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Is college worth it?
September 24, 2013 2:43 PM   Subscribe

From a purely economic perspective: Is college worth it?
posted by Westringia F. (70 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
My guess was right... Engineers rule... even those who go to State. For non-engineering, not so worth it.

Especially when you consider the 47% jobs might be done away with, in another thread.
posted by MikeWarot at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shoulda stayed in computer science....
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:54 PM on September 24, 2013


Is it just me, or is the "Find a School" not working?
posted by BrashTech at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've been through this before with the same data set by occupations. The data isn't as meaningful as it appears at first glance.
posted by JPD at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish these damn things would just group engineering together so we could see the OTHER nine most profitable majors besides engineering. I get it. Engineers make the most money, and also the second and third and forth most. What ELSE makes money?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


old thread.
posted by JPD at 2:59 PM on September 24, 2013


[TW: Anecdote as data]

I'm a college dropout, and I have no student loans.

For six(!) years I worked at Walgreens, making well under $30k a year, living in Boston. Yet while my friends with humanities degrees often struggled to make ends meet, I was rarely any worse off than them and often had a good chunk of disposable income. Not enough to make big purchases, mind you; but plenty for dinner and drinks. Then I got a job building websites (again, no degree required) and I started making more than double that.

While I understand the value of college and formal education, I think we'd be better off as a culture if we recognized that most jobs, even one's you can do at a desk, are skilled trades and shouldn't require a degree. Regardless of whether college should be a luxury, that's what it is in the US, and we do ourselves a huge disservice by stigmatizing people who don't attend.
posted by modernserf at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


So, the y=x line runs below almost all of the dots, right?
posted by mai at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What ELSE makes money?

Good news, there are more than nine types of engineering to choose from.
Biochemical, Industrial, Civil and Bioengineering will likely round out the majority of the next few positions as well.

In the long run, you can also do pretty well with management consultancy firms, as well as economics, top tier MBAs, and actuaries. Law also pays about six students pretty well. Med school pays off after about 15 years. Oh, and don't have kids!
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow. I guess I went to the right university. I knew the rest were a lot more expensive, but this really drives home what a good deal I got.
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2013


So if you're not blessed overmuch with mathematical or procedural intelligence, it's the lower classes for you?
posted by Iridic at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


What ELSE makes money?

Sex work?
posted by The Whelk at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to be over here patting myself on the back for my junior-year decision to switch from a psych major to computer science. Good job, 20-year old self.
posted by mullingitover at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2013


I feel pretty good about myself for being a software engineer who did 2 years at a local community college and 2 years at a state university I commuted to. All for about $15,000, on a $15,000 merit scholarship.

But after ~20 years I'm still not at that median salary level though :P
posted by Foosnark at 3:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The unemployed law school graduate facing a six figure student loan debt makes headlines. But student debt in default consists primarily of debts of one to several thousand dollars [...] The schools with the highest reported default rates fit this description: their names are recognizable only locally, tuition is only a few thousand dollars, and nearly half of the students receive Pell grants (Federal grants for low-income students) supplemented by loans.
I did not know this - for whatever reason, when I hear people talking about student debut defaults I imagine little personal debt bubbles of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not some fraction of a single middle-class paycheck.
posted by postcommunism at 3:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


If tech is so important, why are IT wages flat?
posted by weston at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Environmental engineering is pretty awesome too. Just saying.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 3:41 PM on September 24, 2013


If tech is so important, why are IT wages flat?

