is surely that a few individuals will inevitably find, having pursued 'recreational' studies (i.e. purely out of interest) they are able to advance human knowledge in this area by continuing in full-time research. [I guess that cosmology would fall into this category?] For the sake of the advancement of human knowledge, should this not be encouraged by society and not restricted solely to those rich enough not to worry about the cost?
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Marquee Moon » Sun Jun 20, 2010 12:28 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Marquee Moon wrote:A lot of people in my country go to Uni (in part) for 'recreational education', as opposed to job centric education. Myself included. There's nothing wrong with recreational education, but I believe it is less worthy of a government subsidy.


The line between 'recreational'and 'job-centric' is very hard to draw. Only a minority of people actually continue in a career closely related to their studies for more than a few year. This is even true for very job-centric studies like engineering.

You're right, I think there's a spectrum. Though, I think a good enough divide might be whether someone intends to work using their education or is only doing it for personal interest. (someone who has a personal interest in their future career would still be 'worthy' of a subsidy) There will be people in the first group who later on decide to do something else, but that's impossible to tell at the moment, so they'd be subsidy worthy. Obviously you can't just ask students "are you doing this course only out of personal interest?" so it's hard for the govt. to discriminate between the two groups.

In the middle of the spectrum, it's hard to classify someone as recreational or job centric. I'm not too worried about that part. But at the far end of the spectrum, I believe there are a lot of people studying a subject/course who have no intention of 'using' what they learn in a way that will benefit society; they're doing it purely because they think it's interesting. As a society we would be better off if these people moved from heavily subsidised tertiary education to unsubsidised 'private' education. That could be getting a book out of a library, or watching some lectures online, etc. Maybe there are too few personal interest education 'institutions' out there. (that could be anything from a book club to free lectures made available on a website)

I did a few Philosophy papers a few years ago because I was interested in the subject. I didn't want to get a book out because I didn't think that would hold my attention and I wanted a more 'human' introduction that lectures and tutorials sort of give. Had I chosen to look up some lectures/speeches on the net and maybe join a Philosophy club, I would have saved the government thousands of dollars in subsidies.

So given what I just said, what should the govt. do? I have no idea, but I think understanding the problem will help.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Griffin » Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:14 pm UTC

SAT or ACT

There are lots of others in the US, trust me. Which ones vary by major though - unsurprisingly, teaching majors seem to get the worst of it.

Also, I and most of my friends from school seem to agree that the vast majority of our educational experience was a waste - those who succeeded very much seemed to succeed DESPITE their education rather than because of it, and the skills they gained while skipping class and staying up all night working on their own projects were far more valuable.

Many seem to see the sole value of college as a way to meet the right people to talk about things with, as a foot in the door and a degree, rather than any sort of educational experience.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Oregonaut » Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:35 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:
SAT or ACT

There are lots of others in the US, trust me. Which ones vary by major though - unsurprisingly, teaching majors seem to get the worst of it.

Also, I and most of my friends from school seem to agree that the vast majority of our educational experience was a waste - those who succeeded very much seemed to succeed DESPITE their education rather than because of it, and the skills they gained while skipping class and staying up all night working on their own projects were far more valuable.

Many seem to see the sole value of college as a way to meet the right people to talk about things with, as a foot in the door and a degree, rather than any sort of educational experience.


I know I learned more about linguistics from my own personal studies than I did from my college. My Baccalaureate experience was only useful in that it forced potential employers to interview me to learn what I could do, rather than dismiss me because I hadn't "earned my letters".
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:11 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:Many seem to see the sole value of college as a way to meet the right people to talk about things with, as a foot in the door and a degree, rather than any sort of educational experience.


I'm learning lots from university, mainly how to learn thing's that I've never heard of or been taught in a short timescale; My whole dept has an ethos that they can't teach us the whole of our subject as it is now let alone future proof it, but that their job is to equip us the with the skills and basic knowledge to make sense of the material we'll meet one day deal when in the big wide world of employment doing "real" chemistry. This is far from popular with some of my peers; but it's a much more realistic view of their value to us.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:56 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:
SAT or ACT

There are lots of others in the US, trust me. Which ones vary by major though - unsurprisingly, teaching majors seem to get the worst of it.

Also, I and most of my friends from school seem to agree that the vast majority of our educational experience was a waste - those who succeeded very much seemed to succeed DESPITE their education rather than because of it, and the skills they gained while skipping class and staying up all night working on their own projects were far more valuable.

