Friday, May 04, 2007

Sitting Still, The Uber Skill

What is the Use of College?
Jim Johnson

A friend just brought to my attention this column Barbara Ehrenreich has written for Alternet entitled "Higher Education Conformity" on why companies insist that entry level emplyees have a college degree. Here is the punch-line:"It seems to me that a two-year course in math and writing skills should be more than sufficient to prepare someone for a career in banking, marketing, or management. Most of what you need to know you're going to learn on the job anyway.

But in the last three decades the percentage of jobs requiring at least some college has doubled, which means that employers are going along with the college racket. A resume without a college degree is never going to get past the computer programs that screen applications. Why? Certainly it's not because most corporate employers possess a deep affinity for the life of the mind. In fact in his book Executive Blues G. J. Meyers warned of the "academic stench" that can sink a career: That master's degree in English? Better not mention it.

My theory is that employers prefer college grads because they see a college degree chiefly as mark of one's ability to obey and conform. Whatever else you learn in college, you learn to sit still for long periods while appearing to be awake. And whatever else you do in a white collar job, most of the time you'll be sitting and feigning attention. Sitting still for hours on end -- whether in library carrels or office cubicles -- does not come naturally to humans. It must be learned -- although no college has yet been honest enough to offer a degree in seat-warming.

Or maybe what attracts employers to college grads is the scent of desperation. Unless your parents are rich and doting, you will walk away from commencement with a debt averaging $20,000 and no health insurance. Employers can safely bet that you will not be a trouble-maker, a whistle-blower or any other form of non-"team-player." You will do anything. You will grovel."Since I am implicated in the "college racket" (both as a professor and soon as a tuition paying parent) this line of argument strikes close to home. Ehrenreich concedes that a College can be enlightening and provocative. And she neglects (here at least) to ask why jobs have to be so thoroughly boring and controlled. That, of course, is another, very big question. But the symbiosis between colleges and corporations on this dimension seems difficult to ignore.___________

PS: You will likely recognize Ehrenreich's argument as a variation on a theme articulated with resepct to elementary/secondary schooling long ago by Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis.

7 comments:

budbud said...

I think that it is good that most jobs prefer a college degree over a non college degree. It's only fair to the ones who put the money and time into their typical four or more years of college to get paid better and get chosen over top of a non degree person. The money my parents alone have put into a college degree is outrageous and I am not even enrolled in an expensive school with expensive tuition. With all the money put in anyone deserves to get money back for all the hell that we go through in school. I personally hate everything about school and pray to god that something good comes out of it all within the next year after graduation. Yes, during college you do acquire lots of time "seat warming" but most collared shirt jobs do consist of sitting still all day. But not all degrees allow you to "sit" all day. Students do learn to conform in ways that deal with sitting all day. I am a very active person and I have had trouble with this as a student before. Wouldn’t this depend on the job and degree you earned? It is true that most college grads right out of school are money hungry for a job and will choose any that they come to first, if it offers.

John said...

Sitting Still, The Uber Skill


I tend to agree with Barbara’s punch line, math and writing should be sufficient to land a good job; the rest is up to the individual. I feel that employers should not solely base whether or not you are selected for a position (or even an interview, for that matter) on the fact that you possess a college degree. This is especially true for the interview process. Think of how many truly qualified applicants are overlooked and not even given a fair chance simply because they have not completed a four-year degree.

Furthermore how many people actually end up working at a job that is within the boundaries of their college degree? Speaking through the words of a good friend; she has worked for a non-profit organization for the past nine years! Not exactly what she went to school for...

As far as the notion that businesses want to hire college applicants because they learned how to sit for long periods and won't make trouble because they need the money, well, I think that's just nonsense. You can both sit still and do your job or you can't; that's not something one learns from college education. If I were an employer, I wouldn't want to hire someone that is knowledgeable and maybe is just there for the money. More often than not employers know that if that employee is not happy (for sitting still to long) at his/her job and as soon as another job comes along for more money, they are gone. College degrees or not.

kingkong said...