All wages are flat. Emerging job categories often command high pay, but the system always does its best to suppress that. High worker pay leaves less for the executives you know, or at least makes them feel less exalted.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I grew up pretty poor so I never felt like I could justify anything but an engineering or computer science degree. I knew that I could do it and I knew that I could get a job with the degree so I never considered anything else.
posted by octothorpe at 3:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most universally applicable and adaptable skill set across all of business, government and non-profits is accounting. If I were headed off to college I would get the best accounting degree I and my parents could afford, even if it was just from a juco, and would be confident that I had equipped myself with the Swiss Army Knife, the Lingua Franca of employment that would serve me no matter what I wound up doing for a living and no matter how many times I had to change careers...
posted by jim in austin at 3:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Something something tech bubble
posted by naju at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Remember, English majors: It's your fault.
You're wounded? You don't even know what salt
will do to wounds when I apply it to them!
I won't hear your complaints. I see right through them."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:50 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


jim in austin: The most universally applicable and adaptable skill set across all of business, government and non-profits is accounting. If I were headed off to college I would get the best accounting degree I and my parents could afford, even if it was just from a juco, and would be confident that I had equipped myself with the Swiss Army Knife, the Lingua Franca of employment that would serve me no matter what I wound up doing for a living and no matter how many times I had to change careers...

I'm not sure accounting is doing so well - I've heard from accountants who are having trouble finding work. I think either the field might be packed, or computers + outsourcing are having an impact. Honestly, if I had to give advice to someone now, I'd say to go into medicine (but don't be a doctor). While the medical field is absolutely loaded with problems, it isn't packed, is resistant to automation, and mostly can't be outsourced. Doctors build up insane student loans and get worked to death with crazy hours, so I can't recommend that particular job, but the rest of the field seems to be mostly ok.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:51 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I was being totally honest to upcoming students I'd say your best bet is dating a couple tax brackets above your own and being likable.
posted by The Whelk at 3:53 PM on September 24, 2013 [28 favorites]


Going to an expensive liberal arts school is a huge gamble. If you have an A average you get in to a top-tier law school and make $200k, while if you have a B average you work at the coffee shop and make $20k. Roughly 25% of my college friends are in the first category, and 75% are in the second. It would be nice if the consequences of failure -- or, at least, mediocrity -- were not quite so severe.
posted by miyabo at 3:55 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, MEDIOCRITY SHOULD NOT BE TREATED LIKE FAILURE is a tough slogan to rally people behind.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Eh, as long as you have a couple of generations of money behind you, you can be as mediocre as you want and even successfully run for office.
posted by elizardbits at 4:03 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Mitrovar: I am not necessarily talking about working as an accountant. It is quite possible to get an accounting degree and never spend a day tallying debits and credits. The degree itself makes you a serious candidate for almost any general employment opportunity...
posted by jim in austin at 4:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most universally applicable and adaptable skill set across all of business, government and non-profits is accounting.

That's true but it also falls pretty far down the value chain... in Australia many multinationals have completely outsourced their entire accounting division to India. Same with IT support.

You have to look slightly higher up the value chain for those fields - instead of accounting, you should look at studying finance / strategy / statistics. Instead of a basic IT type qualification you'll be looking at Comp Sci / Comp Eng and doing database / architecture type jobs.
posted by xdvesper at 4:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh, as long as you have a couple of generations of money behind you, you can be as mediocre as you want and even successfully run for office.

I'll grant that RICH MEDIOCRITIES SHOULD BE DISAPPOINTINGLY MIDDLE-CLASS might get a little more traction.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope it's okay to ask this question here:

I did two years community college for audio production, where I learned how to do record engineering. I realized that this isn't exactly a career I want, and is more of a personal hobby. Now, four years later, I want to go back to school. I've been interested in computer science since I was a kid so now I'm thinking about majoring in that. Should I give it a shot, or just accept that I'll always be lower-middle class just like my parents?
posted by gucci mane at 4:17 PM on September 24, 2013


Is collage worth it in the U.S.? I donno, probably not, especially with interest. But why study in the U.S.? Just study abroad. It'll cost only a fraction, if it costs anything.

An international education provides an invaluable opportunity to explore the world beyond the narrow like little exceptionalist bubble you've spent your life inside too. If nothing else, experiences help you better understand what makes you happy.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well the world needs ditch diggers too.
posted by spilon at 4:30 PM on September 24, 2013


>What ELSE makes money?

