The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Prestige of Elite Credentials

Posted on | March 29, 2014 | 90 Comments

Ace does a riff on a study about the value of degrees:

One way in which these numbers are misleading, or at least incomplete, is that they disguise an important fact: Students going to Caltech for comp science are going to make a lot more money than a student going to Murray State College for Arts whether they went to college or not. The Caltech comp science guy is, look, coming into the classroom a lot smarter than the Murray State Arts grad. Even if they both dropped out of school on the first day of classes, the guy who was at Caltech would make more money that the Murray State student.

It’s nice that Ace makes this comparison between two state schools. One of the problems in most comparisons of this sort is that if you lump together state schools and elite private schools (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Duke, etc.), you’re comparing apples and oranges. The democratizing trends in education — college isn’t just for rich kids anymore — have been counteracted by an increasing prestige for private school diplomas, which are priced out of the range of all but the rich.

Here’s a simple test of who is “rich”: If you can afford $40,000 a year for your kid’s college tuition, congratulations, you’re rich.

And now it’s time to mention that secretive samizdat that no one is supposed to admit having read, The Bell Curve, which became controversial because of its findings about correlations between intelligence, heredity and race. When it was first published, I read all the denunciations in newspaper columns and magazine articles and actually believed The Bell Curve was crypto-Nazi pseudo-science. Then in 1996, a guy on an Internet discussion group responded to my uninformed criticism of the book by asking me if I’d actually read it and, called out, I felt compelled to remedy my ignorance.

Mirabile dictu, the book was a real eye-opener, and I became resentful of the liberals whose hysterical denunciations had misled me. (Remember, I used to be a Democrat, had enthusiastically voted for Clinton in 1992 and, by 1996, was just coming to understand how media bias had influenced my perceptions.)

The thing is, if you cut The Bell Curve in half, and read only the first part about the influence of intelligence in socio-economic outcomes, you would still have a very important book, and probably quite controversial, but it wouldn’t have the terrifying samizdat quality of A Dangerous Subversive Book You’re Not Supposed to Read. Alas, the scary racial controversy about the book has prevented people from examining the very informative material in the first part of the book.

To what extent is socio-economic status (SES) correlated to intelligence? A far greater extent than I’d ever realized, prior to reading The Bell Curve, and this alone was a revelation worth the price of the book. The correlation certainly is not so great that one can say, “poor = stupid” and “rich = smart,” but omni ceteris parabus, smart people do better in life than do stupid people — which, from a common-sense perspective, should not be a controversial thing to say, but which is a fact that our liberal intelligentsia have striven to obscure for many decades.

Well, to what extent is intelligence a hereditary trait? Again, to a far greater extent than we had hitherto been led to believe. And again, the correlation is not so great that one can assume that the children of MIT professors are destined to be geniuses, no matter what their educational experience, but it’s a correlation strong enough that we may predict, for example, that the offspring of high-school dropouts is unlikely to become an MIT professor.

The democratization of American higher education came in a great rush after World War II, first as a result of the G.I. Bill — which is how my Alabama farmboy father became a university graduate — then as a result of widespread post-war affluence combined with the effects of standardized testing and government aid to education, including Pell Grants and student loans. And the way these changes transformed the structure of American society was truly revolutionary from the standpoint of rewarding intelligence, per se.

In 1939, you might have found one man with an IQ of 130 working as a factory hand with an eighth-grade education, while another man with an IQ of 115 was a Harvard graduate and president of the local bank. The difference in their circumstances was simply an accident of birth — the factory hand’s parents were poor and the bank president’s parents were rich. Fast-forward 50 years, however and, by 1989, the grandson of the high-IQ factory hand was likely to be a successful college graduate, and perhaps far more successful than the grandsons of the bank president. Why? Because the educational system had become more meritocratic — more efficient at identifying bright children and directing them toward higher education, without regard for their family’s financial circumstances — and economic prosperity had made it possible for more kids to complete high school and attend college.

This revolution is now in the rear-view mirror, fading into history. Young people have no idea that the system ever worked any other way than it does now. And the way the system works now is that ambitious suburban middle-class parents are quite desperately pushing their little Special Snowflakes toward the fast-track of “gifted” classes, with the idea that if their precious darling doesn’t get into an elite college, life will not be worth living, either for the child or their parents, who will bear the stigma of having raised a

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Child Who Didn’t Get Accepted at Yale.

David Brooks has called these people “Achievatrons” — see Michelle Malkin’s 2008 post, “David Brooks’ Ivy League Ejaculations” for a populist response — and the unseemly obsession with elite credentials is warping American society, politics and culture.

