College is not a financial investment

James K.A. Smith casts a skeptical eye toward the latest figures allegedly showing the economic value of a college education.

Smith, we should note, teaches philosophy at Calvin College, and this he has a personal stake in countering this idea of college as an “investment” in higher future income. It that’s what higher education is for, after all, then there’s no point in anyone studying philosophy. (I forget the name of the stand-up comic who joked about majoring in philosophy, then graduating to discover that “none of the big philosophy companies were hiring.”)

But I think Smith is right to criticize what he describes as “economic pragmatism about higher education — one more way to simply treat a degree as a credential for employment.” This pragmatic credentialing, he says, undermines the real purpose of education: “A means for holistic formation of ‘prime citizens of the kingdom.’” (I did say he teaches at Calvin College.)

Most colleges and universities seem to have completely surrendered to the economic pragmatism Smith worries about. They’re enthusiastically latching on to the latest figures from the PayScale College Salary Report. They’ll use those figures to recruit new students, and they’ll cite them as a confirmation and quantification of the value of the work they do and the education they provide.

Such colleges may still fret about “graduation rates” for Division I athletes, but once they accepted the argument that college education is primarily an investment in future income, they lost any basis for opposing an athlete’s decision to turn pro before graduating. Allen Iverson left Georgetown after only one year and thus secured for himself everything that the school had promised to provide — a higher future income. If that is primarily what college is for, then why shouldn’t someone like him leap to take the cash in the NBA draft?

Once universities began arguing that these higher incomes were the biggest reason to enroll, then they lost every right and reason to criticize athletes like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James for skipping college altogether to go directly into the NBA from high school.

(It’s interesting that we rarely hear this complaint about baseball players. Jose Reyes signed with the Mets before he even graduated high school, yet in baseball that’s routine, so it met with none of the handwringing that accompanied LeBron James’ selection in the NBA draft. College baseball just isn’t the moneymaker that college basketball is.)

I’ve written before of my admiration for Shaquille O’Neal for going back to get his college degree long after he’d left school to become a multi-millionaire in the NBA. I think that 2006 post got lost in transition, but here’s a bit from it:

I’ve always respected Shaq for going back to get his degree. He left college early to become the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft and quickly began earning millions as one of the dominant figures in the game.

For all the lip-service paid to staying in school and the praise of higher graduation rates at certain schools’ programs, most universities are no longer capable of explaining why somebody like Shaq should stick around — or go back — to get a bachelor’s degree.

Ask any college president, or the admissions office of any college or university, why anyone should go to college and they’ll all give you the same answer: to prepare you for a Good Job. And what’s a Good Job? One that provides “Security” — i.e., that pays a lot of money.

By that standard, Shaquille O’Neal already had a Good Job and had no need to spend nine summers finishing his degree. But he went back anyway because Shaq seemed to appreciate what most colleges and universities seem to have forgotten — that there’s more to education than “career preparation.” He didn’t finish his degree in order to become a better employee or a better careerist, he finished it to become a better person.

Things like the PayScale College Salary Report don’t know how to measure or account for values like “becoming a better person.” That, says Smith, makes them “reductionistic” and often beside the point:

Different kinds of institutions envision “success” very differently. To take just an easy example, many Christian and Catholic universities inculcate in their students a deep devotion to service, to the pursuit of justice and shalom. This often translates into social entrepreneurs who devote themselves to NGOs and non-profit agencies concerned with the marginalized and downtrodden. These colleges send into the world graduates who imagine the world otherwise, and who imaginatively launch new organizations, programs, and initiatives that counter hunger, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. These, too, are “successful” graduates, but their work and vocation isn’t going to bump up the median salaries of our alumni any time soon. So be it. We’re working with a different metric.

The problem with this “different metric” is that their differently measured successes cannot be exchanged into the currency that pays off student loans. Shaquille O’Neal was able to go back to school for reasons other than “economic pragmatism” because he could do so without having to take out tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The effect of that debt is a hugely important point. Education debt restricts the future decisions of college graduates. It rules out any “different metric” and any other idea or ideal of “success.” It rules out any career path that doesn’t promise an income high enough and stable enough to cover the payments on those loans.

