Briefly, here’s why I believe congress’s action is bad news. We have in large part misidentified the problem of America’s declining global competitiveness. As a result, societaly we have deluded ourselves into believing that a college degree is needed for things in life it simply isn’t. Like for most jobs for instance. And since, as the conventional wisdom goes, everyone just must graduate from college if they’re to have any hope of succeeding or being a well rounded person, supply and demand has driven up the cost of attending college (among other reasons). The problem with that is, of course other than being not true (see Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Barry Diller, Debbie Fields, Henry Ford, many of the local business people in your neighborhoods), the U.S. is not falling behind others in the world in Art Appreciation, or Classics or Comparative Literature… we’re falling behind in the sciences, engineering, etc. Yet since most people aren’t great at those, we’re not educating proportionately more doctors, architects (more on that later!), engineers or scientists… Nope, we’ve created profit centers, err college curriculum, that aspiring graduates can master so we can dangle the potential of a door opening degree in front of them all while ensuring 17 and 18 year olds amass 6-figure debt before they can legally drink. If the credit card companies did that we would have congressional hearings!
CGB ran a post this weekend about whether or not college athletes, particularly football players, should be paid. I'm not sure about that, but one thing I know for sure, you really shouldn't care whether or not they graduate.
Yes, you read that right.
Recent weeks have delivered some good news and some bad news on higher education. On Friday, Congress extended funding (as part of a transportation bill, naturally) to keep federally guaranteed student loans at 3.4%. That’s the bad news. Horrible actually. The good news; two weeks ago the NCAA released its latest APR rankings (a rudimentary measurement of how well universities are doing at graduating their football players) which found that in the Pac 12, only Washington State graduates fewer football players than Cal! It is time to declare that Cal has lost the APR battle! Let the Cal community rejoice! We salute you Washington State! Huh? What? More after the jump.
Sound harsh? Let me ask, can those of you in business, in marketing, sales, PR, customer service, development… can you honestly say that even a small amount of what you studied in order to earn a degree in Women’s Studies or Art History or Comparative Literature has made a difference in your career development? Can you tell me you’re better off having paid huge amounts to learn that relatively useless information (outside of playing your friends at Jeopardy that is) than you would have been getting paid to learn in the actual field? I realize there are esoteric arguments about a college education making you a more well-rounded person, exposing you to people and ideas you might not have otherwise been exposed , etc… And I am grateful I was able to attend Cal! But there are many other ways to learn and get that life experience. A specific example; if you’re in accounting can you tell me you couldn’t have learned that on the job while getting paid, instead of paying to learn it?
Which brings me to this... People talk about NCAA football being a minor league for the NFL, so why not pay the players. I’ve got news for you, much of university is a minor league for corporations! Unlike minor leaguers, however, it’s you the students who are the ones paying! So it’s easy to understand why we’re not honest with ourselves because if we are, what that degree does is create a market for an artificial barrier to entry. It protects the degree holder and their investment and keeps others out.
Now that I’ve offended just about everybody…
How the hell does that pertain to the APR? Simple: the APR is just mirroring society’s obsession with earning a degree no matter the utility, or lack thereof. But it’s worse, because the APR gives fans and administrators of the program something about which to feel superior and smug, but in fact means almost nothing. It’s like feeling good about donating a snowmobile to an African orphanage.
Need proof that the APR and the degrees given out driving that ranking don't really tell you anything when it comes to programs or individual players? Let’s take a look at Stanford which, naturally, leads the conference in APR. According to official data provided by Stanford, fewer than 8% of current Stanford football players are majoring in a science, any science. Over half, including most juniors and seniors, have not yet declared a major at all!
"Hi, despite what Ted Robinson thinks, I'm not qualified to be an architect"
And if we look specifically at their most storied recent player, Andrew Luck it gets worse. Much has been made of his studying Architectural Design. It really does sound impressive; those Stanford football players sure are smart. And I'm guessing that Mr. Luck is in fact smarter than I am. Well here’s the truth, that degree alone qualifies him for exactly zero architectural positions. It qualifies him for design positions, but not architectural positions. Stanford does not have an accredited architecture program. But even if it did, would his degree tell us he was qualified? I've lived long enough to put much more stock in listening to the individual person in an interview than being wowed with where they went to school. So in an in-game feature against Colorado last year, Mr. Luck was asked to give his impressions of the Guggenheim Museum. Now this wasn’t an "ambush," this feature was designed to show how smart he is and how much he’s learned, which his Stanford degree would certainly evidence. As he contemplated two photos he studiously commented "Well, as you can see here, the most prominent feature is the spiral ramp… And here you can see how it fits in really well to the neighborhood." That analysis wowed broadcaster Ted Robinson. Yes, $250,000 dollars of education costs later, Andrew Luck is able to state the obvious in the former, and utterly mis-assess in the latter. I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Luck. He seems like a genuinely nice person and as I said, I couldn't solve a vector equation to save my life. Mr. Luck will in fact make more money next year alone than most of us will in our lifetime. But it will be as a result of his playing football at Stanford – not because of his studies to become a non-architect!
(What's the most prominent feature in this photo? If you said spiral ramp you just saved $250,000!)
There is an irony to this where it comes back to Cal. Now, usually when we discuss the relative excellence of various colleges and universities, we focus on the best professors and students. We don't really judge a university on its ability to turn out "average" graduates, it's the ability to develop elite talent that sets the great schools apart. That's why we're all so proud of these things even if we never earn one ourself:
Why shouldn't football follow suit? In that regard, when it comes to the Academic Heisman, The William V. Cambell Trophy also known as The Draddy, only one Pac 10 player has ever won it (a CU player won it as part of the Big XII). That player is Cal Center Alex Mack! Mr. Mack will also make more in a couple of years than most of us will make in a lifetime... once again, playing football. Would Mr. Mack be less of a person had he decided to leave school early so he could start earning that money sooner? Not one bit.
(One of these guys is an incredibly smart, talented, phenomenal athlete with an amazing future ahead of him. The other guy isn't.)
I can see you reading this now. You're sort of smugly thinking you would in fact feel differently about Mr. Mack had he not graduated. I believe you. I think we all know that Cal has arguably the best engineering school in the country if not the world. At the undergraduate level it ranks in the top 3 in almost every discipline and we send more graduates to earn Ph.Ds than any other university in the world. Guess where those students study? In the below complex, named in honor of famous Cal drop out Stephen David Bechtel. And yet somehow this drag on Cal's historic "APR" built the largest construction and engineering company in the United States. Luckily he didn't do this while playing football for Cal in 2006, otherwise he would be a real stain on our reputation!
(To bad the guy for whom this building is named dropped out, otherwise he may have been able to amount to something!)
So that is the gist. We don't worry about non football players who don't finish school... in fact, Cal's historically high attrition rate used to be a badge of honor because it made those students who did graduate feel better about having been able to succeed in such a challenging environment! But even so, we name buildings after famous dropouts! We don't wring our hands over successful people who didn't go to college, we eat their cookies, and fly in their planes, and curse their software and watch their movies and drive their cars and use the power generated from their dams and... well you get the idea.
So let's proudly take the lead on this. Let's celebrate our 11th place finish in the APR and our Draddy winner! Let's smile broadly when we congratulate ASU, Oregon (yes Oregon), Washington and the rest for being such a stellar blend of football and academics because is that really how we want to feel good about ourselves? When we start accepting this truth at the micro level, at Cal, then we can start doing it at the macro level and stop putting so much pressure on young people everywhere to go into debt to earn a degree just for show. So let's stop the canard as it pertains to college football players and simply say Thank You Aaron Rodgers for a couple of great years!