Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

Afternoon Inquisition, 2.27

During President Obama’s speech to Congress this week, I was heartened to hear his emphasis on the importance of education and his plans to reform education and to make college more accessible and affordable.  In general, I think more education will always be a step in the right direction and I am sure that not a day goes by on Skepchick and similar sites where someone says ‘this is a problem that can be solved with better education.’

But it also got me thinking about my own education and the value of it. With a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, I went pretty far up the higher education ladder and I do have a good, well-paying job now.  But I don’t actually believe that those two things are causal.  My own personal experience was that college didn’t really prepare me for the real world and a lot of what I have accomplished has been through skills and experience I learned on the job. Plus, since I went to a private university, college was extremely expensive for my family.

Is college worth it? What are the factors that make it worthwhile?

Note: Both my degrees are non science and non technical – I’m a liberal arts major (English & Corporate Communication) all the way.  I would never dispute that, for example, med school, wasn’t worth it. I’m talking more here about degrees in softer subjects. I’m looking at you, journalism and philosophy majors! :)


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. “I would never dispute that, for example, med school, wasn’t worth it.”

    I suspect that this sentence says the opposite of what you wanted it to say.

  2. That’s a simple question with a fairly long answer. I was a CompSci major at Michigan Tech, dropped out and finished my degree at a degree mill here in San Diego…

    Is college worth it? Well, it got me my current job, so it helped there. Some places won’t hire if you don’t have a degree, so in that respect, it was worth it.

    Did I learn anything in college? Well, inside the classroom, I did learn some stuff, like structured programming, and similar stuff, but I learned MUCH MORE outside of the classroom being with other people in the same major as me. Some of the classes were quite fun, but simply being on my own (400 mi away from home) without instant communication helped me “dry my wings” to grow up. Hoooboy, did I do some serious growing up.

    I suppose for some majors, like electrical engineering or civil eng, a degree is a must, since that’s how you learn the stuff. But the REAL learning is in the college environment, not the classroom.

  3. I’m a music major, and I’ve found college to be extremely worthwhile. Through the gen eds I have rounded out my sphere of knowledge and become conversant on a number of subjects.

    Also, for many, college is the first time that we really have our beliefs challenged. FSM-knows the “real” world doesn’t really ever force us to defend what we believe. For that reason, even if we get a degree that’s not particularly profitable, college does allow us to grow as a thinker.


  4. College/University exposes you to a breadth of knowledge, if you do it right, and lets you discover what you are interested in. In Daveworld it would be a criminal offense to ask a freshman what they want to major in. Freshmen should still be a little runny. It should take a little more incubation until they firm up into something you’d want to eat.

    To a prospective employer a degree indicates that you like the subject well enough to study it for 40 credit hours or more, you have enough discipline to complete a degree, and you don’t melt down under pressure. I certainly learned very little that specifically helped me with my first job, but I did learn that I love computer science and could stand to do it 60 hours a week for most of the rest of my life.

  5. My ex used to say the most important thing she learned in college was critical thinking. Was it worth it? I think that’s different for everyone.

    In my ex’s case she got a degree in Anthropology and she’s a DBA now so she’s still paying off student loans for a degree that she’s not using.

    I make more money than four high school friends that all have PhD’s I have managed to take just about every history class offered at three separate colleges but never came close to a degree.

    As far as I can see it depends on what your reason for getting a higher education is. Are you in it for the money? The Education? No better way to spend your free time? Your parents say you can live at home as long as you’re still in school, have a friend that’s used this reason to an extreme she’s in her forties and on her fourth or fifth major.

  6. I wanted to be an architect since I was 11 years old, right up until my third year in Arch School, when I found out what an architect really does. I went on to almost finish my degree in Art School until I had to drop out to make a living for a family.

    I have learned much more in the business world than I did in college. I agree that some employers are extremely prejudiced against those who do not have the requisite degree. I have also found that those who are worth working for look to your skills and experience since college when judging you as a candidate.

    I somehow wish there were a means by which every High School graduate could work two or three years in the “real” world and then, with an understanding of that world, return full time to college for a degree in a field in which they could actually prosper.

