Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Will the Everyone-to-College Fad Finally Fade?

I've long argued that, for many people, a degree is not worth the time and money: too little of value is learned, for example, in improved thinking skills. And the long-advertised income advantage of getting a degree is withering in our global economy.

As former Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Alan Blinder says, soon, any job whose work product can be shipped over the Internet, will be. That means that mainly jobs such as plumber, electrician, and chef will be offshore-proof. The good news is that those careers don't require the time and cost of a college degree.

I've long written that we send too many students to college, and now, my position is gaining support, for example, the just published book, Real Education and an op-ed in today's Christian Science Monitor

I believe it's worth pursuing a bachelor's degree only if you meet these requirements:
1. You love academic learning or want to pursue a career that definitely requires a college degree, for example, nursing.
2. Without the structure of school, you'd be too undisciplined to do a thorough job search or start a business.
3. Are rich enough to afford a four-year college's sticker price or poor enough to get a lot of CASH financial aid. (Community colleges are often the smartest choice--the best teaching for the lowest price.)

One of these alternatives may, for you or someone you love, be a wiser choice:
  • An apprenticeship. This site will help you find the right one.
  • Learn how to run your own small business by taking a job, any job, at the elbow of a successful small business owner who is willing to mentor you. You'll also learn a lot about starting a small business at
  • A short NON-degree career-prep program at a community college.
  • The military, which offers quality training for a surprisingly large number of careers.


Anonymous said...

Encourage the lumpen to join the military?

In case you hadn't heard, military recruiters routinely lie to people they are recruiting about what careers are available to them.

The site you link to is marketing, and as you surely have learned, marketing is lying.

For many of the careers the military say they will train you for, you need to already be accepted into college or officer training to be eligible.

Find out - from someone who has already gone through the process - exactly what you need to do before you talk to a recruiter. They do not need a lot of nurses, eye doctors, or computer technicians in their in-the-door recruit pool these days. They need folks to send to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I knew people in school who were doing their PhDs on ROTC. Husband and wife, and they'd both done tours in the first gulf war, then were sent back to school because they were so smart.

But, this couple were the exception.

Also, the military still feels very strongly that certain groups of training tracks have ceilings for people who don't have college degrees.

Anonymous said...

Nursing does not require a college degree. You can become an RN without an associates, much less a bachelors.

Dave said...

Piano tuning and repair is another job that is offshore-proof. I would pursue an apprenticeship like this one if I had to start over.

My parents bought me a Baldwin spinet twenty-three years ago. I know what you're thinking, Dr. Nemko, but this spinet does have a nice sound!

Anonymous said...

with respect to "anonymous" comments regarding the military...

I am a retired Navy officer - there's my bias up front.

His/her comments are partly correct, and partly BS.

Encouraging the "lumpen"? That may have been true at some point in time, but our Armed forces need intelligent members now - read Michael Yon's commentary. We don't need "slugs".

The US "military" is a very large and diverse organization; that there are a few miscreants or worse across the five services (Army, Navy, Marines, Air force, Coast Guard) is not at all surprising. Those that are found out are fired - or worse.

Military recruiters, for one thing, do not "routinely lie" to people they are recruiting. Why, exactly, would an all-volunteer military want to lie to potential recruits? Bad news always travels ten times farther and faster than good news.

I see no issue with the military requiring recruit entry into college or officer training to be eligible for certain types of training. But as any "fule kno", there are a lot more enlisted personnel in our armed forces than officers.

The advice about potential recruit "due regard", essentially, is generally good advice. But anonymous cannot know, of course, just what skills the "military" needs at any point in time. The comment that "they need folks to send to Iraq and Afghanistan" is correct - as far as it goes - which isn't very far. There are most likely hundreds of thousands military personel who have never been to either country.

There are thousands upon thousands of enlisted folks who have joined the Armed Forces and gotten their high school and/or college degrees.

Get the FACTS - Talk to a recruiter. Ask a lot of questions - read everything very closely that you're asked to sign - make sure you understand everything you're asked to sign - and take advice on blog comments with a VERY LARGE grain of salt.

Marty Nemko said...

I appreciate the most recent anonymous comment. It sounds like a knowledgeable counter to the earlier commenter's less-than-knowledgeable assertions.