Is College Still Worth It? A Symposium

July 1st, 2011 at 7:09 am | 32 Comments |

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Is college worth it? It seems that every month a magazine, salve newspaper, or web publication will come out with a new trends piece or blog post wrestling with this question. Such as this New York Magazine piece which profiled the efforts of two venture capitalists (James Altucher and Peter Thiel) who are leading the anti-college crusade, raising doubts about the utility of a college degree and pushing for their right not to pay for their children’s education:

The father of two young girls, Altucher has a very personal perspective on college: He doesn’t think he should pay for it. “What am I going to do?” he asked last March on Tech Ticker, a popular investment show on Yahoo. “When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that?”

Since we have gotten a group of interns in the FrumForum offices for the summer, we decided to ask them to read the New York article and to respond to it. Do they agree that their time is being wasted? If their parents are paying for their education, are they really throwing money down the drain?  We will be posting their responses over the course of the day, and post links to the pieces from this hub.

Our interns range from freshmen to seniors. Some of them will stand by the economic benefits of college. Others will argue that while college is important, that the real benefits are – remarkably – the intellectual growth that colleges advertise themselves as providing.

What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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Tessa Berenson argues that college still pays off in the long run:

The fact of the matter is that it is a rough economy, and not every single graduate is going to be able to find a job worthy of a college grad.  Thus, the horror stories that populate the media about people with Ivy League degrees scrubbing toilets and tending bars.

However, the simple truth is that whether or not it is a tough job market, college grads will come out ahead financially. The data shows that college graduates consistently get more skilled jobs and earn more than non-college grads. Between 1983 and 2008, the inflation-adjusted median wage for people with bachelor’s degrees increased by 34 percent, while the wages for high school dropouts fell by 2 percent.  And, by 2007, 48% of people with bachelor’s degrees were in the top three deciles of income.

Click here to read more.

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Robert Lee argues that the real benefit from college is learning the skills that will lead to jobs, not just higher wages:

Once, a great professor of mine, said, “College has nothing to do with what you learn here.  You’ll forget most of it before you graduate anyways.  You’re here to be inculcated with the norms and expectations of a professional lifestyle.”  If anything, that is where I see my college worth.

College has nothing to do with academic retention.  Well, it does — but not to the extent that it is popularly emphasized.  In college, young people (who are pampered throughout high school) finally get to see the real world.  For many, it is the first time we are treated as adults and given the opportunity to excel — or fail.  In a world that plays by these same rules, this is a fundamental experience.  It shows us how to get a job.

Click here to read more.

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Fred Messner writes that college students need to work to get the most out of their education:

I am currently a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS), a vocational-leaning program embedded in a liberal-arts dominated institution.  The arguments made by Daniel Smith the New York Magazine do not suggest to me that college lacks value.  They suggest, and my experience confirms, that students do not derive the benefits of college just by paying and showing up.  Like most things in life, they must work for them.

Click here to read more.

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Nicole Glass argues the main benefit of college is self-development, not the value of the degree itself:

I spent my first year of college with no unique desires to learn – but simply with the goal of getting a degree and eventually a job. I was a part of the many who flock to college and routinely proceed through the requirements because it is expected – and because a degree was thought to be a first-class ticket in the “real world”. But as I approach my senior year, I’ve come to realize how little a degree will do for me.

This formerly golden document has decreased in value as it became more common. A bachelor’s degree seems to have the same value that a high school degree had 100 years ago – but it costs $200,000 more.

The past few years led me to a realization: college is not about grades or degrees – it’s about self-development. Unfortunately, few people strive towards that anymore.

Click here to read more.

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32 Comments so far ↓

  • indy

    Weird. My older son is 13 and I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. And I am really conflicted.

    I have three post grad degrees in fairly disparate fields (engineering, finance, english lit) but I managed to graduate debt free (undergraduate and two grad degrees were scholarships, the other I worked at the University so it was free as well). So on one hand I’m deeply invested.

    But because I was debt free, I was able to start my first company when I was 25. Could I have done that if i had 50-100K in debt? The answer, I think, is no. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that there is NOTHING so valuable as youthful enthusiasm. Should we be hamstringing something this economically invigorating with a mountain of debt?

    Of course my children won’t have any debt when they graduate so they will have a leg up . I doubt many people realize it but the cost of higher education has risen nearly as fast as health care since 1980. As I see it, this is one of the biggest assaults on upward mobility (and the American dream in general) that has happened in my lifetime.

