Finding Your Vocation in College

Anthony Sacramone asked me to write something on “How to Find Your Vocation in College” for the I.S.I. website he edits, so I did.  I also took the opportunity to answer the conservative pundits who are saying that college students should all go into technology so they can pay off their student loans and forget about the liberal arts.  Also, Mathew Block at First Thoughts linked to the post and added some perceptive comments of his own.

The first couple paragraphs:

From the time you were five years old, someone was always asking you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe you answered “a cowboy” or “a princess,” but you really didn’t know. As you get older, the pressure intensifies. “A professional baseball player.” “A veterinarian.” Now you are in college, but you still don’t know. You have to pick a major, but how do you know (1) whether you will get a job, and (2) whether you will be satisfied with that job should you even get one.

Vocational Training

These are all struggles about your vocation. That word has become a synonym for “job,” so that colleges debate the extent to which higher education should be primarily vocational training or whether it should have higher goals, such as cultivating the intellect. But vocation is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” It is one of those theological words—like inspiration, revelation, mission, and vision—that has been taken over by the corporate world and drained of its meaning. The idea is that what you do for a living can be a calling. From God. That He has made you in a certain way and given you certain talents, opportunities, and inclinations. He then calls you to certain tasks, relationships, and experiences.

Your job is only a part of that, and sometimes not the most important part.

Read the rest at the site:   How to Find Your Vocation in College | Intercollegiate Review.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    Go into technology to pay off their student loans quicker?? Why would anyone recommend a person go into a field they don’t like in order to pay for an education they didn’t want?

  • Tressa

    I saw your article posted on Facebook. I think it is a great article and made sure my senior read it. He will be attending a Christian, liberal arts college in the fall. He receives a lot of unwanted comments because the college is expensive, but he chose it for many good reasons. I hope he appreciated your words. The article was timely for us.

  • Kempin04

    Granting the argument in favor of a liberal education, I think there is an underlying point that neither you nor the “pundits” really touched upon. (At least it is a point that I have considered, and it seems to fit with this discussion.) Namely, why are we allowing, much less pushing, our young toward an education that they can’t afford? Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to have $70,000 in debt before you have ever had a full time job? Well, perhaps if your job has a reasonable expectation of earning that can handle it–as perhaps the pundits are really saying. On the other hand, while a degree in philosophy may be a noble pursuit, (using your for instance), is it ethical or wise to borrow a mortgage-like sum for a degree that doesn’t carry an expectation of earning?

    Don’t get me wrong. I totally agree that higher education is of great value, but it is also a purchase. We are conveying an education, that is true, but we are also saddling young adults with debt before they really have the critical ability to judge whether it is a good decision.

  • SKPeterson

    Being an academic of a mostly libertarian bent, I would take issue with what Worstall (Forbes) and Coulson (Cato) implied in their articles: that the government should stop funding liberal arts degrees, or as Worstall explicitly states, “no federally or state funded student loans for those doing the arts, languages and so on,” yet continue to provided funding for “modern era” technology studies in engineering, the hard sciences, etc. I disagree. The government should get completely out of the student loan funding business altogether and stop trying to pick winners and losers. Government does a lousy job in such attempts in the broader economy (i.e., the enduring green industry = jobs fiasco), why would the outcomes be any better in having the government trying to determine the ideal characteristics of a future workforce. Let individuals and families decide on the best educational course of actin to pursue for themselves and their children without the muddying impact of student loan financing that actually increases the costs of pursuing higher education (despite Department of Education protests to the contrary, this graph http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Articles/Education_Inflation.asp and the one found on p. 13 of this report, http://www.teri.org/PDF/research-studies//StudentLoanDebt.pdf appears to show a pretty good correlation).

    Maybe studying literature in college won’t lead to lots of high-paying job offers. Maybe it will. For all of Worstall’s complaints I continue to see, if, ahem, Forbes and others are to be trusted in their reporting, that firms on the cutting edge of technology such as app developers are on the lookout for people with liberal arts backgrounds who have a broad stream of educational experience that can be tapped to market, develop and enhance modern technology.

    The issue is with what constitutes a valid liberal arts education. Feminist studies, Queer Studies and other overtly political educational pursuits may be both academic and career dead ends except for the handful of people who manage to secure a very low paying faculty position in some Department of Useless Academic Fads. However, students of history, some sociology, anthropology/archaeology, political science, geography, philosophy, foreign languages, or even English, often have the requisite thinking and writing skills desired by companies on the leading edge of technology. For all our technological advances, we still like them to have a very real and very human application.

  • Lumpenkönig

    I agree 100% with Kempin04. In this economy, you will not find a job as a liberal arts graduate. Employers do not want to spend the money to train. How many times have you heard the phrase: “We want someone to hit the ground running.” However, not all vocational degrees have value. Thanks to the offshoring of jobs to India, a computer science degree is also a waste of money. Choose your major wisely.

    Is Education an investment, or is it consumption?

  • Lumpenkönig

    By the way, my wife graduated with a double major in Math and in Humanities. The math got her the job; however, the humanities demonstrated to the potential employer that she possessed good communication skills and was not a socially inept “geek.” A double major is the way to go.

  • James Kellerman

    There is nothing worse than having technical skills that allow a person to do a particular task without also having the ability to think whether that task should be done at all or whether it will be outsourced or replaced in the near future. That is the value of a liberal arts education. Our economy was ruined a few years ago because we had MBA’s and CPA’s who knew how to securitize risky mortgages, but didn’t have the foresight to see that such derivatives would have to collapse of their own weight and who didn’t have the moral insight to see that what they were doing was wrong.

    I’ll grant that higher education is too expensive, especially if one considers the cost of years ago, and thus we may be tempted to do away with all but vocational training. To make matters worse, many university students are simply learning what they should have learned in high school, which leaves little time to explore the humanities after they have taken their vocational courses. Thus, the irony is that higher education today leaves us less prepared for work and for life, even as we pay more for it, than the colleges and universities of yesteryear.

