Does College Matter?

Do we need college, in various fields school is actually behind what you can learn online and by actually working yourself up in that field. What does college then bring? Is it worth the money?

The average education in computer science, engineering, and even medicine is partly obsolete within 18 months. Some weird variant of Moore’s law I guess. The conventional wisdom says that the specifics of what you learn are much less important than the fact that you’re learning the fundamentals, and you’re learning to learn—things you’ll need to maintain your skills and knowledge in a quickly changing world.

… the result of this mentality (we are resisting the temptation to label it “mental illness”) is graduates who are narrowly educated—and often are “trained” for work in fields that will have changed before the ink on their diplomas is dry. Those graduates have scant understanding of civic responsibilities or of the possibilities of life beyond work. Accumulating a sufficient number of courses and credit hours to earn a college degree is, in the public mind, synomous with being educated. But having a diploma bears little resemblance to being educated. “Higher” education has been lowered.

Since I’ve been out of school (a while back), I’ve been in a number of discussions where career counselors are mentioned, I often use a derisive term in french which would kind of translate to de-counselors. The whole concept of study for study, of finding a field where there are upcoming opportunities, not necessarily what you’d love doing and be passionate about but what you wouldn’t dislike doing and you run the best chance of finding a job in the market they think will be there 4-5 years down the line. Not sure that’s the right way to go about things.

Lucky for her, she learned at a much earlier age that passion matters. That money is far less important than joy (and that money doesn’t buy joy). And that whatever decision she makes now, does not determine the rest of her life. She understands that the chances of anyone having a single career for life—or even a decade—are asymptotically approaching zero. And that nothing—not finances (or lack of) or gender or age—will stand in her way if she decides to learn something. And if what she wants to learn at some point in the future is best studied in a formal higher education environment, there’s nothing to stop her from going to college then.

Creating Passionate Users, Does College Matter

[Update] Funny, a couple of hours later I read this post by Steve which mentions this idea in the UK that calls for five-year-olds to be given careers advice.


Marie-Jo October 23, 2005

Formal education is way, waaaaaaaay less important than general intelligence, IMHO. Intelligence is almost innate (or at least difficult to develop later in life). In most cases, an intelligent person need not be formally educated in order to be educated. He will seek out the experiences that educate him, get a lot more out of them (than a drone passing classes), and adapt when the world changes. Thus, if you’re really smart you can do a lot without it.

Seven years in university gave me very little knowledge that is useful to me now. My degree is an indication to some (those who place some importance on degrees, anyway) that I am neither dumb nor lazy. It does not indicate that I am capable of anything. Intelligence indicates that.

The most important thing I got in college was years spent in a hodge-podge of different people and influences, exposure to many experiences I would not otherwise have had, that have made me more tolerant of differences. I could have gotten all that from travel. It’s probably harder to travel full-time for 7 years, but I think the result would have been similar.

Is the work ethic you get, and official degree worth the money you spend? I’d say less and less, because I suspect their relative worth decreases with time, as connections, experience and professional achievements accumulate. Especially if you’re smart. But if you’re not, then I guess education is your best shot.

aj October 23, 2005

I’d agree with Marie-Jo; it’s less about the content of the courses (aside from science and math – where, depressingly, I hear that lots of undergraduates are cheating) and more about cultivating the tools for lifelong education.
I don’t remember a whit of my Communications Theory, but I have general knowledge of where to go to answer my questions or find a resource.

I think the real action of “new thinking” happens more in the MA and Ph.D levels – although there are more than a few eternal students avoiding the real world in there. ;)

What might be of greater lifelong use to most people is an old-fashioned liberal arts education – arts, general science, philosophy, history, languages – and courses in rhetoric, logic and public speaking. In short, the sort of tools that polish a curious mind into a “brilliant generalist,” as opposed to a possibly rapidly obsolete specialist with no social skills or table manners…

Lea October 24, 2005

I think one of the reasons a lot of people get fired up about this is not because people think that formal education is a crock, it’s that so much time and money is at stake. See what happens when you tell a recent graduate that his $20,000 debt load was for nothing. Theoretically, let’s assume it was completely true, and it had been for clown college or something—you’ll always get a defensive answer and a way to justify it. When a person invests so much time and money in something, they never want to hear/believe that it’s been for nothing. People are good at denial.

College only matters on a case-by-case situation; some individuals thrive in a formal academic setting and know how to apply it in real life, and others simply don’t know which side is up.

JonasParker October 27, 2005

Talk about “real education” is all fine and good, but if working for someone else is what you think you want or need to do, then real education (or real thinking or feeling for that matter) mean absolutely nothing to a prospective employer. Triply so if that employer is well-known.

It makes me sad that we chain ourselves to this rotten ideal of education. It’s been productized; that’s the problem.

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