    • llbroo49

      Indy,

      I had considerable student loan debt after completing undergrad/ grad school. By far the best debt I ever had was the student loan debt. Unlike a car payment or a mortgage payment, student loan debt was very flexible. Deferments, forbearances, and extended payment options were always available. I am sure many people who are upside down on their home would kill for the modification options that are available for Federal student loans.
      If a student enters government work, the entire debt is forgiven in 10 years. Many corporations offer student loan repayment as a recruiting tool.

      I just fail to see the fear people have over student loan debt, but think it is ok to buy a BMW.

      • indy

        Well, I guess I look at it a little more broadly than strictly as a dollars and cents issue. I think we can take it as a given that IF I go to college, THEN I will make the most money over my lifetime.

        The more interesting question is: does this lead unerringly to the best life I can have? There seems to be an unquestioned connection between the two for most people. I question it.

        • llbroo49

          Indy,

          I guess it all depends on what you want for your life (or child’s life). All career paths do not require a college degree and none is required to start most businesses.

        • indy

          Yep, I agree. But as I tell my kids, what you get at college is free to anybody who wants it except the piece of paper at the end.

  • llbroo49

    If any intern says they are not sure a college education is worth it, then ask them do they think they would have even gotten an internship WITHOUT attending college.

    Some people are wealthy enough (see Lebron James) or smart enough (Bill Gates) that a college degree doesn’t matter. For everybody else, check out the unemployment rate for those with college degrees versus those without it.

    Now if the argument is “should I spend money to go to an elite Ivy league school or a public institution”? then overall I agree the more expensive school may not be worth it. But that is a different question from the one originally proposed.

    • indy

      Now if the argument is “should I spend money to go to an elite Ivy league school or a public institution”?

      A number of studies have shown that if you control for intelligence, Ivy School grads do about the same, money-wise, as do public school grads. Again, however, you first have to decide that is the measuring stick that matters. I’ve gone to both and I don’t think there is any qualitative difference either. But then ‘two’ is a fairly small subset of the possible comparisons.

  • armstp

    A college education is always worth it, particularly in the long-run. The real question should be is the cost too high? Should any student be forced to end up with $10,000s in debt right out of the gate?

  • PracticalGirl

    Is college still worth it?

    Like so many questions we ask ourselves, the implications are so big that we fail to see that we’re posing the wrong query. Why does it have to come down to an all-or-nothing scenario? For some, yes, for others no.

    The easy answer is “Hell, YES!”. A college graduate makes 1.2 million more (on average) over a lifetime than a high school grad. College grads tend to be more protected in a down market with lower unemployment rates overall than high school grads.

    But here’s where it get’s sticky: The facts are that, by age 27, only 30% of Americans have obtained a college degree- it’s been this way for well over a decade. Yet last year nearly 80% of graduating high school seniors chose to enter college in some form, and it’s been 70%-80% over the last 10 years.

    Why be afraid of student loan debt? Precisely because of the above truth- 70% of kids who enter college will not exit with a degree. And yet- of the 250 billion spent on college last year, 100 million of it was paid for with student loans. So think: Most people who take on student debt will pay for it without a college education.

    Some better questions to ask: Are we doing our kids any favors by encouraging a one-size-fits-all approach to post- high school choices? Parents need to help their kids make good decisions, and the stats would indicate that the vast majority of them are currently making the wrong ones. Why, if the results are so poor, do universities (and their sales arms and organizations) and parents continue to swing for “everybody should go” approach? Answer is simple: College is big business, and families see a jobs system where far too many entry-level jobs require a college degree when the degree itself is unnecessary to the job.

    I’m not anti-education. My own son is in college…But is seriously considering a job opportunity in his field of passion where he can take a couple of years off, gain some experience that matters (80% of all entry level jobs offered to college grads have a sales requirement), grow up some, finish his degree and exit into the work world with real experience, references AND a degree. And, given that he’d be graduating into a world that currently is stuffed with last year’s grads (and the year before) plus this year and next, I’m not sure it’s such a bad idea. He’s privileged and has not debt, so he can do this with no penalty.

    And, even though his dad and I have some knee-jerk feelings against leaving school for a while, it’s hard to argue with his logic. Where do you think I got the above stats?

  • indy

    College is big business, and families see a jobs system where far too many entry-level jobs require a college degree when the degree itself is unnecessary to the job.

