14 September 2008

Is College the Biggest Waste of All?

Saying “too many people are going to college” is not the same as saying that the average student does not need to know about history, science, and great works of art, music, and literature. They do need to know—and to know more than they are currently learning. So let’s teach it to them, but let’s not wait for college to do it. _Source
Many of our most successful entrepreneurs and inventors dropped out of college--or never went in the first place. For many entrepreneurs, college can be a waste of both time and money.
A great majority of our nine million college students are not in school because they want to be or because they want to learn. They are there because it has become the thing to do or because college is a pleasant place to be; because it’s the only way they can get parents or taxpayers to support them without getting a job they don’t like; because Mother wanted them to go, or some other reason entirely irrelevant to the course of studies for which college is supposedly organized.

As I crisscross the United States lecturing on college campuses, I am dismayed to find that professors and administrators, when pressed for a candid opinion, estimate that no more than 25 percent of their students are turned on by classwork. For the rest, college is at best a social center or aging vat, and at worst a young folks’ home or even a prison that keeps them out of the mainstream economic life for a few more years. _Source(PDF)
Most parents would be dismayed to learn what their hard-earned money and credit was being devoted to. A waste of time and money? Sure, for most students. Sometimes much worse--also a waste of the students' minds--academic lobotomy. At most, 25% of college students are actually suited for a rigorous 4 year degree. Most people would be better off with an alternative educational path.
The income for the top people in a wide variety of occupations that do not require a college degree is higher than the average income for many occupations that require a B.A. Furthermore, the range and number of such jobs are expanding rapidly......the demand for skilled technicians of every kind—in healthcare, information technology, transportation networks, and every other industry that relies on high-tech equipment—is expanding. The service sector includes....growing numbers of specialized jobs that pay well (for example, in healthcare and the entertainment and leisure industries). Construction offers an array of high-paying jobs for people who are good at what they do. It’s not just skilled labor in the standard construction trades that is in high demand. The increase in wealth in American society has increased the demand for all sorts of craftsmanship. Today’s high-end homes and office buildings may entail the work of specialized skills in stonework, masonry, glazing, painting, cabinetmaking, machining, landscaping, and a dozen other crafts. The increase in wealth is also driving an increased demand for the custom-made and the exquisitely wrought, meaning demand for artisans in everything from pottery to jewelry to metalworking. There has never been a time in history when people with skills not taught in college have been in so much demand at such high pay as today, nor a time when the range of such jobs has been so wide. In today’s America, finding a first-rate lawyer or physician is easy. Finding first-rate skilled labor is hard. _Source
Sometimes, the futile quest for a college degree can devastate a family's finances, and leave a student deeply in debt with nothing to show for it.
Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

...Such students are not aberrations. Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science. _Source
Too many students, parents, and human resources managers continue to nurse the absurd fantasy that a bachelor's degree confers a level of competence or judgment on its recipient. The myth will be a long time dying. Long ago, when college education was far more rigorous and demanding--and when it was understood that only a small per centage of high school students would go to college--a bachelors degree meant something to an employer. But in these modern days when campuses are more often places of indoctrination into political correctness and post-modern faux multiculturalism than places of meaningful education, bachelors degrees are not worth the paper they are embossed upon.
An educational world based on certification tests would be a better place in many ways, but the overarching benefit is that the line between college and noncollege competencies would be blurred. Hardly any jobs would still have the BA as a requirement for a shot at being hired. Opportunities would be wider and fairer, and the stigma of not having a BA would diminish.

.....The demonstration of competency in business administration or European history would, appropriately, take on similarities to the demonstration of competency in cooking or welding. Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best.

Here's the reality: Everyone in every occupation starts as an apprentice.
Those who are good enough become journeymen. The best become master craftsmen. This is as true of business executives and history professors as of chefs and welders. Getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence -- treating post-secondary education as apprenticeships for everyone -- is one way to help us to recognize that common bond. _Source
The rot begins in the places where K-12 teachers are trained, and progresses throughout the primary and secondary educational systems. The central Departments of Education are saturated with the mindless rot of non-questioning acceptance of obsolete educational traditions. Teachers' unions and their pet politicians exist to make sure that nothing ever changes at the primary/secondary levels.

Change always comes to systems that are so innately counter-productive. The question will be whether the change will be forced by an enlightened appraisal of how the system fails to meet its purported goals, or whether the change will come after the entire edifice comes crashing down, taking much of society and the economy along with it.

I'll let James Altucher of Financial Times sum it up:
First, and foremost, it's too expensive. To send a kid to college you need from $200,000 to $400,000. That's insane. There's no way the incremental advantage they get from having a diploma will ever pay back that amount. Perhaps for the first time the opportunity cost (a phrase I remember from Economics 101) of college does not equal the extra profits generated by the degree.

Second, I don't believe in a balanced education. Most colleges require students to take a smattering of art, maths, sciences and so forth. Taking 10 courses a year on wildly different topics, with enormous homework responsibilities, not to mention droning, boring professors for at least eight of the 10, is the surest formula for creating complete non-interest and inability to remember anything in any of the topics covered. What a waste of $400,000.

And third, there are far better uses of time. One reader asked what her kid should be doing instead of college. Here are some of my responses:

1. Working.....

2. Take half the fee for one semester, give it to your kid, and tell him or her to start a business. Not every youngster has entrepreneurial sensibilities, but it's always worth trying once. The cost for starting a business is next to zero, so it's a viable alternative.....

3. Spend a year trying to become good at one thing.... _FinancialTimes
The US has long been an opportunity society--where emigrants and citizens of little means scrape together or borrow money to start businesses, and frequently build comfortable lives for their families. Business has always been the best and most frequent road to success in opportunity societies. That should always be true, as long as government is reasonably friendly toward small business, and keeps the obstacles to new business low. Remember that, when you vote.

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Blogger CarlBrannen said...

This post is right-on. The problem extends to our high-schools where there are only two tracks available: classes for students expected to go excel in college, and classes for students expected to be mediocre in college.

The classes which are missing:

Law for small business.
Accounting for small business.
Law for regular people.
Practical econimcs.
How capitalism works.

And there should be something that introduces the various industries in the US, (i.e. everything from construction to mining to medicine) so that students can start thinking about where they want to go.

Sunday, 14 September, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Entrepreneurship would be a good class.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing people that "graduated" from college that cannot write a coherent sentence.

Some of them work for the local newspapers and television stations.

Monday, 15 September, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Don't forget to lay the blame on the parents whose job it is to produce people that are capable of making a living on their own.

When our son was 16, he could do a brake job on a 1-ton truck, rebuild an engine, pour and finish concrete, weld, erect metal buildings, drive heavy equipment, do electrical wiring, do rough plumbing, frame a house, put up sheetrock, and played in a band in his spare time after school. He elected not to go to college but to get his mechanic certification as well as his welding certification; by the time he was 22, he was a master ironworker running jobs at the power plants. Now he has his own business.

I don't believe he will ever be unemployed.

Monday, 15 September, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Good ideas, Carl.

SW, it does indeed sound as if your son will never be unemployed.

Monday, 15 September, 2008  

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