Letters to the Editor

Degree defended

December 3, 2010


To the editor:

In a recent letter (Public Forum, Dec. 2), Michael Kelly writes that there is a gross imbalance in Kansas between “non-essential” and “profession-ready” graduates. He cites psychology as an example of students in the “non-essential” category. Broadly labeling a set of majors as “non-essential” reveals a misunderstanding of the workers a knowledge economy needs.

Not every job in our economy is a specialized, professional, position. The number of professional positions such as nursing or environmental engineering represent only a small portion of the job market. The engines that drive our economy require workers with broad training in numeracy, problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to do research.

As an article in the Guardian UK titled “What makes psychology and geography grads the most employable?” noted on Nov. 18, psychology graduates are less likely to be unemployed than the average graduate because they possess “an impressive range of skills that make them highly employable.” In fact, they point out that “profession-ready” IT graduates were twice as likely to be unemployed as psychology graduates. We need professionals, but we also need graduates trained with broad skills to do jobs our future economy has not even imagined it needs yet.

Paul Atchley,



Healthcare_Moocher 3 years, 4 months ago

Tell the crusty ole First Sergeant in Vietnam that education is valuable when he just got a new Second Lieuntnant.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 4 months ago

Let's not confuse psychology with a liberal education (liberal not referring to political but to the original meaning of liberal as having the time and freedom for such studies).

I am afraid too many in psychology and other social "sciences" are concerned more with manipulation, casuistry, and rationalization than with discovering truths about human beings and nature.

Put another way, they have learned that human beings are irrational and extremely manipulable using fear and self-interest. They have made the fields of psychology and social "sciences" one of manipulation rather than one of discovery and knowledge.

Too many in psychology and other social "sciences" are more philosophers than scientists. Too like priests and other religious leaders who manipulate with fear and ignorance.


i_tching 3 years, 4 months ago

I did both. I have a degree in the medical profession in which I work, and I also have another entirely unrelated degree in liberal/fine arts.

We live in a very rich society, and we can afford to do this with everybody if only we allocate our resources wisely. We can have people highly trained to do specific advanced work who also have a broad base of knowledge and various other skill sets.


rtwngr 3 years, 4 months ago

A psychology graduate says, "How do you feel about having fries with your burger?"


bearded_gnome 3 years, 4 months ago

Devo describes the process of testing the designed circuit.

hmmm, sounds like if the project is big or serious enough, you've got some of them derned human factors psychologists in thar investigating the application to use by people.

liberal arts education doesn't necessarily always translate into "liberal" values, but sadly it often does.


camper 3 years, 4 months ago

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemed to repeat it".

To me this is the primary reason why I believe a well balanced education is as important as ever.


voevoda 3 years, 4 months ago

What students get out of a college education has a lot to do with the effort they put into it. If they select challenging courses in any field and work hard at them, they will come out with honed minds, research and writing skills, the ability to evaluate data and come to reasoned conclusions, the ability to learn, and a good work ethic. If they party their way through, taking easy courses, dropping hard ones, and blustering their way to a passing grade, they won't be able to succeed in the "real world," either.


Newell_Post 3 years, 4 months ago

I've been an employer for quite a while now and have hired plenty of people. I want to hire people who will make me money. Period. This isn't my hobby; it is my livelihood and I do it for the money.

Every hour I spend teaching someone to do the job is an hour they aren't doing the work.

Hiring someone with a degree or two in the appropriate field is no guarantee, but is one item that helps narrow the field. Put yourself in my place, and remember that I am meeting payroll out of my own pocket every two weeks. This is a "knowledge" business. Which would you hire, ceteris paribus?:

Candidate A: - BS degree in relevant field - MS degree in another closely-related field - Internships with good companies - 2 or 3 years work experience between the degrees

Candidate B: - Switched majors 5 times - Spent 6 years in college, but never managed to graduate with anything - Expounds in rounded tones about the history, theory, and philosophy of the field but has never really worked in it - Lists 7 hobbies on resume

We'll let the liberal arts majors translate "ceteris paribus" for us. Oops. Sorry. They don't require Latin any more, but we always have Wikipedia.

Now that I think about it, Candidate B sounds a little like Sarah Palin. I wouldn't hire her either. I certainly wouldn't vote for her. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)


melott 3 years, 4 months ago

Actually physics BS recipients have the highest average salary right out of school...right behind business majors.


gilly 3 years, 4 months ago

Businesses want employees who are just knowledgeable enough to do the work and just uneducated enough to be docile and laid off without complaint when they are no longer needed. If we go by what the business sector wants for an educated workforce, we will get partially educated workers only.

A partial education will prepare us for the nuts and bolts of existing in the working world--for a good many of us, that's how to read, write, and use computer applications.

