Working The Fields

Though most of my substitute teaching was at the grade school level and comparatively little at the high school level, when I did get high school it was often towards the end of the year for a variety of reasons. As such, I got a glimpse into what many of the Redstone students’ post-secondary plans were. A number of them were planning to go to college. Others, however, were planning to go to eastern Montana and North Dakota. There’s jobs in them there plains. The New York Times recently published an article about it:

Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing, often working alongside men old enough to be their fathers. Some live at home; others drive back on weekends to eat their mothers’ food, do loads of laundry and go to high school basketball games, still straddling the blurred border between childhood and adulthood.

Just as gold rushes and silver booms once brought opera houses and armies of prospectors to rugged corners of the West, today’s headlong race for oil and gas is reshaping staid communities in the northern Plains, bringing once untold floods of cash and job prospects, but also deep anxieties about crime, growth and a future newly vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust.

Even gas stations are enticing students away from college. Katorina Pippenger, a high school senior in the tiny town of Bainville, Mont., said she makes $24 an hour as a cashier in nearby Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. Her plan is to work for a few years after she graduates this spring, save up and flee. She likes the look of Denver. “I just want to make money and get out,” she said.

Some people have picked up a sense of concern from the NYT articles, though I think it’s a fairly good write-up without too much coloring one way or the other. (Or, at least, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt if this weren’t an installment of a series of articles poo-pooing the oil boomtowns.)

For those expressing concern, I think this is actually a generally quite positive development. In a time where we are worried about a generation of graduates becoming unemployable, these kids are going to get jobs, work experience, and skills. Might it be better in the long term if they went to college? Well, that depends in good part on who “they” are along with a few other things. To the extent that college degrees are in good part about getting people in front of the employment line, then it might be good for any individual one of them to go to college, but as a group it would be an example of running in place. Those that think that college should be the norm are likely going to disagree.

I honestly don’t know what the appropriate number of kids going to college is. Back when I was living in Deseret, I knew a number of people that I felt should have gone to college but had roadblocks that prevented them from trying. Back when I was in college, I knew a number of people that really shouldn’t have been there. Whether the ideal number is somewhere above or below the number of kids currently attending, I consider it a necessity to have a path for those that really aren’t college material. I think it’s fantastic that they have this sort of opportunity.

And for those that are going to college? More opportunities still (well, in resource exploitation more generally), at least for the right kind of college student. Graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines are outearning graduates of Harvard. Which touches back a little bit on something that doesn’t get enough press: white collar jobs in blue collar fields. One of the reasons that mining engineers are able to demand such a mint is that most people don’t think they are going to college to work in such a field. The same applies to industrial production. Writes The New Republic:

The country’s business schools tended to reflect and reinforce these trends. By the late 1970s, top business schools began admitting much higher-caliber students than they had in previous decades. This might seem like a good thing. The problem is that these students tended to be overachiever types motivated primarily by salary rather than some lifelong ambition to run a steel mill. And there was a lot more money to be made in finance than manufacturing. A recent paper by economists Thomas Philippon and Ariell Reshef shows that compensation in the finance sector began a sharp, upward trajectory around 1980.

The business schools had their own incentives to channel students into high-paying fields like finance, thanks to the rising importance of school rankings, which heavily weighted starting salaries. The career offices at places like Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago institutionalized the process—for example, by making it easier for Wall Street outfits and consulting firms to recruit on campus. A recent Harvard Business School case study about General Electric shows that the company had so much trouble competing for MBAs that it decided to woo top graduates from non-elite schools rather than settle for elite-school graduates in the bottom half or bottom quarter of their classes.

No surprise then that, over time, the faculty and curriculum at the Harvards and Stanfords of the world began to evolve. “If you look at the distribution of faculty at leading business schools,” says Khurana, “they’re mostly in finance. … Business schools are responsive to changes in the external environment.” Which meant that, even if a student aspired to become a top operations man (or woman) at a big industrial company, the infrastructure to teach him didn’t really exist.

I think this mentality extends beyond “top business schools” and some degree down the chain. My own school and the college within it was more vocational in nature. But I did minor in industrial supervision and my first job out of college was being the IT guy at a fabrication plant (in the industry of resource exploitation, actually). How I got into it was entirely an accident. Of course, there are a number of engineers who specifically go into this sort of thing (and that’s responsible for at least some of the South Dakota Mines statistic). But comparatively little on the business side. My college had a major that was, at the time, commanding really good salaries even for the 90’s. But who was going to go into something that included the word “industrial” in it? They’ve since changed the major’s name in part to reduce the stigma. That such a stigma exists, of course, is interesting in itself.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. There was an episode of NPR’s Planet Money about Wiliston, North Dakota. Specifically it was about the problems of low unemployment (you can’t get people to take McJobs at low wages) and trying to turn the area into a real town instead of a way-station where people work and then go home. The town is betting on building a huge entertainment center to make people move to Wiliston with their families.

