Skepchick Quickies, 9.10


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. The ‘Higher Education’ article took me through a roller-coaster of emotions. First, the hedge-fund guy:
    “He left Cornell thousands of dollars in debt. He also left with a degree in computer science. But it took failing at several investment schemes, losing large sums of money and then studying the stock market on his own… for Altucher to learn enough about the financial world to survive in it.”
    Wow! So he gets a degree in computer science and then finds it difficult to make a living in the financial world. Maybe I’m missing something here, but if he wanted to get ahead in finance shouldn’t have gotten an MBA instead?
    That aside, the rest of the article seems a bit scatter-shot to me. HEY look at this handful of billionaires who dropped out of college. See? You don’t need a degree. These examples are way outside the experience of pretty much everyone.
    Blech! Sorry, can’t form any more coherent (if even these are coherent) thoughts.
    Need more coffee.

  2. From my personal experience, it can be smart to bypass higher ed, depending on your goals. After switching careers to programming/web development (to break away from the paper-ocracy) , I was able to learn more with $150 on Amazon and 4 months than most kids getting BS’s in computer science.

    I believe the fault lies in higher-ed institutions taking a more vocational route; many degrees could be better replaced with apprenticeships or other work experiences.

  3. My boyfriend is 3 years older than me, and has a BA. He’s had his job twice as long as I’ve had mine, and I don’t have a degree.

    I make more. And I have a nicer car.

    Take from my anecdote what you will.

  4. The higher ed article made me gag. See even less articulate than Skep-artist. Need more tea. I loved the idea that you just give an 18 year old $10k and tell them to start a business. That’s an awesome plan. No need for Plan B with a start like this.

    Of course higher education isn’t for everyone, and some education is way over-priced such as $150k for a culinary degree. Still, if you want to talk about a good, average career strategy going to college makes a lot of sense. I’ve worked in high tech all my life. It doesn’t matter if you graduated Harvard or Kansas, magna cum laude or barely cum laude, but if you don’t have a sheepskin you don’t get an interview.

  5. I’ll trust my civil engineers, NASA geologists, structural architects, and molecular biologists (just to name a few examples) with our future in science and technology far more than a high school graduate who read some books he bought on eBay. But maybe it’s just my university bias showing through…

    Those who do well without a university education are the exception that proves the rule. The college experience provides far more than the words you read in a textbook, it provides a framework for problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills that are incredibly beneficial to most attendees.

    Not everyone can follow their dreams, and not all dreams that are followed are ultimately fruitful. It’s a giant strawman built up and based solely on the American model. European countries that fully subsidize education are both less cumbersome to the individual learner, and just as cutting edge in research as the best Ivy League US campuses.

  6. Actually I don’t follow politics any more, but isn’t the Washington Post a conservative-leaning publication? Could this just be part of a not-so-thinly veiled attack on education in general and science in particular?

  7. @davew: I think you’re think of the Washington Times, owned by the Moonies.

    The education article is just like a classic bad science article. It cherry-picks, uses anecdotes instead of data, fails to place statistics in context in the rare instances that it uses them at all, and somehow argues from the fact that college grads make 57 % more than high school grads, that some college grads male less than some high school grads. But it’s a totally disorganized mish-mash.

    @davew: and Ubermoogle, I think a good part of the reason that public college tuitions have risen 30% faster than inflation is the Reagan-era policy of cutting government services and making recipients of government benefits pay for them in the form of user fees. (Unless your the military or a military contractor.) States with a budget deficit (i.e. all of them) find it much easier to raise tuitions than to raise taxes. I think this is a form of cutting off your frontal lobes to spite your face.

    Funny that all the comments are on the first article… Has everyone, like me, just not read the others yet?

  8. Holy Quackery Batman! The forensic Homeopath was a stitch!

    But on college education – I think businesses place too much emphasis on education and especially the MBAs. Businesses that place a college degree as a minimum entrance marker are losing out on potentially great employees.

    I also think its true that unless your career goals have a specific skill set you need from college, it is a waste of money.
    If you graduate in computer science – you have learned specific skills. If you graduate (as I did) with a liberal arts degree, you have no particular skills that make you marketable.
    I don’t want to throw away liberal arts, because its important – but the cost of the education can be a stone around the neck of someone who doesn’t have the skill set to get a high paying job.

    I strongly advise anyone who goes to college to look at degrees that give you a skill. Business is not one of them.
    Accounting, Computer programming, teaching, science, etc are specific skills sets that set you into a job market.

