EDIT: This post was originally posted in La Acera about four years ago. The site’s current Head Honcho, sent it to me so I could post it here for posterity. Over the years I’ve noticed I’d had to clarify my views on the value of college, and this piece summarizes them rather well. Now on to the post…
Before I start, I want to tell a bit of my story because it brings some context into what I want to actually write about.
I spent 5 years, in 3 colleges, studying (in order) computer engineering, architecture, and PoliSci. Although I’m a better balanced renaissance man for it, my parents spent somewhere close to $20,000 for this unnecessary formation.
5 years ago my brother, some (now long lost) partners, and I, started our first company. We were idiots in the beginning and made tons of all sorts of mistakes. I remember that when we got our first client I stayed there at their office, after the closing meeting, waiting for my check. Still, as the years came and went we: changed offices, changed partners, gained knowledge, got battle scars, and grew; considerably. Although we’re still a small company of just 5 we’ve been able to establish ourselves as experts in the field of Web Development, and have found clients who have decided to pay us handsomely for our expertise and follow through. At 28 I’m where ambitious people expect to be in their mid-30s. Not a single one of my chosen fields of study helps in any direct way my current profession.
The best thing I could have done was quitting school and getting to work.
My goal with this piece is to dissuade potential or current college students from pursuing a structured higher education. I’ll try to go through all the arguments I’ve heard in favor of going to college, but I’m sure I’ll miss some. I expect heated discussion in the comments but let’s try and keep it civil, don’t be a troll.
(NOTE: This is not for people pursuing fields that require a degree to acquire a license, just make sure that you know what you’re getting into before wasting other people’s money.)
Although there is proven causation between going to college and higher average salaries there are various factors that the College Board doesn’t consider when calculating the financial benefits of a higher education. I’m not going to explain it myself but this article does a fine job of crunching the numbers. The point is moot either way as people with specific skills, vision, and drive will make money independent of their formal education.
College helps the job hunt
This is less true on a daily basis. Companies used to take a bachelor’s degree as direct evidence of a person’s talent and potential. This talent and potential, implied in the degree, might still hold true, but companies don’t tend to look for unproven potential anymore. Corporations now look for individuals with proven work experience, and a results driven track record. This way they have a better picture of who they’re hiring before having to commit to all the costs associated with a new employee. I’ll add a note that our only directly hired employee is a very well paid 19 year old programmer who taught himself. He proved himself while collaborating with us during an industry event. We hired him 3 months later, straight out of high school. We tried to convince him to drop out of college but his mom’s adamant about him getting a degree.
College rounds you out.
I’ll agree to that, somewhat. I have friends who would have probably never read the classics had it not been for basic humanities courses; but all this material is readily and freely available online for those with the interest. I agree that these books are great and a must read, I don’t agree that they should be forced on everyone.
If someone doesn’t want to ever read The Republic because it is of an uninteresting subject to them, or because the content is too dense, or because the allusions are not relatable, they shouldn’t. These sorts of people will rarely get much out of these magnificent pieces beyond the answers to a reading comprehension test. In much the same way those so inclined will find these books independently of college.
College is where teens become adults
I’ve heard this argument more than once. College is the oven where teens go to bake for a while and come out as adults, the perfect place to sow wild oats and experiment with alternative lifestyles, the unreal world with milder repercussions where mistakes are forgotten as errors of youth.
I have friends who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, diplomats, teachers, and politicians, and college or no college, not one of them is an adult; drunks, stoners, philanderers, gamblers, rascals and hooligans, the whole lot of them. They’re all making it up as they go along becoming adults on the way, the same as everyone else. Even if they had come out as respectable adults, an average debt of $19,999 seems a bit steep for having a place to party and find oneself.
College is where you find like-minded people to discuss ideas.
The web solved this one. Anything you could possibly want to discuss; from contemporary literature to underwater basket weaving, there’s at least 100 weirdos online, just full of questions and ideas, who would just love to discuss your insane hypotheses. With Twitter and Google they’re even easier to find.
Even worse college is expensive as all hell. Besides rent, food and transportation, college loan payments can easily become a professional family’s largest burden. Especially considering the current job market and degree saturation, there are a lot more qualified applicants than available positions. This requires people to seek further education into grad, doctoral and post-doc studies, delaying entry into the workforce well into the mid to late 20s and robbing these individuals from valuable and relevant work experience. Furthermore a case can be made that the quality of the education itself is not as relevant as most people think, which implies that college graduates get paid more just because traditionally companies expect to pay more for college grads, not because they are either more qualified or better prepared than those without degrees.
There are still reasons why colleges should exist such as being funding magnets for research, or training centers for the few professions that justifiably require training instead of just instruction, but in general, if you’re in there for the humanities, social sciences, or communications, you’re probably better off with an internet connection and an internship. So drop out and get to work.