    To your points on college v. no college:

    1. Graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines and other STEM schools might out earn college graduates in the early years after graduation. However, how about in terms of long-term earnings. It seems to me that going to an elite school like the Ivies or similar puts someone on a career track where they might start at 40,000 but will eventually end up making hundreds of thousands or more a year. Possibly some people from the South Dakota School of Mines will end up with similar jobs but many might not. In my very casual and unscientific observations, STEM jobs lead to decent salaries but they top out very quickly. I hear about a lot of engineers making 80,000-90,000 pretty quickly but that seems to be the ceiling. It is a nice ceiling but still one. Right now, I am making 80K a year as a contract attorney and an associate position could land me more. If I make partner or equity partner, I can get up to a million or so in income perhaps. The engineering exception seems to be Silicon Valley via stock options.

    2. I think the whole issue of how many people should go to college v. not is as much a cultural issue as anything else. It also involves a lot of broader issues of life-style choices. In the United States, a lot of the cultural war and urban/rural divide seems to be based on lifestyle choices of individuals. This is stuff that should be live and let live but ends up deeply upsetting people when X’s actions goes against their choices. I was once chatting with a conservative leaning person (and preferred rural dweller) who could not understand why tech companies preferred settling in dense areas like Silicon Valley, Boston’s Route 128, and around NYC instead of building in the Dakotas or Wyoming. His argument was that the business friendly attitude of the sparsely populated states would be better. I thought he was bonkers. I can see why companies would rather start in the Bay Area. You are close to top universities, you have already existing cities with stuff to do for young people, etc.

    People want to live where they want to live. I grew up in the NYC suburbs with easy access to the city. Much of my childhood was spent doing various things around NYC and I like large cities and what they offer. There are other cities I like and can see myself being happy in like San Francisco-Bay Area, Portland (Oregon), Boston/Cambridge/Sommerville, Seattle, Washington D.C., London, Paris, Chicago, Denver, etc. Real cities with cultural options, museums, symphonies, decent to good public transportation, density, good local restaurants, hip stores, etc.

    Yet saying this to people somehow makes me a snob because I don’t want to move to live away from the areas described above. I have nothing against the Dakotas or Montana but it is not how or where I want to live. Yet there seems to be a “How dare you?” attitude that is barely hidden when things like this come up even though it should be “cool” and that is it.

    • When you lose all your smart kids, for generations, to the cities, you start to get a bit jealous. When you know that the kids in the cities are earning more than you, for doing less work, you get a bit jealous.

      The highest paying career in the States is physicist. Outearns doctors and lawyers, on average.

      • Define less work.

        I am going to hit back here. The work done by white-collar professionals like doctors, surgeons, lawyers, engineers, research scientists, graphic designers, bankers, etc might not be back breaking physical labor but it is still hard and often long hours as well. Writing a well-argued brief at 11 PM is not easy. Performing even the most routine of surgeries can be fraught with danger.

      • When you lose all your smart kids, for generations, to the cities, you start to get a bit jealous.

        Seriously, why? Once the free land was all gone, and farm mechanization arrived, it was clear that rural areas wouldn’t be able to generate enough jobs to keep very many of their children employed, smart or not.

        • The lack of jobs is a part of the soreness. Plus, the kids aren’t going from Soda Springs to Pocatello where you can visit, but from Soda Springs to Seattle, where you sort of get cut off. Though I suppose that is mitigated by the growth of places like Boise.

          • yup. and when the kids don’t want to come home to visit (or help out when it’s harvest time…)

          • What I don’t understand (from my rural Kansas in-laws either) is what was the alternative that they expected to happen? Was it at all realistic? What policies did they want pursued that might have led to such an outcome? And perhaps more important, the last time rural America faced an existential crisis, one political party worked hard to save the rural areas, and one fought tooth-and-nail against those programs — but today rural America votes overwhelmingly against the party that saved them.

    • New Dealer,

      I’ll admit that when I read your point no. 2 (and part of point no. 1), the chip on my shoulder wobbled a bit, but fortunately didn’t fall off because sometime I succeed at being a better person than my inclinations lead me to.

      I won’t go into too much detail about this “chip,” but you’re right: the chip has something to do with culture. I also suggest that it has something, indirectly, to do with class. The people who move in to whatever new type of job is being offered in those cities are probably the people who can most afford to move and who have the type of skills in demand enough to make the companies want to locate somewhere to attract workers. (There is, I imagine, a collateral movement of people who are the service workers who are there to serve these better paid people with more formally acquired skills).

      I suspect that there’s a tendency for people who are not so fortunately positioned to feel a bit insecure and looked down upon. I’m not calling the new urban professionals snobs, but I do insist that all ( or at least most) of us are or can be snobs concerning certain things and that and an urban professional, if he or she did some introspection, might admit to him- or herself that sometimes, he or she looks down on the urban dweller or the lesser skilled service worker or the person who for whatever reason chose not to go to college.

      Of course, there’s a sort of reverse snobbery, called carrying a chip on one’s shoulder. that in my opinion is probably as justified as the snobbery of the urban professional (i.e., not very justified) and is probably just as universal (or not) and dependent on the time or the person or the place or the manner in which such things are discussed.

      You’re right, of course, companies that need to attract a work force and don’t have any other particular reason to be someplace will choose the places that are popular. I do think that if a state or locality wishes to change that state of affairs, they can probably do so with enough tax subsidies and infrastructural improvements. This can be a mixed bag and cause resentment by old timers who, even though they benefit, pay the most visible price (increase in taxes, for example). I’ll note, as an example that Denver made your list. I doubt that it would have made your list in 1990, and almost certainly not in 1980. Even better established cities, like Chicago, have had to go through a certain “renewal” stage with the ugly (and also beneficent) connotations that word can have.