  • helen

    Lumpenkonig @5
    I agree 100% with Kempin04. In this economy, you will not find a job as a liberal arts graduate.

    A generation ago, you got an Engineering degree and a job with “Bigoil”. If you had foresight, you had married a liberal arts graduate to edit your endless papers, because you never learned grammar or spelling!

    [UT has figured that one out and now teaches communications skills in engineering, in this generation. Women, who make up increasing portions of the class, don't have the luxury of "stay at home" editors.]

    BTW, Austin is still on the map at the moment. ;\

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    I think one thing gumming up the works here is the availability of rapid, high-quality information. Liberal arts are great – I have a lib arts degree. But nowadays, I can go to The Great Courses or even YouTube and get taught by world-class teachers for a less than the cost of a credit hour. Obviously the internet doesn’t work for Socratic dialogue, but frankly, many schools are glorified diploma mills now. If all I have to do is pay money and turn in projects to get a degree, then I might be better off saving my money and getting my education online. Not saying this is wise, but it is our current reality.

  • DonS

    I agree with SKP @ 4. There are two sectors of the economy that have been afflicted with rampant inflation for at least the past 30-40 years. Those sectors are health care and higher education. Coincidentally (NOT!!!), those are the two economic sectors into which the government has nosed the most, subsidizing and distorting them economically beyond all reasonable measure.

    Colleges and universities should learn to function without government subsidy, as most other industries must. Compete in the marketplace, and develop private sources for grants and scholarships for deserving and needy students, as institutions like PHC, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College have done for decades. Student loans were the worst idea ever, and represent the most sure destruction of liberal arts education.

  • James Kellerman

    The Great Courses and similar programs are wonderful, but I would venture to say that most of the people who make use of them already value a liberal arts education, that is to say, they are over 50 and went to college in an era that a strong core curriculum. They may want to review something they learned back then or explore in greater detail something they had learned in a cursory fashion. But I doubt that many people who never had any exposure to the liberal arts at a younger age will find them on their own later in life.

    I also doubt that people who were taught the humanities in a disjointed sort of way and/or with a jaundiced, cynical view (i.e., exclusively with Marxist, feminist, or anti-Western perspectives) will want to pursue them in greater depth later in life. (Unfortunately, that has been how the humanities have been taught in the past several decades.) The Left and the Right have equally sought to destroy higher education in the humanities–the Left by turning them into a nihilistic enterprise, the Right by crowding them out in favor of mercantile enterprise. And, thus, we have another irony. The internet has made available more learning available than ever before, but we are educating a generation to be completely ill equipped to take advantage of this wealth of knowledge. This problem requires wisdom on the part of university presidents and deans to solve, but (here’s another irony) these are the people least likely today to think wisely about such matters; they are the worst number crunchers of them all.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS – maybe the American model for student loans is crappy, but that is not the same everywhere.

    Your last paragraph won’t work: Industry etc is often good with applied research, but blue sky programs are something else. Also, all 3 your examples are Liberal Arts colleges – these do not need expensive science / engineering / medical equipment etc., and they benefit from targeted religious support. The ability to do blue sky research, or other not-for-profit research (like anthropology, archaeology, linguistics etc etc) are very important to the (general) advance of knowledge and understanding. These are often best supported with government grants. Even applied research is often a co-operation between government and industry.

    Rabid anti-public money crusades will destroy higher education. What you need is careful approaches, management, salary caps for institutions relying on government funds (there was a huge outcry here in SK when it was revealed that the President of the U of S earns considerably more than the Premier of the province) etc. Sloganeering is unhelpful – and, and this is most important, Higher Education, with the accompanying Research etc., IS NOT AN INDUSTRY, AND SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE VIEWED AS SUCH.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    James @ 11:

    This problem requires wisdom on the part of university presidents and deans to solve, but (here’s another irony) these are the people least likely today to think wisely about such matters; they are the worst number crunchers of them all.

    Unfortunately, that is no lie!

  • kempin04

    Klasie, #12,

    “Higher education . . . is not an industry.”

    Hmmm. I’m not sure that’s true. It sure SEEMS like an industry to me. What do you mean when you say that?

    Perhaps you are speaking in the ideal of what higher education should be, in which case I would agree with you. Higher education in the ideal does not require a university or terminate in a degree.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Kempin04 – as in an industry that has to stand on its own legs at be profitable (in $$ terms), seen in isolation. To a society as a whole Higher Ed is always a boon.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 12: “DonS – maybe the American model for student loans is crappy, but that is not the same everywhere.” — explain, please. My point was that there is so much government money washing through the system that the institutions are not price-conscious. That is why a university education has seen price increases 2-3 times inflation over the past 30-40 years. The downside, besides the huge drain on taxpayer resources, is that students are graduating with six figure albatrosses around their necks. Your point?

    Your last paragraph won’t work: Industry etc is often good with applied research, but blue sky programs are something else. Also, all 3 your examples are Liberal Arts colleges – these do not need expensive science / engineering / medical equipment etc., and they benefit from targeted religious support.

    Hillsdale is a secular institution, and neither Grove City nor PHC receive any subsidy from a denominational sponsor, to my knowledge. They are supported by alumni and friends who believe in their mission. And, while all three institutions are liberal arts colleges (fitting — since they are the topic of the thread), both Hillsdale and Grove City offer both science and math majors. So, I don’t get your point in this paragraph either.

    I am not arguing that the government should not fund research at institutes of higher learning. I am arguing that the government has no business subsidizing the cost of attendance of these institutions, through grants or loans to students.

  • SKPeterson

    KK – what you say might be true. However, I wonder if what universities might not do is to actually adjust their tuition and pricing policies based on the degree earned or courses taken. For example, I have thought for years that the idea of an English professor paying the same overhead rate on grant funding as that of an engineering professor to be absolutely ridiculous. The English professor is not a very large cost element – he or she is most likely a fairly respectable profit center in absolute terms. Much of my costs are going to go into those new labs, the higher technology, the increased power consumption, etc. associated with the engineering and science programs that get lots of private and government funding, but may not have an appreciably high return compared to the actual costs.

