Saturday, October 08, 2011

Does College Matter?

Does college really matter any more?

On one side you have people who believe that a college degree is the new high school diploma, and that you can just barely get a job if you don't have one. On the other side are people who cannot afford the price tag to send their kid (who doesn't really want to go) to college, and who wonder if their kid will ever be suited for the kind of job that will command a high enough salary to be worth graduating with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

I confess that I fall into the second camp. I put myself through school back in the Dark Ages and spent just over $3,000 for just over three years being indoctrinated into the same anti-American, overthrow-the-greedy-corporations, make-my-rich-neighbor-pay-my-bills, God-is-dead claptrap that is still being preached in American universities 40 years later. I became a member of the local Young Socialists chapter and raged against the machine for just over three years on an accelerated foreign language program under the tutelage of a militant homosexual activist, all the while being disabused of any archaic notions of morality, religion or capitalism.  My "college education" was mostly politicized, the academic portion was mediocre and forgettable, and the main thing it accomplished was to make me hard and angry, and derail my quest for God for another 13 years.

This experience soured me on college for my own kids, and my husband and I have been at loggerheads about it for years. Since I went to the trouble to homeschool them for 12 years, I really hated the idea of them meeting some charismatic Pied Piper during their freshman year that would lead them down a path that they might not be able to resist.

My daughter did go to college. So far, my son has not. My husband is a nervous wreck about this, and yet I am strangely indifferent. Here's why:

A number of bloggers have weighed in on the death of Steve Jobs this week, but this is probably an angle most people did not write about, except for the folks at Babble.com.  Steve Jobs was a college dropout!

 In the article "30 Wildly Successful College Drop Outs", Sunny Chanel of  the Strollerderby blog, provides great encouragement to parents like me who have sons or daughters who just don't have a clue what they want to do with their lives.

She profiles 30 wildly successful college dropouts, from the well known - like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Steve Jobs - to the less known, like Barry Diller whose websites include CitySearch, Ticketmaster, and Lending Tree.

You will be amazed who didn't go to college! So here's a question for you. Everyone who reads this is going to have an opinion one way or the other. I would love to hear why -- or why not -- you think a college degree is important.

26 comments:

  1. Hi Susan, I think the culture is changing towards the debt associated with a degree. Some of the smartest people I know didn't go to college. Yet they excel in their chosen fields and continue to learn through doing.

    I read an interesting article from Seth Godin that poignantly discusses this topic http://ow.ly/6REak

    Fortunately my company paid for my education as part of my apprenticeship in engineering. I would have hated to have the weight of that debt on my shoulders.

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  2. I do believe that college matters for most people that attend, but I also agree that college is not a good investment for everyone.

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  3. Hi Susan,

    Great thought provoking topic. I think ultimately it comes down to the individual and the path they want for themselves. College degree's for the most part still open more doors then they do not.

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  4. I guess it also depends on what you want to do with your life. Once upon a time, even if you really didn't "need" higher education for your chosen field, a good "liberal arts education" was not considered a total waste of time. But now, people sneer at a "liberal arts education." With the internet and the myriad ways we have now to learn without schooling, I lean towards the idea that there are some careers for which a degree, and even an advanced degree, are essential - others, not so much. You could do just as well taking some online courses, being an intern or apprentice, or just reading and learning about your chosen subject.

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  5. I think education is important...but that education may come in a variety of forms - and it may not be defined as college. Although, for most, I think it is.

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  6. I would like to believe that college is important, and at least for my kids, they've received a proper education outside the classroom, and have been raised in a family friendly church environment. Therefore, they should be able to wade through all the pitfalls of the college life you describe above.

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  7. Not every one can be a Steve Jobs and fall into a business or position that really works for them which is why college and education is so important. Yes, there are lots of people who didn't finish college but there are lots who have and it helps define them and drive them to be successful.

    JMM

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  8. We learn a lot more by going to college than just academics. My daughters are virtual home schooled but we didn't let them start until 5th grade because I think the early years of school are very important to a child's social development. My wife and I will strongly encourage our daughters to go to college and pay the expense and not because I think they'll learn more or get a better job (which they probably will anyway) but because college is a great place to learn to deal with people, both good and bad; how to handle terrible bosses (like professors); how to schedule time wisely; how to cope with tight deadlines; and many more things they'll have to deal with in life. It's also a great place to form lifelong friendships.

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  9. I am a big believer in higher education and often take junior high and high school kids with me when I speak at colleges to show them how cool undergraduate life can be. Great information!

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  10. I am on the fence about this too. I went to college and have my student loans to pay...still. My husband did not and while he has no debt he makes around the same amount of money as me.I believe having a college degree may get you in the door for an interview but it won't matter if you can't sell yourself.

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  11. We always want the best for our children whether it's the best school, best degree, career ... but to me what's important is not so much the diploma (even though it opens doors that may well stay shut if you don't have it) but more importantly the ability to adapt and learn quickly in our fast moving world. With wide access to information on the net, I strongly believe that people who have learned how to learn and learn quickly will have successful careers regardless of their academic education ... See how many autodidacts have had successful careers ...

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  12. I believe college is what you make of it. If you take full advantage of the resources available to you while you are enrolled, the education and experience will prove to be beneficial in whatever you do.

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  13. I never went to college. My 16 yr old son has been doing online school since 6th grade - some call it home schooling, but it is not.