      • One or two weeks ago, the Atlantic featured an article on how OKCupid was destroying monogamy. The article was so stupid that the Atlantic’s own bloggers attacked it. One of their bloggers said that the real threat to monogamy was not OKCupid but the disparity between college-educated men and women. Specifically, there are more women with college educations than men. Most of these women want to date men with comparable educations. Hence men with college educations are more likely to sleep around because they have a premium that makes them rare.

        My issue is that there is not an End to Men but an End to (some) Men but the copy on the latter does not sound as sexy. American society is very good at getting women to be the first in their families to attend college but not men. Men like me who came from backgrounds where one or both parents went to college are going to be fine (largely). It was the norm in my background and hometown to go to college and grad school, so I did. I simply absorbed a norm.

        This is the issue it seems. How do we create a new norm for men who normally would have gone into unskilled labor?

        • That’s actually on this week’s Linky Friday docket. Or maybe it was on last week’s. Actually, I think the OKCupid one was last weeks but the educational disparity is this week’s. Anyway…

          The extent to which we need more college graduates, or that we need more male college graduates, is a matter of dispute. I’m not even sure where I stand on the issue. When I moved out west, I started meeting a lot of people that were really college material but never went. I also knew a number of people in college who didn’t belong there, and the company I worked for hired some college grads who apparently gained absolutely nothing from college.

          I don’t know which group outnumbers which. I do find the notion that if they go to college like we went to college that they will end up with job prospects that people who absorbed our norms did. It’s the age-old question as to the value that college actually confers versus the degree to which the credential opens doors precisely because of its relative scarcity.

          • I do want to add to that comment that while I am unsure about the extent to which we need to make college a more universal ideal, the antipathy some have towards higher education is downright destructive.

          • Obviously these are a lot of the tricks.

            However there is a societal impact. I can see why women with college educations would not want to date men with college educations.* This might sound bad but I can’t see myself marrying a woman without a college education or even finding a woman without a college education who would have a lot of my viewpoints and cultural tendencies, likes, dislikes, and lifestyle choices.

            There are also practical reasons for wanting to date someone from a similar educational background. I know another professional is going to have similar working hours and when we can expect to see each other. This is not true for someone who might need to work on the night shift or weekends.

            Is the solution to make people care about such things less?

          • (To get this out of the way: For the record, I don’t think there is anything snooty about the mating criteria you lay out.)

            How much of that, do you think, they got from college compared to how much of that they have because they are college material?

            My best friend in Deseret was somebody who never went to college. The thing is, though, is that he was very much college material. He was bright, intellectually curious, and so on. He was just the fifth kid born to a family of modest means and college wasn’t in the cards and wasn’t something he was going to go into debt over. I had multiple friends for whom this was the case.

            Flash forward to the Pacific Northwest and I had a fair number of coworkers who didn’t go to college, and they ran the gamut (a lot of people who work in computer labs skip college because there were entry-jobs available that didn’t require them). Before all of this, back in Colosse, there were almost zero people I was close to for whom this was the case.

            The main difference being what the cultural expectations were. In a place where the cultural expectation is college, then that’s going to be a pretty solid identifier for the sorts of characteristics you, or I, would generally look for in a mate. But in an environment where fewer go to college, those that forgo it, I don’t think the connections we otherwise have would go away unless we make that decision at the outset. I don’t think my wife wouldn’t have married me if I hadn’t gone to college, or vice-versa, even though a lot of the things we like about one another correlate with having gone to college.

            To put it another way, fewer Germans go to college than Americans, but I don’t think this results in them being less of the things you mention than we are. I think it’s more that the expectations mean that there are different correlations.

            Now, to remove it from you or even my own self, I don’t know the extent to which the women outnumbering the men in terms of college degrees is specifically about the degrees. In some communities, the men aren’t attending college because they are accumulating a criminal record. In other communities, it’s a general problem that there aren’t more male-oriented jobs available. We can push them to go into less male-oriented jobs, of course, and that might help achieve more parity and that might help the dating marketplace, though I’m not sure how much that advances us otherwise. Ultimately, though, I think that the degree disparity is as likely as not to be a result of problems that are also causing problems in the romantic marketplace as they are to be causes of problems in the romantic marketplace.

            Those are my thoughts, anyway.

          • Will,

            “How much of that, do you think, they got from college compared to how much of that they have because they are college material?”

            I suppose this is a chicken or egg problem or a bit of both. I did not attend a large state university or a large private one. I went to a small, liberal arts college that was filled with people who really wanted to be there and felt like they were largely among peers for the first time instead of being the odd-duck out in high school. We were not the jocks, we were largely the arty or science minded kids. Vassar is not the type of school that people choose to attend because they want to just get that degree that gives them access to the white-collar world. I tend to be attracted to women who had similar feelings about education.

            I see what you are saying but there are very specific things I like to do culturally for better or for worse. Also for better or for worse, it is important for me to find a mater with similar interests or a lot of overlap and this tends to involve finding someone who is more Smith College than Union-Smith High School.