If you graduate with $50,000 or $100,000 in debt, you cannot “imaginatively launch new organizations, programs, and initiatives that counter hunger, poverty, disease, and illiteracy.” You cannot be a missionary or an artist or an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter if that is where your talents lie. It doesn’t matter if that is your calling. You have loan payments to make.

A good friend of mine was an attorney. She volunteered for a hotline and did some pro bono work for a women’s shelter. This was her calling and her passion. If she had been an evangelical, she would have said that this was the work that was “in her heart,” or that “God had given her a burden for” the victims of domestic violence and abuse. She was good at it. She applied for, and was offered, the position of staff attorney for a women’s shelter network. Then she did the math. The salary they were able to pay her wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of the loans she had taken out for law school.

She’s no longer a practicing attorney. She took another job doing something else to pay off her loans. Her loss. Our loss. And this happens all the time.

Or consider the bitter catch-22 facing those in the profession of social work. They perform a vitally necessary role for the most vulnerable members of our society. Apart from a few fringe beatrixian ideologues, no one seriously argues that the developmentally disabled ought to be left to fend for themselves, succeeding or failing in a strictly meritocratic, Social Darwinist jungle. They need social workers. And social workers need MSWs. That’s a master’s degree, and it doesn’t come cheap. The cost of the debt required to acquire an MSW almost always exceeds the capacity to repay such debt on the salary of a social worker.

I wholeheartedly agree with Smith’s vision of the purpose and the measure of higher education. His “different metric” is the one I would use as well.

But tuition at Calvin College this year is more than $25,000. If you’re borrowing more than $100,000 for four years of education, then you cannot graduate to become a “social entrepreneur,” or any other kind of entrepreneur. And you cannot hope or expect, for decades probably, to be able to do anything at all in service of “justice and shalom,” or in service of “the marginalized and downtrodden.” Forget about them — you’ve got loan payments due.

This system is broken. It needs to be reinvented and rebuilt.

  • Anonymous

    “(It’s interesting that we rarely hear this complaint about baseball
    players. Jose Reyes signed with the Mets before he even graduated high school,
    yet in baseball that’s routine, so it met with none of the handwringing
    that accompanied LeBron James’ selection in the NBA draft. College
    baseball just isn’t the moneymaker that college basketball is.)”

    This is because professional baseball has a very different history from football and basketball.  Baseball is by far the oldest American professional team sport.  Its rise was roughly contemporary with the rise of intercollegiate athletics (c. 1870s), but it arose out of independent baseball clubs and always existed apart from and was bigger than college baseball.  In consequence, college baseball was never a major feeder of baseball talent.  The system of minor leagues and semi-pro clubs served that role.  Professional baseball players tended to be working class: guys escaping from the factory or the mine or the farm by playing ball.  There was no expectation of their having any higher, or even secondary, education.  Also, don’t underestimate the simple fact that the baseball season and the academic calendar don’t mesh well. 

    Compare this with American football.  It arose as a distinct form around 1880.  It was from the start centered on colleges;  especially those which are now the Ivy League.  It became a big deal in the mid-1880s and spread across the country, but mostly to colleges and high schools.  There were eligibility shenanigans from the start, but never any question of open professionalism.  There were independent football clubs, but they were never the driving force.  The NFL formed in the 1920s and wasn’t a big deal until the late 1950s.  It initially was, like baseball, very working class.  But the most highly developed football talent was to be found in the colleges.  As NFL salaries rose, it reached a point where it attracted these college graduates.  As the NFL continued to become a bigger and bigger deal, the NCAA became the de facto developmental league for the NFL.  Both the NFL and the NCAA have strong financial incentives to maintain the status quo.

    The pattern for basketball parallels that for football.  The main difference for this discussion is that it is virtually impossible for a teenager right out of high school to be NFL-ready.  Even apart from physical development, the training requirements are too great. There is a long tradition of a few teenagers in major league baseball (especially pitchers, where a cannon of an arm can substitute for experience) and even though the vast majority aren’t ready for the majors, there is an extensive infrastructure of minor leagues in place to train them up.  Basketball doesn’t have anything like that structure of minor leagues, but it is also far more common for a teenager to be NBA-ready. 

