I am someone who is coming to statistical literacy fairly late in life, or late in education, anyway. I was a humanities guy who is becoming a social science hybrid, and learning the last five years about research methodology, quantitative research, and similar topics has been a challenging and satisfying endeavor. But I’m still very green, so I’d like a little help from the BJ community on a statistical question.
This piece on angry unemployed and underemployed Millennials from the Atlantic drove me crazy, even though I’m predisposed to be sympathetic to their plight. One of the emailers writes, as part of an exhausting whinge,
Much of my rage is reserved for a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I’m angry that a “state” university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV’s Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don’t try. Lax entrance standards means that even in smaller classes, half of the students do as little as possible, have nothing to contribute, and see learning as a necessary evil, if even that. These “state” universities are more interested in funding nice football stadiums than maintaining up-to-date libraries or modern classrooms. They are more interested in your tuition than your education. And will continue to hound you for Alumni contributions long after graduation….
I pursued a “Liberal Arts Degree” in communications rather than a B.S. in engineering or computer science. I spent all four years at a state university rather than the first two at a community college. I worked in the summer instead of getting an internship. I worked harder at my classes than making contacts and networking with professionals. Not everyone is suffering in this economy, and if I were going to college for the first time this fall I’d know how to prepare. But I didn’t at the time and now I’m left to face the consequences. I want to blame the universities and “grown-ups” who I feel should have known better. They were the ones, after all, peddling the mantra of “go to college, study hard, get a job.”
Instead, egotistical like the rest of my me-first, entitlement ridden generation, I blame myself. (emphasis mine)
Aside from the sense of entitlement, the paranoid style that assumes forces are working against this relatively privileged person, the non sequitur about his hard partying peers, the reliance on the commonly assumed but unsupportable claim that liberal arts students are disadvantaged economically, the odd use of scare quotes around “state” (is the idea that, secretly, his college wasn’t a public university?), his assumption that he would have gotten that computer science or engineering degree had he tried (those are tough fields!), the lack of evidence that his particular school has high grade inflation, the mathematical evidence that even high grade inflation doesn’t prevent discrimination between similar students, and worst of all, the fact that he makes a show of blaming himself when his email makes clear that he most emphatically does not really blame himself….
Isn’t his claim about grade inflation and standard deviation exactly wrong? Wouldn’t grade inflation, as it is usually understood, compress the scores themselves but leave the distribution in standard deviations unaffected? I mean, as I understand it, that’s part of the point of using standard deviations to evaluate a distribution. I’m asking genuinely here, and I could easily be wrong, so pipe up in comments. I would love an explanation from someone who really knows their stuff.
If I’m wrong, I’ll buy this poor kid a steak.