            “To put it another way, fewer Germans go to college than Americans, but I don’t think this results in them being less of the things you mention than we are. I think it’s more that the expectations mean that there are different correlations.”

            Germany also has a radically different education system and radically different economic policy.

            “Flash forward to the Pacific Northwest and I had a fair number of coworkers who didn’t go to college, and they ran the gamut (a lot of people who work in computer labs skip college because there were entry-jobs available that didn’t require them).”

            I think a lot of these jobs no longer exist. At least not in the Bay Area or NYC. Keep in mind that I also never really hung out with a computer minded crowd. I’m not much of a tech geek/fan. My relationship to computers is utilitarian. I have some friends who did computer science as undergrads but most of my friends were in the arts and humanities. Some of my friends were pure science majors like chemistry and physics. I think in this way we come from radically different worlds. The Silicon Valley people I know are on the business and legal end, not the tech end.

            “In other communities, it’s a general problem that there aren’t more male-oriented jobs available.”

            I am not sure I buy this male-oriented manly man thing but I was always rather bookish and never felt unmasculine because of it. There are lots of supposedly “manly” things that I cannot do or have no desire to do like tinker with cars, electronics, home appliances, or extreme physical labor. I don’t feel insufficient as man because I can’t tinker around a 1965 Chevy or build cabinets. It is hard for me to wrap my head around the psychology of someone who does feel less masculine for doing office work or intellectual work instead of physical labor.

          • ND,

            We were not the jocks, we were largely the arty or science minded kids. Vassar is not the type of school that people choose to attend because they want to just get that degree that gives them access to the white-collar world. I tend to be attracted to women who had similar feelings about education.

            With that in mind, it seems to me that what you want is, if nothing else, someone that wants to have gone to college and all that, rather than someone who actually went to college due to, say, a societal expectation. Or because going to college is the only way to get ahead.

            Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to desire. I continue to see it more as college vs no college, though. And I understand that it’s easier to find what you want among college graduates – just like it’s easier for me to find friends in that sense and historically very few of the people I dated didn’t go to college despite that never being a criteria on my part. But I see college as more of a signifier than a criterion, generally speaking.

            Lower down the social status food chain, though, I am not sure either party – even the party that went to college – is thinking with the same hat you are thinking with (or that I think with, to a lesser extent).

            Germany also has a radically different education system and radically different economic policy.

            Exactly. So the context matters. You might filter people out based on college (as a signifier), but it’s context-dependent insofar as in the US, going to college is what people you tend to want to associate with do. Now, even if we dramatically reduced the number of people who went to college (more on this later), this may still be true for you. But it would be less likely to be true for someone a bit further down like me, and not very true for someone a little further down the social hierarchy.

            I think in this way we come from radically different worlds. The Silicon Valley people I know are on the business and legal end, not the tech end.

            I think that’s true, though I also think that one of the main reasons that jobs for people without college degrees are often so scarce is because the good jobs go to people with college degrees because there are enough people with college degrees to use that as an effective filter.

            I am not sure I buy this male-oriented manly man thing but I was always rather bookish and never felt unmasculine because of it.

            Oh, I wouldn’t frame it that way. I think that there are job cultures that tend to attract one gender or another for reasons ranging from sound (police work attracting men) to circumstantial (teaching attracting women) to culturally coded. Regardless of the source for the disparities, they are disparities that exist and are self-perpetuating (until they’re not, like medicine and law).

            I was told today on another blog that the world would be a better place if it had fewer “men” like me (the kind willing to change diapers, sacrifice his career for his wife’s, be a stay-at-home dad, etc.). N0w, I can let this glide right off me. But it’s a function of relative privilege that I can do this. In other cases, it’s going to have an impact. Which can be very counterproductive, but it is what it is.

          • Actually, here’s a related thing:

            When Clancy and I discover a potential job for her somewhere, one of the first things I do is look up the education level of the place. What percentage of its inhabitants are college graduates. Now, I don’t think that having gone to college is the end-all-be-all, as I’ve said. But it is, at least in the aggregate, indicative of something I’m looking for.

            The city I substitute taught (“Redstone”) at has a low college graduation rate (20% or so) and… it shows. It shows in the culture. It shows insofar as the best and brightest leave. It gives me the immediate sense that it’s not going to be a place that I am going to comfortably be able to call home.

            But that is all relative and education level is mostly a proxy for the things that matter more to me. My ability to find and make friends. Entertainment options that will appeal to me. That’s sort of what I mean by college education as something we often look at because of what it represents, rather than necessarily what it is.

    • ND, sorry about the delayed response. Loooong day with the baby today and this is the first time I’ve been able to be at a computer since your comment.

      0. Yeah. There was a Popeye’s in Wyoming that out-and-out closed because they were unable to find employees willing to work for $15/hr. There have also been some interesting experiences in outsources (make your order to someone in India, who then relays it to an American standing by the grill).

      1. That is definitely true, as far as it goes. If any of my children turn out ambitious, and have the grades to get into a top-tier Ivy League school (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia…), I would be inclined to encourage them to go if we can afford it. I bring up South Dakota Mines as an indicator that there is often good super middle class money in areas of industry with which we do not associate it.