I kind of agree with Barbara's punch line, "It seems to me that a two-year course in math and writing skills should be more than sufficient to prepare someone for a career in banking, marketing, or management. Most of what you need to know you're going to learn on the job anyway." in the since that most of what you need to know for your job you are going to learn about on the job anyway. But if I was interviewing 2 different people for a job and one person had a college degree and the other person didn't, it would be no question that I would pick. I would pick the person with the college degree. The person with the college degree is probably a lot more educated and even though everything he/she learned in college he might not use on the job, a college degree would show me that he/she knows how to work out problems and get through tough situations. Also I would want to know what previous internships the person I was going to employ had, I would pick the person with a college degree. So I agree that in most jobs you are probably going to learn most of the stuff you need to know about the job while you are on the job, but I think you have to have a college degree to get anywhere in society today. Yes, there are a few acceptations and you hear about some amazing stories about people who don't have anything become rich and famous, but in reality the person who has the college degree will get the job over the person who doesn't have the degree.

the procrastinator said...

College is supposed to be a time where you learn the skills needed to make it in the real world. Most of these skills are not learned in the classroom; instead they are learned during the college experience, through everyday experiences during the college life. You learn to pay bills, manage your time, learn social skills, in some cases learn leadership skills, and make the transition into adulthood.
I believe it is true that more and more businesses are looking to hire people with college degrees, but I think it has more to with what it takes to get a degree instead of the actual subject matter of the degree. Obtaining a degree takes the ability to retain enough knowledge to get the job done, being able to be given a task and accomplish it, and being responsible. All qualities that employers are looking for when they go to hire somebody.
I disagree with this process of going into the real world. I feel like this makes us out to be some robots that get put together in college just to be released to our masters in the real world. College should be a place where we think freely, do our own thing, and be who we want to be. This would allow us to find our true interests and find the job that truly fits us. So then we can at least be happy robots.

Joe Gray said...

Nothing. For the majority of the degrees students waste more time and money on what they should, its understandable for a doctor or lawyer but its not necessary to have a 4 year diploma if your just going to manage a store, business, or company when a 2 year degree is more than sufficient. And how much do you actually remember from college compared to what you have learned at your actual job. The best approach is hands on and that’s what makes you good at a job, not a book.

Paul Castle said...

In Sitting Still, The Uber Skill by Jim Johnson I agree with the fact that the majority that you learn for a given career is learned on the job sight itself. College is a place that you take all these classes that serve no purpose at all. They require you to take all of these classes and once you are in the field that you have chosen nothing that you “learned“ is actually used, you just take all that knowledge and stuff it into the nearest escape hatch and let it go. Companies today rely so much of that piece of paper that says that you have learned something, but I have came across in my lifetime people that have a college degree that could not find their way out of a four sided box. If all a company wants is someone that sits still and does what they tell them to do, then they should just hire a bunch of trained monkeys, and let those that have the ability and the drive to do the job and do it right the chance to do it. The focus need to be on the basis of if they could do the work and what a piece of paper says they could do

davidb said...

Very enretaining article by Johnson. I to agree that much of the time in college just like the work place is pointless. Yet i feel you must take into the fact that maybe some people want to go to college not just to get a better job but to better themselves by getting an education as corny as that sounds. And yes a lot of jobs do require college education. But how else would you seperate the qualified and the non qualified if no one had any differences than the other? If what Johnson is saying is true and we learn more from being on the job then what would it matter in hiring anybody? Wouldn't it be better to look at college as sort of a qualifier in seeing if your capable of commiting yourself for a long period of time in accomplishing tasks like that of the work place. And i can tell you now college isnt always just about sitting around. It's takes much work and sacrafice to obtain a college degree. And to me if im an employer than those are the qualities im looking for in my employees to maximise my success.