Sunday, May 20, 2007

Is College Just an Expensive IQ test?

My school is on break and I usually only post entries when classes are in session. But there was a great article by JAMES TARANTO in The Wall Street Journal on Friday called "Disparate but Not Serious: College is an expensive way of taking an IQ test."

The idea seems to be that since employers are forbidden (since the 1970s) from using intelligence tests for hiring, there is more importance attached to getting a college degree and colleges can use tests likeSATs for admission. The author also thinks it is related to civil rights issues. A college degree has always been a signalling device to show employers that you are smart and hard working. But it is even more so now for legal reasons. A free version is at

Disparate but Not Serious: College is an expensive way of taking an IQ test


Carl said...

I assume that we all can agree that education alone does not determine how successful a person will be. In fact, it is a combination of skills; your temperament and fate just to name a few that will ultimately decide how your career and life will turn out. (And by the way, the direction your life will take will most likely not be in the direction you planned.)

Tests to determine intelligence whether for entrance to college or in the past for a job do not seem to determine who will succeed. But what other standard are available for schools and employers to use????? Life experience can be used, but it is impossible to evaluate such experience on a scale, and it is easily exaggerated and difficult to verify. But, if anyone thinks that the only way to college or work is through SAT scores or IQ test that is not true. The community college system is a perfect example, as it a place where those who may have not excelled at standardized testing can prove themselves worthy of higher education thru hard work. The same is true for the working world, you may have to start at a lower level job, but show any good employer you are interested and capable, and you will move ahead. You will only be stopped by those indicated by the article, which are threatened by your success.

But, I am confused Dr. Morong, you are not the first Professor to throw out for discussion the value of a college education. Why is this? I do think it is healthy to question such a premise, but we need more data to have a valid conversation. Why learn things like economics, mathematics, philosophy etc? Will we be better employees because we have been to college? What about better citizens? Does understanding the Prisoners Dilemma really make me a better person? Or is college just a matter of taking the classes, checking the box and moving on until all the boxes are checked and you get a certificate?

Cyril Morong said...

I am not sure what the research shows on the value of college. People with college degrees make about 80% more than people with only high school diplomas.

Some of that is due to getting trained in a specific skill, like accounting. Some of it is having the signal. How much of it is the non-technical, liberal arts training? I really don't know. Maybe someone has done a good study on it but I am not aware of it.

It could be that people who would have made more money anyway in the absence of a college system might make more anyway since they are smarter to begin with. Same for being a better citizen.

How would you measure being a better citizen? Voting more often, committing fewer crimes? Again, the people that tend to voter more and tend to commit fewer crimes might be the ones more likely to go to college

I posted this to make people more aware of the part of college that is simply proving you are smart. And due to legal rulings in the 1970s, it may be even more that way than it used to. Just think of how many people would go to college if the college degree did not increase your income

Carl said...

I did not mean to take away from the purpose of the article. My working experience match that of the article; meaning that when you are hiring employees, it is very difficult to legally get the information to make an informed decision. You can find out if they have a criminal record, their credit history, and even if they have speeding tickets, but you cannot find out how smart they really are.
I have also made the mistake of wrongly choosing the college graduate over the non-graduate. I learned quickly that practical skills, attitude and temperament, are just as important indicators as education in choosing employees. It is best if you can find someone with a solid education that has a great attitude about their career, and are willing to work hard.

Champ said...

I agree with you, Cyril on expensive IQ test part. Most people that go to college feel that they are better than those that don't. I don't have any idea where these people get such notions.
Many times, those same arrogant people end up working for someone that has less formal eduation. It is to the point that some of these college kids make me want to puke. One little girl sits down at work all day and beats the company for money, then cries about doing manual labor. I never knew manual labor was sitting in a chair typing on the internet.
Carl has good points also. Several people hire people that have finished college, but they don't have a clue in the real world. It is rather sad, but people need to be brought back down to earth.

Carl said...

Both true and well said Champ!!!