      2. Outside of certain industries that require very specific talent, I am one of those baffled by the continued dominance in California in that arena. Though I wouldn’t suggest Fargo as an alternative, but rather a large city with lots of college graduates and preferably a university or two (Austin, Oklahoma City, etc.). Sometimes I think it’s a matter of being able to recruit the right personnel. Sometimes it’s a matter of where the executives want to live. I do recognize that as a matter of personal priorities, though.

      2b. I believe you when you say that you don’t harbor anything negative towards Montana/Dakota. A lot of people might be projecting the views of those who do have really quite snide opinions onto you unfairly. I can tell you, though, how many people give me a look that can only be described as pitying when I tell them where I live. It’s enough to ask myself “Was I like that when I lived in Colosse*?”… the answer is, unfortunately, yes.

      2c. This is, of course, bidirectional. And, to be fair, I think the people out here do spend more time sneering at the coasts than vice-versa. But… that’s in good part because the coasts are far more culturally influential in the lives of people out here. As Kim mentions, their sons and daughters leave for the big city. The big cities are home to the echelons of power in media, corporations, and entertainment. So… when people from big cities complain that they are sneered at, too, to me it comes across as Mormons in Deseret talking about how the (local) gentiles don’t like them either. The cultural dynamics are extremely asymmetrical and so I have more sympathy for the people out here, even though I come from a place that is in objectively more like where you live than where I presently do. Along those lines…

      Real cities with cultural options, museums, symphonies, decent to good public transportation, density, good local restaurants, hip stores, etc.

      Other than the public transportation and density, you’d be surprised what you can find in Birmingham. Which is not to say that you’d be happy there! And you should definitely live in some place that makes you happy. In addition to your checklist, I am sure that there are some intangibles as well that would drive you to Seattle and away from Tampa. Though… it does grate a bit when people talk about your city lacking things that it has. Now, in your case, I think you’re talking about the likes of Bozeman and Rapid City (or smaller…) and not Houston and Tampa… but I have seen Colosse (which has a symphony, museums, and a historically gay district) as culturally third-world**, and that does produce a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

      * – For the uninitiated, Colosse is the pseudonym of the southern city where I was raised.

      ** – Not specifically in the political sense. One guy described the city as having “flat buildings and even flatter food.” Which seriously lead some of us to wonder if he actually visited the city or was pulling a Jayson Blair.

      • 2. Outside of certain industries that require very specific talent, I am one of those baffled by the continued dominance in California in that arena. Though I wouldn’t suggest Fargo as an alternative, but rather a large city with lots of college graduates and preferably a university or two (Austin, Oklahoma City, etc.). Sometimes I think it’s a matter of being able to recruit the right personnel. Sometimes it’s a matter of where the executives want to live. I do recognize that as a matter of personal priorities, though.

        Remarks based on having spent a bunch of years in tech fields (although I worked for the big company side, in a field where we would be approached by start-ups)…

        Talent. When you start up a new tech business, you often don’t know exactly what talent and/or knowledge you’re going to need. If you get to a point where you have to hire an expert in database design, or to develop a piece of math-heavy real-time software, it’s easier to find someone to take the gig if you’re in one of the established start-up areas than if you’re in North Dakota.

        Infrastructure. At some point, you need one of (to pick examples off the top of my head): explosive forming of a sheet of an odd metal alloy; custom powder coat finish on a prototype; 3D printing service in titanium; a run of 1,000 injection molded plastic widgets this week. In the start-up areas, you can make some phone calls this afternoon and line up all of those, look over the shoulders of the people doing the work, etc. Synergy is important — start-ups need access to service firms that can do one-offs; a service firm that does one-offs needs enough start-ups around to keep them busy.

        Money. VC companies like to spend money close to home. And the bulk of the VC money is in California.

        Serial entrepreneurs. A surprising number of start-ups are done by people who’ve done one before. If they did the last one in Colorado, they are very likely to do the next one in Colorado also.

        • And this is why Pittsburgh is a good place for a start-up to move to, and Bozeman Montana is not.

          • Bozeman itself may not be so bad, actually, because of Montana State University. A good institution with a lot of vocational and technology tracks. Replace Bozeman with Great Falls and I think that’s about right.

            Anyhow, my main thing isn’t so much that it should be Bozeman, GF, or Fargo, but more in Austin, OKC, and inexpensive Pittsburgh rather than u be expensive Silicon Valley. Though even there I do sorta understand. I’d just expand operations elsewhere once I no longer need the VC.

          • It’s a lot harder to get stuff over to montana than up the ohio, I’m thinking.
            (or it would be if there wasn’t a major drought starving the mississippi).

    • “In my very casual and unscientific observations, STEM jobs lead to decent salaries but they top out very quickly. I hear about a lot of engineers making 80,000-90,000 pretty quickly but that seems to be the ceiling”

      In my own casual and unscientific observations I agree. (unless they deliberately switch over to a management track and/or get the MBA on top of that).

      But, my other casual and unscientific observations is that these same folks aren’t nearly in as much debt in their 20’s (if at all), and so are able to start building a nest egg (and buying real estate) a lot earlier. Compound interest and longer time horizons then do their thing, and this also aids in reducing their leverage and risk when they hit their mid-career point.

      • Or they get JDs and become patent lawyers! Patent lawyers make serious money especially if they get a percentage of the profits from patent ownership.