The negative effects of this kind of elitism are something most people perceive in an instinctive, common-sense way, but it becomes blindingly apparent if you will carefully read the first part of The Bell Curve. Despite all the fashionable chatter about “diversity” in higher education, the student bodies of elite schools are far more homogenous than is true at state universities. Because of standardized testing, there is now a nationwide competition among young brainiacs to be accepted into elite universities and, because tuition at these schools has increased far beyond the rate of inflation, the overwhelming majority of elite university students come from households with incomes in the top 10%.

A couple years ago, for example, a Harvard student analyzed financial aid data and reached “the stunning conclusion that approximately 45.6 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000, placing them in the top 3.8 percent of American households.” Not only are Harvard students economically isolated from the life experiences of the vast majority of Americans, but they are are socially isolated from everyone except their fellow “Achievatrons.” They have no friends who were not likewise on the academic fast track since elementary school and, whatever sympathy they may have for the untutored masses, they have never been in a situation where they had to respect such people as their social or political equals.

Spare me your insulting liberal condescension, Harvard boy.

If you’re a middle-class parent whose kid makes straight A’s and has a near-perfect SAT score, your child might be able to get enough financial aid to scrape through at Harvard, but why (other than the ambitious craving for an elite credential) would you want to do that to your kid? Why subject your child to the needless humiliation of being the shabby, impoverished student at a Snob Factory full of rich kids? If your child is smart enough to get into an elite school, he can almost certainly get a full scholarship to a state university. Middle-class parents should say to hell with Harvard and, while they’re at it, to hell with Duke, too.

The pathetic spectacle of Miriam Weeks, performing in sex videos as “Belle Knox” to pay tuition at Duke, is a perfect example of where the foolish pursuit of elite credentials leads. That she reportedly turned down a scholarship to a Top 20 school (Vanderbilt, ranked No. 17 nationally) to attend a Top 10 school (Duke is ranked No. 7) gives you a sense of how nonsensical her choices were.

Let the rich have the elite schools to themselves. Refuse to let yourself be brainwashed or peer-pressured into accepting the elite’s self-flattering worldview, wherein their possession of the ornaments of status makes them certifiably Better Than You.

Smart people do well in life even if they never go to college, as Ace helpfully points out, and the prestige of an elite credential is not really worth much, if you have to suck cocks to get it.

 

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Comments

  • Rosalie

    And a lot of common sense, which is certainly at a premium today.

  • Quartermaster

    College rankings are generally invalid anyway. Consider who does the rating, and it rapidly becomes obvious just how valid they are.

    To give one example of Engineering Schools in Tennessee. If you wanted a good Engineering education in Tennessee you chose between Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech. If you had the money, you chose Vanderbilt. If you didn’t, but still had the grades in HS, you went to Tennessee Tech. OTOH, if you went to University of Tennessee Knoxville, you got a good alumni association. UTK had a good grad school, but it’s under grad program was the absolute pits.

    You don’t go to MIT, or Duke for under grad degree if you have the sense God gave a rock. You go to those places for their grad programs. The Under grads simply get crumbs and Grad TAs as their instructors. They made their names as research institutes and the grad programs get in the way of the under grad programs as well as act as parasites on them. As it happens, UTK is, by law, a research university and, as a result, the grad school is a parasite which feeds of the undergrads to survive, and Vanderbilt, since the late 70s, has become just as bad as Duke for the same reasons.

    No parent who loves their kids will send them to a so called top tier College or University.

  • GVK

    Seen in this new light, Belle Knox’s choice doesn’t seem as nonsensical as McCain wants us to believe!

    Anamika, is that a candle in your Disqus avatar?

  • Quartermaster

    There are many people that don’t know it is a private school. It’s not a good place for an undergrad either.

  • Quartermaster

    Curtis LeMay stated, in so many words, that he would much rather have a staff of hard working men, rather than a staff of high intellect. He didn’t want idiots, by any means, but he had observed that high IQ often did not equal good outcomes. He’s not the only guy to notice, but I’ve never seen anyone else put it as baldly as he did.

  • Quartermaster

    Calling the CO of a reserve component unit won’t get them far. His normal employment was at a VA Hospital.

    A return soldier is a visitor, at first. But that situation does not remain. He could cut “Belle Knox” off at the knees and if he has any sense, and loves his daughter, that’s exactly what he will do.

    Additionally, since the tour is only 1 year, the application deadlines would have required that he know about her desire to attend Duke.

