Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cognitive decline of the university population

Razib at GNXP provides some nice figures relevant to my previous post Decline of the humanities.

The figures show the distribution of vocabulary scores (General Social Survey (GSS) WORDSUM) of college graduates and those without college degrees for the periods 1974-1984 and 1998-2008. It looks like the average score for college graduates has dropped by a significant fraction of a standard deviation over 25 years. This effect is entirely predictable given the larger percentage of Americans attending college in recent times.

It should not be surprising that a shrinking percentage of college students can write well or do basic mathematics, let alone appreciate Proust or quantum mechanics.

Additional years of education have not increased verbal abilities in the general population. This observation supports, at least in part, the signaling and sorting model of higher education (the primary value of credentials is that they reflect more or less invariant qualities such as IQ and Conscientiousness), as opposed to the model that higher education builds human capital.


Ian Smith said...

"the signaling and sorting model of higher education"

This is an imperfect model at best.
"Conscientious" is vague enough that it can explain anything.

Are engineering majors more "conscientious" than natural science majors? Are they smarter?

If the only reason to prefer a CalTech graduate to a CalPoly grad is his higher SAT scores wouldn't prospective employers simply ask "What were your SAT scores?"

Also "conscientiousness" is really the wrong word. A better description would actually be lack of conscientiouness, lack of independent thinking on matters of right and wrong, conformity, obedience, herd instinct, ideological purity (econ majors), etc.

Steve Hsu said...

I agree it's a bad (or at least very incomplete) model since certain majors actually teach important specialized knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I would have to say the observation that WORDSUM scores have fallen is mostly mental masturbation for the elite. Why do they care? Wow, dumber people are going to school and they are heavily in debt because they weren't smart enough to see through the bull.

Steve will keep gladly accepting their money, Razib will keep right on mentally masturbating, more dollars wasted.

Ian Smith said...

Has Steve ever posted ragarding the waste that is formal education?

For an engineering or natural science degree labs are required. For every other major there's absolutely no point in going to class. Lectures are a waste of time, money, and energy. Tell me what to read. Give me your lecture notes to read if they're so important.

How many colleges are there? And every professor at these colleges has his own curriculum and his own tests and his own homework. A set of nationally standardized tests and curricula like the Society of Actuaries would be a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient and a lot more objective.

Formal education past the age of 15 is disgusting, and the people who keep it alive (professors) are simply amoral.

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