“Why stay in college? Why go to night school? Gonna be different this time …”

Via the usual source, why bright kids should, in many cases, drop out is thoroughly explained at America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree. It’s positively Freakonomics-worthy stuff. Turns out I knew what I was doing at age 19 … avoiding a s___load of debt and not compromising my future earning power much, if at all.

(Actually, in my case there is almost no doubt I would be both 1] making less money and 2] living somewhere more expensive right now if I’d somehow stayed in the academic world. Figure student debt into that and my net worth would be perhaps a quarter its present value, and that’s if I were lucky.)

Key passage: “You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they’d still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound …”

The Talking Heads would agree.

(Related: lengthy six-month old post, Get Out the Hankies, with tons of comments, over on Transterrestrial Musings.)

UPDATE: More food for thought

14 thoughts on ““Why stay in college? Why go to night school? Gonna be different this time …””

  1. The next bubble to burst. I doubt there will be much public sympathy for the soon to be unemployed as they have swindled so many so successfully.

    It was merely 60 years ago that many of the nation’s finest institutions stopped revising their plans for bankruptcy. It will be interesting to see how they now liquidate themselves from their recent overindulgence in country club accommodations.

    Schadenfreude is so sweet to the bitter.

  2. My first read of this blog. Fascinating enthusiasm for Republican Big Government here, who woulda thunk it. Is this the same Chicago that brought Milt to us?

  3. I missed the enthusiasm for Republican Big Government implicit in the notion that most colleges are defrauding a goodly portion of their students. I’ll try harder to interpret what I write next time an anonymous cretin makes such a helpful suggestion.

  4. When I attended the University of Minnesota during the Viet Nam war tuition was $89/quarter. It rose to $120/quarter when I left. I stayed for eleven years, accumulated a BA, an MA and and MBA. There was no limit on the number of credits one would take, there was a 12 credit minimum/quarter.

    Graduated with no debt. Worked my way through school by trading wheat, corn and the bean complex.

    Sent my wife to school at the University of Pittsburgh. Tuition was $100/credit. Still reasonable.

    Today the easy availability of loans has made any kind of education costs unreasonable and unconscionable, if not downright immoral. The average kid I hire owes over $70,000 for college debt. My barber owes $40,000 for barber school and my Dentist’s assistant owes $30,000 for dental assistant school.

    Kids pay more for a single textbook than I paid for my first car.

  5. Problem is, a lot of managers and HR people put excessive emphasis on college degrees because (a)it helps cut down the flood of resumes, (b)they lack good job definition and interviewing skills to figure out if a candidate can really do the job, and/or (c)everybody else does it. Thus, there really are a lot of jobs that a person will find it difficult to get if he doesn’t have a degree–increasingly, a graduate degree–and the higher-education industry exploits this in a way which is often pretty irresponsible.

    Also, some economists have suggested that college is about the mating market as much as the job market–ie, there are a lot of people who wouldn’t consider marrying, or even seriously dating, an individual without a college degree.

  6. Oh, my, this is disturbing from top to bottom, especially after Sol’s bit (well, and David’s). The diploma as a very expensive merit badge patch? It’s disturbing because my job is helping kids get in to college…..the redeeming part is that they are the top 1% type students in China, so they ARE likely to benefit.

    My degree cost $50 per semester at a good state university. Low cost AND it kept me from laying around drunk or going to Vietnam. I would have possibly been happier staying in the job I had before college and progressing normally, assuming that had happened.

    Having said all that, I wouldn’t trade for the experience (at that price, mind) and it laid the groundwork for getting an advanced degree later when some of the adolescent and hippie fog had cleared. Paid off for me, but at a price of over $100,000 it’s much more dicey.

  7. Food for thought. Yep, a lot of the report of taking in people with waivers glosses over those run in with the laws can often be traced to increases in the designation of offenses as felonies; DUI, multiple misdemeanors, etc since the early 90s as we’ve ramped up penalties.

    What’s missing is often on the discussion on the cost of higher education are the various education packages and financial opportunities offered by the armed forces. While the current GI Bill isn’t your granddad’s, it still is nearly 40,000. Decent for a mid-level college. That doesn’t include those transferable courses that can be picked up on one’s own time during the service nor the amount of funds that can be picked up through the various enlistment and reenlistment bonuses. There is risk, but any more than living in some sections of America’s cities? However, it also puts the work up front before payoff rather than getting the payoff and working the load down afterwards. I recall someone said – ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

  8. Here’s another musical interlude for you:
    “TV Dinner by the pool,
    I’m so glad I finished school.”

    At one point, I had totally blown my education reimbursement budget, even though I was probably the reason it became a budget item in the first place. A majority of my staff was going to night school, usually MBA programs, but one in law school and one tough kid from Southie getting her undergrad degree the hard way. Most were internal hires, so I reasoned that I was just absorbing someone else’s budget hit. I was looking for people who were not just smart but who were striving.

