Don’t hire American college graduates (says Harvard Business School)

“Dismissed by Degrees; How degree inflation is undermining U.S. competitiveness and hurting America’s middle class” (Harvard Business School) is a 2017 report recently brought to my attention by a reader.

It is worth reading because it corroborates the minimal improvement in skills described in books such as Academically Adrift (my review). Today’s typical college graduate doesn’t perform much better on tests of general research/thinking/writing than he or she did on finishing high school. HBS:

The results of our survey were consistent across
many industries—employers pay more, often
significantly more, for college graduates to do jobs
also filled by non-degree holders without getting
any material improvement in productivity.

Results vary by major, but our funding and investment in college educations is, unlike Chile’s, not conditional on major.


17 thoughts on “Don’t hire American college graduates (says Harvard Business School)

  1. Generation Z already learned everything it needed from the gootubes, in high school. They know everything there is to know about marriage by age 10, thanks to Greenspun.

  2. The Harvard race discrimination case pending in Boston seems to show that about 20% of the Harvard incoming class is selected based on race rather than academic distinction. This fact, and it appears to be a fact, is probably similar in most other prestigious schools. You can’t admit 20% of the class in September based on race and then flunk them out in June — so grade inflation is a necessary corollary to race-based admissions.

    • This statement suggests a fixed mindset and does not take into account the idea that individual effort will ultimately determine the grade distribution. If you’ve seen how doctors are selected for competitive residencies, the score cutoff is quite high, leading to the need to determine selection based on more important criteria including emotional intelligence and compassion.

    • Mostly this is wrong because the findings were there were minimal improvements from post high school to post college. Entry grades, test scores, or race really don’t have any bearing on this.

  3. I’d rather be treated by a cold-hearted, but highly professional arrogant bastard who knows what he is doing, than by an “emotionally intelligent and compassionate” product of race based selection. Other people preferences may vary.

  4. The point might very well be not to improve critical thinking skills, but to select those who start off with the best critical thinking skills. I’m not even sure critical thinking skills can be improved, but job-specific knowledge can be learned and needs to be learned somewhere. College probably doesn’t do a great job with that, but it is a start and provides a gentle introduction to the real world.

  5. Why criticize our college education if it works as designed? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    Since students are paying customers, colleges would get them exactly what they want. Students want to: (1) GRADUATE from a (2) BRAND-NAME school with (3) GOOD GRADES. And the customer is always right.

    We often hear that colleges are not vocational schools and they would never train kids specifically for today’s jobs marketplace. Let’s leave it to Finland and other Asian nations. 🙂 Our competitive advantage are superior social skills, which is necessary to become a spouse of a highly-compensated professional and to sue for financial support at precisely the right time.

    • Wow, you made a point in here that hit home, “students are paying customers.” I work in higher education and they call students customers.

      Add into this, the business model for public Universities is not a viable business model. Think about it, faculty tenure is still alive and well. The metrics to make tenure are lackluster when it comes to value-added to the student. Universities are administration heavy, frequently adding buildings that are occupied less than 50% of time, and University success is measured SCI student nutrition in graduation rate.

      Seems like a 2 yr. trade-focused school might be the best value.

  6. Affirmative action in admission to medical schools can be devastating to patients. Producing physicians without commensurate knowledge, judgement or skills of their peers can result in unwarranted morbidity and mortality witnessed in my 40 years of practice. Imagine such liberal policies implemented by the FAA! Affirmative action in professions dealing with human life must be condemned.

    • Affirmative action in admission to medical schools can be even more devastating to doctors of color. Let’s not ignore that.

      Patients and those in pain are often risk-averse; patients of color and those with modest means are doubly risk-averse. Who would want to risk their life and/or well-being? hence more grassroots discrimination against doctors of color. Who is going to become the next Ben Carson?

  7. That’s quite an exhaustive study there. I’m surprised that you haven’t raised a question, as is your wont. The claims made in this paper are similar to those regarding the gender pay gap. If there are so many qualified workers out there who are underpaid and/or underemployed merely because they have no bachelor’s degree, why aren’t businesses increasing their profits by snapping them up and paying them less than workers with degrees?

    • That is a great point, Vince. Unless we are willing to assume that academics know more about running a business than do business managers, we should expect a labor market to sort this out on its own. There is no regulation or law that requires companies to hire college graduates.

  8. Unless we are willing to assume that academics know more about running a business than do business managers, we should expect a labor market to sort this out on its own.

    That’s an odd sentiment to express after you link to a paper on the Harvard Business School website.

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