Many seem to see the sole value of college as a way to meet the right people to talk about things with, as a foot in the door and a degree, rather than any sort of educational experience.


What would you have preferred in hindsight? Something currently available that youjust didn't chose, or do you mean there should be different options that are currently not available?

Would you have preferred to just start at a job after high school and work your way up? Or some kind of apprenticeship where it is acknowledged that you are learning? Or just one or two years of unpaid time to work on your own projects, instead of schooling?

How about credentials? They are clearly important. Do you think some set of standardized tests without a course attached would have been enough to give you a reliable credential? Or do you think people should rely on a portfolio of work for example?

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Mon Jun 21, 2010 9:22 pm UTC

I never thought that there was a certain amount of undergrads that was too much until I read this
cerbie wrote:The point at which the degree must be made easier for students to acquire, for the sake of making that 50%.

As an undergrad myself, I noticed at my former HS a tendency to push all students to a college-shaped hole, when it was not for everyone.
Oregonaut wrote:
Griffin wrote:Many seem to see the sole value of college as a way to meet the right people to talk about things with, as a foot in the door and a degree, rather than any sort of educational experience.


I know I learned more about linguistics from my own personal studies than I did from my college. My Baccalaureate experience was only useful in that it forced potential employers to interview me to learn what I could do, rather than dismiss me because I hadn't "earned my letters".

I think the current model where where employers make sure their potentials have a degree just to get an interview is made because employers don't like trial hiring of untested/"random" new employees just to see whether or not they will be fired in a month. Instead of weeding through a large number of people who apply for the job and hoping a few of them are competent (or even brilliant!), they hire from a pool that has been proven "good enough" to do "good enough" work. If you are going to college simply because employers in your field look for a degree and then give you extensive training, everyone's time is wasted. However, there are some fields where a degree is a reliable indicator of competency; such as law, medicine, engineering, or chemistry; because the material that is taught in school is expected to be standard knowledge in your field.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 22, 2010 12:53 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)


I dunno. General education has really high utility for society - stronger general education can produce better citizens, and maybe even better people (except for economists).

While I do agree we could improve the efficiency of our educational system, I think it more a matter of applying better methods, and better understanding what we should be conveying for a general education, than it is narrowing the focus of education towards vocation.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:09 pm UTC

I am currently pursuing a mechanical engineering BS, and likely a MS after that. I feel that both of these degrees are very important for the future work I hope to be doing (hopefully design). I may, in fact, wish to get a PhD someday so I can do research - hopefully with robotic locomotion - but that's a long way off if ever coming.

I wouldn't trade my education for the world, but I guess that's because I see it as very useful for what I will be doing later in life.

It seems as if people always say there aren’t enough people going into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields, but an overabundance of people in nearly all other fields. I completely agree. I don't think that most people pursue a history degree because they really plan on using it later in life. Instead, they choose it because they were at least passably decent at history in high school, it seems easier than some other degrees (not saying that it necessarily is), and to not get a college degree would mean a lower status in society.

I feel that funding for school should be largely like it is in America - you have to pay for it. However, what I would like to see are more governmental scholarships and grants geared towards the STEM fields, if the government is going to pay for higher education. STEM fields are typically more useful to society monetarily, so that's the reason for the focus. That doesn't mean that people wouldn't be free to pursue other fields, but it would be more difficult, as only the very top students (those who would likely actually use the degree later in life) would receive funding to get into those programs.

This would discourage people who are just getting a degree for the sake of it, as they would have to pay substantially for their education, or choose a STEM field, which typically doesn't happen. This wouldn't resolve the problems of no degree = lower status, but I think it would help with the abundance of undergrads.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Cathy » Tue Jun 22, 2010 3:57 pm UTC

All of this is very very very relevant. When I saw this article on the BBC I immediately went and currency changed their "estimated costs" for unis to USD. They were estimating 7k pounds which is about == 10k USDollars. In the US people pay 10-50k+ dollars per semester to go to university, and many (read:MOST) go into serious debt doing so. I am working on a degree and while I have not taken on debt *yet* it's looking fairly inevitable.

