Monday, April 28, 2008

America's Most Overrated Product: A Bachelor's Degree

My article of that title appears in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education (the publication of record for college presidents, VPs, etc.) I believe it is among the most important of my 600 published articles.

I anticipate a torrent of excoriating letters to the editor from the Chronicle of Higher Education's readership. After all, I'm criticizing them. So, if you are so moved, you might send a positive letter to


hillcity said...

Congratulations, Dr. Nemko. Please let us know what kind of feedback you get.

Is this the same article as America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education?

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! Nothing like sticking your head into the lion's mouth!

This degree discussion reminds me of a question I have about your "You U" strategy. In these credential-conscious times, the person who's hiring you is very likely to have the degree that you're trying to bypass. Wouldn't the degree-holding hirer be more likely to kick you to the curb than admit that his/her own long, expensive career preparation wasn't really necessary?

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, Anonymous, degree holders ARE more likely to prefer fellow degree holders, for the reason you state. So, it DOES require a LITTLE more effort to land a job, but far less than the time and money required to obtain a degree.

What sort of "little more effort?" The key thing is a cover letter that specifically explains how you've prioritized substance over form in attending You U rather than State U. When I ask an audience whether they would interview such a candidate, 90% raise their hand.

Marty Nemko said...

Well, I've gotten a half dozen laudatory emails and not one negative one. Indeed, one of the letters invited me to participate in a summit on higher education reform.

But I suspect that most readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education will hate it--after all, I'm calling them to task. So I wouldn't complain if any of you who like it felt moved to write a letter to the editor at

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your article "America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree" and wish the Chronicle of Higher Education would have allowed readers to post comments (although as you stated, since you are "calling them to task", the comments would be from academicians who are incensed or in denial). There needs to be more accountability in higher education. I was disappointed to read an article in the February 1, 2008 issue of "The Chronicle..." entitled "Colleges Emerge the Clear Winner in the Battle Over Accreditation". Ms. Spellings should not have caved in to pressure and has now "made increasingly clear her willingness to let colleges set the terms". I agree with statements made from Mr. Charles Miller (chairman for the Commission on the Future of Higher Education)from that same article. Mr. Miller's commission recommended that "the government use that federally required accreditation to set tougher standards for colleges...too many colleges are providing a low quality of education and don't give students and taxpayers an objective method of evaluating academic performance".

Mr. Nemko, I agree with all your recommendations of what data colleges should be required to post on their web sites. I emphatically agree on your recommendation that colleges post the full accreditation report on its web site. At present, accreditation reports are not public records. The state of Florida in particular, needs to improve accountability measures for its colleges and universities, especially small private colleges that go under the radar for extreme mismanagement. I agree with your statement of colleges and universities operating as businesses that turn out defective products only to be rewarded by receiving huge government grants and tax payer-financed student loans.
As an employee at a small, private university, it is disappointing to see admissions personnel proudly displaying informational pamphlets with admissions criteria such as: "a minimum of 2.0 GPA and no entrance tests". I sincerely hope your point gets across to comatose and/or indifferent government officials.

Anonymous said...

I learned little of use in college and graduate school.

However, I received a superior professional education at the Albert Ellis Institute.

Dr Michael R. Edelstein
Author, Three Minute Therapy

Anonymous said...

Stunning article Dr. Nemko! Thank you.

I feel like crying. As a young and impressionable soul I was seduced by the common myth, “Go to school, get a bachelors degree, get a masters degree, get a doctorate…(I did!) and the world will be your oyster.”

I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. It’s obvious that higher education, for many people, is a complete waste of time and money.

I’m not alone. Most of my colleagues are in same boat. The boat of being severely overeducated while earning what could have been equally matched by attaining a 2 year vocational certificate from a community college.

The student loans that I chose to take out have become a literal ‘ball and chain’ around my neck. These feelings will be with me for the next 20 to 30 years. This debt prevents me from doing many things that make life worth living. I basically work to pay back my student loans.

I live a minimalist lifestyle and have three thousand dollars left on a car loan. This is my only other debt. I don’t require ‘stuff’ to be complete.

Mark Cuban, a self-made, from-scratch billionaire and the owner of pro basketball team the Dallas Mavericks said this in his blog:

“The greatest obstacle to destiny is debt, both personal and financial. The more people you are obligated to, the harder it is to focus on yourself and figure things out. I'm also a big believer that financial debt is the ultimate dream killer.”

Well said.

It is my hope that insightful pre-college students will find this blog and understand that higher education isn’t THE answer.

Thank you Dr. Nemko for having the character of a straight-shooter and for living in reality.

Dr. Fred

P.S. I wrote a letter of thanks to The Chronical of Higher Education ( for posting your article. I suggest that your readers do the same.

Anonymous said...

I just read the comments by Dr. Fred. As a person who just finished paying off the last of my student loans, I feel for you.

I agree that college is often a waste of time. It was for me. I have a BA psychology degree from a very good school, and even as I was pursuing it I knew I would never be a psychologist. But I thought it was easier to finish than to start over again. I don't have an advanced degree, nor any plans to pursue one.

The job I have now, and the one I'm learning to do in the future, does not at all require a degree. None of my previous jobs required one, either. On the other hand, I likely would not have been hired at my current or previous job had I not gotten one. The only thing it does for me now is help get my foot in the door.

I think that's an indication of how distorted society's perception is about college. My guess is that most American jobs don't require a college degree of any level to learn and perform, yet most job descriptions (or at least, the white collar ones) say 'bachelor's degree preferred" or "required." And that's just for the lower level positions.

College would have a lot more value if employers were more honest in their job descriptions and were more willing to either hire people who had the experience without a degree, or really were willing to train the right person for the job. They would also have more value if colleges were more selective in choosing their students and didn't open their doors to just anybody that decided they wanted to attend. Perhaps less people would drop out.

hillcity said...

@Dr. Nemko

Just in case you didn't know, your article is quite popular on Digg--2500+ diggs and 1000+ comments.

Surprisingly, the discourse in the comments isn't the usual snarky and sophomoric banter.

Anonymous said...

Higher Education is in need of serious reform. Colleges and universities need to be more selective in their admissions process. Too many colleges/univerisites have open admissions policies (low GPA, no SAT, no essay required for their application, etc.), thus contributing to the dumbing down of America. Lax educational standards as well as lax admissions criteria does not benefit society. I agree with Dr. Nemko's recommendations to improve higher education.

Anonymous said...

The following article titled "College is a waste of time and money for kids" by James Altucher of the Financial Times exquisitely dovetails with yours.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Nemko: I found your article groundbreaking and have emailed to anyone who will listen. I went to a college on a full scholarship but see many friends struggling to pay off their college debts in jobs that never required higher ed. What's more, I am dismayed by the movement on college campuses toward a fanaticism about political correctness and inclusive curriculum that ultimately undermines the ability to deliver a rigorous education based on fundamentals. Who knows truly what is at the root of the current crisis of quality in education... but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that a student paying $4,000 to take a class like "Bodies and Boundaries" is getting ripped off. And lest anyone think I'm some right-wing fascist... I'm a liberal woman with 4 kids and a job in the non-profit sector. Just thinking the pendulum has swung *way* to far in higher ed.

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