  7. I think it largely depends on the person and what they want to do. With some technology fields (say, nuclear physics or molecular biology), you won’t get far without a degree. With other fields, like some of the faster-moving computer sciences, university can only teach you programming and software architecture practices, but you may even fall behind when it comes to the technology itself.

    I dropped out of high school and started web development shortly afterward, and real world experience and self-teaching has proven to work well for me. While I definitely don’t hold a lack of education against candidates when interviewing people, I also don’t hold lack of experience against them. If you know your stuff and can learn more as you go, that counts for more than anything. If you come to an interview for a software development position with no experience and an arts degree, you don’t have much in your favor.

    As with many things, I think the answer really boils down to,”it depends.”

  8. I think it all depends on what you want to do with your life. For some, college is essential. For others, it’s not. I know many people who make very high sallaries the IT world and they do not have major degrees. I think in some areas (like IT), experience is needed more than some fancy degree.

    My father, a plumber, makes (or did, before the recession) a good living and he doesn’t have a degree.

  9. I think aside from the knowledge gained and technical experience (how I love you, microbiology and organics labs!) college is a fantastic place for social experience and growing up. I was certainly not ready to live on my own at 17 and right out of high school, but college life serves as a great “Living on Your Own, Jr. Edition” before hitting the fabled real world. It’s the kind of place where you can learn that drinking to the point of vomiting every night is not so much fun, you need to do your dishes more than once every three months, and your professors and future bosses will not give you an A just for showing your pretty face every morning. I’m Pre-Med and I obviously neeeed an education, but the social experience and good times has been pretty invaluable.

  10. College is often a great place for accruing substantial debt that will cripple your chances for financial stability and economic success. I have never been able to figure out why someone would attend an expensive school and get a degree that is suitable for not much professionally and then expect to have some ability to pay off $ 40,000 to $ 100,000 in college loans.

    @LOLkate: Nothing personal but social experiences and good times at $25,000 a year ($ amount plucked out of the air) seems like an absurd waste of resources and a potentially crippling debt load if future plans are not realized.

  11. I’d have to agree with most of the points posted already. It really depends on who you are and how you are motivated. I also think it depends on where your strength and intelligence lies.

    For myself, it was totally worth it. I’ve gotten great experiences both in the breadth of knowledge I gained in my undergrad as well as the work experiences have a degree opened up to me. As a current PhD student I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything else. I’m learning not only about my own topic but also about a wide variety of topics and issues that are important today. I know many people say the academy an ivory tower but you really do get a lot of exposure to new ideas if your willing to listen and follow them. There’s great connections there to wider world that would be hard to make if I were working a typical 9 – 5 job.

    However, I’m particularly well suited to standardized education as an individual. I have the personality to do this. I have one friend who has attempted college several times and never successfully completed a degree. For her it’s really not been worth it since there simply isn’t a match between the requirements of higher ed and her personality. She was told “you have to go to college” and has spent years attempting to fit herself into a mold that just doesn’t work, wracking up huge loans and taking very serious hits to her self-esteem every time she can’t finish.

    For her it simply doesn’t work. If she hadn’t been told in high school that getting a degree is the end all be all she could have gone to trade school or otherwise begun developing skills that would have taken her much further in a career path than she finds herself in currently.

    I think a lot of this has to do with a general societal opinion that without a college degree you aren’t worth anything. Which is a disappointing view because it’s going to be different for everyone and we need a variety of people with many different types of knowledge and views to make society work.

  12. @James Fox: I definitely understand that. My future plans absolutely require a degree and I would seriously reconsider my choice to go to college if I wanted to be a skydiving instructor or a plumber, but I’m just pointing out that there are more benefits to college than just some smarts and a fancy piece of paper. If you don’t need a degree, you shouldn’t waste your time and money, but there’s more learning done in college than just in a classroom.

  13. I have a BA in English: Emphasis in Post Modern Deconstructive Feminist Theory and Creative Writing.

    Which is useless in the “real world” but fun to say at parties.

