Thursday, June 30, 2016

No, we don't need more STEM majors in Universities

Peter has an interesting post up about IQ and field of study in College.  Unsurprisingly, the STEM fields skew towards higher IQ.  Queue the old joke: Math is hard, mkay?

But the implication that College should encourage more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students is not just wrong, but is actively bad for the students.  Several reasons come to bear here:

1. The population of high IQ students seems to be a fixed proportion of the population.  If STEM enrollment increases, it can only happen by bringing in less intelligent students.  These students will be less able to successfully complete the curriculum: I believe from my own experience as an Engineering student that the IQ is high because there's a high wash-out rate from students who can't hack the complexity.  Bringing in more students who can't hack the work won't increase the graduation rate, but will increase the number of students who drop out after running up a bunch of student loans that they can't pay off.

2. You don't need a college degree to get a job as a computer programmer.  What you need to be able to do is code.  If you know a kid who likes to do this sort of thing, point him towards Code Academy.  This is free online training that employers recognize as valuable instruction (I know this from conversations with hiring managers).  Did I mention that it's free?

3.  I've posted often about how you can teach yourself the fundamentals of network security, leading to a six figure salary.  It's free as well.

Neither of these are rocket science - it's just putting in the time to study and do the work.  If a kid can't do this then they don't need College, they need a baby sitter.

4. We have too many scientists doing too much bad science.  The incredible pressure to get (government) grants and to publish (something, anything) is what's led to sites like Retraction Watch. Eisenhower warned about this in the same speech he warned about the Military Industrial Complex - the "professionalization" of the scientific world has led to a scientific bureaucracy that increasingly isn't making scientific advances anymore.

At this point I need to admit that my items #2 and #3 select for both intelligence and self-motivation. Guilty as charged.  However, that combination will lead to success, and these paths will avoid tens of thousands of dollars of student debt for those who complete the work.  And quite frankly, it will avoid the debt for those who don't complete the work.

And this is what I think about STEM fields.  Imagine my opinion of the rest ....

It's quite odd for the son of a University Professor to write a jeremiad against The Academy, but quite frankly it's pretty worthless these days.  For a lot of students, it has a negative impact on their lifetime earnings (certainly for those who drop out after running up student debt; perhaps for those who major in the "Grievance Studies" who I wouldn't hire if you paid me).


Paul, Dammit! said...

I was an undergrad in Biology in the mid 90's, and first year biology has always been a great cash cow for universities- labs are mostly supplied using inexpensive kits, and 75% of the students transfer into education or other less intensive studies after their first year. Second year sees the 'math is hard' students who tried to get out of math by entering biology come up against a wall with organic chemistry and other logic-based non-math studies.

My 3rd year, I developed a predictive population model for a type of sea urchin (used to make sushi) and published the world's most boring neuroscience discovery, which got me into grad school. I tried to make it a group project, so I could have co-authors (and get laid more), but as soon as I talked about resource economics, electrochemistry and neural anatomy, my classmates got glassy-eyed.
There are STEM students and STEM students. Of my peers most ended up NOAA scientists working to stop commercial fishermen from being commercial fishermen, or became lawyers for NOAA. Not a one of them worth a damn as a scientist, and lately, human being.

matism said...

I would only note that Affirmative Action is the primary theme for colleges and universities today. And once they get the AAs onboard, they do their best to make sure they graduate. My money says they have ALREADY enthusiastically welcomed the less intelligent into those STEM programs, and that they have skewed the grading process to insure they graduate an appropriate number of same, regardless of the level of their knowledge or skills.

JayNola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Weetabix said...

I was going to list point 1.a, but matism beat me to it.