Phi Beta Cons

Knowledge, Not Educational Credentials

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent letter in response to the piece published February 21 regarding the lawyers’ guild and the uselessness of most of law school. The writer points out that in his field — he’s an actuary — all that matters is the ability to pass the exam to become a fellow in the Society of Actuaries. Where or how one learned the knowledge is irrelevant:

Measure Knowledge, Not the Degrees

James L. Huffman begins “Perverse Incentives of the Lawyers Guild” (op-ed, Feb. 21) and seems to assume that no one should be admitted to the bar without a degree from a law school. He must know that this is a modern requirement. As late as a few years ago the state of California did not impose such a barrier to the bar. The bar exam required by each state should be the only requirement to practice law. If one can pass that exam, what difference does it make how he or she obtained the knowledge to do so?

For over 40 years, I practiced perhaps the only profession, as far as I know, that still follows such a rule. I became a fellow of the Society of Actuaries by passing a series of exams given by and for the society. In order to begin those exams, a student enrolled in a college for a bachelor’s degree had to obtain the signature of the head of the mathematics department. Everyone else had to get the signature of a present fellow. These requirements were meant to keep people who had not demonstrated a basic grasp of mathematics from wasting the time of those grading the exams. The “everyone else” included those who had dropped out of college without a degree and, for that matter, those who never attended college or even high school. Similar rules governed the medical profession in some states as late as 100 years ago.

Maybe it’s time to review the worship that too many people and organizations give to academia.

Richard S. Hester Sr., FSA

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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