Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Obsession With College Degrees

The above-linked post brought up a number of points on the current obsession in our society with college degrees.

We have become so fixated on the necessity a college degree that few of us will refrain from counseling a young person to obtain a Bachelors degree in something. I too have been guilty of this. Part of this has to do with the fact that, as the writer notes, employers routinely dismiss out-of-hand any applicant who has not earned a college degree. I also think that we as a whole have come to consider people who have not gone to college to be ignorant, lazy, and lacking in ambition. For the record, have never subscribed to the latter. I have met many a non-college grad that is financially successful, smart as a whip, well-read, and both capable and willing to lead others.

The climate in Academia encourages the idea that only those who have Masters Degrees or more, especially if the degree is recent (And thus subject to the current propaganda) or in the process of being earned, have the right to be experts on any social, religious, or historical topic. This concept, ironically, is found most often outside the realm of the degrees in hard sciences such as Engineering, Geology, Chemistry, etc., those in which the student arguably has expended the greatest amount of effort to obtain. No, the attitude described is most likely to be found in people with Liberal Arts degrees, Sociology, religious studies, etc. It is the young person who, upon finishing his first or second semester in a Liberal Arts program that now knows far more about everything than do his parents.

My point is this - the student that has the least to gain in employment and advancement as a result of his degree tends to be more likely to be the know-it-all in any subject than those who have even a degree in Medicine. A few doctors may inwardly scoff at your personal research that you performed about your condition, but I have found few that purport to know more than the average guy on other subjects. It is as if the tremendous effort that they expended in earning their medical degree left them appreciative of the fact that there is so much more that they do not know.

I myself only have an Associates Degree In Criminal Justice, which is admittedly a half-step above a two-year degree in Liberal Arts. My area of expertise is History and Religion. If my financial situation one day allows me to go back to school full-time and work towards a Masters or PHD in, say, Western Civilization, I would be happy, but I would still hold that there are many self-taught people out there that could blow me away with their knowledge in that very subject. How do I know this? It is actually quite simple. I have spent three decades applying myself to works associated with this genre, including, not only English translations of primary ans secondary-source documents, but the college textbooks themselves. 

What have I learned form this? Two things. The first is that no matter how much I read, , view, take notes on, and compare to other sources, the more that  I realize that I will never be able to put a dent in knowing it all. The second is twofold. Despite what I have been forced to demonstrate with those who posses degrees in similar subjects, these types will never acknowledge that my learning compares to theirs. I have also found that the same people tend to know very little about the subjects in which they actually have their degrees. I often leave conversations wondering what it was that they learned about Ancient Greece or Rome, Medieval or Renaissance Europe, or the Modern Era. They have little or no knowledge of the people, their writings, their exploits, or their accomplishments. Forget about understanding how different people and group interacted with one another, that's a lost cause in their case. I compare it to finding that a Geologist is unable to tell me anything about extracting petroleum from shale. Many of these people had been sold a false bill of goods. Unless their college and professors cared about teaching the subjects (There are some very credible institutions and teachers) as opposed to swamping the student with anti-Western propaganda, they spent a lot of money and worked very hard to learn very little.

Back to the main point of the post. The writer notes that we are assuming that everyone should either pay up front, or accumulate a lot of debt at a young age, for a degree. Economies need to produce to survive. You don't need a degree to be a longshoreman or a steel worker, yet these are necessary and they both pay well. The jobs that produces a finished product is especially important as we can export it and thus bring money into our economy rather than send it to a steel mill in China or India. No society can exist with everyone sitting behind a desk. He rightly notes that the obsession with college smacks of a conspiracy, one that leaves many people frustrated due to being unable to land a big position with a college degree and being saddled with a debt that in some states is close to the price of a house.

-From the link at top:

"My two older brothers are polar opposites. One is a fiscal conservative with a large house and property; the other squats in our deceased mom's co-op to save on rent. One is a salaried IT executive; the other is a paralegal. One is action-oriented; the other is philosophical and passive -- he prefers to hide from creditors, in fact, and refuses to work overtime to make additional cash. One is college-educated; one is not. Can you guess which is which?

What is the point of having advanced education if you do nothing with it?

More than twenty million students will be returning to school this fall, presumably so they can start their adult lives with a solid foundation. According to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, a majority of these students have chosen to enroll in public schools instead of private. In fact, more and more have chosen public over private each year since 2005. The trend also points to additional enrollment in two-year programs, which makes sense, considering how expensive the four-year endeavor has become.