    Anyhow, why not charge differential rates of tuition based upon the courses being taught? English Comp – $400 per semester. Advanced microelectronics? $1200. Instead, we charge the same rate for everything regardless of cost.

  • helen

    Research etc., IS NOT AN INDUSTRY, AND SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE VIEWED AS SUCH.

    Maybe not, but that’s exactly how our politicians view it. And so “state schools” are funded at about 15-18% of their costs, and are supposed to make up the rest elsewhere… But, our pin headed governor says, it should be possible to get an undergraduate degree for $10, 000, which is what the state paid to rent a house for him
    per month! [Dear Rick has his priorities... crooked.]

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS – Hillsdale, for instance, offer some undergrad science. That is not the same as a say Physics program that offers courses from 1st year to PhD programs. These departments are enormously befitted by original research programs etc – these things are expensive. Instrumentation etc is enormously expensive. And they need permanent technical staff. You are simply not being realistic.

    As to the point you are not getting – the academic cost at a decent Canadian University, like the U of S, for a decent Bachelors (let’s say BSc) works out around $5000 p/a. That is 1 sixth of the cost of the average American university. So, maybe you need to open your eyes to the fact that there is more than just two options in this world…

    BTW, SKP sometimes visits the U of S, he’ll be ablt o comment on the quality of education the students receive here…

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 19:

    As to the point you are not getting – the academic cost at a decent Canadian University, like the U of S, for a decent Bachelors (let’s say BSc) works out around $5000 p/a. That is 1 sixth of the cost of the average American university. So, maybe you need to open your eyes to the fact that there is more than just two options in this world…

    Did I ever say anything about Canada, Klasie? The thread is about American universities and colleges, and how expensive they have become, so that some are suggesting that liberal arts degrees make no economic sense. I responded with my view that government has distorted the marketplace — IN THE U.S. — by flooding it with subsidy dollars so that colleges have no incentive to keep their costs in line with inflation and students are able to pay far beyond the real value for the educational product they are receiving. I didn’t slam Canada — I have no idea how Canada’s higher education system is financed. I only put forth the view that we would be better off if government got out of the business of directly subsidizing students.

    The subset of students who are pursuing advanced degrees in science and technology is quite small. As SKP said above, liberal arts degrees should be priced at a far lower level than expensive technology degrees. I’ve got no quarrel with pricing services at their real cost.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Klasie said, “Higher Education, with the accompanying Research etc., IS NOT AN INDUSTRY, AND SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE VIEWED AS SUCH.”
    Brother, I must respectfully ask you to wake up and smell the coffee, because that is EXACTLY what it has become. This is how it works:
    1. There is almost universal pressure placed on HS students by parents, teachers, and our culture to continue their educations by going on to college.
    2. Because of the economy and the attendant competition in the job market, many menial and entry level positions now require a college degree to even be considered as a candidate.
    3. The government guarantees cheap loans for education. These loans are are one of the few types of debt that cannot ever be discharged through bankruptcy. They will seize your tax returns and garnish your wages if you do not pay. So the lender’s risk is greatly reduced.
    4. These loans are easy to get and go to excellent schools as well as ‘degree mills.’ Because of this easy money there is no constraint on the schools to reign in costs, therefore increases in educational costs far outstrip the rate of inflation.
    5. The big ‘research schools’ also profit from their many patents and close relationships (think huge ‘grants’) with corporations that benefit from their research.
    6. The really big schools earn millions of dollars through their sports teams. Some schools earn hundreds of millions.
    7. Thousands of smaller ‘colleges’ and tech schools woo tens of thousands of students with the promise of a career and easy school loans to pay for their education. Some of these are legit, many are not.
    8. Meanwhile young students are seduced into buying worthless degrees ( think anything ending in ‘Studies’ or ‘cosmetology’) that will not get them careers that are able to discharge the debt accrued in earning them.
    9. College degrees are like money the more there are, the less they are worth in terms of earning power. Yet the cost of obtaining a degree continues to rise. Education was one of the few ‘growth industries’ after the 2008 collapse, and the schools and our government both jumped on the bandwagon of continuing college education for those who lost their careers, all the while keeping the cheap loans flowing and blocking any legislative effort to reform our policies on student debt.

    Now tell me again how this is not an Industry?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS, ib forgot, nothing that works in any other country, will ever work with you guys. I mean, God forbid that there are solutions that counter you pretty little right-wing mantras.

    Sarcasm aside, have you stopped and thought why a funding model will result in grossly inflated prices south of the 49th, while another model results in much more afordable tuition north of the 49th?

    Furthermore, if you want government to completely pull out of Higher Ed, and everybody to pay cost per degree type fees, be prepared for a growing lack of home-grown technical talent, and further increased class differences due to a lack of emplyable degreed people from the lower classes. Put that into your pipe and smoke it.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    My apologies for the snark above.

  • Grace

    DonS @ 10

    “Student loans were the worst idea ever, and represent the most sure destruction of liberal arts education.

    Excellent – I’ve stated the same many times.

    Young people can begin, by attending a community college. Take the time needed to clearly see what direction they are best suited for. Working part time, is an excellent way to save money.

    There are those students who have a clear idea of where their going in high school, they receive scholarships, and grants, based on their grades.

    Often times when I ask a high school senior if they are going to college, and they state ‘yes, they have no idea what studies they will take – worst of all, not understanding what they are capable of, in the first place.

  • Grace

    KK @ 22

    “Furthermore, if you want government to completely pull out of Higher Ed, and everybody to pay cost per degree type fees, be prepared for a growing lack of home-grown technical talent, and further increased class differences due to a lack of emplyable degreed people from the lower classes. Put that into your pipe and smoke it.”