Sex work?


Yeah, good luck getting a decent paying job without at least a M.sex degree, and even with one the competition is pretty stiff.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Now, four years later, I want to go back to school. (Emphasis added.)

That matters. People ask me about the economics of law school all the time, and I tell them it was an easy decision for me: I wanted to practice law, and to do that, I needed to attend law school. I wasn't enrolling in pursuit of a particular salary, or security in a higher class. Because of why I enrolled, I'll never have any regrets about it. To the contrary, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Economics are a reality you can't discount, but they aren't the entire puzzle. During law school I attended a Jesuit retreat where we talked about framing career decisions in terms of finding the intersection(s) of three key questions:
  1. What gives you joy?
  2. Are you good at these things?
  3. Does anybody need you to do them?
I've found that useful, and it can be applied to the part of the puzzle that is college.
posted by cribcage at 4:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


I would like to pause the omg-jobs talk for a minute to say:

Those are some cool plot graphs.
posted by deathpanels at 4:39 PM on September 24, 2013


I've been interested in computer science since I was a kid so now I'm thinking about majoring in that.

A comp sci degree is not a requirement to do a lot of tech jobs, especially now that the media is so dependent on developers. You'll need that education in order to do serious work at Google, and you'll at least need that paper to work at a big corporate gig doing enterprise software. But a lot of places, from design studios to media companies to startups, don't require a degree; they just require a good portfolio and connections with somebody working there.

Here's a question I asked when I was still a photo clerk at Walgreens. Three months later I was doing exactly this professionally. Again, this is no guarantee of your success, but if you have any experience with programming (i.e. you took a BASIC class in high school and you've built a geocities page) you have the knowledge to do this on your own; the rest you can learn via on-the-job experience.
posted by modernserf at 4:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure accounting is doing so well - I've heard from accountants who are having trouble finding work.

Slap them upside the head and point out to them that their accounting chops make them more qualified to be managers than many managers.
posted by ocschwar at 5:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a little weird when you look at a IT Systems department and find it entirely composed of mechanics, accountants, analysts, and IT folks. They seem like such different disciplines but there's actually a lot of spillover between them. All involve understanding complex systems so the people who head for those degrees/trades tend to cross back and forth between them pretty easily. Which hopefully explains why I have IT and diplomacy degrees, love doing my taxes, and am actually considering trying to order a new car with a supercharged but smaller than stock engine with the same horsepower... just to save a hundred pounds and try to improve the MPG.
posted by jwells at 5:37 PM on September 24, 2013


Ya know, I WAS AWARE when I got my playwriting degree that I wasn't going to make a lot of money because of it.

It's not the only reason to go.
posted by kyrademon at 5:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


People, of my age group, like me (BA in philosophy), or people who had no college degree, sure lucked out in the 90's, when the first Internet boom created a demand for code monkeys far beyond what any credentialing entity could provide. Hell, there WERE no credentials for things like web design, so anyone with some skill and drive could break in. Goodbye restaurant kitchens, hello cubicles and big paychecks.

That's lasted, to some degree, in web site design. But I wonder....in the 80's, it was pretty easy for a defeated liberal arts scholar to make the transition into technical writing. But they have specialized degrees in technical writing now. Can a literature PhD who has reached the end of the road with term faculty positions just go get a job like that anymore? And web design: in 1998, very few people had any goddamn idea what they were doing. Now, you compete against a baseline of a lot of people who, while they may be nothing special as designers, are competent and experienced.
posted by thelonius at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh, as long as you have a couple of generations of money behind you, you can be as mediocre as you want and even successfully run for office.

This has often not been borne out in practice, e.g. Obama vs. Romney.
posted by John Cohen at 6:27 PM on September 24, 2013


Yeah, good luck getting a decent paying job without at least a M.sex degree, and even with one the competition is pretty stiff.

