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True or False: "School is all about signaling, not skill-building"

NearlyDone2024NearlyDone2024 116 replies4 threads Junior Member
edited August 12 in Parents Forum
What facts support or oppose this article?

___________________________________________________________________________

"Op-Ed: What students know that experts don’t: School is all about signaling, not skill-building

Parents, teachers, politicians and researchers tirelessly warn today’s youths about the unforgiving job market that awaits them. If they want to succeed in tomorrow’s economy, they can’t just coast through school. They have to soak up precious knowledge like a sponge. But even as adulthood approaches, students rarely heed this advice. Most treat high school and college like a game, not an opportunity to build lifelong skills."



Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and author of “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.”
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-caplan-education-credentials-20180211-story.html
edited August 12
61 replies
Post edited by MaineLonghorn on
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Replies to: True or False: "School is all about signaling, not skill-building"

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 84645 replies752 threads Senior Member
    How much is signaling and how much is skill building depends on the student and the subject. Perhaps Caplan has been encountering too many students majoring in beer rather than the major they are nominally in at college.
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  • PublisherPublisher 11892 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited August 12
    OP: After reading the LA Times article "The Case Against Education: Why The Education System Is A Waste of Time and Money" by Bryan Caplan, I have come to a different conclusion than that of Professor Caplan.

    My conclusion is that Professor Caplan misunderstands the purpose and benefits of higher education. Professor Caplan also misunderstands the realities of today's workplace.

    @bclintonk in post #2 above comes much closer to understanding the purpose and benefits of higher education than does Professor Caplan's pessimistic diatribe.
    edited August 12
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  • PublisherPublisher 11892 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited August 12
    Education is really only about two things:

    Communication skills and how to approach problems (aka "problem solving skills".).

    That is all.

    Everything & more that @bclintonk wrote about in post #2 above is included in my two point summary.

    Professor Caplan's position that "school is all about signaling, not skill-building" is incorrect.

    School is all about skill building. Professor Caplan just does not understand the purpose and benefits of higher education.

    The skills that one should develop through schooling are communication skills and how to approach problems (often referred to as "problem solving skills".
    edited August 12
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  • NearlyDone2024NearlyDone2024 116 replies4 threads Junior Member
    edited August 13
    As CC rules prevent posting an entire article via cut and paste, you'll need to click the link to see the entire article and digest Caplan's argument in its entirety. Thank you.

    When I read it, I thought it applied more to non-STEM majors than STEM majors. I also think there is a great value to learning some subjects (history, for example) even though they may not be directly applicable to a job.

    It's a thought provoking article in either case.
    edited August 13
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3764 replies14 threads Senior Member
    As the OP asked what facts support or refute the signaling vs human capital views of the role of higher education, there was an interesting study published in a top Econ journal. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,24&q=carolina+arteaga&btnG=#d=gs_qabs&u=#p=jX-zk1E_3mIJ

    The Econ and business majors significantly reduced the number of courses in Econ needed to graduate and subsequently the students graduating from that program received lower salaries (while salaries received by those in other majors like engineering remained unchanged). This is evidence against the signaling hypothesis and in support of the human capital hypothesis (that education makes you more productive).
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  • compmomcompmom 12089 replies82 threads Senior Member
    I think that with degree inflation, a BA is no longer as much of a positive, but not having one is a negative.

    If you read this article with the majority of students in mind- not top college intellectuals- it certainly makes some good points.

    Now that everyone feels they have to go to college in order to have a good job/life (and the priority is money, not learning, which is understandable), many families are suffering under the weight of tuition and loans when no clear job skill is earned.

    If our society could return to having access to good jobs without a college degree, and could substantially increase focus on vocational training, as well as resume respect for that path, I think a lot of kids and families would benefit.

    Unfortunately manufacturing is no longer a path for many.

    There is something seriously wrong in the picture here: the pressure on everyone to go to college.

    The goal for many is indeed graduation (certification) and professors who teach easy classes are rewarded with high reviews. A secondary focus is grades, so easy graders also get good reviews.

    The certification is more important than substance for many many students. The easier the path, the better. Rigor is not appreciated.

    That isn't to say that a Princeton philosophy major isn't in it for the learning. But that kind of student is statistically an outlier.

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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 84645 replies752 threads Senior Member
    compmom wrote: »
    That isn't to say that a Princeton philosophy major isn't in it for the learning. But that kind of student is statistically an outlier.

    Even among Princeton students, there are likely many who were motivated to attend Princeton for the fast track recruiting into "elite" jobs like management consulting and investment banking.
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  • BKSquaredBKSquared 1772 replies8 threads Senior Member
    @blossom response on #10 is right on point. I participated in a lot of hiring decisions for a Big Law firm and then a bulge bracket IB. There were always going to be way more qualified people applying for entry level jobs than positions we had to fill. It would be foolish not to use ready made filters like undergrad institution and major, law school/MBA program to cull the initial list. My firms were comfortable that it was highly likely that a "Princeton" grad of certain majors with a 3.5+GPA and/or a "Harvard" Law/MBA in the top 50% of the class would be capable of doing the work. We looked at resumes of applicants from less prestigious/selective schools, but they needed to be in the top 1% to 10% to make the initial cut. As a business, our goal was to find the best candidates in an efficient manner not expending resources in time and money to find the odd diamond in the rough in some obscure corner.
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  • compmomcompmom 12089 replies82 threads Senior Member
    @ucbalumnus of course: I chose philosophy partly for that reason, not econ!