    I don’t think undergrad programs are a high enough hurdle if they mean just going away for 4 years on Mom, Dad, & Uncle Sam. Working full time and graduating in 4 years is a much better qualification.

    That said, the insertion of government subsidies has led to almost unthinkable cost inflation. Instead of a negotiation between the student as buyer and the college as seller, with value for value the main consideration, there is now an arrangement to jack up the price and lay off some of the cost to the third party for payment.

  9. This semester, I have a student who wrote barely literate papers, clearly wasn’t doing the reading, and in general needed to grow up. She doesn’t belong in college. She explained her dismal showing by telling me that she was working a 60-hour week, shift manager at Pizza Hut and part-time at Best Buy. Why, I asked, was she doing this and taking classes? How many hours was she taking? Twelve. Why? Because otherwise she couldn’t get her student loans. Another 19-year-old fell asleep in class because he was working a 60-hour week to pay off his mortgage; he wasn’t married. These are not choices of necessity. They may have feckless parents (students like this generally do), but they also think they should have a young professional’s life style with 19-year-old skills (and not good ones at that). They have no concept that college should take time and energy and should be considered a compensation in its own right. Actually if college taught self-discipline, delayed gratification, humility toward our long rich cultural tradition, basic literacy I think it would be useful for everybody. Of course, it doesn’t and when it seems like it is, someone steps in to say that’s a bad idea.

    Advanced education or the intellectual life has seldom been seen as the way to riches nor the easy life. That change in modern America comes from a country that is wealthy enough to afford a larger layer of such people. That layer has then sold the next generations on the need for a degree to perpetuate not their knowledge (which they consider unimportant – indeed, the evil by product of western civilization) but their jobs.

    I love what I do – well, sometimes. But my brother who dropped out of college after one year makes more than my sister with her master’s and me with a doctorate combined, indeed, I suspect in multiples. He’s also a happy husband and a supportive grandfather. He’s started factories that employ people. That excess energy that sometimes got him into trouble was channeled by a good marriage and some discipline into a broadly useful life.

    I can’t begin to describe the contradictions in our society that lead to less useful, productive, thoughtful people. But, then, it could be (and in many other countries and in many other times it has been) worse.

  10. First, I’ll say that my own college education was a hellish experience which I wouldn’t want to repeat in pursuit of a payoff that never came. It was a colossal waste of time, money, and energy.

    Ginny, I don’t think I understand your remarks. Is your point that college should be a “self fulfillment” kind of exercise for the offspring of the idle rich? I’m not sure I’d disagree with that being what it is, but whether it should be that is another question.

  11. John,
    You don’t understand my remarks because I haven’t worked it out myself. On your point, however, I do have a comment.

    I didn’t mean and don’t agree with you – the idle rich are a thin level of parents or of students. Few students (perhaps because I teach at a jr college, but I’m not out of touch with students at larger, research institutions) actually think in terms of self-fulfillment – well, at least as regards their intellectual lives. and they aren’t idle – they are running up huge debts and are working long hours. They just aren’t working (and don’t think they should have to work) on mastering the subjects they are taking.

    I meant our country has sufficient wealth to support faculty who teach very few and often esoteric classes and students who aim at a diploma that will grant them entry into jobs that do not require any skills they have acquired in college (if, of course, they have acquired any) and who see themselves as filling in time and marking off requirements in a completely arbitrary way – the less engagement the better. In other words, our country can and does encourage 4-5 relatively unproductive years. That seems to me a remarkable (and profligate) indulgence.

    Few scholars are needed in a society (that is, in the old core of college – languages, history, math, science). Sufficient education to teach on a lower level, sufficient to be able to master the new sets of skills of engineering, business – these are necessary. But some of these would be much more usefully mastered with some basic classes and intense apprenticeships. The years in school have lengthened but no specific skills are expected to be mastered at any level (at least in English).

    I do think that some at any time will be drawn to the life of scholarship. This is important – no more nor less than engineers and plumbers and physicians. It is important that people are able to pursue this, but it might be better if it cost them something. That is, such a choice should be a choice for the scholarly life, an acknowledgement of the compensations of the play of ideas, but not a choice for a life of ease nor power. Over-valuing the degree and under-valuing the discipline has cheapened both.

    (You might cut me some slack; I’m getting old and at the end of the semester, I know what I want to have passed on and I know what I am supposed to pass on. I’ve succeeded at neither. And dead week is a time of weak excuses, late papers, and sad stories.)

  12. anon 12:55…I think that as higher education has expanded, many people have been sucked into careers as professors who in fact are *not* particularly attracted to “the life of the mind” in any traditional sense. The situation is slightly analogous to the dot-com boom, when startups proliferated we had people becoming CEOs who had no particular vocation for executive management and who in some cases should not have been entrusted with the running of a lemonade stand.

    I think this factor accounts for some of the weirdness we see in academia today. If you’re not really all that interested in scholarship, you do entertainment, or at least whatever’s trendy…

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