    So with basketball and football we have an accepted fiction that at the collegiate level we are talking about students who also happen to be athletes:  young men bettering themselves through the benefits of an education, while playing football or basketball in their spare time.  If they go pro early, they are throwing away this opportunity for betterment in pursuit of mere lucre.  Add to this the additional fiction that they are playing for the love of their school and fellow students and team mates.  The player who leaves early is not merely throwing away the opportunity for an education:  he is also leaving in the lurch people who were counting on him.  What an ungrateful wretch!  Baseball is blessedly free of these fictions, though of course it has its own. 

    As a final note, these myths may have other financial implications.   Major league baseball players have the strongest union in America.  Remember the 1987 football strike?  It was crushed.  In consequence baseball players tend to make more money than football players, while having longer careers and greater likelihood of still being able to walk after they retire.  I have seen the suggestion that one reason for this disparity is that football players come from the Rah! Rah! collegiate background, while baseball players come from a background of long bus rides in the low minors.  This makes baseball players better equipped to understand their profession as a business.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I didn’t know that about Shaq! This is a great article!

  • Reverend Ref

    @rrhersh :There were independent football clubs, but they were never the driving
    force.  The NFL formed in the 1920s and wasn’t a big deal until the late
    1950s.  It initially was, like baseball, very working class.  But the
    most highly developed football talent was to be found in the colleges./i>

    This reminded me of the opening scene in Leatherheads where you see a college game in a stadium with thousands of people watching and then it flips to a pro game where the guys are playing in a cow pasture and the only person in attendance was the ball boy.

    @cjmr:disqus : One of my ‘if I were to win the lottery’ pipe dreams is establishing a scholarship at our alma mater for married students.

    Having been a non-trad, that would be way cool.

  • Reverend Ref

    Oh crap . . . I italicized the whole thing.  Sorry for that.

  • Jesse Keen

    If you check Calvin College’s financial aid page, you’ll see that 92% of their students receive financial aid. It’s worth it to look at the *net* tuition costs of colleges rather than the gross tuition costs. While some of that financial aid is loans, some of it is from grants as well. If we’re going to discuss the issue of rising tuition, it needs to be in context of net costs instead of gross costs, which are only good (as you rightly point out) for spit takes.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Oh crap . . . I italicized the whole thing.  Sorry for that.

    By glad this is not Typepad.  Otherwise you would have italicized the whole thread.  :)

  • MaryKaye

    One of the things happening at US public universities:  as state support drops, there is a scramble for other forms of income.  Many of these come with strings attached.  Many of them are painful distractions from the educational goals of the university.  But they are necessary now to keep the institution afloat.

    I work at a large US university.  Core departments such as English and Mathematics are money-losers:  tuition does not cover expenses.  However, the School of Medicine pays for itself, and it’s easy to see the disproportionate political power it wields as a result.  We were nailed for Medicaid fraud a few years ago, and I am personally convinced that “cash cows can do no wrong” was the major factor in the administration’s failure to detect and correct the fraud earlier.  Sports also pays for itself, and when I was on the Faculty Senate we struggled horribly with this:  student athletes were not being treated properly, but cash cows can do no wrong.  Alumni outreach is a key factor in keeping us afloat:  this means sports, and it means catering to alums even when they want things contrary to the best interests of the university.

    My own department runs on federal grant money.  One result is that there is severe pressure not to teach, which has to be constantly fought at the departmental level.  One professor managed to get a clause in her contract that she would never have to teach undergraduates.  This is totally contrary to what we stand for–but she brings in $60 million a year, half the department’s total.
    (She is a brilliant scientist and I have a lot of respect for her as such, but hey, isn’t this a university?)

    Perverse incentives lead to perverse behavior, and if the University’s main sources of funding are not related to teaching, teaching will inevitably suffer.