    He wants to work at the Zoo and does not want to go to College. I think he may only get into the food service biz at the Zoo unless he does some sort of college. I want him to expand on his interests like watching cake boss and learn about baking and also he is very good at art/drawing so want to explore that. I won a nice camera few yrs ago from Hong Kong on twitter and we are learning to use it so he can learn to photograph wildlife.

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  14. On the fence about this one, I went to college but designed my own major as it was relative to me so only took the courses that applied like Steve Jobs so I didn't follow the normal path which I think doesn't apply to many people and most say the courses they had to take did nothing for them.

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  15. I guess I'm a lucky exception, as I went to college several times! I just love learning. I believe a first degree confirms to third parties that the successful student is able to dedicate him/herself to a longer-term goal while foregoing some shorter-term pleasures (deferred gratification). It also confirms the ability to distinguish important from subsidiary points in dealing with non-simple matters. A degree does not, however, confirm common sense! Neither does the absence of a degree deny the good points I mentioned.
    I greatly admire passionate entrepreneurs. To be successful they, too, have to delay gratification and work hard.
    Ultimately there is no guarantee for success and happiness either way.
    Inspiration, dedication and a good deal of perspiration is required to create anything worthwhile on this beautiful planet I think:)

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  16. WOW, such great comments. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. I found a number of things I agreed with in all of them. It is going to take some time to reply individually, so hang in there and I will try to do one or two a day.

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  17. I'm one of those guys who went to University in the '80's but, didn't graduate. If I did I probably would be in a room with a view in some office doing what other people want, than being my own person and self employed!!

    Although, I'd probably be making more money sitting in that office I still believe the potential for making much more lies with the other. I know a lot of people who have degrees and knew how to pass tests and have cushy jobs .. much worse off than I am.

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  18. Good question, Susan. The Seth Godin post on the topic that Aron linked to is also thoughtful. I've heard Seth speak on the topic and his point is well-taken: for the most part, school (in general) doesn't teach how to innovate or solve problems, it teaches how to be compliant and use rote memorization on tests.

    Yes, education is important, but it doesn't really matter much where you get a degree anymore. Unless it's in the hard sciences, a degree simply shows that you stuck with it and finished. A good education can be had without getting deeply in debt or indoctrinated into left-wing group-think. Ironically, college can be a very closed-minded, intolerant place.

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  19. College isn't for everybody. But continuing education is. For me, the value of college was my sorority connections, success (or lack thereof) of being on my own with studies and a job, and getting out of my comfort zone at an early age and meeting all new friends. Is the price tag worth it??? Debatable. But I did meet Mr. Right during those college years.

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  20. I think many of us agree - that while college is not for everyone, continuing education, or in homeschool-speak, "lifelong learning", is. One of the things that we tried to do with our kids was to expect teachable moments to occur at any moment and to consider all of life a "continuing education." My daughter was actually quite well prepared to study independently and manage her own time in college after having done it during her homeschool high school years. She went out on her own at 19 and worked while attending a community college - had she pursued the expensive photography school she originally wanted to go to, she would still be unemployed right now and living back home, but would have thousands in outstanding student loans instead of zero.

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  21. Having a college degree gives you options you wouldn't have without one. Not because you're smarter with one but because employers believe you are. If you're confident you'll never need a professional corporate job at a big company, then no, it doesn't matter. You can make it without, but you it is harder. If you're as smart as Bill Gates or as talented as Steve Jobs AND you get lucky (which they all did) then you'll be just fine. I for one won't risk that for my kids. But if they decide to drop out and pursue a start-up, I'll totally support them.

    I would add though that if you don't get a degree, you better do something else to gain an education because K-12 is just the warm up. Your education still matters.

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  22. I am also a firm believer in the power of higher education - there are so many options available, everyone can benefit from some form of continuing education, whether it's a traditional college experience or taking a few classes every semester, night school, etc. Learning new things is imperative for career options and personal development.

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  23. Susan - we also homeschool and have college degrees and when I went to college in the early 80s the goal was to get a Corporate job - you know the ones with a great salary, benefits like medical, pension and so much more. Lucky for us, my husband and I both got jobs with IBM - it was good. We had the option @ 10yrs ago to finally go and build our own business - and thank goodness we did - we are self sufficient and live in an amazing place and don't have to move any more. I think the dream jobs of the future are those you create for yourself - we are encouraging our kids to go to college (it's paid for) but to focus on practical skills and learning to run a buisness not something like basketweaving. I thnk there's so much broken in our education system and colleges need to really ask if they are serving their clients - we take lots of college courses online now and it's opened up so much education without any negative cultural side effects - sorry to ramble - your kindred spirit :D

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  24. Going to college is a personal decision, but I went and I'm glad I did. I think going is more about learning to think critically, analyze, write, etc., rather than about whatever topic you may specifically study.

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  25. After high school I wandered for several years, working at this job and that until I finally discovered what my values and passions were and then decided to invest in further education. When I see kids going to school right after graduating high school, it makes me a little concerned. It takes time to come to know who you are and what you are good at and those are the questions you need to ask before investing thousands of dollars in a college degree.

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  26. I would like to believe that college education is important, at least my children, they have received appropriate education outside the classroom, and has proposed a family-friendly church environment.Therefore, they should be able to wade through your college life described above all defects.

    High School Diploma

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