However, do a simple job search, and in all areas of the country a bachelor's degree is required no matter how menial the job, how low-paying the office position, and how unlikely one is to climb the corporate ladder. I'm always hesitant to apply, even if I could be the perfect match. After all, how do I get past the e-mail filters when I do not possess a degree? Should I mention my high IQ? That I made it into the Jeopardy! contestant pool on my second attempt? How about that I'm a Top 10 Bookworm Player, which makes a cool calling card, being among the nation's best in a sea of thousands of players who compete for petty cash?

Here is one listing: "Editors needed to work with digital content to make edits and adjustments using tools such as HTML, XML, and CSS. A Bachelor's Degree in English, Journalism, or Library Science and meticulous proofreading skills are necessary for this type of role."


No one who studies English or journalism in college ever learns this skill set. Most journalism students are lucky to learn anything practical at all. The weekly reporters I worked with, some with advanced degrees, were basically taught theory and ideals. They didn't figure out how to really get the story until they were on the job for six months. By then, I was already an editor.

My question: in 2012, who purposely seeks out a four-year degree to earn ten dollars an hour, or perhaps twelve if the stars are aligned? Can anyone do the math? The average amount of tuition ranges from $4,500 to $12,000 per year for in-state students, according to the College Board. Triple that amount if you attend a private university.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers has $43,000 as the median starting salary for recent college graduates, and even less for anyone in the visual arts. How long does it take just to pay off the principal? I imagine a million years, or perhaps less if someone else is fronting room and board.

More than half of all college students will also switch their major at some point, a costly decision if the wrong turn is taken. Unless you plan on becoming a professor or need street cred for writing textbooks, having a history degree is not exactly the road to financial success. Ask my brother, the paralegal, who pushes papers and calls cranky clients for address information.

I will never knock anyone who goes to college and learns, as it can be an incredibly valuable and rewarding experience for many. I am not bitter or envious of degree-holders -- just baffled at the expectations from employers and what students hope to accomplish when they choose certain majors. No one needs a bachelor's degree in English in order to change style sheets for webpages. Teenagers can learn this skill set on their own, in their spare time.

In my life, I've accomplished much without a degree, from managing several newspapers to writing a successful bank proposal that secured capital for a medical exporter. I've been working since I was 14 years old, when I started in an office environment to help a relative. It was supposed to be a summer job, but I wound up staying with the office through high school. It gave me the ability to self-study graphic arts software and learn other skills, in addition to saving money for a new computer.

By the time I was college-aged and supposed to be "finding myself," I didn't want to pursue a degree; I wanted to work. Instead of searching through course catalogs, I found a better-paying position with a large insurance company. At that time, the early 1990s, no one demanded that I have a degree or even wondered how young I was. (I'm guessing because it was illegal to ask.) Someone in Human Resources put me in a temp spot, and before long, I had a permanent job followed by a promotion. It took me a while, and working for a few small businesses, before I finally found my true calling, newspapers, but by the time I became a weekly reporter, I already had ten years' office experience, at just 24 years old.

This would be impossible today. Somewhere in the last dozen years, college degrees became mandatory for even the simplest of secretarial jobs, despite the astronomical rise in tuition costs in the same time period, which of course was married to the housing market -- a nice conspiracy theory if there ever was one.

Many professions absolutely should require advanced education. Few patients would rush to see a self-taught doctor, for example. For other fields, the rate of return for a four-year degree is next to ridiculous. Customer service, managing, "content creation," and certainly anything clerical do not warrant sixty credits of useless humanities and film classes to round out the knowledge base. Liberal arts do not teach anyone instinct or inspiration, or how to answer a phone with a clear speaking voice, or how to solve a problem. A "well-rounded" education also does not guarantee grammar skills or coherent ideas -- ask any hiring manager plowing through the hundreds of daily applicants.

Here's a symbolic conclusion: there is a husband/wife team in my area, each with a handy master's in marketing, who upon graduating decided to open a dog-walking company. They have cute copy on the website (walks with other dogs are not walks, but "buddy bonding" or whatever). Perhaps they even branded themselves. What a waste of money and time, in my opinion. Their competitors, dog-walkers who never went to college, clear as much or more in annual salary. Why? It's picking up poop and garnering a good reputation among clients to obtain referrals. Not something one has to spend six years to realize, shelling out six figures in the process."


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