    Why has college costs risen 3-4x inflation since 1980? Demand of course. They have become the gatekeeper to ‘a better life’ and they realize they can charge an outrageous fee for it.

  • buddyglass

    Altucher erects a false proposition. An undergraduate degree needn’t cost $200,000, and it needn’t merely be four years of “having fun”.

    Altucher could, for instance, tell his daughters that he’ll pay for whatever it would cost for them to attend a large, well-regarded state school as a National Merit Finalist. If they want to go somewhere more expensive (or won’t do the work to get National Merit- yes, you can game it) then they get to make up the difference in college loans.

    Most large state schools give merit finalists free tuition *at least*. The less-well-regarded ones cover tuition, room and board.

    Altucher might also tell his daughters that if they want the benefit of his financial contribution they’ll choose an employable field of study and maintain an acceptable GPA.

    At the one extreme you have Altucher’s proposition, $200,00 to party for four years, and at the other you have mine: no cost whatsoever since you’re on scholarship (except the opportunity cost of not working during school) and an employable degree that grants the graduate the ability *right out of the gate* to earn about twice what he would otherwise.

  • llbroo49

    As I posted on another article:

    How many non-college graduates has Altucher hired to fill professional/executive positions in his organization?

    • indy

      This is a good question. I once owned a business where a college degree wasn’t really necessary. It was labor intensive and not particularly demanding intellectually. But I required one anyway. It’s a big feeder system.

      • PracticalGirl

        llbroo:

        Congrats to you on giving me the question that’s eaten at me all day:

        How many non-college graduates has Altucher hired to fill professional/executive positions in his organization?

        The answer? Probably very few, and it sounds like a smart question. But ask your question, and it will bring many, many more questions:

        How many people who go to college and attempt a degree (70% fail) will ever be in a position of applying for a professional/executive postion?

        The answer? Very few. What happens to the rest?

        I’m not anti-college, just very practical. And the practical (and experienced) side of me tells me that your premise-for most-is deeply flawed.

  • Raskolnik

    The problem we’re facing is that ever since the G.I. Bill, which democratized what had essentially been an extremely elitist university system that formerly catered only to the very wealthy or the very intelligent/driven, a university degree has become a rubber-stamp on the CV of prospective employees. Bill Gates didn’t need one because even as late as the 70s, a high school degree was all you needed to land a decent job. But our secondary education system, like our primary education system, is a disaster of proportions that grow by the day. And most people go to college, not out of any thirst for knowledge, but because of the cold-blooded calculation that they won’t make all the money they would like to if they don’t have a college degree.

    What we need is

    a) a credible system of secondary education that provides students with a meaningful degree (i.e. something more substantial than a G.E.D. or equivalent)

    b) a credible system of two- or three-year professional schools

    c) three- or four-year programs for that remaining minority of the population that is interested in post-graduate studies

    • PracticalGirl

      “…a university degree has become a rubber-stamp on the CV of prospective employees.”

      Bingo, and the vast majority of entry-level jobs require degrees that give absolutely no specialized training or preparation for the job at hand.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    my wife went to Community college and got her LPN, the total cost to us was nothing as she got scholarships to do so. She got a job at a nursing home very quickly making decent money, before that she only did retail at $7.50 an hour. Of course education is important, if you are focused and work hard.
    Altucher and Thiel have no understanding of life for the middle class, they are frankly being complete aholes, luckily though the people who would likely read their articles are precisely the people who would go to college and get a degree (if you could wade through their crackpot opinions you could wade through anything), those who don’t go to college would never read their article.

  • Banty

    Um, Mr. Altucher is not obliged to cover the college education of his daughters, unless that is part of some divorce/child support agreement he signed. He can say “too bad”, they can finance the whole of their education or make some other choice, and no one will appear at his door to handcuff him; there’s no fine levied, nothing.

    This is where he begins his string of over-statements by which he makes his case that college is not worth it. Buddyglass has already pointed to the false-proposition nature of his statement of the problem. This movement takes a few real issues with higher education and real questions individuals should be asking themselves, then leverages them improbably to make a case for an American work force educated only enough to be useful to prospective employers.

    I actually encouraged my son to consider the trades and not go to college, as he is bright but not exactly enamored of scholarly pursuits, shall we say. He’d be the one in a few years hiring other tradesman and establishing his own business, I told him. But no, the low esteem that the trades are held by his peers turns him away. (BTW, does Altucher help, or further contribute to this problem with his these Bill Gates examples which are rare, rather than the “X.X. Contractors” examples which are actually attainable?) His chosen path is engineering, going through community college first, and I can’t knock that. And, no, it’s not $100,000 out of my pocket for him to have fun for four years.