    While I write what will be the next great American novel I keep myself fed with admin work. I do thinks like fold paper, type labels, order supplies, and send emails to people… Basically I am the office bitch.

    Was college fun? Yes. Did I learn a lot about something that I am passionate about? Yes. Did it help me get this job? Nope. Does it help me in this job? Nope.

    Was it worth it?

    Well, let’s wait and see how the book turns out if I ever finish it.

  14. BA in German; MA in Comparative Literature. I work as a DBA.

    In the 15 years since my MA, I have never used my education professionally. As to whether or not my education was “worth it”, Hell yeah!

    Not only am I “educated” in a classical “liberal arts” sense, I also got the learning bug from going to college. That’s where I became facinated by science, history, philosophy… everything. One year of undergrad was spent at the University of Freiburg in West Germany.

    College stomped out any latent racist or sexist tendencies, too. It’s hard to reenforce negative racial, economic, or sexual stereotypes when your professor is a gay, black man and knows more at 40 then I will at 80.

    From a materialistic standpoint, my starting salary as a DBA was 15K higher than people with bachelor degrees in computer science. College paid for itself in 5 years.

    If I hit the lotto, the rest of my life will be spent in classrooms.

    Sheepskins – they’re not just for lining mittens anymore.

  15. Studying for a business degree majoring in marketing and management certainly taught me how to think in a certain way – particularly providing research and analysis skills, a framework for my approach, and a customer focus that now feels innate. Interestingly, this view that you should place the customer at the heart of everything you do, has got me in trouble in some of the organisations I’ve worked for – especially one particular bank, where creating products to make the most profit, not to meet the needs of the customers, was the rule. So maybe I learnt the wrong lessons:)
    I don’t feel that the business degree, taught me how to think critically (in terms of questioning what I read/heard) – I just kinda soaked up everything they taught me without really questioning it. It wasn’t until I got out into the real world that I developed my critical thinking abilities. I’ve always wished I had done an arts/humanities degree which would have been a better match for my interests/passions and personality type (I intend to start it this year)

    Despite a reasonable amount of success in the corporate world, I really don’t like it or many of the people I’ve had to work with/for very much.

    I think that while a degree is useful for a lot of people, there are many who have different “intelligences” for whom college would not be worth it and would be much better served by doing other things.

    What made it worthwhile? It was interesting, broadened my mind, learnt some useful stuff (economics, psychology, don’t hang out with the engineers in the campus club on 20 cent drink night), has meant I could buy a flat and leave Australia and afford a decent life in one of the most expensive cities in the world (London) on a single salary…….. so probably the opportunities and independence it has provided is where I see the value.

  16. When I think about whether or not a university education is “worth it”, I think “worth what?”

    18-22 years ago when I paid $7K a year to go to a private school…and I had a bunch of gift money from my grandparents saved up to pay for it…yes, it was.

    16-18 years ago when I was lucky enough to have a TA position to get me a free ride to getting my Master’s degree, yes it was.

    Is it worth the $25K+ a year (which would have wiped out my savings in a year) to go to a name school and the big loan burden most people have to assume to pay for this? It’s really hard to shout “Yes!” to this.

    I think education is both over- and under-valued. We attribute ridiculous virtue to the educated when an education only gives you tools, it doesn’t actually make you a better person.

    And we miss all the intangibles. Someone who has spent a lot of time in developing countries among the largely-illiterate once told me that the thing you really have to prepare yourself for when you go to an impoverished country to interact with the local population is the truly different way the illiterate process information. Everything they know they get from the people around them and their whole world is the little corner of the Earth where they live. The ability to read is the window into understanding the parts of the world you have never seen yourself.

    I think that education at all levels bestows on us little “literacies” that we don’t even know we are picking up and that this happens both inside and outside the classroom. These literacies help us understand the world better. Even suspecting this, I doubt I even really comprehend how fortunate I am to have had the education that I have received.

    That said, I think we are too focussed on universities in the U.S. They worked out great for me and for many others, but there are many, many other varieties of education in the world, and those other types will work better for some. It is about time we started recognizing and valuing them too.

