02 July 2009

Is A College Degree Worthless?

"I'm not arguing against higher learning but for it -- and against the degree system that stands in its way." ~ From SmartMoney

See full article here.

16 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

The problem with this article is that it is a purely economic exercise---it ignores the issue of what someone wants to do with their life. If you want to be a doctor, you *have* to get a college degree. I wanted to work in the space program as some kind of scientist/engineer; I never made it to NASA, but I had to get a college degree, given that goal of mine. Now, do lots of kids go to college who shouldn't? Hell, yes; in my 20 years as a math prof in the South I saw boatloads of such people.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I agree to a point James, but the "average" person goes to college assuming there are economic benefits, i.e. a higher salary, etc.

Certainly, however, there is much more to a college degree than the economic benefits.

James F. Epperson said...

"the "average" person goes to college assuming there are economic benefits, i.e. a higher salary, etc." --- Those benefits exist for the top tier of graduates. I've done OK, just to take a single example. Now, when there is an economic downturn, as we are having now, it gets rough. Folks who graduated this year are probably having trouble finding jobs. Their mistake wasn't in going to college, it was in graduating in a bad recession :-(

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

But that's exactly the point of the article - he makes a good argument that a bachelor's degree no longer makes sense for a lot of folks because the income/debt ratio makes it much less attractive.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the earnings power of high school graduates is falling, while that of the college educated are keeping pace with or exceeding the costs of living. The problem is that not everyone has the skills to complete college, yet many are incented from misguided government policies like Clinton's HOPE or Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit to forego earnings now in exchange for student debt without finishing college and therefore, unable to reap the expected gains.

Also, our society needs to focus as much on trade skills as we do on college. Many would do better as plumbers, builders, electricians, etc. than as college students.

While measures of satisfaction show college educated people are "happier" with their lives than non-college educated people, it would be naive in the greatest sense to believe that the motivation for attending is not earnings power for over 90% of students. It's also worth considering the liberal bias that most universities impart on their students that detracts from their educational worth, but that's another discussion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon:

All very good points. My own son, who originally planned on going to VMI until they were forced to go co-ed, opted to go into business for himself. He did so and attended a horseshoeing school in Oklahoma and makes more money than most college graduates.

I like Booker T. Washington's model. Washington’s approach to higher education was somewhat unique and is another reason his philosophy is relevant for us to study today. He not only offered and emphasized the traditional academic courses, but industry and trade skills were also required. Students learned bricklaying, forestry, and timber skills, sewing, cooking, and practical agriculture, and every student was obligated to master at least two trades so he or she would always be able to contribute to the industry and betterment of society and be self-supporting after graduation.

Washington would eventually make Tuskegee Institute in Alabama one of the most successful schools in the South (in 1905, Tuskegee turned out more self-made millionaires than Yale, Harvard, and Princeton universities combined).

Washington also wrote:

“If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christ-like work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.”

Anonymous said...

"attended a horseshoeing school in Oklahoma and makes more money than most college graduates"

Fascinating. One may never know which path he will travel in life.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I tried to get him to go to blacksmithing/farrier school right out of high school, but he didn't. Of course, Dad is always eventually proven right.

;o)

Brboyd said...

I an many of my fellow veterans have what we have because we served our country, recieved a security clearance and moved on to the business field. I didnt finish my degree until I was 40. And I was able to make more than the average college grad before I did that.

A degree is a foundation. There is no guarantee that everything built above that will stand. I honestly believe Ive learned more by my own reading than through college.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

Thank you for your service to our country. Personally, being largely self-educated (except for tons of technical training in law and finance), has its advantages. For one thing, its a lot less expensive, though at the rate I buy books, I'm beginning to wonder!

Also, I get to pursue only that which interests me - no requirement to write term papers about the Hittites.

;o)

Brboyd said...

Yes, my book collection has caused me quite a bit of pain with the wife. She does not share in my vision of "self learning". At least, not in the manner with which it affects our pocket book.

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen,

Are you leveraging your local library? Also, Amazon and the like have good secondary book sales online. These resources may help you save on books if you are not already using them.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon:

I buy 80% of my books used on Amazon.
Thanks for the tip. Yes, I use my library quite a bit as well.

acwresearcher said...

Dr. Jim Towns, Regent's Professor of Communication at Stephen F. Austin State University, used to put it to us like this, "A degree does not guarantee you a job or a high income. It's a job hunting license." What people choose to do with their education is up to them, but I'll agree that the debt-to-earnings ratio is a big factor in why I have not more actively pursued an advanced degree. I've flirted with the idea, yet I'm a little nervous, especially given the current economic climate.

That being said, I have developed my teaching emphasis through independent study and have been challenged more since I graduated SFA in 1997 than I was the entire time I was there.

Greg (aka "acwresearcher")

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"It's a job hunting license." Good point Greg. Although every decent position I've ever obtained has been gotten through networking.

I think both can work as a "foot in the door." Its up to the individual to impress the person making the decision after that and to set oneself apart and above the competition.

Brboyd said...

I am starting to buy my books, more and more, from online sources. I find that library's do not seem to be as up to date with things IT related. Ive also felt that major chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble have started slipping a bit. Recently, Ive looked at course curriculum and then went out and bought the books and studied on my own.