When I argue that we have too much college, people quickly fall on the well established fact that college graduates make a lot more than non-college graduates. But you don’t need to be an education skeptic to ask a sensible question: what’s the variance? Are some people not making the college premium? How many? Well, turns out that a firm has been calculating the rate of return for college and it varies a huge amount. There are folks who don’t make it back. Some college graduates are making a *negative* rate of return. From the economist:
A report by PayScale, a research firm, tries to measure the returns on higher education in America (see article). They vary enormously. A graduate in computer science from Stanford can expect to make $1.7m more over 20 years than someone who never went to college, after the cost of that education is taken into account. A degree in humanities and English at Florida International University leaves you $132,000 worse off. Arts degrees (broadly defined) at 12% of the colleges in the study offered negative returns; 30% offered worse financial rewards than putting the cash in 20-year Treasury bills.
None of this matters if you are rich and studying fine art to enhance your appreciation of the family Rembrandts. But most 18-year-olds in America go to college to get a good job. That is why the country’s students have racked up $1.1 trillion of debt—more than America’s credit-card debts. For most students college is still a wise investment, but for many it is not. Some 15% of student debtors default within three years; a startling 115,000 graduates work as caretakers.
In other words, before we rush more people into the college, we have to make it cheaper, much cheaper. And we shouldn’t facilitate degrees that massively bad consequences for your economic life chances.
Viviana Zelizer and Lauren Gaydosh chip in on the recent NLRB ruling about the employee status of student-athletes. Characteristically, they are not too impressed with arguments that the sacred world of collegiate athletics might be polluted by the employment relation:
While surely there are serious grounds to worry about the commercialization of universities, the tragedy of growing student debt and other daunting economic problems involving academic institutions, recognizing and compensating students’ work efforts is emphatically not one of them.
Why not? Because a legitimate and vibrant labor market has long been a standard feature of college life. Students are already college employees, compensated with hourly wages and sometimes perks, like reduced housing costs or free food. And for the most part their labor becomes integrated into their education rather than corrupting their college experience. In colleges around the country, students work in a wide variety of jobs, in the libraries, dining services, computer centers, as residential, research and office assistants, as paid volunteers for psychology faculty experiments, raising funds for the university, and much more. …
We therefore already have proof that education and labor can coexist without necessary mutual damage.
The key challenge is not adjudicating whether or not college athletes should be legally considered employees. Regardless of legal definitions all students engaged in campus-related work deserve proper protections and regulations. Whether on the football field or serving in a dining hall, whether they are producing extraordinary revenues for their institutions or earning small sums of spending money, colleges should guard their students’ welfare.
But, on the flip side, they think it’s not a matter of one logic simply rolling over another, either:
Does this mean that we can start treating colleges as ordinary workplaces? That would also be a mistake. College labor is not the same as work within a Wall Street firm, a fast food restaurant, or a department store. As educational organizations, colleges are distinct economic settings with their own systems of compensation and work categories representing and reinforcing that distinctiveness. Within that economic world, scholarships, fellowships and grants are suitable forms of payment. Indeed, in the Northwestern case, among other demands such as medical coverage and the establishment of an educational trust fund, players are demanding guaranteed full scholarships but are not pushing for “pay-for-play” salaries.
Amongst OrgTheory people, I imagine Brayden is strongly in favor of the further formal professionalization of college sports on the grist-for-the-mill grounds that it will encourage the collection of an even greater volume data about pitches, baskets, and rushing yards.
On the Soc Job Rumor Board, there was a discussion of the non-replicability of ethnography. I think this is mistaken. Ethnography is easily replicable, it’s just that ethnographers don’t want to do it. For example, ethnographers could:
- Stop making everything anonymous so others can verify and check. Mitch Duinier is right about this.
- Group ethnography. Have multiple observers and do inter-coder reliability.
- Standardize data collection – how field codes are done and recorded.
- Encourage others to revisit the same population (which is actually done in anthropological ethnography)
Of course, no single study can strive for replication in the same way and some folks do a good job addressing these issues. But still, the anti-positivist framing of much ethnography probably prevents ethnographers from developing intuitive and sensible things to create standards that would move the field away from the solo practitioner model of unique and non-replicable studies.
Last year, we discussed a specific policy at the American Sociological Review (and me getting booted from the reviewer pool for complaining!). What appears to be happening is the papers are being sent out for 3rd and 4th reviews, to new reviewers, and then getting rejected after years of review. Since I haven’t submitted in about a year and a half, I have no idea – have things have changed? I ask in all seriousness. I’m just a believer in not jerking people around.