    @BKSquared you are discussing elite jobs for elite students, a minority of the student/worker population.

    That said, I believe that as "everyone goes to college," it is not the degree that distinguishes anyone but the school attended. Unfortunately.

    Still, most people I know who went to state colleges or universities have done fine. They might not work for Bain as often as an Ivy grad, or whatever, but get good jobs, so more training or school, buy a house, have kids, etc.
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  • BKSquaredBKSquared 1772 replies8 threads Senior Member
    ^ Yes, but as you mentioned the same culling process still applies to "Main Street" jobs. Reality is employers are rationally making initial decisions assuming that colleges, majors, gpas and internships are providing valuable filters as to capability, work ethic and ambition.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 84645 replies752 threads Senior Member
    BKSquared wrote: »
    ^ Yes, but as you mentioned the same culling process still applies to "Main Street" jobs. Reality is employers are rationally making initial decisions assuming that colleges, majors, gpas and internships are providing valuable filters as to capability, work ethic and ambition.

    Although using college name brings in other factors, since which college a traditional college student attends and graduates from is heavily determined by parental circumstances and choices (particularly financial ones). It also suggests that the employer places a high value on how well the college (graduate) applicant did in high school, since that determines college choice after parent factors impose their limitations.
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  • socaldad2002socaldad2002 2566 replies34 threads Senior Member
    I find it somewhat ironic that Mr. Caplan who went to a charter high school and has degrees from Princeton and UC Berkeley and is a professor of economics is now saying that an education is largely "signaling" and not about the skills one acquires.

    We are to believe that HIS education was a "waste of time and money"?
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  • bclintonkbclintonk 7739 replies31 threads Senior Member
    blossom wrote:
    . . . I would be lying if I told you that the CS major from Southern CT State is as well prepared-- for a role requiring abstract thinking, mathematical chops and creativity-- as the CS major from MIT.

    This is perhaps an unfair comparison. I don't have a lot of confidence in the quality of education at most state "directional" schools either. There might be the occasional diamond-in-the-rough who graduates from one of those schools, but generally even they need a lot of polishing before they're ready for prime time, and most employers don;t have the patience, the time, or the resources to devote to that sort of development project.

    My comments were more about top grads from the better public flagships, who IMO often don't get an even break in the hiring process. It depends on the school, the field, and the particular employer, of course. But bottom line, it's not a meritocracy, or at least not purely so. Many employers take easy shortcuts that operate to systematically disadvantage top graduates from very good schools who may be every bit as well qualified---and in some cases more so---than run-of-the-mill graduates of elite private schools . And this phenomenon seems to be especially pronounced in the Northeast, where public universities are often held in disdain, with no effort made to distinguish among them on the basis of the quality of the school or the quality of the particular graduate. .
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  • PublisherPublisher 11892 replies161 threads Senior Member
    I read Professor Caplan's LA Times article "What students know that experts don't: School is all about signaling, not skill-building" again.

    This work product can only have been produced by one immersed in academia and unfamiliar with the reality of today's workplace.

    Professor Bryan Caplan's article attempts to support two assumptions:

    1) The main reason firms reward education is because it certifies (or "signals") brains, work ethic, and conformity."

    2) Educational austerity is the simplest path back to an economy in which serious on-the-job learning starts during high school--not after college.

    With respect to point #1, Professor Caplan might be confusing the granting of an interview with a job offer. Firms grant job interviews to those meeting certain requirements. Job offers are made to those who pass multiple screening tests.

    Regarding point #2, serious learning does begin in high school. Maybe Professor Caplan is confusing trade schools with the primary goals of education: Communication Skills & Problem Solving Skills.

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  • PublisherPublisher 11892 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited August 14
    Included among several ridiculous statements made by Professor Caplan in the LA Times article are:

    "After four years at Princeton, though, the guerrilla student would lack [just] one precious thing: a diploma."

    Really ? Just one thing ?

    Does Professor Caplan understand the significance of what it takes to earn a Princeton diploma ?

    The "guerrilla student" also would lack graded work, constructive feedback, and research opportunities in addition to internships.

    Professor Caplan also wrote:

    "As long as they have good grades and finish their degree, employers care little about what they've learned."

    Apparently Professor Caplan hasn't been on any job interviews in the last decade or two. Employers care a lot. Sometimes employers care about technical knowledge & skills, but employers seem to always care about communication skills, problem solving skills, and willingness to learn (trainability) and demonstrated work ethic.
    edited August 14
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