  • ErikasPowerMinute

    My bright daughters (straight As in grade-level gifted classes after being skipped a grade ahead as well as being very talented musicians) are going to Texas A&M. If they worked very VERY hard they might be able to get into an Ivy, but we could never pay for it, and we don’t want to send them there anyway. The Ivies are full of pod people with no souls. Why should we send our children there? At Texas A&M (one of the most conservative schools in the country, BTW) they will be around laid-back Texans like themselves, meet nice Texas boys whom we will encourage them to marry, get a decent education, and have a head start on a humble, grounded happy life. This is what we pray for for our children.

  • Quartermaster

    The really bad thing that got he and his coauthor accused of wantingtokill6millionjews, was that they made a nearly unassailable case for that thesis. The left will never rehabilitate you after you commit truth.

  • Quartermaster

    Griggs vs Duke was the flashpoint.

  • Mike G.

    We sort of have that with ICAR and the BMW plant close by Clemson University. It cost about 21 grand for instate tuition to Clemson. That includes about 9,000 for room and board and books.

  • Anamika

    An interesting research on Chess and IQ published recently. Excerpt:

    While there are several studies showing that playing strength in chess can be best predicted by the amount of time spent practicing, the assumption that expertise is developed “independent of any influence of cognitive potential is quite implausible,” he adds. “There is growing data suggesting that some individuals require more, and others less, deliberate practice to attain the same expert performance levels in chess.”

    For the non-chess player, this research is interesting in that it informs the ongoing debate over whether expertise is essentially a matter of practice.

  • Anamika

    Yes, that me holding a candle on a breezy night during a power outage.

  • Dave R

    Though for out-of state students, the cost difference between elite public schools and elite private schools is minimal. Financial aid can vary wildly between schools of similar selectivity, though.

  • Julie Pascal

    I went back to school and am currently taking STEM courses and while you don’t have to be a genius even to go on and get your PhD in science, and hard work always helps, there’s a limit to how far that hard work will get you if you can’t, for example, ever manage to visualize what you’re working with in three dimensions… you’re going to fail crystallography no matter what you do.

    But in general… if you’re brilliant and blow off your school work you’re going to fail, too.

    Success might be limited by your intellect, but most of us never get in a situation where that is truly a limiting factor, do we? We’ve got intellect to spare, so the, er, limiting reagent… let’s say… the limiting reagent to our success is probably going to be our work habits.

  • Paul H. Lemmen

    Never heard of the guy until after the fact. I seek no approval, fame or celebrity for my crimes. The only proper thing for criminal acts is condemnation of those crimes. I accept proper condemnation with a contrite heart. Anything else is pride and that is a sin and the quickest way to slip off the path of redemption.

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  • Anamika

    Glad to know you went back to school, that takes a lot of courage!

    … the limiting reagent to our success is probably going to be our work habits.

    Perhaps…but might those work habits somehow be influenced inversely by our intelligence? I mean do smart people tend to work less hard and self sabotage themselves to failure more than less smart ones? Well, this article, “Why Smart People Are Stupid” seems to point just that:

    “And here’s the
    upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse. The
    scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive
    sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures
    showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively
    sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend
    held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at
    least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in
    deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes.”

  • Anamika

    Never heard of the guy until after the fact.

    I’m a bit surprised given your IQ of 165. I never took an IQ test but I suspect it includes General Knowledge questions. I would say at least 50% of people with average IQ would know of Frank Abagnale after the release of critically acclaimed 2002 film Catch Me If You Can directed by Spielberg (Don’t tell me you never heard of him!) The book on which the film was based was published in 1980.

    There are always exceptions, some of the smartest people don’t know some of the simple things a la Sherlock Holmes :)

    Best wishes for everything in your new life.

  • DaveO

    True and partially true from my experience. For a reservist and guardsman/woman, they can be on AD for around 2 years before DFAS drops them from the system. Regardless, Dr. Weeks is immaterial. He could be an uber-liberal father who set zero rules and unrealistic expectations. Because he is a military servicemember, we ascribe greater intelligence, common sense, and superior judgement to him, perhaps unfairly. What was Mrs. Weeks doing since she was with Dear Belle every day? Because she is a woman, is Mrs. Weeks too incompetent to impart the knowledge of right, wrong, rewards and consequences? Dear Belle decided to be a porn star, and so long as she doesn’t play lacrosse, Duke is happy for the money.

  • Quartermaster

    There are a number of libtards in the military. I was once acquainted with a man who had been SF in Vietnam who was a flaming liberal and he said he had been that way from high school. Ascribing things to people because they where the uniform can be losing proposition, although most people in the Military are not libtards.