    Whatever socio-economic background one comes from, they can work and go to community college FIRST, IF, they don’t have funds. The idea that we need to subsidize every person’s whim, regarding their future, whether they are capable or not is ignorant. It’s socialism’s fav way of making everything equal, whether it’s fair or not, to those who actually pay the tax which they lean on for loans, and many NEVER PAY BACK.

  • rvs

    Liberal arts professors are wise to go to churches and teach evangelicals about the importance of the liberal arts. Otherwise, the Protestant Church will continue to involve itself in way too much shallowness and nitwit–ism. I think I sound too negative, perhaps, but I grow annoyed by the dumb-it-down attitudes I encounter fairly regularly in evangelical circles.

  • Grace

    rvs @ 26

    I have no clue where you attend church, but I have never oberserved a “dumb-it down attidude” regarding a college education.

    We certainly don’t need “Liberal arts professors” teaching the importance of “importance of the liberal arts” – The reason for going to church is to worship the LORD, and study HIS Word.

  • Grace

    Student Loan Debt Statistics – American Student Assistance

     ‏  ‏ Who borrows/has borrowed?

    The majority of borrowers still paying back their loans are in their 30s or older. Of the 37 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt:
    • • Almost 40% of these borrowers are under the age of 30.
    • • Nearly 42% are between the ages of 30 and 50.
    • • 17% are older than 50.
    • • Borrowers age 30-39 carry $307 billion in student loans, followed by those under 30 at $292 billion, $154 billion in the 40-49 age group, 50-59 at $106 billion and the over 60 category carrying $43 billion, for a total outstanding debt of $902 billion.

       ‏ ‏Why do they struggle?

    • • 48% of 25-34 year-olds say they’re unemployed or under-employed.
    • • 52% describe their financial situation as just fair.
    • • 70% say it has become harder to make ends meet over the past four years.
    • • 42% of those under 35 have more than $5000 in personal debt that does not include a mortgage.
    • • Student loans account for the most common form of increasing debt among ages 18-24 (54% have seen increased school loan debt) while those in the older group attribute increased debt equally to school loans (37%) and credit cards (37%).

  • SKPeterson

    A couple things.

    Yes, I do travel on occasion to the University of Saskatchewan, and I can attest that it is a very fine school and, at $5K per annum, it is incredibly good for the price. There are also several schools in the U.S. that are good low-cost options, even for people coming from out of state. Another school with which I am somewhat familiar is North Dakota State University which is just a few miles south of the U of S. Also, for many degree programs, the Canadian universities are great values, ranging from McGill to Simon Fraser to Guelph to UBC or even the University of Manitoba in sunny Winnipeg. They almost all have tuition rates lower than most U.S. colleges and universities.

    I will note this though regarding higher education in Canada – comparatively, there are fewer schools in Canada in relation to population than there are in the United States. There are 92 schools for a population of roughly 31 million people, while the U.S. has about 2500 for a population close to 310 million. (As a general rule of thumb, take a value for the U.S. regarding population or economy and divide by 10 and you’ll generally be quite close to the mark ;) ) If trends in higher education were similar, we’d expect there to be roughly 920 schools in the U.S. Instead we have almost 3 times as many per capita.

    Anyhow, I wonder if the Canadian schools are able to lower costs through achieving some sort of economies of scale by having fewer universities, while costs in the U.S. spiral up because we have an inefficient system of capitally intensive educational infrastructure that needs to be supported and can be supported with a system of cheap money in the form of student loan financing. As a university competing along with many others over a dwindling or stagnant student pool, I need continued investment in facilities, amenities and technology to stand out. I can leverage the student loan system then as a great way to finance such investment over time, and keep ratcheting up my expenditures, because there will almost always continue to be students willing to carry large loan balances for me and pick up the interest regardless of the value of the education I impart to them. Why bust up such a cozy little scam system of education?

  • kempin04

    KK, #22,

    “Furthermore, if you want government to completely pull out of Higher Ed, . . .”
    You keep using the word “completely.” I don’t think anyone here is arguing that the government has no appropriate role.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 22: I don’t mind the snark, but do appreciate your apology @ 23. However, again, I must point out that I never attacked or even commented upon the Canadian approach to higher education. I don’t know enough about it — though others such as SKP do and have commented. My comments were directed solely to the failed U.S. approach to higher education, and the fact that it has become an entitlement, rather than an option for purchase by those who have the academic success to take advantage of it.

    I will point out, once again, that you never bothered to explain how the Canadian approach works. So how in the heck can you accuse me of failing to consider it as a possibility for the U.S.? I don’t get why you got so angry about this.

  • Grace

    I know this thread is about “vocation” but there is another vocation that is most often ignored, other than to offer physiological counseling, or meds, to help those who suffer from depression, bipolar, etc.

    There is another side, the most important part in this problem which is rarely discussed, because it’s just to ‘delicate. How do we, as Believers reach out to those who are in desperate need of help, feeling lonely, isolated and misunderstood

    Below is the headline news of the suicide of Matthew Warren, Rick Warren’s son.

    Whether you agree with Rick Warren or not, let us pray for he and wife and family at this time of grief.

    Pastor Rick Warren’s Son Commits Suicide

  • kerner

    Klassie:

    Patrick Kyle @21 has laid out perhaps the most succinct, and accurate, statement of how American higher education has become an industry that I have ever read. Kudos, PK. That was brilliant.

    And nobody is knocking Canada, South Africa, or anyone else’s educational system as far as I can tell. What the more critical among us are doing (such as DonS) is trying to find a way to change our system of higher education from the “industry” it has become into something better. And no matter how we slice it, that process is going to involve paying education providers less money. My son is presently paying over 10 times what I paid for an College education that appears to me to be less demanding (actually, he managed to pay for almost all of it through an academic scholarship and military benefits, but I’m talking raw numbers here).