I would absolutely LOVE to reduce the number of college students. High Schools and parents alike push kids into college because "that's what you do." This translates to large numbers of students wasting time and money, partying and failing out of freshman/sophomore year, not doing their work, and in general wasting teacher and school resources that could be used on students who have a serious interest in a degree.

Much of this I see as a result of mandatory child care (read: public schooling) from age 5-18. High school pushes kids into college, and college becomes the next four years of child care - except that it costs 7k+ dollars a semester (depending where you go) and college has no problem failing you out - because their funding isn't based on their pass rate.

In my first few years of college, I've become tired of the jerk-offs and the partiers, the ones who think that daddy's money gives them a right to a degree, and the ones who think college is merely an extension of high school (Minus parental supervision).

My suggestion? Tighten admission standards, and if they don't want to work at McDonald's for the rest of their lives, I'm sure they'll straighten up real fast.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Azrael001 » Tue Jun 22, 2010 4:54 pm UTC

A society of undergraduates couldn't fail to be unstable and miserable. Imagine a factory staffed by undergraduates–that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!

It's an absurdity. An undergraduate, university conditioned man would go mad if he had to do high-school graduate work–go mad, or start smashing things up. Graduates can be completely socialized–but only on condition that you make them do undergraduate work.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:16 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:I am currently pursuing a mechanical engineering BS, and likely a MS after that. I feel that both of these degrees are very important for the future work I hope to be doing (hopefully design). I may, in fact, wish to get a PhD someday so I can do research - hopefully with robotic locomotion - but that's a long way off if ever coming.

I wouldn't trade my education for the world, but I guess that's because I see it as very useful for what I will be doing later in life.

It seems as if people always say there aren’t enough people going into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields, but an overabundance of people in nearly all other fields. I completely agree. I don't think that most people pursue a history degree because they really plan on using it later in life. Instead, they choose it because they were at least passably decent at history in high school, it seems easier than some other degrees (not saying that it necessarily is), and to not get a college degree would mean a lower status in society.
I

Despite all claims that there are not enough stem people, those jobs do not pay particularly better than other similarly skilled jobs. In practice, there isn't an enormous excess demand for scientists, engineers and programmers.

Just ask around in your school, you'll probably find out that engineers who want to earn more money move to the financial world, or management consultancy. Even within technical businesses, it's usually good project managers who are most in demand.

Stem fields do tend to have somewhat higher starting salaries than for example liberal arts students get, which shouldn't be too surprising given the job-oriented nature. But after a few years of work experience, having degree in ME won't give you much of an edge over history students.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby bigglesworth » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:21 pm UTC

Yeah, I'm not entirely sure who's pushing this lie though. Possibly people who want to employ cheaper engineers and scientists.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Oregonaut » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:32 pm UTC

bigglesworth wrote:Yeah, I'm not entirely sure who's pushing this lie though. Possibly people who want to employ cheaper engineers and scientists.


I can't speak to the situation in our parent country across the pond, but I do know that here in the states, education is much less affordable. I had decent grades coming out of High School, took the SAT and got in the 1400s (the old version), but couldn't get enough scholarship opportunities or grants (I'm white and male), and couldn't afford student debts at the time, as I was helping my parents survive my father's medical costs. I ended up joining the military, and I got my degree through a combination of student aid and light student loans (25k'ish), but by the time I was able to get around to college, I had lost most of my math and science skills and gained a massive load of linguistic skills. If I could have afforded college right off the bat, I'd have gone into a STEM field, probably physics. But because of the aforementioned problems, I remain an untapped source of curiousity.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby ian » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:42 pm UTC

Think it would be a good idea for it to be emphasised that you don't need to go to university at 18. im currently on my third uni course at 26, and loving it, compared to two others i started because i didnt really know what else to do. i think for a lot of people its not until they've started working and learning more about the world around them and how it works that they really know what they want to do. For a lot of these people working a few years first, just whatever job really, having some fun and just doing that extra bit of maturing and learning would probable help a lot, and i think result with more people taking on degrees with a specific career in mind

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Marquee Moon » Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:43 am UTC

Indon wrote:
Vaniver wrote:For example, someone who wants to get an education in English but expects to get a job in a largely unrelated field is probably better served by starting their job 30 hours a week out of high school, and then doing some sort of intensive book club for 10 hours a week for sixteen years, than having four years of full time book club followed by twelve years of working full time. (I understand English degrees aren't book clubs, but I imagine for many degree seekers that's closer to what they'd rather they be.)