I hear the unpaid internships are brutal.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:29 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most IT jobs are either system administration / general help desk type things which mostly involve figuring out the latest hoops to jump through, or web / application things like excel macros, access databases, sharepoint, etc.

Unfortunately, that type of work can be done remotely, for far less money, as I found out last November. The quality will be less, but if someone can save healthcare and all the other costs of the lone IT guy, they might well be tempted.

IT is not engineering. You don't have a license, you're not expected to know how to design things to avoid the deaths of people in all sorts of situations, and you definitely don't need to know thermodynamics or electrodynamics.

This is why IT wages are flat, most of the jobs are about to get outsourced.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


While I understand the value of college and formal education, I think we'd be better off as a culture if we recognized that most jobs, even one's you can do at a desk, are skilled trades and shouldn't require a degree.

I have to agree with this, at least from my own experience. I honestly don't think I really learned anything in college, other than gaining a small amount of emotional maturity from aging four years. My master's was somewhat more useful to my eventual profession, but basically everything I use in my work today, I learned and developed on the job from the ground up. The rest is grade school arithmetic for the most part.
posted by pravit at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2013


So if you're not blessed overmuch with mathematical or procedural intelligence, it's the lower classes for you?

Or Conservative Politics.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with this, at least from my own experience. I honestly don't think I really learned anything in college, other than gaining a small amount of emotional maturity from aging four years. My master's was somewhat more useful to my eventual profession, but basically everything I use in my work today, I learned and developed on the job from the ground up. The rest is grade school arithmetic for the most part.

But without the B.A., you're not even going to get the interview.
posted by spaltavian at 7:53 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a B.S.M.E from a top-20 university (not known for their engineering specifically, but still) and a P.E. license. However, as most of my skill points are in test-taking and not in actually being useful, combined with fairly low self-confidence, I've not excelled - I'm currently unemployed (One Year Last Week!) in my field, although I was let go from a salary rate lower than the average fresh-out-of-college BSME. So I work as a brake mechanic, apply for jobs that I know better than to think I'll get a sniff, and rue the day I dropped out of CS.

By this I mean to say, it's really not just the college you go to. It's personal determination etc. (that, and who you're related to).
posted by notsnot at 9:12 PM on September 24, 2013


I wish these damn things would just group engineering together so we could see the OTHER nine most profitable majors besides engineering. I get it. Engineers make the most money, and also the second and third and forth most.

This makes little sense to me. It's sort of like saying "I wish you'd list the ten occupations who destroyed the economy in the past 5 years who weren't in finance and messing around with CDOs."

The definition of Engineering at the undergraduate level is pretty much this: someone who will work hard at something that isn't particularly enjoyable for most in order to have a well-compensated but not stupidly-compensated life.

I went to an engineering school for undergrad. Most students were middle-class or working-class students who worked hard to get in, worked hard to maintain a reasonable (better than D) average, and didn't necessarily love what they did, but knew it would eventually pay off. It was a tradeoff. Be useful to society and we'll make sure you don't starve. I knew almost nobody who was doing this on a lark.

I then went to a top law school where over 50% of students went to 6 of the top universities (not engineering schools of course) in the country. They had struck a different deal. You grew up privileged. You get to go to a nice school, travel abroad, have fun, meet interesting people. Don't worry about being useful, we'll find a law school/b-school slot, finance job, or consulting gig for you. Don't worry about being smart or good at what you do. That's for suckers like engineers.

There were some kids who genuinely loved everything about engineering (although very few - the true lovers went into pure math/science PhDs and aren't doing so hot in this job market). Most people understood the bargain and made the sacrifices necessary. People at the top Ivies and Liberal Arts schools? I knew very few who didn't consider undergrad a lark through and through.

10 years later, just about everyone who went to an Ivy school and has a liberal arts degree is doing better than the average engineering student from a top engineering school. Literally almost everyone. As far as I can tell, those who opted to make less money in the workplace b/c they wanted to make art, or be difficult, or whatever, that was a chose they made from a position of privilege. It was a choice they made - and if their trust funds ran dry, they could easily cash in at a consulting firm or the like. Obviously some engineers figured out the scam, got equity one way or another, and have done well, but on average Engineers will always make less than their more privileged brethren. That's the deal.