    • Banty

      I just looked at the New York article, search on the word “trade”. Nada. I further looked into the eight things suggested by these folks as to what young adults can do other than college. ALL of them would require underwriting of the young person’s needs during that time (unless that entrepreneurial business took off immediately as very few do).

      The most important alternative to college, the trades, is not mentioned. The other important alternative to college, military service, is not mentioned. I don’t know what cloud these folks are living on. I’d give their thesis at least some credence, but they clearly don’t have any idea what the real set of choices before young people are.

  • sinz54

    Two points:

    1. It’s not whether college per se counts, but what the student is going to major in and learn there.

    The jobs in increasing demand in America now are: Education, health care, services, and (once we’re out of this economic slump) construction. All jobs that can’t be outsourced.

    All college majors are not created equal. If your child wants to go to medical school to become a doctor, or the Harvard Business School to become a CEO or investor, I say that’s cool, the parent should pay for it. If your daughter wants to major in Feminist Studies, the only jobs she will be able to get are in government (which is now subject to cutbacks) or in teaching (which doesn’t pay very well). Other subjects in the humanities, like political science or archaeology, can offer a good living–but only if the student is really good at it. Not every kid is going to grow up to be Henry Kissinger.

    2. We need to expand our network of community colleges too. There, a student can learn such useful skills as business administration, computer technician, and nursing–all of which are in demand.

  • Xunzi Washington

    It amazes me that questions like this – which always employ extreme points with stupid assumptions — get seriously asked.

    The best private school in my area, which is ranked regionally in the top 10, costs 20K a year, without room and board. The flagship public college in my state costs 8.5 a year for in-state tuition, without room and board.

    That’s 80K for a very good private and 34K for the flagship public. Where’s 200K coming from? And, of course, this is assuming another ridiculous falsehood: that more than a tiny fraction of students actually wind up paying full tuition any way, after scholarships, various discount rates offered by colleges and government subsidies.

    If you are going to argue the point, at least argue it against the scenario that just about all people deal with. In this case, ask:

    1. For wealthier parents: is 80K worth it to send your kid to a good private school?
    2. For not as wealthy parents: is 32K worth it for the flagship public university?

    We should add to this that in my state, if a student graduates with a certain GPA and has a certain ACT score, they get to go to a local community college for FREE. From there, they can transfer to either of (1) or (2), both of which would gladly take the student assuming that student kept up their studies.

    So for the motivated student/parents, now it would be:

    1a. Is 40K worth it to send your kid to a good private?
    2a. IS 16K worth it to send your kid to the flagship?

    The question looks a whole lot different now, doesn’t it? And this is assuming that we take for granted all of your other moronic assumptions.

    • PracticalGirl

      I might suggest that you reevaluate your “costs” when you ask “Where’s the 200k coming from?” You deal with tuition only. Add in fees, books and living and you come up with very different numbers. Thus, the 8k a year college is more like $16,000-$20,000 per year, depending on cost of living in the area. And the 20K a year school? The actual costs of that will be more like 30-40K per year, depending on cost of living, area of study (books/materials for courses vary wildly). Add in transportation etc- it all adds up. Still, your point about 200K is only valid only for the most expensive schools. As a complete aside, the current list of the top ten most expensive schools in the country doesn’t include even one of the Ivies.

      But you do ask some really good questions. I was especially intrigued by the question about high schools: Asked and answered for my family. Sent my son to a private school. His junior and senior year curriculum consisted of nearly all AP level courses (standard for all students in his school), and for a small cost per credit hour, we were able to transfer them to his university for college credit. He began college with a year and a half of credits that included all but one of his freshman year core requirements.

      High school was expensive, but we were able to make it work double for a very small fee-college will be a shorter, less expensive endeavor when he finishes. Yep, it was worth it. Those credits plus his last two years is what makes it very reasonable for him to take a year or two off, gain some work experience and grow up some, knowing that his high school work put him at least a year ahead in college.

      • Xunzi Washington

        Practical:

        I’m not including room and board, because (a) this isn’t necessary for most people, but a choice, and (b) because room and board has nothing to do with “college” as an institution of instruction. At the private school above mentioned, most student live on campus — but close to 65% of them live within close driving distance. An necessary expense? Hardly.