I dunno. General education has really high utility for society - stronger general education can produce better citizens, and maybe even better people (except for economists).

Could you expand a bit more on what "better citizens" and "better people" are? The people who spend the most money on general or personal interest education are the rich. Poorer people would be less able to afford personal interest education and would be more likely to spend money on job centric education, cause they need money more. Basically, recreational education is a luxury good, and probably shouldn't be subsidised. What are the positive "externalities" of such education? I could see maybe civics or learning more about government as beneficial to society, but how is learning about philosophy or the Roman empire going to benefit society? And even if there are some benefits, wouldn't there be a greater benefit from spending that money on childhood education or healthcare?

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Wed Jun 23, 2010 5:04 am UTC

Cathy wrote:All of this is very very very relevant. When I saw this article on the BBC I immediately went and currency changed their "estimated costs" for unis to USD. They were estimating 7k pounds which is about == 10k USDollars. In the US people pay 10-50k+ dollars per semester to go to university, and many (read:MOST) go into serious debt doing so. I am working on a degree and while I have not taken on debt *yet* it's looking fairly inevitable.

I would absolutely LOVE to reduce the number of college students. High Schools and parents alike push kids into college because "that's what you do." This translates to large numbers of students wasting time and money, partying and failing out of freshman/sophomore year, not doing their work, and in general wasting teacher and school resources that could be used on students who have a serious interest in a degree.

Much of this I see as a result of mandatory child care (read: public schooling) from age 5-18. High school pushes kids into college, and college becomes the next four years of child care - except that it costs 7k+ dollars a semester (depending where you go) and college has no problem failing you out - because their funding isn't based on their pass rate.

In my first few years of college, I've become tired of the jerk-offs and the partiers, the ones who think that daddy's money gives them a right to a degree, and the ones who think college is merely an extension of high school (Minus parental supervision).

My suggestion? Tighten admission standards, and if they don't want to work at McDonald's for the rest of their lives, I'm sure they'll straighten up real fast.

I agree with everything here except the last paragraph. What's wrong with being a partier, especially if you can keep your grades up?
Also, just how many jobs that require a college degree actually utilize enough knowledge learned in college that it would be impractical for on-the-job training or apprenticeship.
ian wrote:Think it would be a good idea for it to be emphasised that you don't need to go to university at 18. im currently on my third uni course at 26, and loving it, compared to two others i started because i didnt really know what else to do. i think for a lot of people its not until they've started working and learning more about the world around them and how it works that they really know what they want to do. For a lot of these people working a few years first, just whatever job really, having some fun and just doing that extra bit of maturing and learning would probable help a lot, and i think result with more people taking on degrees with a specific career in mind

I think that is both a brilliant idea and a solution to the over-saturation of college grads. At my high school, they heavily discouraged taking a gap year because most people who take a gap year don't go back to school. This should sort out the problem by letting those who want higher ed at 18 to go to college and those that don't to see if it'll become necessary later on without spending four (or more) years and money they don't have to get a degree they otherwise would not have needed or spend one or two years and lots of money to drop out.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Jun 23, 2010 5:55 am UTC

cjmcjmcjmcjm wrote:
ian wrote:Think it would be a good idea for it to be emphasised that you don't need to go to university at 18. im currently on my third uni course at 26, and loving it, compared to two others i started because i didnt really know what else to do. i think for a lot of people its not until they've started working and learning more about the world around them and how it works that they really know what they want to do. For a lot of these people working a few years first, just whatever job really, having some fun and just doing that extra bit of maturing and learning would probable help a lot, and i think result with more people taking on degrees with a specific career in mind

I think that is both a brilliant idea and a solution to the over-saturation of college grads. At my high school, they heavily discouraged taking a gap year because most people who take a gap year don't go back to school. This should sort out the problem by letting those who want higher ed at 18 to go to college and those that don't to see if it'll become necessary later on without spending four (or more) years and money they don't have to get a degree they otherwise would not have needed or spend one or two years and lots of money to drop out.


While I am all in favour of people getting some work experience before education, there are some real limitations to it. The major one is starting a family: me and my girlfriend are also 26, and we are currently building up a stable career and some savings before we have kids. If we went to college now, got an advanced degree and some years of work experience, we would be postponing kids to our late thirties. On the other hand, having kids in school or while you're not sure of an income is also far from perfect. Most people do have similar plans and that limits how late you can start higher education.