  • kerner

    Most of the people on this blog will be too young to remember this ad, which I remember from when I was in High School in the late 1960′s. The underlying message is that knowledge is worthless unless you can find a University to recognize it by giving you a diploma, and that you WILL NOT get any good job without that diploma. This has been the consistent message our government/culture has bombarded us with for 50 years. Is it any wonder that higher education has become an “industry”?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Kerner, my concern wasn’t that he knocked any other countries’ educational system. My concern is that the thinking is that (partly) government funded Higher Education can never work – which seems to be the way of thinking here. Believe me, there are lots of problems everywhere. But all-private education is not the silver bullet solution many seem to think it is. My contention remains that it is not seriously being thought through, and instead, simplistic formula’s are being repeated ad nauseum.

    This morning Maggie Thatcher died. She was quite right in privatizing many state-run companies (BP etc), and in busting the Unions which had nearly destroyed the British economy in the 70′s. But it doesn’t follow that since privatizing a government-run oil company is a good thing, all government funding for Universities must also cease, and that it would be a good thing too. That is overly simplistic thinking.

    As to Patrick’s concerns: He is quite right, but the failures are the failures of a system, not of public vs private funding. The same pattern has not repeated itself in other Western democracies. It could be cultural failing – not every Johnny should be going to college – but a culture of entitlement, and loose guidance has led to the proliferation of mediocrity for the sake of profit – be it private or skimming the taxpayer.

    SKP’s comments at 29 are very good – we have kept tight reins on degree-granting institutions here in Canada. Coming to think of it, there is your problem: The unholy alliance between less government control, but more government support. That cannot work. If you use taxpayer money to fund something, you better be sure that the money is used wisely. And this goes all the way back to what someone on a recent thread called mercantilism.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    BTW, I went to university on a scholarship. All my costs were covered, because I worked my butt off at school.

    Maybe I’ll concede the point somewhat – if we can agree that a better system would be loans apportioned to merit – the more a student has demonstrated, whether at school or at college, that they are willing and able to work, the more readily a loan could be extended to them. No use subsidizing the lazy and entitled. But the loans could also be extended to consider socio-economic background, with the provision that the student is able and willing. That is the best and most effective tool in social uplifting.

    Nobody has a right to a Higher education. To quote Maggie Thatcher once again –

    People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.

  • DonS

    Klasie, the problem is that you never listened to or engaged with my point. You misunderstood it from the start and never allowed me to correct you as to what I was saying. I made it very clear that I was not talking about direct research grants to universities, which I believe are appropriate if there is an important government purpose for the grant (sex habits of snails need not apply). I was just making the general point that it is a bad idea to make higher education an entitlement, and to flood the sector with government subsidies in the form of grants and loans that are not based on merit. Not everyone should be in college. Not everyone is cut out for college. And, there are plenty of private sources for grants and loans.

    From what you are reporting in Canada, with only 92 institutions of higher learning, it sounds like Canada does not have this entitlement mentality, which, if true, would make its approach a better one.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    We were talking past each other Don. I do apologize, although I still differ from you to a degree.

    BTW, your comment does show another thing that I am wary of: Dissing research. The sex habits of snails could be useful – you never know what biochemical facts, for instance, could unearthed that might have interesting and useful implications. Implications for pest-control are also there. Now, I realize that you just picked an example at random, but it proves something about the criticism of academia coming from the right – it is often too short-sighted. Not all research should be applied. And politcians, of all sides, should stay the hell out of research. The government of Canada has just been embarrassed by revelations that they muzzled government scientists when the latter discovered things that might embarrass government policy: http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/04/01/information-commissioner-to-investigate-harper-governments-muzzling-of-federal-scientists/

  • kerner

    DonS:

    Yeah, but I’m sure you agree that the problem is broader and more systemic than that. If “not everyone”, indeed the majority, are not cut out for a college education, then a college education must cease to be the necessary credential for every decent job, and our young people MUST BE TOLD that a college education is NOT the universal key to success for which we all must strive. High school diplomas must mean something again (like being able to read at a high school level for example). A less expensive technical education should be enough to qualify a person for skilled work. And it is getting so an engineer needs a post graduate degree to prove he/she knows anything. And frankly, I see no reason why it should take 7 years to become qualified to take a bar examination and become lawyer.

    We have become obsessed with using ever higher and higher educational degrees as credentials for employment, and then (in true egalitarian American fashion) deciding that everyone who wants the credential is entitled to have it at government expense.

  • kerner

    Klassie: could you please e-mail me at kernerlaw@sbcglobal.net, when you have a moment. I have a completely off topic, and kind of personal, favor to ask of you.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 38: You were talking past me. I was attempting to reason with you, and to engage you as to why you were so angry about my comments, and taking them personally with respect to Canada.

    As for research, I’m all for it. If someone thinks studying the sex habits of snails might yield some useful information, then they should fund it. Government should not be in the business of using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund research, whether basic or applied, that does not have a real and demonstrable government purpose — i.e. a purpose which will directly help government to function better or which legislators have specifically determined will benefit the citizenry as a whole. The process of filing grant applications and having bureaucrats process and approve those applications for funding is wasteful, haphazard, and politicized.

  • DonS

    Kerner @ 39: Agreed. I read this weekend that McDonald’s ads were requiring college degrees for cashiers. A perfect example of the absurdity that is the modern American educational system.

    I have advocated many times on this blog for a return of robust technical and trades education in our high schools. Far fewer than half of our students really belong in college. The apprenticeship system is also a lost art which we need to rediscover.

    One thing that California does right is providing an apprenticeship track to becoming a licensed attorney, as an alternative to attending law school. One of my sons and I have discussed that option, should he decide to pursue a patent law career, which he claims to be considering.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS – I was upset, because you seemd one-track minded, and were not able to see that there are more ways than one to skin a cat. But lets leave it there now, ok?

    You miss my point –

    Government should not be in the business of using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund research, whether basic or applied, that does not have a real and demonstrable government purpose — i.e. a purpose which will directly help government to function better or which legislators have specifically determined will benefit the citizenry as a whole.