A complete education teaches us how to think critically, how to consider and sometimes evaluate all aspects of life, not just economic or financial ones: the point of morality and ethical behavior (so often ignored in the business world), the context provided by historical and scientific knowledge and understanding, the consolations and terrors of philosophy and religion. A liberal arts education used to cover this.

The idea that a degree is "nonessential" works only if one thinks that the sole point of education is to get a job. It's not. The point of an education is to make life not just salaried but worth living.

But, having said that, I think our schools should and could do a much better job counseling students to get practical, employable skills as well as a broad knowledge base and the ability (and inclination!) to read and think in depth.


ksriver2010 3 years, 4 months ago

Baloney. Take a look at job ads. Employers want potential employees to come with the training necessary for the job. While it used to be that liberal arts graduates and psychology or general education degree graduates could get jobs outside their degree fields, it is not happening in this economy. They can't break into a field that they didn't have the training in because there are plenty of available unemployed trained folks out there. One of the things that needs to be discussed with students that start a degree program in college is "where is this going to get you?". Many undergraduate degrees like liberal arts, psychology, and even biology and physics will not have job opportunities with just an undergrad - they require futher graduate degrees, and are focused on grooming teachers, professors, and researchers, all of whom require a graduate degree. Biology is a good example. A biology undergrad gets you a job processing urine samples in a drug testing lab.


verity 3 years, 4 months ago

Just to make clear, I am not putting down formal education in any way. Some things can only be learned in that kind of setting.

A good education opens one's mind to listening to others and considering more than one way of looking at something. I realize some (many?) of the commenters on these boards think that is heresy and "liberal"---the same ones who consider the word "liberal" an insult. I consider it a compliment.


verity 3 years, 4 months ago

Some 30 years ago, after a discussion with classmates and a professor, I asked my very thrifty, practical and fundamental Christian parents what they wanted from my college education---learning how to make a living or learning how to live. I was expecting them to answer that they wanted me to learn how to make a living. The answer they gave was that they wanted me to learn both.

My own experience has been that a person with a well-rounded education is much better at adapting to life, including employment situations. Those with narrow training or education tend to be very rigid and can see only one way of doing things, whether that way makes sense or not.

However, that education certainly does not have to take place in a school environment. My father never went past high school, but was one of the most knowledgeable people I know. I could actually change his mind (sometimes) if I had a valid argument.


George Lippencott 3 years, 4 months ago

I think it is entirely the individuals right to decide what degree to pursue. However, IMHO subsidizing that decision with low cost federally underwritten loans and special grants devoid of meaningful requirements on performance and endurance in obtaining the degree and with no regard for the usefulness of the degrees sought to the people paying for them needs to be reexamined.


booyalab 3 years, 4 months ago

Really, what it comes down to is that the whole college system is obsolete. I'd like to read an article about that.


booyalab 3 years, 4 months ago

Classifying the "non-essential" degrees as knowledge based gives your average "communications" or "art therapy" major far too much credit. The schools from the Classical period up until about 100 years ago were arguably "non-essential", but they did value knowledge. In college today, you can go four years without learning anything that is taught above middle school or without developing any marketable skill.


traveller83 3 years, 4 months ago

I have an undergraduate degree in Psych- I work for a mental health center providing services to individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. My Psych degree is required.

Just saying- it happens.


patchley 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing, Cutthroat. It has been my experience as well after doing many years of senior exit interviews across a range of majors at KU that students with liberal arts degrees seem more adaptable when asked to answer problems that are specific to a single domain of study. If I need a circuit board designed, I will hire an engineer for that. But if I need an employee that can adapt to a variety of tasks, then a liberal arts degree is still of great value.


Brandon Devlin 3 years, 4 months ago

It all comes down to that clichéd "well-rounded education" that everyone always laughed about. Lets face it. . .I didn't graduate from KU with a degree that was going to get me into the IT field. . .I had a liberal arts degree, and some specialized, home-spun skills that got me in the door. I was one of those "well-rounded" individuals.

Now, still in the IT field but with the added joy of managing a department and having to hire, I get all kinds applying. . .those with an engineering background, those with a liberal arts background, those with no education whatsoever. I still find it amazing that those with that more "well-rounded" background draw my attention the most. Those coming out with a "profession-ready degree" don't necessarily have the skills that my department requires. They may have lots of experience in something else, but if it's not in the specific language I need require work in, I don't have time to re-tool someone. Yes, I'm looking at "a degree," but not a "specific degree." Both show the ability to commit and complete. It's the total package I'm looking at.


notajayhawk 3 years, 4 months ago

"As an article in the Guardian UK titled “What makes psychology and geography grads the most employable?” noted on Nov. 18, psychology graduates are less likely to be unemployed than the average graduate because they possess “an impressive range of skills that make them highly employable.” In fact, they point out that “profession-ready” IT graduates were twice as likely to be unemployed as psychology graduates."