    Business courses are theoretical BS that teach very little that is actually applied in real life. What is applied can be taught in a series of seminars once you are on the job.

    The smartest thing to do is stop expecting kids to jump out of high school and into college. Giving them a year or even three to figure out what is important to them, what it means to work and pay bills etc, would do a lot to get kids on the right track.

  9. Even the comp sci example is a bad one. Okay, so he made more money in finance, great. Who wants to bet that he learned how to learn in college and learned what he needed to know in order to figure out the stock market? I know that I learned a lot more about how to analyze and process information because of college.

  10. Forensic Homeopathologist: – LOL. (You probably have to be up on your BritComs to have any hope of following any of the other stories at the linked site. I’m sure I only got a tiny fraction of the jokes, and I’ve been plowing my way through Terry Pratchett recently.)

    Fake Psychic Scammer Imprisoned: What about *real* psychics who scam people? Oh, never mind…

  11. $46,000-30,000=1,600

    12 and a half years to break even ^_^

    most ppl work 45 years * $1,600= 52,800 over a lifetime. So you spend $200,000 and make $52,800. As opposed to investing in Treasury bills like the article said, $200,000 earning 5 percent a year over 50 years would amount to $2.8 million.

    Quit going with your guts and go with the numbers on this one, people. I’m not saying college is bad, but I have to agree with the article’s saying it’s extremely overpriced.

  12. Non Believer makes some really good points. I still have a lot of belief in the value of a college education, but I’ve seen far too many friends and acquaintances go blindly into massive debt attending private or out-of-state colleges to pursue some liberal arts degree, not even bothering to think about how they’re going to pay their loans, or what kind of jobs/salaries they’re going to get, etc. I mean, if you want to get a Women’s Studies or English Literature degree, then that’s fine – but it doesn’t make any sense to spend 3x the money to get that degree out of state, or at a private college – unless, of course, you have rich parents who are happy to blow the money.

    Nichole: Those numbers they cited in the article are *averages*, and they actually cited them as being for young adults. The people that I’ve known that came out of college to get a social work degree weren’t making nearly $46k – more like $30k. Additionally, if you’re going to try and make a comparison, you don’t just count the cost of college. You need to count the lost earnings that the same individual could have been making during those 4 to 7 years when they were in college.

  13. It very much depends on where the student wants to go in life.

    Someone that lives working on equipment might be happily employed as a car mechanic. Another person may be fascinated with medicine and want to be a physician. Someone else may want to work on HVAC or plumbing, and would do well in a technical/vocational program.

    One of the biggest flaws in our education system (IMHO) is that we expect 18 year olds to know what they want to do with their lives. Many are just not ready for that decision yet.

    A big problem with our society is that it’s hard to change fields once you’re established. I managed to do it by going from airline supervisor (no degree) to technical writer (BS degree) in my 40’s after injuries left me unable to perform heavy physical labor. It was hard and expensive. (I have $30K in student loans.)

    That being said, my Dad made it to the upper echelons of management with only a technical high school education. He told me he’d rather hire a kid for the factory (they made leather goods like belts, wallets and purses) with experience working on his car under a tree than some guy with a bunch of business degrees who took his car to a garage. What my Dad did is impossible in today’s business world.

    It’s true that all dreams are not answered and that some aren’t worth it when they are…if they are. You may have a dream, but without the talent, intelligence, whatever, to accomplish it, that’s all you have. Sad to say, that’s how life works sometimes. I may want to play guitar like Jeff Beck, but if I have 10 thumbs , I’m not going to Carnegie Hall.

  14. @nichole: Quit going with your guts and go with the numbers on this one, people. I’m not saying college is bad, but I have to agree with the article’s saying it’s extremely overpriced.

    You realize that $200,000 is for an ivy league education, right? It isn’t right to compare an average job and a cadillac degree.

    If I were to retrace my steps at my old institution of higher ed, Kansas University, today the instate tuition is $4000 per semester and add $1000 for books this would be $40,000 if you borrowed the whole thing. I don’t know what room/board would be, but still you could probably come in under $60,000 assuming no scholarships (which in my family was not an option) and you didn’t work at all (which in my family was not an option). For most students who choose to pursue marketable degrees I gotta think this is worth it.

    $60,000 / $16,000 (per year) = 3.75 years

    Most people don’t pay off their cars this fast.

  15. @Buzz Parsec: I think a good part of the reason that public college tuitions have risen 30% faster than inflation is the Reagan-era policy of cutting government services and making recipients of government benefits pay for them in the form of user fees.