        Fair enough on your observations but I imagine most people who major in English and History might not make it through an engineering course. This does not mean they are dumb or don’t deserve college educations but merely think differently than engineers and scientists.

        • … and people wonder why I’m skeptical of historians’ research!
          If you can’t make it through a generic stat methods course, I am probably going to deeply discount your research.
          (cue people saying — oh, we just meant calculus…)

  2. This is another example of the trend I noticed:

    Unlike, the author of this article I do drink. However, I drink for taste and would rather have one or two pints of a really good beer or one or two glasses of good wine instead of a lot of piss poor stuff to get drunk.

    Yet when I used to go to bar nights in school, people would always make comments when I was between drinks along the lines of “Where is your drink?” This would drive me crazy. I would always think but never say “Why do I need a drink in my hand all the time? What is wrong with being moderate?” Yet it seems like non-drinkers or moderate drinkers always are making judgment calls against every drinker by abstaining.

    • My wife doesn’t drink at all and I have all but stopped drinking in recent years. As I’ve gotten older I have seen less of this, though when I am with the inlaws I do sometimes stick a beer in my hand so that people will lay off. I did that early on. Now that I am more an accepted member of the extended clan, less so.

  3. This is sort of a one-off comment, but..

    I’m pretty sure that most (in the 51% sense, not 90% sense) people would benefit from a college education. Of the not members of the most, many of those would benefit from education, just not of the type typically offered in a four-year institution.

    I’m also pretty sure that most of those most people would not benefit from a college education during its traditional window of between the ages of 18 and 22.

    I’m pretty sure the population of kids between the ages of 18 and 22 going to a four year institution could drop by well over 40% over the next decade and we would get better outcomes in the long run. Particularly if we wound up with the same general population size in school.

    • For those that I would not consider college material, I do think that post-secondary education of some sort will very often be a benefit. I suspect the number of people for whom the benefits of college outweigh the opportunity costs to be somewhere south of 50%. I don’t know where, though, or if it is more or less than are currently attend or graduate (probably more than the latter, less than the former?).

      I agree about 18-22. I think I would get more now, even with my degree of aging brain depletion, than I did at the time. My college (as in academic college, within the university) had a lot of non-traditional students. It made for a less than stellar experience for me (thank heavens I had the Honors College to satisfy the college experience!) but I think there was real value there for a lot of them.

    • Most people go to college/university now because it is still the surest bet to a good paying job. Most employers require an undergraduate degree and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. For better or for worse, employers like to use a university degree as shorthand for basic competence and being able to stick to goals.

      Tech companies used to just take on kids that were very good at programming but I don’t think this is true anymore. Now you need to a degree from the best schools. Paralegals, Case Clerks, and Legal Secretaries at law firms used to be people who graduated from vocational programs. Now they are college-graduates, most of whom want legal experience before going to law school. Some just want day jobs. Most lawyers I know say that they prefer the college grads to people with just vocational degrees.

      In short, there are a lot of jobs that used to be done by people without college educations but now require college educations. You can see the difference by the age of the employee usually.

      Besides the jobs mentioned above, what other jobs are going to provide a decent income for people without college educations? How are we going to get employers to stop demanding a BA or higher?

      Also what percentage of Americans attends university after high school? IIRC only about 1/3 of Americans have undergrad degrees. Even fewer have advanced degrees.

      • Employers demand a BA or higher because we send everybody to college.

        If we didn’t send everybody to college, employers could demand a BA or higher but then they wouldn’t have anybody to hire.

        This is one of those problems that we’ve created, ourselves. Everything in your comment is why we have terrible higher education: we don’t demand learning, we demand people graduate.

        “Did you successfully complete a four year course of training in something” does indeed tell an employer *something*, but what it tells them is really not all that much.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of continuing education; I’m in a PhD program now, at age 40+. But I see huge slogs of kids who are going to school at the wrong time, for all the wrong reasons, getting much less out of it than they should… all of which are bad enough, but not terrible, mind you… and they’re *also* putting a house payment on their back, with no house to show for it.

        It’s just not sustainable, for one thing. Tuition can’t keep going up at four times the rate of inflation.

        • “Employers demand a BA or higher because we send everybody to college.

          If we didn’t send everybody to college, employers could demand a BA or higher but then they wouldn’t have anybody to hire”

          I’m not sure I agree. When hiring young people, every white collar I’ve ever worked for has had college or some similar prerequisite for jobs with any kind of real responsibility. The HR argument isn’t where they land in the hierarchy of available hires – it’s that they want some sort of proof that the candidate has experience successfully being able to achieve goals, meet deadlines, and effectively communicate both verbally and in writing.

          There are some people that get by with non-college cred – the military is a good example, so is someone who opened up their own business at an early age. But most white collar employers look at, say, high school and hanging drywall for a few years as someone that’s a complete crapshoot and not worth the risk. (Unless, of course, they’re hiring for jobs like file clerk or mail room.)

        • I don’t necessarily think the current situation is healthy but I think it is a repeating cycle and we have no idea how to break it.

          I’m with Tod. I am not sure that kids not going to college will change what employers do. The truth is that there are 300 million plus people in the United States and possibly not enough jobs for working adults. This includes adults with advanced educations. Employers might still be able to demand an undergraduate BA even if most people stop attending university.