Let's not lie about the deal. And it doesn't scale. And that's it's own set of lies - that a econ major at Rutgers thinks he and his roommate could be the next Larry and Sergei and drop out and somehow it doesn't work. That's it's own scam. And it's pretty big and tricks those who aren't crazy privileged into going into debt for a degree that was designed for the idle rich. And that skewers numbers on the whole. So it looks like Engineers do better on average - but we're ignoring what's really going on at the top when we make that call.

Do the hyper privileged need college? No. They enjoy it and the cost is nothing. Do a ton of people not understand the scam and follow in the footsteps of rick folks, believing in the American dream and meritocracy and all that shit, paying too much for substandard educations and finding themselves holding the bag when the debt comes knocking? Yes. And who do you think holds the stock in the for-profit private colleges, wait, don't ask too much. Just don't blame engineers. They're pretty much the only people not fucking this up.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [18 favorites]


So if you're not blessed overmuch with mathematical or procedural intelligence, it's the lower classes for you?

Yes. This is because:

What gives you joy?
Are you good at these things?
Does anybody need you to do them?


Nobody actually needs anything that I am good at, except for typing. This is why I am a data entry lackey/front desk person for pay. Though I used to worry about my job being outmoded entirely in a few years. Now I can relatively safely say with all of the programming "issues" that still need to be worked out at my work, I am probably good for another 5 years before I become a useless bum on the street for the rest of my life.

I am tired of hearing about how awesome it is to be an engineer. I can barely do math, okay?! I probably have dyscalculia and the STEM fields won't take me because I'm stupid, so what the fuck else should I do? I'm not hot and too picky to be a hooker, so....
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:06 PM on September 24, 2013


I'm actually a dance major. Honest to god, best thing ever. And it's definitely not what you think.

Team player? Try not to be. Hard working? Try not to be. Expressive? Open minded? Empathetic? Try not to be.

It's great for the body. It's great for the mind. In a good dance program, you come out with critical thinking, a taste for the marginalized, a hunger to connect. You know your body. You know your mind pretty well, too. It's not just athletics+art! It's athletics+art+philosophy+anatomy+improvisation+problem solving+collaboration+the kitchen sink, amplified to 11.

I mean, talk about liberal arts! (Well actually don't. Move about it. Do something instead.)

Dance isn't just for fanatics anymore. Body practice, expressive movement, post-"modernism"; this stuff is intrinsically for everyone. That's actually kindof the whole point. That we've [as a culture] failed to bridge the gap between "What?" and "Ok, I'll try!" is the work. And I'd argue it's as important as anything. Systems aren't going to save our future. Moving, thinking, empathetic bodies might.
posted by an animate objects at 10:47 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is how the old school business executive seemed to view IT (in the broadest sense - it's all the same thing to these guys anyway): I pay these programmers a lot of money. But all they do is type on keyboards. So, they are essentially glorified secretaries - why are we paying them so much? I am perfectly serious. In mid-century office culture, typing signified low status. As soon as you were anybody, on the road of glory to the top floor offices, you got someone to type for you, since your time was needed for, I don't know, yelling on the phone and fixing drinks.

That kind of thing is pretty much gone, but the attitude that IT is a cost center, that just steals your bonus and profits, remains. Always wear sunscreen, kids, and remember that, for every tip you get about what field of work will always have sunny skies and high salaries, there are people in a room somewhere, working hard to figure out how to pay people doing that work far less money, or how to do away with them all together.
posted by thelonius at 4:11 AM on September 25, 2013


Dance isn't just for fanatics anymore.

That's great news!

