College is a waste of time (OT)


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Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 3, 2011 - 01:35pm PT

Stephens makes some valid points:

Editor's note: Dale J. Stephens is a 19-year-old entrepreneur leading UnCollege, a social movement supporting self-directed higher education and building RadMatter, a platform to demonstrate talent. He is among the first recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, an initiative by venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel that gives 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old $100,000 to fund their projects.

(CNN) -- I have been awarded a golden ticket to the heart of Silicon Valley: the Thiel Fellowship. The catch? For two years, I cannot be enrolled as a full-time student at an academic institution. For me, that's not an issue; I believe higher education is broken.

I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.

Failure is punished instead of seen as a learning opportunity. We think of college as a stepping-stone to success rather than a means to gain knowledge. College fails to empower us with the skills necessary to become productive members of today's global entrepreneurial economy.

College is expensive. The College Board Policy Center found that the cost of public university tuition is about 3.6 times higher today than it was 30 years ago, adjusted for inflation. In the book "Academically Adrift," sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa say that 36% of college graduates showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing after four years of college. Student loan debt in the United States, unforgivable in the case of bankruptcy, outpaced credit card debt in 2010 and will top $1 trillion in 2011.

Fortunately there are productive alternatives to college. Becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or mastering the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" are not the only options.

The success of people who never completed or attended college makes us question whether what we need to learn is taught in school. Learning by doing -- in life, not classrooms -- is the best way to turn constant iteration into true innovation. We can be productive members of society without submitting to academic or corporate institutions. We are the disruptive generation creating the "free agent economy" built by entrepreneurs, creatives, consultants and small businesses envisioned by Daniel Pink in his book, "A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future."

Opinion: Why liberal arts matter

We must encourage young people to consider paths outside college. That's why I'm leading UnCollege: a social movement empowering individuals to take their education beyond the classroom. Imagine if millions of my peers copying their professors' words verbatim started problem-solving in the real world. Imagine if we started our own companies, our own projects and our own organizations. Imagine if we went back to learning as practiced in French salons, gathering to discuss, challenge and support each other in improving the human condition.

A major function of college is to signal to potential employers that one is qualified to work. The Internet is replacing this signaling function. Employers are recruiting on LinkedIn, Facebook, StackOverflow and Behance. People are hiring on Twitter, selling their skills on Google, and creating personal portfolios to showcase their talent. Because we can document our accomplishments, and have them socially validated with tools such as LinkedIn Recommendations, we can turn experiences into opportunity. As more and more people graduate from college, employers are unable to discriminate among job seekers based on a college degree and can instead hire employees based on their talents.

Of course, some people want a formal education. I do not think everyone should leave college, but I challenge my peers to consider the opportunity cost of going to class. If you want to be a doctor, going to medical school is a wise choice. I do not recommend keeping cadavers in your garage. On the other hand, what else could you do during your next 50-minute class? How many e-mails could you answer? How many lines of code could you write?

Some might argue that college dropouts will sit in their parents' basements playing Halo 2, doing Jell-O shots and smoking pot. These are valid but irrelevant concerns, for the people who indulge in drugs and alcohol do so before, during and after college. It's not a question of authorities; it's a question of priorities. We who take our education outside and beyond the classroom understand how actions build a better world. We will change the world regardless of the letters after our names.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dale Stephens.


Trad climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 01:42pm PT
Yeah, conformity. It just sucks that we expect our students all to learn the exact, same goddmamn friggin periodic table. I mean the exact same frickin one that they learn in China. Outrageous that we are inflicting that sort of trauma on bright, talented, teenagers who left to their own devices would follow their libidinal bliss into the 22nd century.

He's completely ignorant of what actually happens in a decent college education, and I don't mean the University of Phoenix.

The whole point of a research university is to get trained in research skills and to acquire a disciplined, rigorous ability to then re-educate oneself as the fields change. That doesn't happen in big classrooms, memorizing random bits of data and then taking multiple-choice exam, of course.

But then, any decent research university that can still afford to do proper teaching is investing heavily in lab work or the equivalent for the field. The problem is, that sort of training is really labor-intensive and capital intensive.