        • I think y’all are missing Pat’s point. It’s not that employers wouldn’t continue to prefer college graduates, it’s that they wouldn’t be able to use that as a filter because college graduates would be too expensive or too difficult to find. Right now college degrees are required in part because high school degrees don’t weed out enough candidates. Send more and more kids to college and you have the same problem (except everyone is tens of thousands of dollars poorer).

          • I get his point but I think that there are enough upper-middle class and above people who can send their children to college debt free or largely debt free for it not to matter. You would need to see a massive reduction in the number of people getting college degrees before it changes. According to wikipedia, 30 percent of Americans have a Bachelor’s Degree. This would need to get radically lower before it gets better.

            Interestingly only, 7.44 percent of Americans have a Master’s Degree and only 3 percent have a Doctorate or Professional degree. I am probably in a lower percentage for having both a Master’s and a Juris Doctoroate. Considering that everyone is still talking about the law school crisis, there are still maybe too many people getting law degrees even if with the number of applicants and enrollment dropping.

          • I think any adjustment is going to have an effect on the margins. People with college degrees will always be favored over those who don’t. The question is where and when the employers will be able to be so discriminating. The more people who get degrees, the more businesses can rely on it as a filter. This is true when jumping from 10% to 20%, 20% to 30% and so on.

            My views on higher education and what we should do with it are… complicated. I still owe Kolohe a post on the subject. But I think the notion of sending ever-more to college is flawed, generally speaking. They’re still going to be in line behind the people that they are in line behind now.

    • There are a lot of people going to college at age 18 that would instead benefit from 4 years in the military… and, perhaps, *THEN* go to college.

      • The military is not for everyone and I think most of the people who are referring to would like crash and burn from the military quickly.

        • A good majority of (the enlisted) people I’ve worked with in the military had some college before coming in, but some combo of the money running out and partying too hard caused them to depart.

          Most people take advantage of PACE courses to knock out early year core credit requirements, and just about everyone takes advantage of the post 9-11 GI bill. (it was a primary reason many joined)

          (but my field tended to require people with above average ASVAB scores to begin with)

        • The military also doesn’t WANT everybody.

          They’re not a school of hard knocks. They’re not like pre-college or post-HS “life lessons” school.

          Compulsory service is, I suppose, something that can be discussed but the military should be only an option — and given it’s current makeup, one that the bulk of 18 year olds wouldn’t qualify for anyways. (I realize standards slipped a LOT during Iraq II and Afghanistan, but I’ve been reliably informed those days are pretty much over and the military is trying very hard to claw it’s way back to it’s pre-2000 standards).

      • As someone who was a conscript for 2 1/2 years before going to college, the military is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I grew up. I was an immature twerp before the army. I was more emotionally mature and put together when I entered college. That said, the 2 1/2 years away from academia can really destroy the momentum that is helpful to doing well in school.

      • Some might benefit. Here’s the thing: “the military” is a bit of an over-generalisation. Often it comes down to personality. Case in point: the Air Force is now turning out more drone pilots than pilots who fly actual aircraft. Turns out you can’t take a qualified pilot and make a good drone pilot out of him: different mindsets entirely.

        Artillerymen, the difference between the gun bunnies out there loading shells and the guys in the fire direction control vehicle computing the firing solution are as different as night and day. A Ranger team is composed of very different personalities: some guys have soft skills, others don’t. The services have different missions and different mindsets to accomplish those missions.

        The biggest myth about the military is how it teaches people responsibility and makes grown-ups out of kids. It just doesn’t. The military can be a lazy man’s paradise: if you play your cards right and have the right MOS, you can sleepwalk through four years in the military and every last intelligent thought you’ll ever encounter will be spoon-fed to you.

        The military doesn’t teach civilian skill sets: if civilians could do this stuff, the military would be paying them to do it — and they do pay civilians — like me. The only valuable skill I can say I ever learned in the military was learn to take an order: to come to attention, be told to do something stupid by a complete effing O-grade idiot, repeat that order, render a nice snappy salute, do an about-face and go out to do it. Unless it was against the Geneva Convention, I did it first and questioned it later.

        • “Turns out you can’t take a qualified pilot and make a good drone pilot out of him: different mindsets entirely.”

          This is not at all accurate. In fact the opposite occured; after initial testing (where the things were flown by tech sergeants), as the things went from IOC to FOC, the pilot mafia made sure that only qualified pilots, having gone through the full comprehensive pipeline (including SERE training) would be the ones at the controls.

          This has actually led to manning shortfalls, and is possibly a contributing cause when stuff goes sideways.

          • It is true.

            Until recently, most drone operators were regular Air Force pilots. Now, the service is reaching out to people who’ve never even flown before. And that has caused friction within the Air Force as it tries to redefine what it means to be a pilot.

            “There’s a cultural divide,” says Kelly, a 46-year-old Air Force reservist from Texas who is now a student at Holloman. Kelly grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot, but his vision is not good enough for that job. But he can fly drones. And he says that irks fighter pilots who see themselves at the top of the Air Force pyramid.

            “Part of it is an ego … I hate to say an ego trip, but it is,” he says.