    That still requires a bureaucrat to determine what is usable or not. Corporations will rarely give out money for “blue sky” research – that is why we have government funding. And, mind you, how else will, in your system, the government know how which research will benefit everyone – except if the poor sods fill in grant applications??

    Yours is a very myopic point of view. I guess you are against public money for astronomy, cosmology, the LHC…. because they do not have immediate benefit to the general populace? Good luck with finding corporations to donate enough money for a project the size of the LHC, or anything like that….

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS – but your post @ 42 is spot on – I have seen such ridiculous things myself. I am sorry to say, that I have worked with some (recent) American graduates over the last year or two, and they are generally sub-standard. Rarely have they been taught to think. By that I mean, think like an engineer, think like a geologist etc etc. They come across as assembly line products, with massive ego’s to match. Older American graduates that I have worked with are of a much better calibre -and here I am not comparing young to old, but across national boundaries. Apart from the issues you mention, I have also found overt-specialization. This is especially bad in geology, where you always need to retain the characteristics of a generalist. Sure, you could specialize in something, but your general geological knowledge must be extensive. A good geologist is like an old-fashioned Family physician – knows more than just a bit about everything, and is not entirely useless in an operating theater either.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 43: All right, I’ll leave it there. But next time be constructive in the way you express your upset. Engage in ideas, not vitriol.

    I didn’t miss your point. I disagree with it. What we fail to recognize, and it is the root of our doom in the western world, is that government is a steward of money that it not its own, but that of the citizens, entrusted to government for use in pursuing the function of government. Sweeping legislation authorizing agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), here in the U.S., to fund X billion dollars of basic research per year is unhelpful, and wasteful of the precious taxpayer dollar, almost 40% of which are being borrowed from future generations. If there is a specific research need that is not being met by private funding, then that case should be brought to the legislature, and funding granted for research directly related to that authorized specific need. This would avoid the kinds of absurd research that get authorized by bureaucrats having absolutely no sense of the stewardship role they have been entrusted with.

    Generally speaking, if the sex habits of snails will help pest control, then those in the business of pest control should privately fund the research. If there is a compelling public health interest in a particular problem, then that would be a case for pursuing legislative authority for government funding. And it’s funny the way you throw around the word “corporations” as a substitute for private funding. We have a robust sector of private foundations and charities that could easily take up the case of funding basic research in many of these areas you mention, if they hadn’t been conditioned to just “let the government do it”.

  • DonS

    See, Klasie @ 44: I’m not totally wacko! ;-)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS – I was just wondering about your answer to my questions about costly, blue-sky research, such as the LHC? The cost of building the LHC approx 4.5 billion US$, of which $541 million came from the US. Good luck at sourcing that privately.. or maybe it is all just useless nonsense? Or the cost of say the Mars rover?

    Now these are not single academic institutions, but large co-operative events.

    Or, what about any research in evolutionary biology? Geochronology? Paleo-climate?

    I’m not sure you are thinking this through. Your arguments could have, at the time, been directed at the Apollo program. Because, how did that benefit day-to-day government? Or what about some “esoteric” mathematics? Sometimes math only becomes useful century or more after inception – like say the beginnings of graph theory with Euler, which have only been “useful” since the dawn of the electronic age…. I find your line of reasoning profoundly ignorant of how science and research actually works. And the fact that it is not always possible to fund these things from private (charity / corporations) sources. A government which invests in research is bound to reap the rewards. But, given the nature of research, limiting that to the obvious, immediate “usefulness” is myopic indeed. And THAT is my point.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Anyway, if your point is about government debt etc. – well, the LHC cost (all countries combined) as much as the war in Iraq cost in 2 weeks in 2006! So maybe the scalpel should be applied elsewhere… ?

  • DonS

    Klasie: We’re pretty far afield from the point of the thread — colleges and funding. However, the Apollo program was directly authorized by Congress, so doesn’t fall within the parameters of my objection to stupid research grants that are handed out by administration bureaucrats because Congress doesn’t do its job of properly stewarding scarce taxpayer dollars. The LHC would fall in the same category because I don’t think bureaucrats can approve multi-billion dollar projects without specific legislative authority. So, it’s not really on the same page with what we’re discussing here. My expressed objections were to substantially uncategorized funding authorizations, leaving far too much discretion to bureaucrats to evaluate whatever funding applications come in. I also have an issue, more broadly, with the funding of research that is for the benefit of sectors of the economy rather than more broadly beneficial to the whole. We should have a compelling justification for doling out taxpayer dollars collected from everyone to benefit only some.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 48: As to your specific point about the Iraq War. Of course, we need to be circumspect in our military engagements. That’s why I was arguing against any involvement in Libya. There should be an important U.S. interest directly at stake to justify the action of our military to defend that interest. But please don’t equate our defense spending with our research spending. Our federal government is constitutionally required to provide for the national defense. Not so with research. They are apples and oranges.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS,

    Thought experiment: Appel & Haken proved the 4-colour map theorem (1976, 1989), using considerable (for the time) computer resources, which would have been costly. If they did not receive private funding for this work, for which there is no arguably no immediate practical use, would you approve of government funding at all?

    Second case: Napoleon Chagnon from the University of Missouri did very important (and for a time, very controversial) research on the Yanomano Tribe in the Amazon, presumably with public money. Do you approve of this funding?

    Third case: Jim Teller from the University of Manitoba did research on plaeo-flooding, and more specifically, the draining of Lake Aggasiz at the end of the last ice age (Lake Aggasiz being a massive glacial lake in the northern centre of this continent): Just imagine for a moment he was a progf at say – the university of Chicago: Do you approve of public funding of his work?

  • Joe

    I seemed to have missed all the fun, but I think that KK is suffering from the idea that the market will or can not fund non-applied research, which is simply not true. The gov’t is not a necessary funding source for non-applied research. There are private sources of money available to universities to continue to research whatever the heck they think is important.