  17. I personally feel that economically, college is a poor investment, in terms of returns. Plugging more in to it doesn’t nessecarily mean you’ll get more out of it, espeically some of what you’ll pay to learn in college you’ll get for free in real life.

    I also think if you’re not lucky enough to not have to worry about your daily expenses while you’re in college, it becomes dramatically more difficult. I’m just a few credits from an Associates, but life got in the way. I may not make a 7 figure salary, but, I can also firmly say I have no student loan debt. Compared to my mom and her siblings, I’ve hit the jackpot.

    I would like to have a little alphabet after my name, but I’ve found a job that I love, in a company that is awesome. That’s something that no education can get you, its kinda like getting struck by lightning, either you do or you don’t.

  18. M.S in Microbiology with a focus in Molecular Biology.

    Yes, I know you wanted to hear from the soft sciences. For me I didn’t learn about my field until grad school. I got the book knowledge in undergrad, but I learned more about the politics and the opportunities in grad school.

    I don’t think my husband will ever get enough college. He’s 40 and working on his PhD.

  19. @TheCzech: “I would never dispute that, for example, med school, wasn’t worth it.”

    oh deah. Degrees in English and Corprate Communication, worth every penny it seems!

  20. Having taught the manditory “Maths and Science for Arts Undergrads” I can definatley say that for some students, if they learnt nothing else at college, it was how to add fractions and work out percentages.

    @Kaylia_Marie: I too am writing a book. I’m planning to call it “A Practicle Guide to Analytical Chemistry, Chemoinformatics & Statistics for the GLP (FDA) Complient Laboratory”, it’s FDA regulations meets, statistical analysis meets experiement best practice all rolled up into one handy book. The nearest thing on the market costs £100, so I’m hoping to make a killing with my, far superior book.

  21. @russellsugden: Hmmm, If I promise to buy and read and attempt to understand your book… will you do the same for mine?

    It is about the one artist’s conflicts with her continuing sense of self and finding empowerment though art or action.

    Or maybe it is about a secret government spy who has to bring down the very people she was trained to protect.

    Or maybe it is about a group of Primal Fighters who rally against the military in a post apocalyptic militaristic society ruled by witches.

    Or something.

  22. I quit high school and went to Bible school instead of college. I also have a good, well-paying job now. And a successful career as an author and designer as well. I don’t think college is “worth it” for getting a better job. I think it’s better to have more, rather than less, education. But on a financial level, in the US the amount of debt accrued by the majority of people who never get a degree is definitely not worth it. (Obviously, as Maria said, there are some careers that require specific degrees.)

  23. I would say it depends on what you are good at, what you learn in college, and what you want to do. In college you will meet people with common interests, you have the opportunity to explore a very different kind of community and many different interests–including non-academic ones, and in my case, I got to use other people’s equipment to make really bad movies.

    Is it worth spending 30K getting a degree in English? Hell, I don’t know. What else did you do with your time?

  24. @infinitemonkey: I personally feel that economically, college is a poor investment, in terms of returns.


    The million was for you, monkey. You *FEEL* that college isn’t worth it? Personally?

    Yeesh. Go back to skepticamp. How you feel personally about an empirical question is not a relevant metric.

  25. In terms of cost/benefit for college, my experience was probably too skewed to serve as an example. My MA was essentially free because I worked for the university. I paid books and taxes.
    That being said, I agree with the sentiments of many that a college education may never pay for itself. More so now than ever before.
    The vast majority of my high school friends simply went to work in IT directly out of high school. They are all successful and many are more financially successful than I am.
    I have three siblings. The youngest, my sister, skipped college. Her house is paid for and she has money in the bank.
    If college is only about money, then there are very good arguements that it won’t pay for itself.
    If college is about exposure to ideas and face time with very smart people, I think it has tangible “quality of life” value.

  26. Any more “worth it” is relative. There was a call to Marketplace money where this woman got a MA, an MFA, and a teaching certificate. Then she got her dream job of teaching art to grade-schoolers. Oddly enough she was having trouble making the payments on $90k in student loans. In this day and age you really have to consider what an education cost and whether you stand a chance of repaying your loans should you chose to get them. And remember folks, student loans are not usually dischargable in bankruptcy.