  • Quartermaster

    That’s still pricey.

  • GVK

    Who was it that said that the stupid people think they’re so intelligent, while the intelligent people all know that they’re dumb, because they realize just how much they DON’T know? William Randolph Hearst?

    This all reminds me of a gal who was hired to work as a counselor up here a while back, & came up North from California. She consistently wore dainty little high heels, nylon stockings, & fashionably short little dresses.

    After being hit by deluges of chilly rain, wind & snow storms, she never adapted, she always dressed like that. I think she may have lasted about 6 months.

    That’s not to say she was stupid, just didn’t have the good sense to adapt to the others around her or her living conditions.

    “You Can Judge 90 Percent of a Stranger’s Personal Characteristics Just by Looking at Their Shoes”

    http://www.medicaldaily.com/you-can-judge-90-percent-strangers-personal-characteristics-just-looking-their-shoes-240793

  • Nan

    So why bother with the porn if she can go to the wealthy alumni?

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ Evi L. Bloggerlady

    “Never heard of the guy until after the fact.” [emphasis added]

    Your reading comprehension skills suck Anamika.

    And no, general knowledge is not part of IQ tests. That would be part of Trivial Pursuit.

    Frank Abagnale was a young kid when he did his crimes and frauds (and I did not know of him till after the movie came out either), but he did turn his life around and became a great success. And I believe Paul is trying to turn his life around (from what I can see).

  • Nan

    When I was 20, I met a young married woman who had graduated from Harvard the year before. Her husband was a trust fund baby and she was a scholarship girl. She said never go to Ivy undergrad.

  • Nan

    But how much fun will that be for anyone to blog about?

  • Anamika

    One might consider their fashion preferences before moving to a certain climate. I love my Bobs but mainly prefer to go shoeless at home and have noticed the signs in stores and restaurants about no shirt, no shoes, no service, is never taken seriously, and even in a few places where the rule is that some clothes need to be worn, complete nakedness is overlooked provided one is over 40 or has a European accent.

    You know, I believe that saying about the intelligent people. Every truly high IQ, or even very emotionally with it person I have ever known have been the most humble and least likely to take a superior stance. Maybe not so unlike people with all kinds of flashy toys out to impress but deep in debt vs. the conservative with a big nest egg.

  • Anamika

    Sleep deprivation again I guess! (25 hours and counting) Edited the comment. Thanks!

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ Evi L. Bloggerlady

    You are welcome.

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ Evi L. Bloggerlady

    The “unofficial” moto of Reed College is “Atheism, Communism, Free Love”

  • Wombat_socho

    This is what I should have done when I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in the late ’80s. Instead, I’m picking away at that accounting degree now.

  • Wombat_socho

    In the sense that Stacy is blogging about “the best and the brightest” (sic)? None, hopefully.

  • Nan

    That’s exactly it; normal, well adjusted young people with traditional values don’t make good blog fodder at all.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    The funny thing is the people who kill themselves to get accepted at a prestigious school, and then get a degree in something totally useless.

    I don’t understand parents “sending” their kids to college. Nobody “sent” me anywhere. My Dad paid his way through college, and so did I. So did my siblings.

  • Paul H. Lemmen

    I watch neither movies nor television preferring books. My tastes do not include adventure stories or biographies of people still living, preferring mostly sci-fi and research reference books. IQ tests do not include popular trends or general knowledge rather, they focus on certain fundamentals like math, language arts, science and sociology.
    Thank you for your kind wishes.

  • Rosalie

    Sounds about right coming from a hippy school in Oregon.

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  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com/ Stogie Chomper

    Well it took me seven years to complete my four year degree. I had a wife and family and took a lot of night classes. If I can do it, so can you.

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  • fondatorey

    “…prestige of an elite credential is not really worth much…”

    The problem is not how much is it worth to you or me, its how much is it worth to them, and by them I mean the mostly ivy league people who pilot this sinking ship. They’ve decided that ivy league pre-approval is necessary and we have very little say in it.

    Our country is run by a smaller and smaller number of national institutions that dominate local institutions and businesses. And more and more you need an ivy degree to be in the class of people who run these institutions (with a few spots allowed for well known celebrities and the sort of shameless ethnic-nepotism you see at Slate for instance).

    By the way, this is why Scott Walker won’t be allowed to be the GOP presidential candidate. He’s a college drop out (and from Marquette, not Harvard or anything). They might let him be a veep.