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Why Isn’t Academia Preparing Our Children for Business And Life? Ringing (Out) the IQ Bell

Children want to be astronauts, firemen, policemen, and clowns. College students get degrees in philosophy, poetry, and various majors ending in “studies.”

For every Neil Armstrong there are a bunch of Lenny Armstrongs who drive a truck or who wait tables or hammer nails.

Why can’t Academia, from Kindergarten to doctoral programs, retool in the 21st century to educate all of us for whom we really are, and not try to mold our children into products of a diploma mill that leaves many at the end of their educational cycle without a number of skills that they will use in the real world?

I was told by students at Vanderbilt University, one of the elite schools in the United States, that there are a ton of their classmates enrolled in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Does this mean that there are a legion of college kids who attend one of the more costly private educational institutions who idealistically want to be the next generation of teachers and social scientists entering medium and low-paying careers?


Most of them angle towards the business world, but, apparently, it is one of the corners of that great university where, students say, there is tremendous grade inflation. Those who want to pull GPAs that give them an edge for grad school prefer Peabody.

This is not just laziness. It is form of student survivalism. Academia uses metrics like the SAT to push more and more people who are lower down on the IQ bell curve into higher education than probably have any business being there.

Half of the population have IQs of between 90 and 110, while 25% have higher IQs and 25% have lower IQs.

Audiblox shows the break-down of IQs as follows:

Descriptive Classifications of Intelligence Quotients
IQ Score Description % of Population
130+ Very superior 2.2%
120-129 Superior 6.7%
110-119 High average 16.1%
90-109 Average 50%
80-89 Low average 16.1%
70-79 Borderline 6.7%
Below 70 Extremely low 2.2%

Which is probably why kids who get into great schools still can struggle a lot once they are there. Charles Murray at CBS Moneywatch in 1997 observed:

Consider the population as divided into the five cognitive classes that Herrnstein and I defined in The Bell Curve. Our point of departure is the group in the middle, those with a measured IQ somewhere from 90 through 109, whom we labeled Normal. Fifty percent of the American population falls in this category. Their intelligence easily permits them to be competent in all the core roles of family and community life and to pursue any occupation not requiring a college education. Most of them have difficulty in completing a college education (historically, the mean IQ of college graduates has been about 115), but some do so.

To their immediate right on the bell curve come the Bright, with IQs from 110 through 124, representing the 75th through 94th percentiles of the IQ distribution. Anyone with an IQ this high has the intellectual ability to get through college, though not necessarily in every major. This IQ range includes many of the most successful Americans. The Very Bright have IQs of 125 and above. They represent the top 5 percent of the IQ distribution. Having an IQ this high is not necessary to become a physician, attorney, or business executive, but extra cognitive horsepower gives an edge in any occupation that draws heavily on the verbal and visuospatial skills measured by IQ tests.

The children of the children of the Baby Boom are causing a big, profitable wave which colleges seem to be capitalizing upon.

In the process, though, American colleges and universities are handing out degrees to less and less qualified masses of people, and educating people for jobs that do not exist.

Marty Nemko, an educational expert in an article appearing in The Chronicle said:

Increasing college-going rates may actually hurt our economy. We now send 70 percent of high-school graduates to college, up from 40 percent in 1970. At the same time, employers are accelerating their off-shoring, part-timing, and temping of as many white-collar jobs as possible. That results in ever more unemployed and underemployed B.A.’s. Meanwhile, there’s a shortage of tradespeople to take the Obama infrastructure-rebuilding jobs. And you and I have a hard time getting a reliable plumber even if we’re willing to pay $80 an hour–more than many professors make.

Many larger colleges, in their diploma-sausage-making, have dispensed with the written word in favor of the Scantron-style multiple choice test which is more convenient for grant-seeking professors working on their own projects, and deals with the realities of too many students in college lecture halls, but which dumbs down learning.

Education is not the point of education, though. Labeling is what it is all about. Educational degrees are labels of power and money.

People with professional degrees like lawyers and doctors make almost five times what those at the bottom do:

Educational Level Avg. Income – Male Avg. Income -Female
9th Grade or less $20,789 $15,978
High School (No diploma) $25,095 $17,919
High School or GED $34,303 $24,970
Some Collge $40,337 $28,697
Associate’s Degree (2-year) $41,952 $31,071
Bachelor’s Degree $56,334 $40,415
Master’s Degree $68,322 $50,139
Professional Degree $99,411 $58,957
Doctoral Degree $80,250 $57,081
Source: 2000 records from the National Center for Education Statistics, Outcomes of Education Report

Young people in school with some level of ambition usually want to be on the higher end of the scale.

So we are cramming 3,000+ colleges and a host of diploma mills on-line with students who, based on what we know about native intelligence in the population, may not even have the real ability to excel in an academic university setting.

Educating everyone well is a laudable goal, but it requires being more realistic about who we are, how we learn, and what is our maximum capacity to learn something.

In the United States, we have had an explosion of community colleges, which cater to students who are either returning to education or who typically struggled through high school academically.

Why, though, do we not have more polytechnic colleges, which teach applied learning and qualify millions of people for the kinds of corporate jobs that most people fill? Most “Poly”-labeled schools today are more esoteric and academic because “trade schools” are seen as stigmatizing. Young people don’t want to apply for schools with the notion that an “average” job lies on the other end. Parents also feel that lobbing their children into the school with the best name-plate on the front door that they can afford equates to success.