        Also, at the 20K private school I mentioned above, fees are 500 dollars a year. Books, while expensive, do not double the cost of tuition by any stretch. You can find used books for reasonable prices nowadays. Bookstores don’t quite have the monopoly they used to.

        Also, keep again in mind that a very small fraction of students (if any of them) pay full price.

        I think the strategy of advanced AP courses and attendance in community colleges does have a cost (an educational one, not a monetary one) in some (or many) cases. However, here again it’s a choice: if you’d rather (say, in my state) send your kid to a local community college and then transfer to the above private school in junior year, you just saved 40K in tuition (even more if you want to include in R&B).

        My point here is that 200K college educations are not, by any stretch, rammed down anyone’s throat. There are a LOT of college options out there. There are a LOT of good public univeristies, and a LOT of “great value” institutions. And students don’t have to live in dorms, which are social experiences for the most part.

        I don’t disagree that college is expensive, and getting more expensive. But I find many of these articles a real eye-roller. In many of them, there are a boat load of assumptions made that are false. Like: “Student must go to an expensive university” and “student must live away from home and live in the dorm” and “student must buy new books” and “student will always pay full price” and “student can’t get job while at school” and so on. All bunk.

  • Raskolnik

    “The vast majority of entry-level jobs require degrees that give absolutely no specialized training or preparation for the job at hand.”

    “We need to expand our network of community colleges too. There, a student can learn such useful skills as business administration, computer technician, and nursing–all of which are in demand.”

    Yes and yes. These are both reasons for my point b) above, i.e. the necessity of a system of professional schools (community colleges could fill this role) geared towards immediate practical applications, existing largely independent of and parallel to the system of four-year university programs.

    “It’s not whether college per se counts, but what the student is going to major in and learn there.”

    Stanley Fish had an interesting proposal, maybe a year or two ago, in the NYT. His idea was that instead of offering an increasingly fractured array of degree options, which perpetuates the cycle we’ve fallen into of university academics knowing “more and more about less and less,” to instead have a system of interdisciplinary studies centered on pressing concerns. He suggested majors in things like “Water” and “Energy,” with the idea that you would learn (for example) at least basic electrochemistry and thermodynamics for the Energy degree, along with historical/longitudinal perspectives on what energy is and how human society has organized itself around the storing and transmission of energy. The idea is that for any degree you would have to learn at least something from traditional fields like Philosophy, Literature, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, but in the context of a degree program that prepares you, upon graduation, to immediately enter the workforce as an intelligent and educated member of society no matter what you’ve studied. Higher post-graduate education of course would still be there for those who did want to specialize, but the idea is to give people a broad base of practical and theoretical knowledge, instead of forcing them to choose between selling their souls for a Business degree or starving penniless as they clutch their diploma in French Literature.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Here is Altucher’s article (condensed) all of these things can be done after college or during college.

    1) Start a business.

    Better to learn it at 18 than at 23 or older when you’ve been coddled by ivory blankets and hypnotized into thinking success was yours for the taking. Get baptized in the river of failure as a youth so you can blossom in entrepreneurial blessings as an adult.

    This is idiotic. Unless you are a computer genius I am not going to invest in an 18 year olds business. Most 18 year olds are children in everything but name.

    2) Travel the world. (this is what Junior year abroad in college means, you can also do that for a year after you finish college)

    3) Create art. Spend a year learning how to paint. (this is just idiotic. you can create art on your own time if you are an amatuer. If you are an artist go to art school. Even Da Vinci had an art teacher)

    4) Make people laugh. (yeah, I am going to stand on a street corner homeless telling jokes)

    5) Write a book. (it would help if you learn the proper rules of grammar)

    6) Work in a charity. (no one is stopping anyone from doing this at any time, and the most effective charity givers are college educated…organization skills are essential to affect greater change, this subset of skills can be learned in University. The peace corps requires a college degree, as do many NGO’s.)

    7) Master a game: What’s your favorite game? Ping pong? Chess? Poker? Learning how to master a game is incredibly hard.
    More stupidity. Mastery of any game requires both skill and time, unless you become a pro, it won’t put food on the table.

    8)Master a sport: Probably even better than mastering a game because its the same as all of the above but you also get in shape.

