Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Two Higher-Ed Fallacies (which are near to my heart)

Let me break down two fallacies I see in higher education: The MBA Recruiting Myth Here's how the story goes. One thing to know about MBAs is that we obsess over finding a job.

Right now, the cost of higher education - an MBA is not excluded from this - is appalling. I will have close to $150k in debt by the time I graduate from the Ross School of Business, for example. This creates intense pressure to find a job, because if you don't have a job you can't pay off your massive amount of debt. Moreover, this amount of debt makes it difficult for anyone that doesn't have at least some cash saved up (which normally is the case for people who already have high-paying jobs or have a well-to-do family) from taking the risk of applying to business school - which by the way is costly...over $200 per application plus the cost of interview travel and GMAT prep.

Even worse, because of all the debt, most people are pressured to take low-risk, high-paying corporate jobs. A lot of folks I know don't see themselves making a career where they get a job out of school, because they don't want to work for a corporation or have higher aspirations, etc. The debt, however, handcuffs your to work for a larger company with a lot of prestige for awhile unless you're extremely risk tolerant and can fend off the social proof of your classmates who opt to work for Fortune 500 companies or prestigious professional services firms.

The people who benefit from the high tuition rates are the business schools (who are now justified in raising prices higher) and large corporations (who now have a captive pool of talent to pluck from that has less freedom of choice because of their debt).

Here's the fallacy though. What business schools do is bolster efforts to help students find high-paying corporate jobs. What would be a more elegant solution (which is difficult, of course) is to lower the cost of attending business school. This would allow people more freedom and bring in a more diverse group of people into business school anyway.

The Cut-and-Run From Liberal Arts Myth This one is more simple.

Lots of liberal arts majors (apparently) are having trouble finding jobs. The logic goes, that liberal arts majors don't have the same skills as their peers coming out of professional backgrounds (like business and engineering). As a result, the pundits say, we should have less funding go toward liberal arts programs and should instead funnel students toward STEM educations.

Let me first counter the notion that liberal arts students are less skilled than their professionally-oriented peers. It's false.

In my own experience I consistently find that liberal arts majors are more imaginative and are better communicators. They think more critically and better understand ambiguity (and customer needs). It's not that liberal arts majors have less skills they have different skills which are less tailored to entry level jobs. The skills that liberal arts majors have serve them well when they are leading organizations, not starting out in them.

Here's the fallacy. If liberal arts majors have valuable skills, we should not push people away from the liberal arts. Rather, we should help them build the brick-and-mortar skills (MS Excel, basic business writing, meeting management etc.) that their business and engineering counterparts have. This could be done through classroom training, co-curricular activities, career-prep training, or internship support.

I'm proud to say that my alma mater, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan is following this path of helping liberal artists bolster their professional skills. The school realizes both that the liberal arts are valuable AND that liberal arts majors need to supplement their skillsets. The school is working to do so in a number of ways. The method I support regularly is the LSA Fund for Student Internships, check it out.

The Point Often, institutions solving problems make interesting choices when choosing solutions. In this case, I think conventional practices are rooted in counterintuitive conclusions. Instead of helping cash-strapped MBAs find corporate jobs easier and pushing liberal artists to other fields, why don't we lower the cost of getting an MBA and implement programs which help liberal arts majors develop the so-called "practical" skills they are missing.

Those seem like much more sensible solutions that have higher long-term payoffs.