The large applicant pools out there now allow colleges to grab the best and brightest, the cream of our high school academic institutions.

In college, though, they become as stratified on the grade curve as the grade curve in high school. People who were straight A students may be in the middle or bottom of the curve when they get to college. Why?

IQ, socioeconomics, and personal individuation all come into play. We become the product of not just our learning, but how where we come from affects our perceptions of ourselves, and who we want to be.

In the academic bubble, we can still be journalists and dancers and college radio DJs without as much of the reality of more mundane career choices that are frankly harder for colleges to “sell” to colleges students hooked on the heroin of academic possibility. I can be “anything,” is what we are sold.

Academics, many of whom are refugees from the real world, will fill our heads with the classics of literature and the fundamentals of astronomy, which we enjoy, but of which little often finds its way back into our jobs in human resources, or delivering the mail.

Schools like Emory in Georgia rush to put sexy and trendy courses on their catalog like “Green” business degrees which are timely.

We still do not, though, have a sleek major for meat-and-potatoes kind of business sectors like Real Estate, retail-level banking and mortgages, or how to manage a meat-packing plant well. Those require either “outside” or “on-the-job” training, denying many of the benefit that the academic review of careers and work processes can bring.


    • There are painfully few small business MBA programs nationally geared towards people running a mom-and-pop shop, rather than entrepreneurial franchising. M&Ps are some of our biggest economic growth and jobs engines, though.

    • There are a few schools which teach entrepreneurial skills in franchising, but who teaches a course in transportation logistics that might lead to huge improvements in the ways that a middle-level manager of a department store chain might help move goods?

    • People run multi-million dollar restaurants in major cities, yet how many universities have a culinary school on campus and allow for a dual major in cooking and small business?

    • We have music schools at colleges and music conservatories, but how many of these students learn the business of their art in a campus setting rather than through the school of hard knocks?

  • Colleges now push multi-disciplinary majors or hybrid majors or dual, triple, or quadruple majors, recognizing that a “build-your-own” creates people better trained for the real world, but more often than not you don’t see either the cooperation between departments or the breadth of courses that integrate the real world into academia.

Liberals love to decry the outrages of Fox News and cannot understand how anyone could be so gullible as to sit through six words of what Michelle Bachmann has to say, yet the GOP and their minions are appealing to core demographics with its roots in the other side of the IQ bell curve.

Murray says:

As for the left-hand side of the bell curve, those adjoining the Normals are persons with IQs from 75 through 89, whom we labeled Dull (there is no such thing as a neutral label). If the IQ score is accurate, someone in this range is unlikely to get through four years of college without special dispensations. Ordinarily, the Dulls work at anything from low-skill jobs through lower-level white-collar or technical jobs.

At the far left-hand side of the distribution are the bottom 5 percent of the IQ distribution, the Very Dull, with IQs under 75. These include the retarded, but many people with IQs in this range are neither retarded nor incapacitated. They find it difficult to cope with school but can still be productive employees at menial and semi-skilled jobs, and sometimes at skilled jobs as well if their shortfall in intellectual capacity is counterbalanced by other abilities.

IQ, earning power, and politics are largely consistent.

So a lot of the people who become the political footballs for both the Dems and the Republicans over the ages typically are the folks who can be easily lead, mislead and stampeded.

A number of these citizens not only make less, they were educated less, and the system which teaches Faulkner and Calculus AB could not teach them how to reach better skill sets within their abilities, or how to save money, or invest.

They even pay for the people who discriminate against them to get that higher degree. Many state educational systems fund higher education for the few on the backs of the many who throw billions of dollars out of the window into State lottery systems on the hope that they will beat the odds and their circumstances and get rich, quick and for life.

The real world already sifts people based on IQ and education along with economic circumstance.

We need to rebuild our educational system so that it assesses people better, and does a far better job of educating them to their maximum potential with information that fits their needs, abilities, and passions, and does not try to cram them into an educational system whose dogma and hide-bound practices still date back to the end of Medieval times for colleges and the Industrial Revolution for elementary and secondary school.

We can keep fooling folks with the notion that somehow with the right amount of pluck and bootstrap pulling, everyone will someday become Albert Einstein, a fairy princess, or J.P. Morgan.

A few do, but the rest of us all keep scratching on those NASA and Cinderella Life Lotto cards rather than find ways to be great local businesspeople, make our restaurant more productive, or learn how to manage our money so that we can afford to work in more idealistic jobs like teaching, fire fighting, police or serving our country.

Academia should improve everyone’s life, and work for everyone on the IQ bell curve, not just the upper 5%.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

2 comments on “Why Isn’t Academia Preparing Our Children for Business And Life? Ringing (Out) the IQ Bell

    May 1, 2011

    Are you the individual that asked me a question on the OWN website? I posted a comment suggesting an OWN show that pertained to communication and mediation. The response from Truth2power was as follows:

    Are you available as an union arbitrator / mediator? I Like Your Honest Communication Style.

    • Brian Ross
      May 1, 2011

      Have to say I don’t prowl Oprah’s websites. Truth-2-Power (with the dashes) is how we’re featured here, and on other sites you would see me as Brian Ross or theclevertwit (Twitter). Sorry, but good luck with the mediation gig!

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