    If anyone can think of any other alternatives, please list them in the comments. We only have the life we have lived. And I always sit and daydream, ‘what if..’, ‘what if..’ Its the easiest and most dangerous meditation to do: what if. Because that wish is like a wisp of smoke that can twist and turn until we disappear along with it. But as I write this post I look at these alternatives with longing and I know that when I hit “Publish” I’m going to sit here quietly while the sun goes down, wondering only about ‘what if’.

    What a pompous little twit, I don’t care if he is rich. “what if” “what if”, as Futurama said: not “what if” but “why if”

    • Banty

      This is the list I mentioned before – it really got my eyes rolling. The first is that entrepreneur thing – I have nothing against starting a business with a new idea, believe me, but entrepreneurship lately is being bandied about, held simultaneously as the pinnacle of personal economic activity (we should all be Dagny’s with railroads) and the answer to all individual economic woes. You can’t preach to everyone to all be the idea makers and all be the bosses.

      The rest of the list items have little to do with what 18 year olds are about when they start the engines of their adult lives, and are more suited to the, lets say, newly divorced or the couple finding themselves as empty nesters. It’s a list of what to do when you have a lot of time on your hands and you’re bored! And this is the answer to college..hello!?

      And again, the *real* options – entering the trades, entering military service, are not among them. I mean, do these guys even TALK to anyone that isn’t pretty much like themselves?

  • Rob_654

    Another option that some folks use is that they live at home while attending a Community College for 2 years (sometimes 3) while completing their AA degree then transferring to a 4 year school to complete their undergraduate degree – again if living at home and attending a 4 year school is an option a tremendous amount of money can be saved.

    And if someone wants to major in something outside of where the jobs are – that is a great and a broad knowledge base can be very good in a society, however, if you plan on going to all out cost wise during college and you don’t have wealthy parents you may want to major in something that will actually result in a fairly well paying job with a serious future rather than a degree in something that will have limited returns.

    I understand that people have “passions” and that some art history majors go on to make good money in some field but pragmatism should also be thought of…

  • Raskolnik

    “You may want to major in something that will actually result in a fairly well paying job with a serious future rather than a degree in something that will have limited returns… I understand that people have “passions” and that some art history majors go on to make good money in some field but pragmatism should also be thought of…”

    The problem that I have with this point of view is that it reduces the value of higher education to the potential for pecuniary reimbursement. (Also that it implies an extremely limited view of what a “serious” future means). Universities used to be religious institutions, centered around the monasteries where they were first created. It seems to me that as our culture grows increasingly obsessed with money and short-term ideas of success and security, that we increasingly lose sight of what an education is supposed to provide for a human being.

  • LFC

    Here’s a graph of unemployment by education levels. People might be able to achieve the skill levels of the college graduates (and hence the employment security) without the degree but that takes a lot of work and motivation … kind of like the amount that gets you through a college degree. Without the structure of college, I doubt most 18-year olds would be able to do it.

  • TJ Parker

    Your sample is skewed. Try asking the same question of some engineering students, or students in the sciences. You’ll never meet one who says “I’ll forget everything I learned here”. But yeah, nobody will ever care whether you’ve read Ulysses or can hum something by Britten or can not get lost in a discussion of Hegel. Are your interns actually making a salary that they can comfortably live on? Interns at Intel, Google and Microsoft are. The inequality will continue and only get worse.

  • Arms Merchant

    Is college still worth it? The answer is, it depends. From a strictly monetary standpoint, a person can attend a vocational high school with a good trade apprenticeship program, and make middle-class money in an in-demand trade. Or go through a technical program in the health care or technology fields and make middle-class money.

    People who expect a BA in gender studies to make them good salaries are kidding themselves. Sure, a degree is a discriminator and proves that you can persevere for four years, but that’s about all. All things being equal, salaries are about the perceived value that an employee can bring to the employer. And if people with similar qualifications (read potential) are readily available, the marginal value is not so much.

    So the question is not “College” being worth it, but ROI in preparation for a career, whatever that career may be. If you don’t know the objective (and most 18 year olds don’t), the ROI could be really low.

    Therefore, I recommend acquiring a skill. For most kids, this means schooling in a trade or technical qualification that’s in demand and working a few years in a decent job that supports them and where they can save a portion of their wages until they figure out what their goals are.

    Unskilled labor is competing with hundreds of others in the same area who’ll work for less. If that’s their plan, they can enjoy either 12+hour days or poverty.

    This is a good link for job growth by metro area and industry/vocation:
    http://jobbait.com/targeting/HotSpotsJune5-2011.pdf

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