Originally posted by Sam Tilley:
Out of interest mark (and i am only pulling your leg here) but what academic qualifications do you value? You don't like Java exams, or MBA's. What about MSc. I know experience is always going to be the top and please don't get offended, i was just wondering. All qualifications can't be bad, if they were there would be no need for school.
Good question. First we need to consider what value is. I want to define intrinsic and extrinsic value. Intrinsic value is the value to student, how much he or she would enjoy earning/haing the degree if there were no extrinsic benefit, i.e. how much do you enjoy learning the material. Extrinsic value is how much more money you can earn directly or indirectly (through faster career advancement) with the degree.
That said, I think a BS is a good value in both cases. Obviously I think well of engineering degrees--although as I often alude to degrees which focus on fundamentals, rather than a particular hot technology, is much more valuable.
In recent years I've become more appreciative of a liberal arts degree. But, like certifications and MBAs, it can be "abused." By this I mean the following. I think there is value to a broad education covering many disciplines. I think if you take a good student at a top school, he or she can benefit. This is undoubtedly why Wall St and major consulting firms hire candidates from top schools across all majors. On the other hand, some kid in the 20th percentile (of all high school students) who gets such broad exposure would not receive such a large benefit. I think for someone at that level, a more focused program would be better. I'm speaking in generalities, of course.
I also think vocational training, e.g. culinary schools, is terrific, and that society should promote more schools of that nature. This comes from the fact that I know too many liberal arts majors who end up being the assistant manager of a GAP, or wind up in a similar position.
PhDs I think have high intrinsic value, if only because those who seek them desire knowledge. In terms of extrinsic value, it is marginal. Engineering PhDs are extrinsically valuable--but only if you work in that particular field. I've known many PhDs who jump into the program only to get burned out and move to another field when they are done. Liberal arts PhDs tend to have little extrinsic value. In short, BS and masters degrees tend to have more value per unit
cost (money, time, effort) than a PhD. The exception to this rule is in finance and management, where an undergradate degree is of average value, but advanced degrees can have large extrinsic value.
With respect to certifications I have to evaluate them on a case by case basis. I don't think all certs are useless, but I do think the Java one's are. I gfive more extensive reasoning elsewhere, but to keep on topic, I see it much like other standardized tests. In my school, we hat to take a exam (I think the CAT exam) in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade which tested basic reading and math abilities. I don't remember the exam well to know if it covered a broad range, or if it was culturally biased, or any of that. I do know that no one studied for it. You just showed up and took it. Contrast that with the SATs and other ETS tests and realistically you can study and raise your score. Of course what you study is how the test works so it's no longer an assessment of your raw ability, but rather of your raw ability combined with smart test taking strategies. Likewise, you can study for certs to regurgitate the material. It's not about understanding so much as it is about memorization. It's not a perfect analogy, but I think you get the idea. (But I don't want to turn this thread into another cert discussion.)
I think most degrees are becoming "watered down" with time. Before WWII only a small number of people went to college, generally the smart kids (although sometimes the rich kids). After WWII there was acultural change and now a great majority of students go on tol college. Because the self-selection bias is gone, the average ability of someone in school has decreased.
The same thing is happening to a masters degree in engineering. It used to be that after you worked for a bit, you went back to get a masters degree which required advanced study in some particular discipline (or got it while working on a PhD). About 8 years ago, MIT proposed a 5 year engineering degree. I was on the committee which needed to approve the proposal. I opposed it. The idea was that the student would stay an extra year and get the masters degree--one year instead of the typical two. Any idea why they wanted to do this? The primary motivation was because the faculty was concerned about the level of education, "in my day the terms were twice as long and the classes were ten times more difficult, as we walked up hill in snow both ways." Faclty felt that shortened terms, reduced workloads and other trends greatly reduced the amount of knowledge engineering majors had ("in twenty years we'll start seeing buildings collapse from poor design"). Since they couldn't make terms longer, and it wasn't easy to add more classes, they came up with this approach: get the student to stay longer. Of course, students wouldn't do that just because the faculty thinks they should, so a carrot was needed, hence the 5-year masters. I know, MIT wasn't the first school to every offer such a program, but it was the start of the latest trend. Heck, MIT had a 5 year program involving summer internships and work projects, as did many other schools, for years. What made this program different is that there was a low barrier to entry, so that an expected 80% of the students would participate in the program. Many other engineering schools followed suit. The result is that again, the historical filter has been removed and the overall self-selecting quality reduced among the population. This also hurts the extrinsic value fo the degree, since now almost everyone will have one. I opposed it for just this reason. Nowadays in most fields you can't be an engineer without a BS degree. Tomorrow the cutoff will be at the masters level.
For the record, although I oppose the program, I was also quick to take advantage of it and got such a masters degree. While I think over time the benefits to the degree will drain away, those of us getting it early will ride the coat tails of the prior masters students before anyone realizes the difference. (While I didn't want this masters to be allowed, I'm going to maximize my capabilities under whatever rules of the game exists--whether I agree with them or not.)
I should also note that I'm taking the GMAT on Wed. :-p