Soft Skills and Other Definitions: Problematic Logic at Demos

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

David Callahan at the Policy Shop writes about masters degrees in this post. He begins by posting numbers on graduates. He writes

Here’s a statistic that I found surprising and also troubling: Roughly 730,000 master’s degrees will be awarded this spring. And it’s estimated that another 2.2 million master’s degrees will be handed out over the next three years.

I’m assuming he means “this spring” as in “now.” It’s a good estimation to make, also, in that more will be coming. But then he writes this:

Investments in education are often positive, and it’s good to know, for instance, that over 40,000 young people will receive master’s degrees in engineering and technology this spring. This country badly needs a more skilled workforce.

I don’t know why the author uses the qualifier “more skilled.” Engineers may have other skills than poets, but they are certainly not “more skilled.” The logic is important. The poet may not be of much use to Space X but because Space X requires engineers does not mean that Space X engineers are “more skilled.” This goes to my critique of our current administrations “science and math” priority.

This muddying of language creates a false sense of a problem, much as Steve Jobs did in claiming that the U.S. doesn’t produce the kinds of workers to sustain tech.

It’s definitely a problem if a whole bunch of masters degrees are given in fields that don’t require them. For example, if a million people graduate from masters programs in teaching and there are only 100 teaching jobs, then this represents a problem, I would assume. In the United States, however, we need excellent teachers with lots of effective ability. But it’s also true that we don’t prioritize this need, in my opinion. I also suspect the rigor of these degrees.

So, the bottom line: is the issue for Callahan a question of rigor or a question of structure? He writes

This spring, over 185,000 people will received master’s degrees in education. Many of them will carry student loans that won’t be easily paid down given that the starting salary of public school teachers is under $40,000 in every state and, in many states, it’s under $30,000. Moreover, even as credentialization and debt burdens have gone up for teachers in recent decades, salaries have generally stagnated.

He makes an interesting point about over-credentialing but the evidence needs development.

Start with business. While MBA students certainly learn a lot of useful things, it’s also true that many of these same skills can and should be taught by employers.

How does he know this?

In our current economic state, and the state of college entrance numbers, we will certainly be seeing labor problems in the future. But remember, while the big banks were bailed out, the education institutions were not.


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