There are all sorts of folks who would be better off not going through even that sort of training, of course. Especially folks unwilling or unable to discipline themselves the way that a "discipline" requires. A lot of folks think we should really expand voc-tech training, and I think that's a wonderful idea. But it's also insanely expensive, because it tends to require more, rather than less, lab or field work.

ron gomez

Trad climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 01:45pm PT
Education, as waste of time???? THEY need an education. Wonder what the stats are of those that are educated vs uneducated and the lifestyles they live. A GUD education is NEVER a waste of time....period!

Jun 3, 2011 - 01:52pm PT
This stuff has been in the media lately, and if you can get past the oversimplified headlines that usually accompany it (i.e. the name of this thread), and listen to his rationale, (esp. Peter Thiel- Thiel Fellowship) it has some validity.

Traditional education paths are not a waste of time- the point is that there are other reasonable alternatives with equal or better potential. Add to this the fact that higher education continues to move further and further beyond the financial grasp of the middle class, and combine with that the reality that even when a higher degree is achieved, the cost associated with it is difficult or impossible to recoup.

Statistically, those with higher educations/degrees will probably always out-earn those without, but in today's changing working world, there are more 'outside the box' opportunities than ever.

Thiel Fellowship:
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:24pm PT
College is a waste of time!

Battle cry of the Drop Out. What... does he think he INVENTED THAT SH#T?


Trad climber
Lone Pine
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:28pm PT
He's right and he's wrong. Any sort of science-based subject that you learn at a college/university requires that higher education. Physics, chemistry, biology, geology - they require an education to be hired on as a professional.

Perhaps what he means is that you don't necessarily need a college education to be an entrepreneur? That's what I got out of it.

His point does say something though. I'm directly using the degree I paid a lot of money for. I would say over 2/3 of my peers at school aren't using their degrees at all - if thats the case, why go to college?

hanging from an ice pick and missing my mama.
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:50pm PT
History Majors can be...

Information Managers
Litigation Support
Medical Records Manager


It's really up to the individual person to figure it out. In my graduation class, 1/3 went on to become lawyers so... That should say something in itself.


Trad climber
Sunny Aiea,Hi
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:54pm PT
a state teacher I know said " the government f*#ks everything up so we should turn education over to private enterprise"

Many with no vision and a state induced dependence upon such will ridicule the thought but nevertheless it IS entirely possible.

Off to Maui, have a great weekend all!


Edit: The change from with to will by my phones auto check is knott too difficult to figure out. SO I would repeat in other words.... the party members house is burning...get out!!!
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:56pm PT
There are one or two private colleges in the U.S. last time I checked.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 3, 2011 - 02:56pm PT
This point of view would work just fine for an idiot savant of course, just so long as you keep him or her in that tiny little segment where they actually can function.

And for sure, ignore the humanities, history, language, the arts, etc.

But I will totally agree that higher education is in a crisis not just for its funding and that of its students but much more significantly in regard to continuing inroads made by those factions in our cultures (worldwide) that are trying to attenuate its importance, viz. promote ignorance. And I just see this Dale Stephens guy as being an unwitting tool for such ignorance, just thinly veiled, and of course juvenile and singing his youthful paean.

For sure, always go beyond the box, stem to the hold invisible behind you, reach around the arete to find the hidden but suspected hold, burrow deep in that offwidth to find a secret finger crack, try to decode a complex face----always, and leave your teachers behind of course as is meant to be---supercede them. But certainly do not decry the very institutions that would be the last to fail you when all else grows dark.....

Boulder climber
Soon to be in China
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:01pm PT
Many with no vision and a state induced dependence upon such with ridicule the thought but nevertheless it IS entirely possible.

Can someone translate this from Word Salad into English, please?
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:08pm PT



Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 3, 2011 - 03:10pm PT
Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.

This is happening to a large level in the the grade school/high school level. The all children left behind act leaves students void of creativity in lieu of memorizing test answers.

College put the challenge and innovation back into my life and it was a very rewarding and exciting time. This wealth of information is still alive for me today.

Big Wall climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:14pm PT
Colleges are changing slower than they should to keep up with the modern world. There will always be tension between teaching a broad general base, vs. teaching an almost vocation (i.e. physics degree vs. computer science), and it feels to me that most colleges are further behind the curve on educating enough folks to have the right skills the world needs now than they used to be.

