This essay (serialized here across 24 separate posts) uses words and numbers to discuss the uses of words and numbers — particularly examining evaluations of university degrees that employ statistical data to substantiate competing claims. Statistical analyses are crudely introduced as the mode du jour of popular logic, but any ratiocinative technique could likely be inserted in this re-fillable space and applied to create and defend categories of meaning with or without quantitative support. Questions posed across the series include: Is the data informing or affirming what we believe? What are the implications of granting this approach broader authority? The author, Melanie Williams, graduated from UA in 2006, with a B.A. in Anthropology and Religious Studies.
I don’t know how to calculate the abstract value of degrees I don’t have, so I’ll talk about a few things I think I know, and wish I had known sooner rather than later. I didn’t progress through college based on anything like cognitive ability, creative skills, or academic merit. I got into and through college because I had parents who signed a promissory note to put me there. If college is the filtering process that is portrayed in these many articles, it is not the “realization” of latent academic “potential.” It is merely the line between those who can afford to pay and those who cannot afford to pay. I graduated from UA’s College of Arts and Sciences with two of the bleakest majors these articles have rated, though I think their combined score vaults me into the range of, maybe, the college of Social Work. I have used any means at my disposal to land all of the low-paying jobs I have had since graduation, to wit: apply, persist, cajole, or (only twice so far!) lie. Most of the time, if I discuss it at all, I tell people I earned a B.A. in the same blasé tone of voice I would use to tell them I once had a benign tumor, and I receive the same heartfelt tones of sympathy. If you put stock in such things, you could easily put me into the category of the 25th percentile for whom college was not a good investment. This has nothing to do with the “absolute” economic or social value of obtaining a degree; it’s a consequence of the decisions I have made along the way as I stumbled through my wayward life. A more graceful, clever person, with or without a degree, may have maneuvered more successfully, however that may be defined. Perhaps it’s the opportunity itself that’s priceless, and you can either make use of it or squander it. But on any given day – clipboard in hand – how will you know the difference? Continue reading