Another issue is that there are not that many interesting jobs for high school leavers without higher education or work experience, even if they are smart. Without a somewhat interesting job or other activity to do, the benefit of of some years in between isn't that great. Sure, you grow up, but that happens anyway.

And finally, getting used to money. I have seen enough people who got a job somewhere during their studies, got a bit of money, a nice apartment and a car, got used to always having spare cash for fun things, etc. After that, it's harder to return to your studies and the small-income lifestyle. Again, it depends on personality, but it is definitely a factor.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Vaniver » Wed Jun 23, 2010 2:24 pm UTC

Marquee Moon wrote: What are the positive "externalities" of such education? I could see maybe civics or learning more about government as beneficial to society, but how is learning about philosophy or the Roman empire going to benefit society?
Well, if it leads them to believe the things I believe, then there'll be better politics, and everyone will be better off.

*cough*

More seriously, the only main argument for externalities in education come with literacy. In modern society, there are probably five important kinds of 'literacy'- reading/writing English, doing math, understanding law, driving cars, and using computers. For all of those, the gains for anything besides basic understanding are mostly captured by the individual. There are many other important skills- like how to be a savvy customer- whose gains are almost exclusively to the possessor of that skill. There might be less con men in a place where people aren't easily conned, but if you're not easily conned, it doesn't matter much to you how many con men there are.

There's also, as I hinted at before, political indoctrination. I would love it if everyone had basic economics / governance courses I would design. That's not what you get in school, though, and unsurprisingly the trend is for government-supported education to support government.

Zamfir wrote:And finally, getting used to money. I have seen enough people who got a job somewhere during their studies, got a bit of money, a nice apartment and a car, got used to always having spare cash for fun things, etc. After that, it's harder to return to your studies and the small-income lifestyle. Again, it depends on personality, but it is definitely a factor.
This is definitely a factor in the grad school calculation, for example. I'm going to be under-earning many of my friends by a significant margin for a number of years before I start earning more than they do, maybe. I've heard from a number of people who decided to not go to college, got into a good field, were making enough money to do things like start a family, then the field collapsed and while they had specialized experience they didn't have a college degree to get them into another field, leaving them up a creek without a paddle. In many ways, the "you don't have to get a bachelor's degree" idea is a prisoner's dilemma / coordination game- almost everyone's time is wasted by doing it, but unless most people choose not to do it, the edge it gives is enough to make it not actually a waste.
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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Jun 23, 2010 6:08 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:In many ways, the "you don't have to get a bachelor's degree" idea is a prisoner's dilemma / coordination game- almost everyone's time is wasted by doing it, but unless most people choose not to do it, the edge it gives is enough to make it not actually a waste.


Can you explain this? If employers prefer a degree over some extra years of work experience, how is that a coordination problem? Why doesn't it just imply that having a degree actually is more valuable than extra work experience?

After all, if companies didn't really value a degree, they could just look at high school grades.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Wed Jun 23, 2010 7:14 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Can you explain this? If employers prefer a degree over some extra years of work experience, how is that a coordination problem? Why doesn't it just imply that having a degree actually is more valuable than extra work experience?

After all, if companies didn't really value a degree, they could just look at high school grades.

I don't think it's so much that they don't value the degree, just that they do not value it nearly as much as it costs. All said and done, even mid-price four year degrees end up having a net "cost" to society on the order of $250,000 ($100,000 in education fees and another $150,000 or so in lost work opportunity). While it might be worth it to the employer to discriminate when half of your potentials have already sunk in this money, if you started asking them to stomach $25,000 in interest for a non-technical degree I'd bet quite a few would realize high school educations aren't half bad.

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Re: Are there too many undergraduates?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Jun 23, 2010 7:24 pm UTC

Bubbles McCoy wrote:All said and done, even mid-price four year degrees end up having a net "cost" to society on the order of $250,000 ($100,000 in education fees and another $150,000 or so in lost work opportunity).

I don't think it makes much sense to count lost earnings fully. Life isn't a game to maximise your lifetime earnings, earnings are just a way to get other things. If you spend a year earning little and spending little, but you are happy anyway, what's the loss?

Of course, if people didn't like higher ed, it would be a different story. But most people seem to enjoy it for a few years at least.


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