I found my 6 years of college to be worth every penny, and worth the time invested. Short of starting your own business, it is very hard to earn 6 figures without going to college. The few geniuses out there can indeed educate themselves and start their own businesses without a degree, but they are rare, and basing a society on the Bill Gates model is not viable. At the same time I see too many dolts ending up being hired purely because they have a Master's instead of just a Bachelors like other better talented folks have thanks to the business world putting excess faith in a piece of paper.

Sadly state and federal funding has not kept up with attendance at colleges, among other factors, leading to soaring tuition and soaring student loan debt. Little is done to educate students on their likely incomes from each major, or to share with them what the likely resulting jobs are like. As a result we have too many Art majors, not enough Engineers, and too many college grads unemployed due to lousy skillset matching (and too many H1B visa folks bunging up our engineering houses with broken english to fill the void).
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:19pm PT
Well.... I have always particularly loved this bumper sticker:


Trad climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:24pm PT
Entrepreneurs DON'T need no stinkin' college. But not everyone is an entrepreneur. Plenty of people who have been incredibly successful in their careers would flail like sport climbers on a Jtree 5.8 if they suddenly found themselves in the position of being required to entrprenue(I know, that's not a word. I made it up; when you don't go to college, you feel completely okay in doing that sort of thing....hahahah).

hanging from an ice pick and missing my mama.
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:25pm PT
College was a fantastic experience for me... I found it both challenging and awarding. Plus, it helped me grow up. Yeah, I still needed a few more nails placed in order to become an adult but heck... College did give me the main frame of what I am today.

Would I be better off without college? Heck no. Yet, I do agree that it's not for everyone. It just helps open up opportunities... You still need to do the walking...

There are some people who can have all the opportunities in the world and they will still not be able to make it and... People like my father that don't need an open door, he goes through walls because he really is that capable.


Social climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:28pm PT
The morons who carry on thinking all they need to know they learned in Kindergarten fail to remember what teat they are lucky enough to latch onto and who they suckle from as a result. It's about connections and if yer lucky to have family connections into some fabulous enterprise then aren't you a lucky little entitled prince/ss.

But for the rest of us schmucks, we will need to continue chasing school in order to hopefully find some connection to a job that won't drive us crazy or expose us to toxic waste.


Jun 3, 2011 - 03:30pm PT
If you think Stephens has a point, try someone with a working, well-informed mind, Louis Menand, in the New Yorker:

Trad climber
San Francisco
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:33pm PT
This has indeed been a hot meme in the news lately. I think it has become fashionable to denounce college, and while dropping out may be the path for certain bright, entrepreneurial types (ever notice that these articles are always written by people who work in very narrow fields of internet technology) I think that a fantastic, reasonably affordable education is available for those who want it.

I dropped out of college ten years ago, and after a decade of exploring job prospects for someone with out a degree, I recently returned to finish a bachelors in biology. I go to a completely undistinguished state school, and even at such a lowly institution I have to say that I am very pleased by the opportunities that are available to me. I have constant access to a group of experts who are generally more than happy to take the time to answer my questions, and I am able to participate in interesting research in order to better understand not only the topics involved, but how good experiments are designed, carried out, and analyzed.

Of course I'm expected to memorize and regurgitate, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect people to learn facts about their field of study. Holding such concepts in contempt strikes me as an extremist take on new age educational views that there should be no right and wrong - perhaps just different "ways of knowing". Even while learning facts I am perfectly free to examine why they may be true or under what conditions they might not be.

What I see in my classes are a lot of people who are not ready to or are not interested in receiving a quality education. It is easy enough to scrape by without putting in much thought and so that is what people do. It's certainly what I did the first time around. I don't think the system is failing these people. If anything it might be the other way around.

As for rising costs, that certainly is an issue, and while my school is 3 times as expensive as it was 10 years ago, I think it is still reasonably affordable through a combination of working, loans, and financial aid. The important question is what you are going to get out of the degree. If it is a sharper mind and a better job, then it is well worth the cost. If you're going to float through without learning anything, then it will be a hell of a lot of wasted dough.

I think one problem is that a lot more people are going to college and maybe some of those people would do better elsewhere. But as long as we are destroying collective bargaining, packing off manufacturing jobs overseas, and refusing to pay living wages to workers, then all the people who might have been working decent paying labor jobs a couple generations ago are going to be heading to college instead. A lot of these people probably have no interest in whatever they are studying and consequently don't do very well. They then appear in stats that say that college students aren't learning, and we all assume that the system is failing them.
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