    Many of my friends have college age kids now and I weep to see them going to small private schools to study telephone sanitation or some other “would you like fries with that” discipline. The parents have to put off retirement for a decade and their kids still don’t know anything worth a paycheck.

  27. I did a Bachelor of Science with Honours, majoring in chemistry in Australia. The subsequent months of unemployment due to there being pretty much zero jobs around for graduate chemists got to me badly enough that I gave up, and I’m now doing a Grad Dip Ed to become a high school teacher. What really pissed me off what that during the first couple of years of my study there was lots of noise in professional organisations and from the government and industry leaders that Australia really needed lots more scientists, and we need to train more scientists! Too bad none of them gave any thought to actually employing scientists…

    A friend of mine commented about her similar situation recently in her blog, and I hope she won’t mind me quoting it here:
    “My mum honestly believes that I have wonderful qualifications that will eventually get me an awesome job, quite fairly because in her generation that would have been true. So it’s what I was always told, my whole life: “You’re smart! You have to go to uni so you can get a good job and be successful!” But it’s not the case now; you can be bright and qualified without it meaning much at all to an employer. And it’s difficult to see various people I know who never got a degree (or did a short degree, even) in satisfying careers and financially so much better off than I am, with my $21g HECS debt and the missed income of six years when I could have been earning a full-time wage, and coming out of it with prospects that are only minimally better than those I had going in (if indeed better at all, given the employment experience and opportunities for promotion those years would have provided). Missing out on success by choosing education was never presented to me as a possibility when I was a teenager. And to be honest, I feel betrayed by that. I feel like I was promised things that weren’t true, and I feel like I have fucked myself over by taking that on and not thinking about it harder and making a better plan when I could have.”

  28. When I obtained my undergrad degree at a state university in the early 70’s, I paid only $450 per YEAR for tuition (taking 18 credit hours per semester). I was able to work jobs earning a little over $2 an hour during summers and save enough to pay for my tuition and books. My parents lived close enough for me to commute and provided me room and board. I looked up the current cost at this same university for an instate student and it is $7780 per year tuition. Could a kid today find a summer job that would pay enough to save that plus cost of books? I’ve heard that many institutions hoard their endowment money so that tuitions are much higher than they need to be but havent really investigated . Anybody up on that?

  29. I was a computer science major who got a job out of college that had nothing to do with computers nor did it require a college degree. But, was college worth it? A bit easy for me to answer since I got a lot of financial aid so college wasn’t all the expensive for me. I say it was worth it because I had a ton of fun at college. I was also very bad at social situations pre-college, but when I graduated, I was….relatively well adjusted socially.

    So yeah, I got a lot of “social education” and had a lot of fun, so it was worth it for me.

  30. Let’s see now…
    First round of college was in the 1970’s, going for a degree in Aviation Management with a minor as a commercially-rated pilot. Outcome? Ran out of $$$ as a Junior and ended up working on the ground for an airline. Worth it? Maybe. It also ended being a diversion from going back to college, which I paid dearly for later (see below).

    Second round: In 2000, I made a warp drive sprint for a BS degree in technical writing for personal financial survival after losing said airline job after career-ending injuries. No thanks to my former employer, incidentally, but that’s another story.

    Worth it? Yeah, I think so, even though I still owe $30K in school loans. I’ll probably die of old age before I get it all paid off. But I got to help start up an award-winning airline…which is not something most people can say, even if it did become a lawn dart after 16 months. It was a Hell of a rocket ride, and I still am in contact with dozens of really fun and creative people.

    I’m now working in a job that is renumerative, but not in my field, writing software documentation. Seeing what has happened to some of my friends that don’t have degrees, I pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I could be far worse off that I am. Bored, but well-paid is a good thing during times like these. I do get really pissed off when I see the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) publically complain about there “not being enough technical aviation people to hire,” but I can’t get hired by an aerospace company. I think they want young ones, not guys like me.