    Just take a look at the endowments of these universities:
    http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_372.asp

    Now this is just endowment money. Universities also generate income through the patenting and licensing of their applied research. The University of Wisconsin is one of the leading research institutions in the field of stem cell research. The University and the researchers hold all kinds of patents that get licensed to others and generate income for the school, which can be used to fund the research into the sex life of a snail.

    Then there are corporate partnerships – school often do get corporations to underwrite the cost of labs, etc. This in turn frees up funds for the sexy snail research.

    The Universities will not abandon non-applied research just because gov’t funding goes away or is reduced. Universities will face market pressure to continue to be top flight research institutions because in a climate where a student is spending his/her own money to get a degree they will make better (in the aggregate) choices about where to go to school. Also, past degree earners will apply pressure and contribute funds to ensure the value of their diploma does not decrease post graduation (people change jobs a lot and the college diploma needs to hold value for a longer period of time).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joe, have you actually read everything I wrote? I am questioning if private funding can completely make up the deficit should government funding be withdrawn. And stem cells have many possible applications. What do you say about my 3 examples @ 51, though?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Another example: The field of geriatric medicine. It is extremely difficult to get financial support of any kind in this field – it is simply not sexy (or profitable) enough for private enterprise, and since it ain’t sexy, private funding is very low. Yet it is hugely needed – one of the few places that do some good work is McMaster University – and the work is entirely public funded. There are some private funding, such as the American Federation for Aging research, but this is a drop in the bucket. If you wanted an American example – there is the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh – also entirely public funded as far as I could find out.

  • DonS

    Klasie: I approve of research studying what happens when a patent attorney in southern California is given $5 million to spend any way he pleases, on the condition that I am the subject of the research :-)

    Seriously, I don’t think it is a particularly worthwhile thought experiment to go back through every research project ever funded and second guess whether it should have been. I am in no way equipped to make those decisions, or to understand the factors that were (or should have been) evaluated in making those decisions.

    Let me reiterate my original point. The U.S. government is wrong to flood the educational market with money. particularly by subsidizing the cost for students to attend university. It does so by considering higher education to be an entitlement, and by basing aid on need, rather than merit. There is plenty of private money in the system to subsidize student attendance. As Joe notes above, much of that money is tied up, for no discernibly good reason, in huge university endowments. In order for a senior citizen to be eligible for government aid, through Medicare or other such programs, to pay for nursing home care, they first have to spend down most of their assets. Universities, on the other hand, receive billions of dollars of federal aid each year, directly and indirectly through their enrolled students, with no such spend-down requirement. That is morally wrong. Is there absolutely no role for government assistance for student tuition? I can’t say that. But any aid given should be merit-based at its outset. Only after qualifying on the basis of merit, demonstrating likely success in school and a reasonable chance that the government will be repaid for its aid, through loan repayment and additional taxes paid, should need be considered in determining awards. These awards should be annual, if given at all, and based on available budgeted funds, not entitlements.

    As for research grants, I have laid out the criteria above on which I am willing to consider government research assistance. Many government programs appear meritorious. But we need to have spending priorities and budgetary discipline, prioritizing what we spend on and ensuring that we are not borrowing from our children to fund research that might be nice to have, but does not offer any concrete benefits to the population at large.

  • Joe

    KK – I did read what you wrote. My main point is this. There are other sources of private financing besides corporations who need to turn research into profit. I linked to the endowment funds of 120 U.S. Universities to make that point. The top 120 universities are holding over $300 Billion ($325,565,998,000 as of 2009). I noticed that you did not comment on this pool of money.

    That endowment money is not endless, I concede that reality, but it is there to cover the costs of research deemed important by the school yet unable to attract funding on its own. The school would still be able to generate private funding for applied research (or other more popular things) and thereby reduce the pressure on the endowment money. This was my point about the stem cell research. Because it can generate its own private funding, it will not draw against the endowment funds. In fact, because it is a profit center, it can generate funds used to research in fields that are not able to attract its own funding. (Like how Wisconsin’s men’s football, men’s basketball and (some times) men’s hockey women’s basketball programs pay for the entire Athletic department.) Moreover, if the gov’t has a direct need for that applied research, it would be fine for the gov’t to fund it (like the Army Math Research Center that the Hippies blew up in Madison during the Vietnam era).

    So – if there is a prof who wants to fund research into the sex life of the snail as DonS mention or into the three items you listed @51, they can write a grant proposal to their university to access the endowment fund. Or if there field is important to a certain university, that university might use its endowment funding to lure the prof to switch Universities. And, these endowment funds can go out and raise money from their Alumni groups, from industry (PR needs (if not anything more noble) will drive contributions from the public sector) and from other sources of aggregated wealth like the charities that benefit from the long term research.

    Many people who are leery of the market want to portray it as a cold, unfeeling beast, that thinks only of immediate profit. But the market it us. It is not devoid of the ability to reason, to look past immediate return on investment and see the bigger picture. There is not a particularly strong economic incentive for a Harvard Alum to write a check to the school post graduation – but they do, so much so that Harvard has $26 Billion in its endowment fund. They do this for a variety of reasons none of which generate an immediate ROI for them.

    The availability of gov’t funds does not fill a vacuum. Instead, it occupies space that could be filled with private funds.

    It is possible that some research would go undone under my concept, but that is the case even now with gov’t funding.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS @ 55 – iow, it’s complicated, but should be done better? There I agree. But that is a long way off from saying

    Colleges and universities should learn to function without government subsidy, as most other industries must. Compete in the marketplace, and develop private sources..

    You also did say that you are not compeletly against government funding research, but you also said that you are against bureaucrats making decisions… and therefore want elected officials making them:

    If there is a specific research need that is not being met by private funding, then that case should be brought to the legislature, and funding granted for research directly related to that authorized specific need. This would avoid the kinds of absurd research that get authorized by bureaucrats having absolutely no sense of the stewardship role they have been entrusted with.

