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Is a college degree still a reasonable value?

September 7, 2010 23:39 by ckincincy

Alan Stevens posted that very question on Twitter today.

I may find myself out gunned on this one and start a bit of a flame war, but I’m going to tackle that very question.

Let me first lay it out there.  Alan Stevens and I are two very different kinds of people.  I’m a guy who just went to Quaker Steak and Lube and took out 22 defenseless chicken wings.  Alan is a vegetarian.   I’m about as right wing as a person can get.  Alan, not so much.  So we do look at life in a completely different kind of way.

I will start with my story, because my story is relevant to the discussion.  I graduated high school January 17th, 1997.  My son was born January 11th, 1997.  Going to college really wasn’t an option for me.  However I lucked out and found a factory job paying $10 an hour.  When working the over time I was working and after a few dollars in raises I was able to pull in a decent amount of money for a high school graduate. Then the shift of manufacturing jobs out of the United States started taking full effect thanks to NAFTA, which by the way was signed by Bill Clinton though the Republican party was the driving force of this agreement initially.  In 2000 I saw the writing on the wall and I left my first factory job, for my second (and last) factory job.  This job focused on projection screen tv’s.  With the advent of flat screen tv’s and outsourced labor to China, again the writing was on the wall and I took a very strategic move to a very small development shop owned by a friend.  At that point I also enrolled into the University of Cincinnati.  Here I was, a father to three children, a full time job, and going to school half to three quarter time.  The BEST decision I’ve ever made.  I’ve seen my salary almost triple since that moment.  So the boat load of student loan debt I did rack up is earned back each and every year in extra income. 

Could I have done it if I didn’t go to college?  I really don’t think so.  I think I’d be making good money right now, but not very good money. I even have a very distinct memory of a job interview that I had about 2 years into my college education.  I interviewed with the project manager who loved me.  Thought I was the perfect fit for the job.  Then his boss, the vice president of the company saw my resume.  Saw that I had no degree, 2 years of experience, but no degree.  He immediately dismissed me as a candidate.  That was the end of it. 

Alan stated on his Twitter feed the following to a similar argument: “Don’t let HR drones define what’s possible for you.  Look around. There are plenty of examples of success without a degree.”

I don’t disagree in principal on this issue.  I just whole heartedly disagree with the realities of this issue.  The fact is that there are many places that will not hire you if you don’t have that check box checked. 

Now I don’t think Alan is against higher education, and to be fair he said that a few times in the Twitter talk.  I just think the argument being made is flawed.

Do I think that most students going to college today are wasting their money?  Yep.  By far, most are.  We send people to college to just say they went to college and they come out with a business degree.  What in the world is a business degree? This reminds me of a good friend of mine who happens to have been the vice president of a very large company in the area.  He shared with me the one thing that put him on the right course in life to make the significant salary he was making.  His mom never spoke as if college was an option.  It was going to happen.  Then she made sure to tell her children that once they are done with college they better be something.  Something well defined.  A pharmacist, a lawyer, a doctor.  Something that is clearly defined as a skill.   This is now the same thing I am telling my children as they get closer and closer to college.  Go to school to be something.  Even if you go another route you can always fall back to that skill.  You look over to our IT cousins in India.  The children that are fortunate to go to school are raised to go to school for two things. 

1. Be a doctor.

2. Be an engineer.

Also alluded to in the Twitter talk was the driving force behind the problem.  Money.  Colleges do not care about the well being of the student by and large.  They care about keeping their numbers up and getting as much government and tuition funding as possible.  This is where the break down of the family comes into play.  I have four children.  I’m not sure one is wired to go to college. He may turn out to be my smartest child, but I’m prepared to push him toward a career path that doesn’t require as much intellectual understanding, but more of a working with his hands and back.  It is my responsibility as a parent to help my children make the right decision on where to go to pursue the right skill set.

Now the main reason I think college is worth it is clearly pointed out in the stats around college educated folks (taken from the BLS):



Look at those numbers, if that doesn’t tell a story then nothing does.  Even with the flaws that I readily admit are in the college system, the employment rate and the income level of college educated folks is nowhere in comparison to those that aren’t. 

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October 11. 2010 23:35

I have to agree. I am still paying off my loans, but I double my salary every two years. I make more than four times what my good friend without a degree makes. Even though he knows more in programming without a degree he doesn't get in the door to get the resume experience. Without the previous experience nobody will hire him, or even bring him in for an interview for programming work.

The job market is a big race. Only a few runners will cross the line first to win the race, and a degree just gives you a head start over the other runners. With the availability of low interest loans and grants to low income households it's actually a disadvantage to come from a middle class family.

For me the degree gave me credibility, the college gave me connections, the connections and education opened the door, and now the experience gives me a career. You may do the same without the degree but it's an uphill battle to build credibility I get instantly from the degrees.    

Rob |

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