    Agreed. There are some compounding effects, also. In my state the citizens tried to cap spending with an idiotic constitutional amendment that meant education would never have more money in the next year than it had in the year before and actually rigged it so it usually had less. This was “fixed” with another amendment that mandated minimum k-12 spending, but left out higher education. Before this mess was partially repaired a couple of years back the university system was making plans for a time when they would receive no money from the state. None. Bupkis. There was still plenty of money for stocking trout streams, however. Grrr.

  16. @nichole: -2 points for the 2 dropped factors of 10 in the first part, which cancel.

    -10 points for the 2nd part. Where did the 52800 come from? 16000 (correct answer for the 1st part) times 45 years = 720,000. If you subtract the 200,000 you earned in the 1st 12.5 years to pay your initial investment, you still get 520,000, not 52,800. Not nearly the 2.8M you would get by investing your initial 200,000 in T-bills, but to be fair, you would need to put the entire 16K/year into T-bills as you receive it, which is beyond my math skills, but I bet you end up with way more than 2.8M. (Actually, you have to compare this to 200K invested for 49 years, assuming for 4 years you are attending college and earning nothing. Or you take 50K per year of your initial nest-egg for 4 years, and then start adding 16K/year of your larger salary in the 5th year, which is way beyond my feeble math powers to work out in reasonable time.)

    But this just goes to proving the value of higher Math education…

  17. @QuestionAuthority: Excellent points.
    For me, as an artist, yes I didn’t have to go to art school to learn the skills that I needed. But I did. I could have apprenticed or taken classes at the Art Students League on the cheap, or gone to a significantly cheaper school than I did etc. But I’m lucky, I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to make art. I never had doubts about what I wanted to with my life. But that was just me. Many kids end up switching majors or not even following through on a job that they have a degree in. Because they don’t know what they want to do, but feel pressure to go on to college.
    Also whenever I look on job sites for art-related work, a college education is a requirement for all jobs listed. Is that right? Probably not, but I can’t starve death while the world catches up to my opinions or becomes more enlightened or prices for higher education drop.
    Right now my wife is getting a great education for relatively little money. Yes there are loans. Yes it is difficult. But she’ll be able to get a better job when she’s through.

  18. I think the main problem with college is we pressure kids into jumping straight from high school to college. Hell the last 2 years of high school for me where basically forcing me to choose a college and pick a major.

    I know I would have been much better delaying college for for 5 years after high school. I had all these things I thought I might want to do, they forced me to pick one and I chose wrong. I would have been much better getting some real world experience and picking a career.

  19. I’m getting my Associate’s right now, at 29 years old, in ASL (American Sign Language) Interpretation. 93 credits. JUST for an Associate’s.

    This shit will take forever.

    BUT, it will be worth it. There’s no way I would want to learn such a complex language without going to school — I could, but it’d likely take just as long if not longer. I also wouldn’t have access to the contacts I do now. Networking is important in this field.

    There are loans. I couldn’t do it without it. But, it’s a local community college, and it’s a great program. It will be worth it. Right now, as an Admin Assistant, I make like, $17/hr, tops, and usually less, especially in this economy, because I don’t have a degree.

    Getting this degree will be WAY worth it for me.

    For others, not so much. And I agree that the push for students to start college RIGHT after high school is just not logical, for a lot of people. I certainly had no idea what I wanted to be. I ended up going to one semester of college right after school and saying, “FUCK THIS!” and instead moved to Phoenix to live on my own.

    It worked out well.

    Now I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I’m ready to figure out wtf I want to do, AND do well at it (no slacking!), AND I’m really glad I waited because if I hadn’t, I likely wouldn’t have discovered how awesome the ASL language is. I’d be a damn paralegal. And that would be lame.

  20. Briefly, a university education is not just job training! There’s much more to the advantage of a quality education than income.

    Plus, if you want to be a doctor or scientist the whole discussion is moot, and a lot of other professions I’m sure.

  21. “But it took failing at several investment schemes, losing large sums of money. . .”

    . . . wonder why that was left vague and not entered into the cost-benefit analysis.

  22. I don’t think anyone is saying college is a bad idea in every case, just that it’s not this thing you must do right away or you are throwing your life away.

  23. That education article was interesting… while I have many criticisms like the rest of you, I agree with the overall sentiment which is “college isn’t for everyone, and you should do what you want instead of being pressured to follow the crowd”. I have so many friends who graduated in the spring… and are thinking… ok… now what? What did I even do all that for? Yes college is a good experience whether it lands you the perfect job or not, but if it’s costing you in student loans… it’s an iffy balance. I think there is a lot of “must go to college” pressure in our culture, and really, not every kid is cut out for it or has goals that warrant going. I think that taking a year or two (or more) off to figure out a plan is something we should push more.