In school, an anthropology prof was telling us about the experience of culture shock on returning to USA after field work. He said it seemed very strange that people did not, on a regular basis, sing and dance for hours with their whole clan of relatives.
posted by thelonius at 4:14 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is collage worth it in the U.S.? I donno, probably not, especially with interest. But why study in the U.S.? Just study abroad. It'll cost only a fraction, if it costs anything.

An international education provides an invaluable opportunity to explore the world beyond the narrow like little exceptionalist bubble you've spent your life inside too. If nothing else, experiences help you better understand what makes you happy.


An international education is also rarely likely to be taken seriously outside of the region in which the degree was earned. If one is trying to get a job based partly on the degree and degree granting institution, then familiarity counts. Good old Mythical State University - Rural City is pretty well known in its region and state, but the institution isn't well known on the coasts at all, and not known at all in places like Canada or the UK.

Whose medical degree is more valid - the one from a state school, or the one from India or Israel?
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:21 AM on September 25, 2013


College in general seems to be the great American unspoken rite of passage.

Graduate from high school, what do you do? Trade school? Military? An actual trade, or a dead end job? No, move off to college, because it's what everyone does. It's a way to move away from home to a structured environment that's familiar and supportive.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:28 AM on September 25, 2013


In a good dance program, you come out with critical thinking, a taste for the marginalized, a hunger to connect.

Or maybe you just into it with those things. This really smacks of that "what worked for me is generalizable to everyone" mentality, just like, oh I don't know, engineers!

I'm with allen.spaulding. The world is a huge scam, and I wish someone had taken me aside and explained that to me as a child, rather than cramming my stupid head full of bullshit mythology about hard work and the Land of Opportunity. I also wish I could find that MeFi comment about the world being a room made out of dicks and good luck trying to sit down, because it is both true and hilarious.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:51 AM on September 25, 2013


I'd answer the question with another: from a purely economic perspective, is anything worth it?

College is a place where you can, if you choose to, learn why a purely economic perspective is blind in one eye, and thus is a two-dimensional perspective.

Money can buy you satisfaction, not happiness. When it comes to learning, colleges can be a whip for those conditioned to need one, an imprimatur for those who crave one, an oasis for those lost in the desert. Lovely places to while away the hours for those who can afford it. For those who can't, I'd strongly advise knowing exactly what you're there to get before plunking down your cash, and preparing to bail without regret should you realize you're not getting it.
posted by Twang at 8:20 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I notice the list of things "not worth going to school for" includes education, social work, counseling, and the arts. Wouldn't our lives be awesome if everyone was an engineer, lawyer, or in business, and nobody did any of those things? Because no petroleum engineer have ever had a therapist. And no bankers like to go to see plays or concerts. And no lawyers ever have kids. And none of those folks have ever benefited from a society that had a good social support system.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:51 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


In other words, and I say this as a professor in a "STEM field", fuck this nonsense.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:51 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, make no mistake, people with money to spare want people who will provide those services, they just don't want them to have anything like fulfilling lives.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:42 AM on September 25, 2013


It's not that they don't want other people to have fulfilling lives. It's that they don't care.
posted by The World Famous at 10:21 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really? I think there's a huge difference between not caring whether someone has a fulfilling life and actively trying to prevent them from having one.
posted by The World Famous at 10:49 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]



What gives you joy?
Are you good at these things?
Does anybody need you to do them?

Notice that these are ranked in increasing order of importance, and furthermore, a fourth question has been left out:

How many positions are available (regionally, globally) doing that?

I might love to read books, and be pretty good at it, which might suggest that I become an editor for a publisher or a literary magazine, or similar, but the number of available opportunities there is vanishingly small.

Be a plumber. Specialize in the expensive whiz-bang high-end fixtures. Be willing to get up at 2am to fix a rich man's overflowing robo-toilet. Retire early and send your kids to college to do whatever the hell they want.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:54 AM on September 25, 2013


I don't know, I think the neglect would have the same effect, perhaps with a slightly elongated time scale. Personally, however, I am not convinced that it is neglect vs prevention.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:55 AM on September 25, 2013


To yank a couple of hydra heads out of the general writhing mass:

-college costs a lot.
-it's offering increasingly poor returns for the less mercenary degrees.