While I, of course, agree with the part about the "impressive range of skills", I would be remiss in not pointing out that the likelihood of a graduate finding a job has much more to do with the ratio of job openings to graduates in any given field, rather than on a '"range of skills". If there are only three graduates available to fill five openings for forensic anthropologists, that makes those three highly employable, but not necessarily possessed of a broader range of skills than the 30,000 IT graduates fighting for 5,000 open positions.


devobrun 3 years, 4 months ago

"Really? Therapist, psychiatrists and hostage negotiators don't count?"

Maybe if the liberal arts of character development were taught in the home and in secondary school, there would be less need for hostage negotiators.

Seems like there are more gang members and social outcasts who threaten our world than there used to be. Seems like there are more prison cells and dangerous people out on the streets than there used to be. Maybe not. Maybe the criminal and depressed have been here all along and they were just not reported.

Maybe when I hopped on my bike and cruised around Tulsa by myself at age 11, I was just lucky. I went back to that neighborhood about 5 years ago. I wouldn't walk those streets alone today and I'm 6' 2" and 220 lbs. Maybe I was in grave danger back in the 50s. But maybe, just maybe, those liberal views taught in the University haven't made our world better. Maybe those drugs and that irresponsible freedom that masqueraded as liberalism didn't work out.

Maybe we are educating young kids in the new conservatism. All those old hippies are now in charge. They are 60 now and they are in positions of authority. And their proscriptions are just as authoritarian as those old fat men in horn-rimmed glasses of 1960.

I say rebel. Kick out the jams. Question authority. If it ain't workin', fix it. I think that our youth playing video games all day long is not good. I think there are lots of things that aren't good and psychology departments doin' studies aren't needed to deal with those things. Grownups need to be more disciplined and require kids to tow the line. Behave themselves and be responsible. And you don't need a psychology degree to implement that.

Let's do a study to investigate the formation of a committee to organize a group that will study the gathering of data to form a society to study the actions of an action group that will publish quarterly reports on the actions of the committee that will make a computer model of behavior of cohorts in the presence of committee members who investigate the gathering of the data.

We'll send out press releases so that we can get funded for the formation of new committees that will............ do nothing. And the economy will crumble.


bearded_gnome 3 years, 4 months ago

Good letter Prof.

the first LTE writer displays some ignorance in such a reference. in the psychological professions, a graduate degree is necessary, so the four year degree is just the first step in getting into a job.

Psych degrees also prepare people to do other things, such as writing, organizational psychology, etc.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

Funny, we have a prez who's resume probably represents several years of underemployment.


OldEnuf2BYurDad 3 years, 4 months ago

In 1982 I saw my first academic advisor at KU, an English professor. As I told him what my career goals were, he lamented that universities had simply become "trade schools". It took me a while before the truth of that sunk in, but he was right: the reason to attend college was no longer for learning, it was for career. The liberal arts are important, but not to those who can only see dollar signs.

"Psychologists are employed manipulating your buying choices."

Really? Therapist, psychiatrists and hostage negotiators don't count?


michaelclayton 3 years, 4 months ago

I lover psych classes. They were the easiest ones at KU. 4.0, thanks psych Dept.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 4 months ago

Good post devo. Cynical, I like. I remember the type you refer to---I had a name for them: clipboard carriers. You never really knew what they did, but the clipboard gave them the appearance of being busy and in control. I knew differently.


devobrun 3 years, 4 months ago

A "knowledge economy" is failing us. While the misdeeds of bankers, politicians and other nefarious characters has certainly contributed to the current economic decline, the biggest reason for our economic demise is the lack of fruitful work.

Computer engineers are employed making games. Psychologists are employed manipulating your buying choices. Geographers and other map-makers, mathematicians, and computer-savvy thinkers are employed to build eye candy. Politicians use these folks to sway, manipulate, cajole and otherwise steer the mass audience toward political goals.

Issues are contrived and solutions are "knowledgeable " people. There is an expert at every turn telling us that they are knowledgeable. And we are treated to new things like twitter, Taylor Swift and other useless things. But the computer models predict doom and gloom, and the "experts" will save us from our iniquities. Ha.

Meanwhile electrical engineers are tilted toward windmills and other technologies that don't work, but are sold by psychologists to the public. The engineers hold their noses, get paid, and laugh at the solar panels on rooftops. Sigh.

"Knowledge economy" means a computer program economy. Computer models of investment risk, climate, marketing and virtually everything else are making a lie out of knowledge.

We need more kids in shop class and fewer kids in computer lab.
We need to build character in our youth. "Knowledge" is overrated while honor, integrity, and reason are not taught in public school. These character traits don't come from a psychology book.

How 'bout we start teaching kids first to show up and do a job? Nothin' fancy, just show up and work.


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