Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kids: don't reach too high!

Maybe Bruce Bennet is on to something. Today's Washing Post is reporting on a study by a sociologist from Florida State University which shows that highschool students' aspirations are exceeding their abilities.

Researchers at Florida State University (FSU) studied teens' educational and occupational plans between 1976 and 2000 and found a widening gap between what teens believe they will do after graduation and their actual achievements...

The percentage of high school graduates between age 25 and 30 who eventually earn advanced degrees has remained fairly steady since the 1970s. But the gap between those who expected and earned such degrees nearly doubled over the years. In 1976 there was a gap of 22 percentage points between expectations and reality. By 2000 the difference was 41 percentage points.

In every survey, Reynolds said, seniors' ambitions for advanced degrees and professional-level occupations have risen over time. And they have risen more rapidly than students' actual achievements...

Reynolds speculated that these unrealistic plans can lead to anxiety, stress and depression. In addition, he theorized, setting expectations too high may result in a misuse of human potential and economic resources. [emphasis mine.]

I've been there. It's true.
[Um, oh yeah] Gotta love the frog-march of usual suspects: TV, guidance counselors, and parents. Also the cheap nostalgia of the Baby Boomers ("WE used to experiment").


Anonymous said...

The "misuse" claim is a difficult one, eh? One of the big differences between graduate education in the U.S. and in Europe is the notion of a class (or, cohort, if you use that word) of doctoral students. In Europe, the admission of PhD students is often ad hoc, one-at-a-time, with a very unpleasant effect on their education. But, so few are admitted, that their prospects for a job in academia are perhaps greater. With the US model, part of the role of the graduate program is to push research (by faculty and students) forward more agressively. The students are important collaborative researchers in that situation, and maybe that isn't misuse. I don't know. But, I guess what you're saying is that getting a degree and not getting a job in the field feels like misuse? Eller hur?

liberal elite said...

I wasn't really agreeing with the emphasized text. What the article is saying is that if someone starts down a career path and finds out after a few years invested that they are unsuited for it, then they've wasted those resources. That seems wrong to me.

It's true, I've been there. Grad schools in the US are putting out more PhDs than the market needs. But I don't think the answer is to limit who gets in and who doesn't.

I wouldn't trade my grad school experience for anything. The post-grad school job search sucked the big one, but the problem seems to me that the system (and me) simply didn't really prepare me for the reality. If grad schools and grad students would be more open about the end-game, maybe people wouldn't have to go through the depression and anxiety associated with leaving academia.

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