The hot corrective of the moment is the Massively Open Online Course. That option's been endlessly debated on the Blue before, so I won't really get into it except to observe that a web class doesn't offer the same context break as actually going away to school.

Humans are physical and social creatures, and the places in which they live and the people who surround them radically shape (and reshape) their thoughts. A time apart from the influence of your parents and the friends of your childhood can offer new perspectives and modes of thinking as well as new ideas. Can MOOCs compare? Watching the recorded lectures of a professor you'll never meet in between episodes of The New Girl while living in your parents' house - does that offer as much potential for transformation? Does it inspire in you self-sufficiency, expose you to people different than yourself, inform you of new ways to live?

But of course colleges, particularly the private liberal arts school, have not ignored this line of argument; have pursued it with such vigor that part of the driver behind rising tuition costs is the competition for the most impressive four-year student resort. That's certainly one way to offer a context shift from Rustville USA, or the Big City, or Farmburg - surround the student with opulence. Make the air hum with WiFi signal density, upholster every seat in leather, cover over every rosy brick building with glass and ivy and green copper; let the student never be more than five minutes' walk from a soft-serve ice cream spout.

I have to wonder, though, about the possibility of going the other way. What if you achieved the context shift by drastically decreasing the overhead of the school and increasing the difficulty of classwork and student life? I'm imagining a blend of Anathem, BUD/S training, summer camp, and the University of Chicago.

Stick the campus in some splendid isolation (an Appalachian mountaintop, Michigan's UP, the Montana foothills), and keep the buildings small and rustic. Students would be expected to work in the kitchen or the on-campus farm and help keep up the facilities, as well as study like their lives depended on it. Cut tuition and housing to well under 10k a year, and increase the rigor of the coursework such that you can attain a bachelor's degree in six semesters, and the cost/benefit analysis of going away for school and pursuing a less "practical" degree changes completely.

(Or maybe I should just go read Anathem again.)
posted by Iridic at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Does anybody need you to do them" has some sub-questions:
Does anybody need the work done
Do those people have money to pay you to do the work
Are there tons of other qualified people who are trying to do the same work

If the work needs to be done, but no one with money is willing to pay for it, you have a problem. Services for the poor are an obvious example.

If there are people willing to pay for the work, but there are tons of other qualified people who really want to do it, you also have a problem. College teaching is an example.
posted by miyabo at 11:28 AM on September 25, 2013


That can all be collapsed into, "Is anyone going to pay what you want to get that work done."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:59 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


When reading online discussions, I'm often struck by how valuable the first couple days of an introductory college economics class are.
posted by The World Famous at 12:07 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Humans are physical and social creatures, and the places in which they live and the people who surround them radically shape (and reshape) their thoughts.

A big amen to that. The trouble with MOOCs is that they see higher ed as a collection of coursework... instead of a set of communities organized around classrooms, schools

Coursework has been plentiful in the form of textbooks for a good long while now. Video lectures for a shorter but appreciable time too. I have access to more material of this kind than I can probably absorb in the rest of my life.

But what I miss about university -- what I consider to have been deeply worthwhile -- was having people to go to with questions (both specifically technical and matters of general vision). Having someone who's taking an active role in shaping my understanding like my honors calc teachers did my freshman year (and turned me into half a mathematician). Having peers I'm regularly checking in with peers who are interested in the subject matter and sharing their experiences in processing and applying it.

Online communities have some potential here, but I still feel like the ones I see associated with MOOCs are shallow.

Of course, one could argue that some higher ed institutions are failing here too, and at some price point, it's unaffordable and can't even yield an ROI to be financed. But I deeply miss having those things, and wish I knew how to build them for myself outside of a university context.
posted by weston at 1:35 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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