College is a waste of time (OT)


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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.

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:48pm PT
There's a good article in The Critics section of the current New Yorker on why we have college, titled 'Live and Learn'.

Look in, the current issue.

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:49pm PT
Yeah, following advice about reforming education system from a 19 yr. old. Sounds like a great plan.

hanging from an ice pick and missing my mama.
Jun 3, 2011 - 03:52pm PT
I asked my father about this and... It's been an interesting conversation.

My Dad left school in fifth grade because of war, poverty, etc. He speaks three languages.. Greek, Arabic and English, had his own construction company, and taught me my Algebra and a little Physics.

To sum it up, he is a very smart guy.

His answer is that college means a whole lot. You might be smart, but nothing says it more than having a diploma. Never underestimate the value of a diploma signed by the governor, certified by the government, etc. You can tell people how great you are, even throw in a few flash cards/portfolio but heck... It can't compare to having you government certify that you are qualified, extremely smart, etc.

Plus in order for you to get it, you need to learn how to work with others, figure out what other's want and perform to other standards than you own, etc. It's not just learning the information... It's about learning how to work in the system. We are not mom and pop stores. Most of us must work within large corporation, systems, a large matrix of boundaries.

He also mention that nothing is more valuable than common sense but... That is something no one can teach you. You either choose to work on the practical, beyond the ego or... You like most who are too lazy to assess their environments and use reason.

P.S. I also love how people without an education are the first to claim it is not necessary and... I've never heard someone say they shouldn't have gotten a diploma. I also know a person who lies about his education regularly for status reasons which I find very offensive... I don't think any of this would be an issue if it wasn't valuable.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:09pm PT
Independent of the added earning potential it will likely impart over your lifetime, diplomas do mean something. Steven Spielberg and Shaq went back and got theirs after having gobs of money just for that reason.

Also, the education many receive in grades K-12 can be startingly poor. My wife, a former college instructor, and my brother-in-law, an officer in the Marine Corp., have both marveled at the inability of LOTS of people to construct a simple sentence, write a decent letter, etc. Many colleges nowadays have had to shift their focus to teaching rememdial tasks that just aren't being learned in grade school.

A pile of dirt.
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:16pm PT
Yeah understanding how do basic arithmetic (since somehow kids show up at college with out that knowledge), speak, read, and write are so overrated.

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:16pm PT
Think of it this way -

The entrepreneurial spirit and drive is available to anyone, any time, any where. Some places and times are obviously better than others, but even in a war zone entrepreneurs find a way to survive and thrive.

Access to your own entrepreneurial spirit is 24/7, provided you have one.

And of course there are entrepreneurs and then there are entrepreneurs.

The college drop out who penned the article may be one of those, and this is my perspective from having been a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur myself and then having worked with one of THOSE entrepreneurs for a decade, he may be one of the people who has the intrinsic spark to bootstrap himself to I dunno, found the next Google or Facebook or something. Good for him.

The odds are stacked against him, however. 1 in a friggin 100,000,000 in my experience. True 'go-it-your-own-way' entrepreneurs are not average people. Now there are more modest entrepreneurs and I mean none of you any disrespect - bakery, contractor, investment manager, retailer, etc... all of these are viable businesses to those who don't like reporting to their superiors. But I don't think that kid is talking about dropping out of college to start a pot store or sell stocks or real estate or something...

Its shown over and over again, the college diploma has tangible results in terms of lifetime earnings and elevated lifestyle and the successful realization of these potential benefits are available to a much wider spectrum of people, imo.

So I say to the would-be google-starters out there - why not get the degree and then do your entrepreneurial thing? You can make lots of connections with people that later in life may be of considerable use to you in your march to rule the world. Or maybe when you realize you're not made of the right stuff you can go to work for The Man and still make a decent living that won't leave you crippled by age 55.


Mountain climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:23pm PT
Yeah, following advice about reforming education system from a 19 yr. old. Sounds like a great plan.

Pretty hilarious, Fat Dad :-) I agree completely.

I know someone who recently hired a 26 year old "entrepreneur", who'd never gone to college. The guy came across as a technical wizard and claimed he "grew up programming", etc. Turned out the guy couldn't even spell (without someone to edit his resume), let alone think critically, or write something others could understand. His tech skills were all "drag and drop", too. He didn't last long.

I went back to school in my 30's and value the the entire process immensely - learning to research and present what I'd learned. Hard to know what one doesn't know, until you've gone through this. I completely loved my entire time in school and was super motivated. I was there completely by choice, very different than when I dropped out of 1st year university after graduating from high school.

grass pass
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:23pm PT
Oh I loved university! It changed every aspect of my life. My world went from this big to THIS's not just about the degree and the money, status or prestige that may come with it. It's about being a citizen of THE world vs. your world.

Trad climber
santa fe
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:28pm PT
How does anyone actually use a social sciences or history degree for a career, other than in academia?

I'm a government lawyer and I think about the things I learned for my political science degree a lot. I'm sometimes very surprised about how little people know about theories of government and their history.

One of the things I love most about college was the serendipity and being exposed to stuff I might not have otherwise sought out. The extra curricular activities also were just as, if not more, educational then my formal classes. I don't agree that college is a waste of time, at least it wasn't for me. Since I went to a state school in the early 80s I incurred very little debt and it has been worth every penny.