    But for me, college was my goal since I was little. Not just because of my parents, but because with my career goal (entomology professor/researcher) it’s necessary. Well, I’m starting my PhD this semester – parents paid for undergrad, tuition is waived for grad school, and I’m being paid very well as a TA. Undergrad was the absolute best time of my life, and grad school is looking to be even better.

    Unfortunately, things don’t work out that perfectly for most people.

  24. @Buzz Parsec: Exactly what I was thinking… the evidence for his claims is purely anecdotal.

    I am currently about $20k in debt from my schooling, but I don’t regret it for a minute.

    I think it is important to understand what you want to do when you go to college, because if you don’t then you’ll end up saying, “Well, what was all that for?” If you had no idea in the first place, what in the hell were you doing the whole time?

    Jobs aren’t handed to you. You have to get in the trenches and earn one. When I tell people how much shit I had to go through to get my job — with a master’s degree in aerospace engineering — they are shocked.

    That article was little more than a deflection of responsibility, with a mentality of, “I found it hard to get a job, so I’m going to say it was the system’s fault,” or “I don’t play well with money, so I’m going to say I shouldn’t have gone to college.” Come on! That’s your own damned fault. Quit deflecting. I never took a single economics course but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take the time to make a budget tracking and propagation spreadsheet. I never took a single personal networking seminar, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take the time to simply shove myself into the business and let my head stick out.

    Take responsibility, for fuck’s sake.

  25. @rider: If I hadn’t felt so certain that I wanted to be in aviation, I would have been lost picking a college major. As it is, I think I would have benefited in waiting for a few years and saving more $$$.

    I saw a lot of my peers take majors because their parents picked them or because they thought they “had to be” something their parents wanted them to be. I can’t think of a worse reason to make a life choice than someone else’s pressure or opinion.

    For those of you that remember “The Dead Poet’s Society,” that father’s pressure on his son is more common than you would think.

  26. I went to school on my parents dime, and didn’t finish, because school ran out of classes discussing things I wanted to learn ( I know weird, going to school to learn).

    With the exception of access to some lab equipment, I would argue that my time in classes/dealing with classes were more of a hindrance to my education than a help.

    As for all the folks claiming it’s a good investment : While there is a common belief in the causative benefit of a college education, I saw people being filtered out more than I saw them being educated in. I think we should seriously consider that in this case correlation of benefit with the possession of a sheepskin may not imply causation by any education provided, or benefit to any arbitrary high school grad.

  27. This is why I am grateful for the Quebec system. CEGEP groups the last year of high school in with the first year of university. Tuition is dirt cheep ~250 dollars a semester. It is only two years and gives students a chance to see if they really want what that university education offers before committing to the investment of time and money.

    It also gets some of the party out of their systems before the Uni degree starts.

  28. I agree. When it comes to jobs and skills college is overrated. I also agree that we push kids too hard to make a choice at such a young age. I got my BA and worked in my chosen field for a few years and found out it wasn’t for me. Now I’m almost 29 and I don’t know what to do. It is very frustrating. I remember I was having doubts my junior year but by that point I had so many credits in that major it seemed like I should just “finish” my degree. Liberal arts colleges usually make you take so many other classes that you don’t actually learn about your degree until your junior/senior year away and by that point you’re stuck.
    Another thing is that now so many people have college degrees that it isn’t as “special.” When my parents went to college in the ’60s they got recruited right out of school. Now everyone is scrambling to get a job and there is a lot of competition.

    Another criticism is that I find many colleges put you in “la la land if you take the traditional route. When I was in college I lived on campus and living in this bubble made it harder for me to face the “real world.” Everything was within my grasp including already prepared food, gym, store, etc. making life pretty easy. The real world is not so kind and accommodating. What I would give to have it all again! Of course I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

    I would still recommend college but I find it highly overrated.

  29. Anyways, one topic which should be considered in the debate about if going to a university is worth the investment is the fact that people like to justify the high price they pay for a service. Therefore, people who have been to college have an incentive to justify the experience.

    In addition, often the most useful experience will be on the job training as often transferring concepts from one context to another is difficult.

    With that bias being raised, I feel that students who want to get the most out of the college experience would be to mix theoretical and practical courses. For example, taking a major in something that actually interests them such as English, but also taking courses which can be directly applied in the work force. Students should also try to be diverse with their skill set to be able to find many different jobs.

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