    I learned a lot more about people the second time around. I also demolished a lot of stereotypes about older white guys. I went out of my way to find the “odd ones out,” like the outcasts, goths, gays, those from other countries, and befriend them. (The town I went to college in is extremely “white.”) I made a lot of friends, surprised the Hell out a few people, including my two daughters who were attending the same college at the time.

  31. I’m working on a BS in biotechnology right now, and I can say that without what little education I have I would be completely useless in a lab. But, I’m in a technical field so this question is not directed at me.

  32. @TheCzech: And one might also be tempted to ask if that 30K degree in English is a better buy than a 100K degree in English from Harvard.


    I think I remember reading that there was a sort of watering down effect going on with some private schools (that is, tuition was rising faster than reputation) but not with Ivy League schools. Probably the Ivy League education still pays for itself and then some, even if the degree is English.

  33. I can’t help but notice the tide of opinion that seems to say “you have to get a college degree to get a job.” With that mentality shared by too many employers, it becomes important. However, too many students go through college with that expectation that they are just getting a degree to get a job. And I think that ruins it for those students and for those who want to treat college as a true learning experience, not just a race to get good grades and get out. Add to that the students who go to college b/c they have to, and can’t make it because they are not emotionally or intellectually ready.

    In the interest of full disclosure, most of that opinion was solidified in a small liberal arts school where I was a student for four years. I also worked as a student academic resource, or one who lived in the freshman dorms and worked with those students in danger of failing out after their first semester.

    Now that I’m a grad student at a larger state university, the climate is very different, but I think the same problems exist, just on a different scale.

    I guess in the end, college is what you make of it. I loved the classroom, internship, and “living on your own lite” experiences, but it sure is expensive. Even if it wasn’t financially the smartest decision, there are other factors of “worth” to consider.

  34. @Nicole
    “However, too many students go through college with that expectation that they are just getting a degree to get a job. ”

    Here in Aus, lots of degrees are marketed as pathways to a *better* job than otherwise. That attracts impressionable school-leavers who think they are making an investment in their own future, and it’s really quite frustrating when that investment doesn’t pay off.

    As for treating it as a “true learning experience”, that only works for a minority. Over here, only a couple of percent of undergrads will be able to get into the honours program (I know our post-grad systems are different. Honours is a one year research project, often with advanced coursework), and maybe 5-10% of those will be able to try for the phd programs. Is everyone else supposed to say “well that was fun, now I shall start again at the lowest rung of the commercial world, several years behind my peers”? No, of necessity the majority of students *need* to be looking at whether their degree will get them a job. Not that I’m knocking those who can do well in academia (I tried that path, but a bad experience pretty much closed that door forever. A tale for another time.), just saying don’t heap shit on those people who are just doing what they really think they need to do.

  35. I would say my higher education was worth it even though I’ve never had a real job that used it (TAships don’t count). College and grad school got me thinking about ideas I’d not really entertained before, and my path to skepticism was accelerated by those thoughts. Also, I learned a lot of cool math and linguistics.

  36. @Angus Prune: I don’t think I’m “heaping shit” on anyone! I just wonder if the four year process is really worth it for those students who are more career oriented. They are often required to take a variety of classes that are just uninterresting to them. So is it better for students in the long run to force that kind of exposure or should colleges me catering more to a practical, career oriented mindset?

  37. @ Nicole
    In light of that, I think I might recant and agree with you that the system is imperfect. Graduates headed for the private sector and non-research positions probably don’t need lots of the more academic courses but it’s hard to see how it could be made better other than splitting students into different streams early on when they still might not know which way they want to go.

  38. @Angus Prune: It’s the same in the UK. There are, by far, too many Chemistry Graduates going for a very small number of jobs. Positions in industry that once required only a high school certificate now require an MSc.

    The Chemistry education a student gets at university is geared around the small number who go on to get PhD’s or study in obscure areas of Chemistry. The fact is that academia and teaching aside, 95% of Chemists end up as Analytical Chemists and a BSc barely mentions modern analytical techniques (if any analysis is done it’s with out-dated methods that went out of industry decades ago) and methodologies.

