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Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Is College Worth It?

I have another education related piece up over at New Geography. This one is called “Is College Worth It?” This was prompted by recent talk of a higher education bubble, Peter Thiel paying people to drop out of school, and a highly educated friend who told me he didn’t have a college fund for his kids on the assumption that at least some of them won’t be going to college. To find out the answer to the question, click through to NG.

5 Comments


5 Responses to “Is College Worth It?”

  1. Cobo Rodregas says:

    Wrong question. The question really is “Is a humanities degree at an expensive private school worth it?”

    There is a bubble in people who have English and theater degrees. I think these degrees have value, but there are simply too many people getting them.

    Engineering, Computer science, chemistry, physics, etc.. there is no bubble (but biology might be in a bubble). And I know that even computer science gets dissed by the self taught crowd, but year after year of dealing with mistakes, and bad algorithm design from them.. I disagree. Kids straight out of high school lack the tools to do proper problem solving.

    The last thing this country needs is to fall even further behind on educational attainment. We used to be the most educated country in the world, and this helped fuel the boom in prosperity we enjoy today. Now it feels like we are in a race to the middle, articles like this one reinforce that.

  2. Matthew Hall says:

    Talking about art degrees from Princeton is just a strawman argument. The number of such degrees is tiny in comparison to the total number of degrees awarded. People with Finance, Economics, and Communication degrees are the ones hurting in large numbers. People with MBAs and law degrees are facing much harder times today,as well.

    The question is how can the cost of universities be reduced and access to instruction they offer made more flexible and accessible so people who can’t give over 4 years to their college education can still work toward one.

  3. Matthew Hall says:

    I should add Psychology and Foreign Languages are collapsing in many universities.

  4. PeterW says:

    @Cobo – While there are a number of people who make this argument, and who seemingly have been making this argument for 50 years – but it’s not really reflected in reality. Hostility of people with with more “useful” degrees toward the humanities is nothing new, of course (although IME humanities grads are more employable than social science grads).

    People going to to the University of Phoenix or other for profits aren’t majoring in Classics or Art History; they are in business or programming or accounting fields. The recent NY Times article on student loan indebtedness focused on an individual with a programming certificate, an MBA, and a person who attended a nursing program.

    The real difference I’ve seen has to do with the colleges granting the degrees. Engineering grads from Carnegie-Mellon are still getting multiple high-paying offers. Engineering grads from Tri-State University are making in the high 20′s, if they are working in the field at all. (I know engineering grads from both places.)

    So the real question, I think, isn’t whether “college” is worth it. That question is too broad, as a degree from Harvard or Princeton in any field will end up being “worth it.” The real question is whether a college degree from a much lower tier school is worth it, particularly if the lower tier school is a private school or a for-profit that will be financed with loans. I think that is something that prospective students need to look at carefully and evaluate other available options, including community colleges and skilled trades.

    (Note that skilled trades are not a panacea – there are a limited number of apprenticeship slots, the jobs tend to require some heavy physical labor, and they require a certain aptitude, like anything else. On the other hand, you will be paid as an apprentice, so there is no opportunity cost, much less debt, at all).

  5. John says:

    I think the problem is really in the hyper-competitive nature of educational institutions. The institutions themselves keep taking on debt to build the latest and greatest laboratories, rec centers, student unions, etc. so they can recruit the best students and faculty. The costs of all these new buildings get at least partially passed along to the students. As long as people keep paying for it, there is no incentive for the universities to be more financially prudent.

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