To the extent that colleges (or the "university model") is failing, I think a large part has to do with the primary and secondary schools. Recent education "reforms" seem more designed to remove the ability of teachers to teach critical thinking skills and to turn kids into automata. Of all our major institutions, a class room is about the only one where a teacher of 100 years ago would feel pretty much in place today.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:30pm PT
Would any of you advise your child to avoid college, assuming she has the brain power to get in and pass? Would you tell her to become a seamstress or house maid instead?

Well, would you???


Trad climber
santa fe
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:33pm PT
I could see encouraging a "gap year" or two. It works to great effect in England. I imposed one on myself halfway through, and when I returned, I got a lot more out the last two years.

I guess it depends on the kid and what plans they had to improve themselves and continue growing. But I think it would be rare.

Trad climber
Green Mountains, Vermont
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:47pm PT
What a well reasoned bunch of responses for an ST thread.

I'm one of the guys that is NOT working in a field related to my degree. However, a degree was a pre-requisite of the job.

For me, a liberal arts major, it was all about learning critical thinking. Even at a mid-level state university I had access to a fantastic bunch of professors who challenged those who rose to a challenge.

I agree with Tami and Anastasia. For most of us out there, born without the silver spoon, it helps to open doors. And if, like it sounds many posters here did, you actually take advantage of those opportunities presented, it can be a powerful experience.

I'm not an entrepreneurial type guy. At least not yet. And, true, I'm not raking in six figures. I'm doing work that I enjoy, however, and I've parlayed my jobs into a pretty comfortable deal.

There is no doubt that one could do as well or better as a carpenter or an electrician or a mechanic, or whatever. But I've never been very skilled at those things either.

College got me where I'm at, no doubt about it. It ain't glorious, but it's mine.

Trad climber
Placerville, California
Jun 3, 2011 - 04:49pm PT
yesterday's wisdoms have expired.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Run like the wind.
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:09pm PT
^^^ Do you want your children to go to college?

mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:17pm PT
Climbing is a waste of time goto college.

Lake Tahoe
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:18pm PT
I have been extremely successful being a software engineer for the past 20+ years without every having gotten a degree. What college I had was at a community college studying advertising art for a year.

I would still encourage my kid and anyone else who can do it to go to college.

For people who are not good in the school environment or have circumstances that make college unappealing, Work hard and hope for a little luck to get past the people who are degree bigots.


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:23pm PT
Yous guys talk like you've never hired a plumber. Or was it so traumatic
you've purged your billfold's memory bank?

Mountain climber
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:34pm PT
I know someone who recently hired a 26 year old "entrepreneur", who'd never gone to college. The guy came across as a technical wizard and claimed he "grew up programming", etc. Turned out the guy couldn't even spell (without someone to edit his resume), let alone think critically, or write something others could understand. His tech skills were all "drag and drop", too. He didn't last long.

This reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a cardiothoracic surgeon. We were discussing the training practice in medicine, specifically CT surgery, and as I was there for advice he was giving it out. This particular surgeon went through West Point and spent his fair share of time in the desert working in mobile hospitals doing more surgery less connected to his field than he could imagine...

Anyways, his biggest piece of parting wisdom was based on what he saw in the new fellows the last few years. He said surgical residents know more and more about the patterns of medicine but its come at the expense of the facts. They know a lot and are bright, way brighter than in is day (so says he...), and a lot of medicine is pattern recognition, and they this big time. But he says, if you don't know the FACTS the patterns aren't useful. And apparently (from his point of view) the balance in medical education swung a little too far in the latest attempt to revamp the learning process.

What's the point? Entrepreneurs may have all the bright ideas, drive and determination without going to college. But there are some things, some important basic facts, that a college education gives that are necessary for doing really well. For doing REALLY REALLY well, well, those people have it already- THOSE are the Gates' and Zuckerberg's. But most need that fund of knowledge, and learn how to use it in a logical and cohesive manner.

Beyond that, being an entrepreneur is only a very limited way of being successful, and very few actually have what it takes, even to be a modestly successful one. All those other fields typically require some sort of specialized knowledge- anything from a mechanic to a surgeon. Pure drive and no education won't get you far in either of those fields.

Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Jun 3, 2011 - 05:40pm PT
I went to Harvard on the Hill also know as the University of Nevada.

Up unitl the mid 60's they had every graduate sign the Book of Oath. It is a book that graduates signed that basically stated you attended this institute to learn and gain knowledge.

That ended and ever since its been about getting a job.

So while in school I went to get educated not get a job. In my first semester of my junior year the dean calls me into the office. I know not who "Dean' is but I go. She tells me I need to declare a major. Well I spend all my time in the Geography dept and I study mostly science and math and history so where does that get me? Apparently a BS in Geography.

She I quote asks me " Why are you even here" I then quote the Book of Oath and remind her that she has lost the vision of this institute and that it is not about getting a job its about getting an education.

I was then dismissed. This country has been dumbing itself down for a long time and now we see the fruits of our labor.

Go to college if you can. You see things, do things and learn things you just don't get in every day life. No judgement here if you don't it's not everyones cup o tea but I would not trade the experience for the world.
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