    Having feet in both camps, it seems to me that Universities should drop adavanced quantum mechanics from the Chemistry course and replace it with a course on good experimental practice (right down to “how to produce cGLP notebooks”). However only a tiny number of academics have any experience in industry and don’t appriciate what is required of by industry.

    Also, the standard BSc course should include at least a 1 year placement in industry so that the student gets some “real world” chemistry under their belt AND the benifit of a year of one-to-one tuition as an “apprentice”. Graduates going for jobs with actual placement experience always trump the unexperienced graduate, because employers know the placement chemist will have effectively already had their basic training and will be able to do the job on day one.

    Until very recently most Chemists got their degrees by “day release” from work. They would join a Company at 18 from school and the company would then enroll them at the local Polytechnic (most polys actuall started out as the day schools for large industrial concerns, specialising in whatever was the main industry of their town) where they would study 2 days a week (all year without academic holidays) for 5 years to get their degree. By the end of the 5 years they would have got their degree (invariably the self-disapline and lack of distractions of being in work ment they got firsts), 5 years industrial experience AND have been PAID (the company paid the course fees and for any books etc required)

    That surely is a better way of doing things.

  39. College is all about Ramen Noodles, Condoms, and Ultimate Frisbee. Of course it’s worth it! :D

    Family guy aside, I went to college for two years and never graduated. My financial situation was a mess and I could not longer afford it. Plus, I didn’t have a direction so it felt like I was wasting money. I don’t regret my decision to stop going, but I do want to go back because now I have a direction and I have a better means to hopefully pay for college. However, if I don’t go back I have a good stable job that will allow me to rise up and have great benefits.

    College shouldn’t be the financial mess it is. I know part of the idea is that your career later will pay for the loans now. It’s dumb. It’s a deterrent. If we truly cherish learning it should be available financially otherwise it can be very not worth it to a lot of people scraping to get by.

    Learning is always worth it, but college is not the end all be all of learning. I’m out of college but in this past year I have a learned a lot by making efforts to educate myself. College is a tool for learning and I think a lot of people can get a lot of stuff out of it, so to them it’s worth it. But I have a friend who is doing something with her life and refused to go to college because it wasn’t worth it for her and she’s still making something of herself.

  40. While my undergraduate and graduate school were filled with a lot of science classes, it seems the humanities classes are the ones that I remember with fondness.
    I didn’t look at college to get a job, thinking that college was essential to making me a good citizen – much like Robert Maynard Hutchins decreed in his books. Of course he also said that “fun, football, and fraternities make college more palatable for those who don’t belong,” – something I happen to agree with.
    Was college worth it –yes. Economically — probably, but in how I view life — priceless. If I had to do it again I would spend a year in Italy.
    For a profession – I would recommend getting a good basic education, and then graduate school for the “real stuff.”
    So, college should be universal for our citizens, education is the silver bullet.

  41. I was in art school/college. really one of the top ones out there. I was working to pay for it myself as much as possible, looking at taking on some major debt and finding my fellow students a bit more flakey than even a flake like myself was comfortable with. I enjoyed the fun of sharing an old run down mansion with a bunch of crazy art students, but the actual classes and such seemed rather dumb. Was I learning anything? Nope. If you had techincal skills you were doing great, but I began to see why a loft in a Paris slum was a far better learning environment than a fancy college with a big time reputation. I wondered how many people that went to Julliard really became great musicians. Nice and all that to say “hey I went to Julliard” but really, how many were saying “paper or plastic?”

    And then someone came that was giving a lecture and we got to talking and he said to me “you gotta dump this place”

    I’m not world famous, but what I did after I dumped school was far more fun and exciting and educational thank school ever was. If I’d stayed I might be like my room mate and now working for Hallmark cleaning up other people’s designs. All my other college friends are currently not doing anything more exciting than I am

  42. I think any post secondary education is definitely worth it as any higher learning is a good thing. Whether it makes you smarter is another thing -anecdotal example- a 24 yr. old person who works part-time for us, is in 2nd year nursing and didn’t know how many millions there are in a billion. I could not believe this, someone in a science prog. should know this, shouldn’t they?