    So, paid professionals shouldn’t make decisions, but people who are often held on a leash by lobbyists and other funding entities are better able to make decisions?? And they have the time to do this too?

    Furthermore, you seem unable to grasp the point I’m making, namely that not all research can be funded privately, especially when it comes to blue-sky research, which would necessarily be held at the same mercy from elected officials than industry, since the latter have a large influence on the former anyway.

    Sure, this doesn’t mean that a person should be ok with the status quo. But it does mean that we should examine thin gs in a very clear-headed manner, and not make sweeping generalizations such as the ones quoted here.

    And that, as they say, is the end of it.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joe – no, I did not comment on the endowment issue, as I was thinking more of general principles. The size of endowment funds is a massive scandal – you’ll see that I did observe that the funding model, as well as the culture surrounding Higher Ed is way off base. My point is the apparent ideological pov that government should just get out – that is wrong. But that does not mean I approve of the current state of affairs.

    I’m very much a Free-market kind of guy – but my contention is that especially when it comes to fundamental research, or blue sky research as I called it earlier, the investment is a very long term one, one that corporate funding would be (legitimately) wary of, since returns are not assured, nebulous even. Other private funding is not always available either.

    The original thrust, however, had to do with student loans. This is a major problem, as degree costs have been inflated by all accounts – witness my comments about the U of S compared to most US institutions. This reminds me more of the US Healthcare model – especially as to the direction it is moving in – massively inflated costs. Government healthcare here in Canada does not seem to result in the same inflationary trends. The question which nobody seems to want to answer, is that why does that happen in the US? It cannot be simply because government is involved in things, as DonS wants us to believe, because the same phenomenon is not observed elsewhere. It must be the WAY government is involved, and/or other cultural issues – and by cultural, I mean socio-economic and socio-political practices. Identify these, and how to deal with them, and you might find yourself on the campaign trail soon…. :) :)

    But as to the endowment funds – how did they come to be so massive? A bit of investigative journalism seems to be needed….

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Numbers: In 2009, Research spending at US universities was $54.9 billion, of which the government contributed 59%. That equates to about the entire endowments for 1 decade of research. Of course, endowments also go to buildings, scholarships etc. So yes, it will help, but when that dries up, where will the funding come from? Who is going to donate the over $30 billion used annually, ignoring inflationary pressures?

    Stats from here: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c5/c5s1.htm

    Where does the money go to? In 2009, more than half went to the life sciences (over 29 billion), less than 20% to engineering (9 billion), just over 10% to physical sciences, and the rest got shared between environmental (3.35 billion), math and computer (3.33 billion), psychology (1.8 billion), social (1.1 billion) and other (1.3 billion).

    From here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=money-for-science

    Note that over the years, defense still got the most funding of all.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Oh, and that was just science research. Not those other fields :)

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 57: At least quote my whole paragraph:

    Colleges and universities should learn to function without government subsidy, as most other industries must. Compete in the marketplace, and develop private sources for grants and scholarships for deserving and needy students, as institutions like PHC, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College have done for decades. Student loans were the worst idea ever, and represent the most sure destruction of liberal arts education.

    You left out the italicized portion, which is the part that made it clear I was specifically talking about subsidies to students, to subsidize their cost of attendance so that they become insensitive to price and are, as a result, lousy consumers. The context makes clear that I wasn’t addressing the issue of research grants.

    You said this to Joe @ 58, in reference to my point that healthcare and education are the two most inflationary sectors of the economy because of government subsidy:

    It cannot be simply because government is involved in things, as DonS wants us to believe, because the same phenomenon is not observed elsewhere. It must be the WAY government is involved…

    BINGO! It is about the way government is involved — it either directly (in the case of education and some healthcare, such as Medicare or Medicaid), or indirectly (in the case of insurance and employer mandates) subsidizes the consumer to cause the consumer to lose any sensibility as to price, thus ruining the cost-demand curve that makes markets run properly. We can get into this in detail if you would like (I have, many times in the past), but it’s pretty clear why these two sectors of the economy are the most dysfunctional.

    So, paid professionals shouldn’t make decisions, but people who are often held on a leash by lobbyists and other funding entities are better able to make decisions?? And they have the time to do this too?

    The “paid professionals” you reference have no effective accountability to the voter/taxpayer. Legislators do. And it is not true that decision makers in a bureaucracy are not subject to lobbying pressure. They know the “players” in the particular industries in which they work very well. And because of their relatively long tenure, they often develop very cozy relationships with certain of those, and pick favorites. Don’t kid yourself. As for the time factor, I am not saying that legislators should make every grant application decision. I am saying that they should be very specific about what they budget for research — prioritize specifically and ensure that whatever they budget is fully funded, not by borrowing. The funding legislation should set forth clear guidelines to assist the administrative personnel in making decisions when folks apply for that appropriated funding. The problem is that Congress tends to budget huge blocks of funding for, say, “health care research”, or “environmental research”, and then leave it to the responsible agencies to dispense those funds to whatever research they think meets those broad objectives.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 59:

    So yes, it will help, but when that dries up, where will the funding come from? Who is going to donate the over $30 billion used annually, ignoring inflationary pressures?

    Remember, government does not produce anything. That $59 billion every year is either extracted from the taxpayer or borrowed from our kids. If government cuts down (hopefully very substantially) on that number, the private sector will have more resources to pick up the slack for the priorities it considers important. We have to get out of this mentality that if government doesn’t do it, no one will. It’s killing us. A) If it’s really important, it will still get done, either by the private sector or by a newly stewardship-oriented and responsible government; B) Most of it is probably not that important.

  • Joe

    KK – I conceded the endowments are not endless, but they can also be replenished. Any way, the real question is whether this research was funded by gov’t grant money:

    http://www.twinkiesproject.com/

    There is only one person I know who can answer this question …


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