            The Air Force has been working to bridge the divide between these two groups of fliers. First off, drone operators are called pilots, and they wear the same green flight suits as fighter pilots, even though they never get in a plane. Their operating stations look like dashboards in a cockpit.

            But all of that has made tensions worse. Aaron is another Holloman student. He used to fix military communications equipment; now he’s training to operate drones.

            “There’s still a lot of animosity. You see people in a conventional aircrew that wonder why we get to wear the flight suits even though we don’t leave the ground, why do we need flight physicals, why do we get incentive pay — stuff like that,” he says.

            Distance Between Pilot And Plane

            Steve and Mike, the former fighter pilots turned drone instructors, say the Air Force is going through a cultural change. It all goes back to the distance drones create — between the pilot and his plane. It’s something Steve is still trying to make sense of for himself.

            “That distance and that separation is there that prevents you from feeling that piece of the airplane, or maybe being as one with the airplane. But what it also does is take the risk out of you flying the airplane, so you don’t have to worry about being shot down,” he says.

            And this:

            For more than half a century, pilots have been considered the essence of the Air Force. But in reality, they’re just a tiny slice of the service. They account for only 13,202 of the 324,191 active duty personnel wearing Air Force blues, and the service is now buying more unmanned than manned aircraft. It’s a trend that experts say will only accelerate. So this week the Air Force, acknowledging that it no longer makes sense to spend $1 million training a pilot to fly drones from a desk halfway around the world, declaring that future drone drivers will not have to be pilots able to fly manned aircraft. “This will certainly be a cultural change,” Brigadier General Lyn Sherlock, a top air warfare planner, said of the shift, which was announced during the annual convention of the Air Force Association, the service’s non-profit booster group.

        • Oh, certainly. Someone who would be *PERFECT* for the Army might find the Air Force to be a complete mismatch. Someone perfect for the Navy is likely to find the Marines to be an insane environment. (I understand that the test scores help recruiters direct people to their best fit.)

          That said, the kids I’ve seen and talked to (Jeez Louise, you wouldn’t believe how young the airmen are these days…) have all indicated something to the effect of “I didn’t know how much I needed this”.

          • Oh, that’s just so much cheap indoctrination. It wears off after about six months or so. See, Basic Training treats the recruit exactly like you’d train a dog: you take everything away from them, you work them hard, break them, train them to associate the treat with the clicker, then slowly give them back everything, one little bit at a time, with much praise, which serves as the clicker. You’ve taken them from Complete Civilian Fuggup through the mud, into some semblance of a unified structure, then when all’s said and done, you march them down the avenue, just like the little marching song says, and call them military.

            Of course they’re going to think they needed all this. They were sleep deprived for the first five days of Basic Training, they were told they were fuggups, they came to accept all that, they did what they were told because someone was screaming at them, they came to accept that, too. Now they wear a uniform and they think their old lives were all disorganized and crazy and they can’t imagine going back. They’re no better than they were before. They’ve just been trained.

            Well, Jaybird, eventually you do have to imagine coming back because unless they’re killed in action, they don’t get buried in their uniforms and they have to adapt to civilian life. And when they do come out, they’re lost souls. Ex military figure large in the homeless population, that trait sticks out in homeless statistics like a turd in a punchbowl. Look at the suicide rate in ex-military. I spent several troubled years learning to readapt to the civilian world.

            It’s all a big lie. Dulce et decorum est.

  4. Not sure the blogger to whom you link isn’t completely imputing the college point onto the Times where it wasn’t even intended. Surely the NYT is aware that there are kids for whom college is just not in their future. (The blogger even points out a Times story making just that point, suggesting, as if two stories shoeing different human sides of a question somehow shouldn’t be in the same newspaper in less than a month – and that even assumes the implication was that these kids shouldn’t be getting high-paying jab but rather going to postsecondary school of some kind, which again — ??.) The quoted passage from the Times suggests that the foreclosure of the future might have more to do with industry changes or impermanence of employment in these particular oil fields. To be sure, that seems also to me like a bit of looking for a problem where there isn’t a pressing one to be found. But you could argue that these extremely high starting wages are causing 17, 18-year-old kids (maybe even younger ones) to make quicker decisions about their immediate post-high-school plans than perhaps is for the absolute best, perhaps leaving a lot of inevitable questions, like, who am I and what do I like doing in life, to be answered at a later time, when maybe (maybe!) some opportunity has been lost. I’m not saying it makes a lot of sense to throw that line in there, but it’s not much more than a line. But the point is that this occasioned a re-upping of the coversation both for that blogger and here, of the somewhat sensitive topic of the place of college for kids entering the labor economy today, and I think always implicitly the cultural and and class implications of these decisions (“non-college whites” being a group that it has been asked that the elites pay due attention to in recent years). But college wasn’t mentioned in the quoted passage; I wonder if it’s more of a flashpoint for us than it really is for the Times in this particular piece.

    • Michael,

      I’d initially had the same thought that you did. The original draft of this post said as much. But then I saw the NYT article on Wyoming and North Dakota, and remembered previous NYT writing on North Dakota, and the overall theme became clear: the downsides, disruptions, and havoc of the mineral boom in the region. With that in mind, my next reading of the article was a little different.

      I do agree that the “inconsistency” angle is overstated.

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