  43. @Nicole: As much as I hate it, it’s true that in many fields (even those that shouldn’t require a degree), a college degree is required to even get an interview. To make matters worse, it seems that companies that used to look for BS degree holders now demand a Master’s at a minimum. Since a Master’s is primarily for people that want to teach, this appears just to be a form of degree inflation to me.

    I have to agree with a few people above that the business world and what we are taught for our degrees rarely match well. I’m heartily sick of watching the stupidity that passes for business sense in this country. We need far more critical thinking and far less rote learning in B schools. My Dad actually saw this coming back in the 1960’s, as he was a “worked his way up from the factory floor to CEO” type. He said that even then the schools were producing people with business degrees and no “business sense.”

    Whether the business world likes it or not, a liberal arts degree makes employees far more rounded and well-educated than a straight technical degree does. IMHO, a technical degree teaches you how to do things and why it works that way. What it doesn’t teach (and what is sorely needed) is why we should or should not do the things our technology allows us to do. Just like Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park: “Just be cause we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it.

    That being said, I think we sorely need a tier of schools for those that are good at and desire careers in careers like Master-level plumber, Master electrician, auto and truck mechanics, etc., like the tech high schools and colleges that used to be so prevalent in the US. Most of the people I know in those jobs are turning work away, even now. Some where along the line, it almost seems like every young American decided to be a managerial/white collar worker, though we can’t absorb that many in our economy.

  44. As an employer, the degree a potential employee has isn’t relevant (in fact I loathe marketing degrees for complex reasons). What is relevant is the evidence that that young person can stick at something for three years, see projects through to completion, can be where they’re needed and do what has to be done. A degree is evidence of that. In the same way, a candidate with similar skills but a three-year work history instead of a degree can also demonstrate those things. So for me it depends on the individual applying for the role. I would never ignore a candidate who didn’t have a degree.

  45. College was definitely worth it for me. I racked up quite a hefty tab with the US Department of Eduction while working on my doctorate, but now I have a PhD in anthropology and a tenure track job. The other day I checked over my balance, and I still owe about $40K, which I’m paying off about $500 at a time.

  46. If you are asking if my degree in philosophy added to the quality of my life I think it did. As for how my career has benefited, well…….

  47. (First time on Skepchick – I love your work!)

    My experience was similar to Angus Prune: BSc Honours in Chemistry in Australia followed by months of unemployment.

    It seems to me that the big enemy of science in Australia is not so much religious fundamentalistm but the universal domination of SPORT in terms of competion for resources. In a funny way perhaps the love of sport almost approaches being a kind of religion here.

    To cut a long story short, I have made a good living in Clinical Biochemistry for the last 30 years, after undertaking a MSc degree and gaining a year or two of experience as well.

    My kids have found the same thing – both have done more than one degree and obtained a variety of experience in different areas so that they ended up being successful in niches of their own.

    However I find it ironic that my daughter with the flaky Arts degree has done better financially than any of us (in marketing)! Go girl!

  48. @TheCzech:

    “I would never dispute that, for example, med school, wasn’t worth it.”

    I suspect that this sentence says the opposite of what you wanted it to say.

    It does. Sigh. I blame my crappy college education :) As, apparently, does @ russellsugden :)

    Great conversation, you guys. I’m sorry my weekend was so insane that I wasn’t able to participate more.

    I think the idea that college teaches you certain important behaviors, such as how to study, how to manage a project or focus, is a very valid one.

    I am glad for all the time I spent in college, even though I think the content of my degree was really somewhat irrelevant. But I certainly learned a heck of a lot.

  49. I think there are a lot of people going to college who really don’t need to. This is great for people who make their money in the higher-education business. Employers are getting lazy, and instead of looking for qualified employees, they look for employees with degrees.

    Trying not to sound like a conspiracy nut: driving up the demand for degrees is also great for people in the higher-ed business. It’s starting to look to me like an expensive club. With the increasing costs of college, only the already-rich can afford to make these higher-paying jobs I keep hearing about.

    That’s why it’s getting harder to tell the difference between TV commercials for college and other products. Both feature beautiful young people who tell you all about how fabulous your life will be with their product, and how sad and lonely your life will be without it.

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