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Ivy League STEM degree not worth the extra cost; liberal arts, maybe

Posted by John Reed on

I went to two prestigious schools: West Point and Harvard Business. My education at West Point was mostly STEM. The Journal article authors lump a business major with liberal arts majors. I would say the Harvard MBA is more STEMish, but okay.

BS is profitable if it’s Ivy League BS

The surprising conclusion of the Journal article is that prestigious schools really matter for future income in the BS courses (e.g., liberal arts, business, black studies, social studies, English). I suspect that’s because of the quality of the incoming classes, not any value added by their studying “Women’s studies” or some other bullshit course. Indeed, I think they get paid more IN SPITE OF their majors, not because of them or the strength of the academic departments in question at the prestigious schools.

People who graduate from the most prestigious schools get paid more because they were smart and accomplished to an extraordinary degree in high school, not because of anything they did after getting their admissions fat envelope.

Presitge STEM degrees cost much more but do not pay more

But if you major in a STEM discipline, you get paid about the same no matter what school you graduate from. Bravo! I am glad to hear someone finally studied that and publicly announced the politically-incorrect results.

A Facebook reader posted to the effect that he thought getting an MBA would move him up into top management. It did not. His MBA was night school from a non-prestigious school. I replied that you need an MBA from a top school like Harvard or Stanford to get top jobs at some employers like Goldman Sachs or BCG. I also said that you get recruited by employers from around the world and the nation at MBA programs like Harvard, and not really at any other schools that I know of. The next lower top tier will get you recruited regionally. And the others may not get you recruited at all.

Self-propelled people

Also in another Facebook discussion about some comments Rush Limbaugh made that I agreed with, I distinguished between what I called self-propelled people versus external-validation seekers. Self-propelled guys like Trump just went out and tried to do stuff and succeeded and failed. Their bios speak of books sold, buildings owned or built, TV ratings, sales, profits, net worth, in other words, objective accomplishments. External validation people spend their entire lives going hat in hand before boards, committees, and commissions begging to be anointed, promoted, or given subjective awards. Their resumes list only such anointments, promotions, and subjective awards.


That is very much analogous to the split between the STEM majors’ incomes and the liberal arts majors’. I always thought, and saw it confirmed in a book by a lifelong straight-A student, that the subjects in school where the correct answer is clear—math, science, foreign languages—require that you be smart and work hard to get A’s. In contrast, getting As in the soft subjects—English, social studies, management—is mainly a matter of studying what the teacher believes and says, then regurgitating that back to him or her in homework, papers, and test answers.

My Army career showed a very similar pattern.
Ranger School—I passed and was awarded the ranger tab and was recommended to be brought back as an instructor.
Signal Officers basic course—I passed the final exam; half my West Point classmates flunked.
Jump School—I passed; some of my West Point classmates flunked because they could not do the required seven chin-ups.
Radio officer school—I passed.
Satellite Communications school—I passed. One West Point classmate flunked out.
Pretty good, huh? I was ABOVE AVERAGE for my West Point class about a year after graduation.

Then they threw me out of the Army (honorable discharge), and kept in almost all of the guys I did better than. What happened? 

Objective grading versus subjective

I stopped being graded objectively by STEM sorts of tests and started being graded subjectively by colonels writing Officer Efficiency Reports on me. They said I had a “defective attitude.”

Then I got out of the Army, became a success in real estate investment, writing, publishing, got a Harvard MBA, married another Harvard MBA, became a success in coaching, public speaking, raised three sons to be college graduates, became multi-millionaires, celebrated a 40th wedding anniversary and counting. In other words, I got back into Objective Land instead of BS Land.

STEM is real. Entrepreneurship is real. Liberal arts are bullshit. Middle managers are bullshit. Bureaucrats are bullshit. Politicians are bullshit. They advance by talking a good game not by achieving any results.

The reason graduates of inexpensive, relatively, non-selective colleges in STEM subjects make almost the same incomes in both the short and long terms is because what constitutes a degree in, say, electrical engineering, is standard and agreed-upon and, accordingly, they have to teach and test it the same at both Harvard and Podunk State.

The soft, liberal arts courses are BS and those who get degrees in those subjects get paid peanuts relatively, unless they go to a very prestigious college where they get paid an incremental amount for having gotten admitted to those school before they wasted four years studying the symbolism in obscure horror movies, for example.

Let this be a lesson to your and your college-age kids. STEM talks and pays and bullshit walks and only pays a little more if you are an IVY LEAGUE BS artist.

The ass-kissing, boot-licking, brown-nosing sycophants rule—in soft academic subjects and careers where subjective evaluations rule. But they want nothing to do with entrepreneurship, coaching a team that competes against other worthy opponents, managing a profit center, or commissioned sales—anything where actual results matter. A student who gets all A’s in STEM is intelligent and diligent. A student who gets all A’s in everything, is that PLUS a world-class ass-kisser.

Real World 101. For more, read my book Succeeding.Succeeding book

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