  • Jesse Keen

    As I said in a comment to someone else, this discussion needs more acknowledgment of NET tuition costs instead of gross tuition costs. Calvin College’s financial aid webpage says 92% of their students receive financial aid in some form — some in loans of course (putting the burden on students) but some in grants. If we want to discuss the impact on students or the spit-take worthy costs of college, let’s look at net prices instead. It’s disingenuous to quote gross costs alone. Yes tuition costs are ridiculous. But the sticker price isn’t the one we should be looking at.

    Also, “becoming a better person” might sound laughable, but the social capital gained by students in college is no joke. That is the credential that companies are looking for. Higher ed is awful at measuring this factor, as it’s complicated by many factors (talk to a higher ed economist about this some time) but it’s not less awful than, say, society’s general drive for prestige and success. Education happens to be a metric we care about, both as a means to an end (the social capital of “I have a degree from _______ college/university”) and as a financial ladder up (in theory…less applicable during a shitty job economy). 

    And as for the conclusion…I disagree that loan payments are keeping all graduates from pursuing meaningful work versus high paying work as a broader trend, because 1) there aren’t many high paying guaranteed jobs out there anyway, and 2) students, especially millennials, are actually more willing to be broke for a long time in order to pursue their dream field, social entrepreneur thing, social work, etc.

  • Reverend Ref

    And after reading Slack for several years, that is EXACTLY why I’m normally so OCD about the whole italics thing.

  • Samantha C

    Man, I can relate. I remember being 16 and applying for colleges, scared completely out of my wits of going to College, where everyone had told me the work would be SO HARD and you had to WORK HARD and STUDY EVERYTHING but you had to go to College because otherwise you’d never get a job…

    The funny thing is I went to a technical high school program – I had a Performing Arts school for the second half of my day in Junior and Senior years. I was aware that there was a beauty school equivalent going on, but it never occurred to me that there might be other technical programs.

    Granted, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go to a tech school instead of college. I ended up thoroughly enjoying my literature degree. But I still don’t really know what exists beyond beauty and culinary schools. And it would have been nice for my parents to sit down and help me research when I finally confessed my fears, instead of simply telling me I was going to college, or what was I going to do live on the streets?

  • dr ngo

    This is somewhat deceptive, since it only refers to *undergraduate* degrees, and the big bucks in biz studies have always been presumed to lie in the MBA instead.  I’m not surprised that undergraduate biz majors are paid poorly (almost as bad as historians!), since they represent those who don’t understand How The Game Is Played, e.g., doing an undergrad major in philosophy and then going for the MBA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I would have thought that English would be pretty cheap. You don’t really need expensive equipment, and English majors at my school pay the same as chemistry majors (including lab fees for laboratories that an English major might go into once in four years and a chemistry major might live in for the entirety of her stay). That’s really surprising to learn!

  • dr ngo

    From studying (and teaching) colonialism in Southeast Asia I learned that when it came to
    running colonies, the United States was *far* more committed to
    education – free, public education – than its contemporaries, Britain
    (in Burma and Malaya), France (in Indochina), the Dutch (in Indonesia),
    etc. Only Japan (in Taiwan) put even half the resources and effort into
    it.

    I always attributed this to a fundamental American belief in
    education as a public good, going back – I supposed – to our own
    colonial days. In the Philippines, it tended to manifest itself in
    proclaiming education a virtual panacea. Backward economy? EDUCATION!
    Corrupt politics? EDUCATION! Too much influence by the (Catholic,
    hence scarcely “Christian”!) Church? EDUCATION! Health and sanitation?
    EDUCATION!

    This belief may have been naive or self-delusional. It certainly did
    not have the long-term effects hoped for, in that the Philippines, far
    better “educated” than its neighbors, has lagged behind them in economic
    development and not notably exceeded them in effective democratization.

    But I always liked it anyway, the rather touching American belief
    that it was in *everybody’s* interest for everybody to be educated, not
    just parents caring for their own children. And I’m truly sorry to see
    that withering with the move away from low-cost public universities (which still existed when I was growing up in California half a century ago) toward a “You Get
    What You [Personally] Pay For” model.

     

  • Anonymous

    Academic credentials have effectively replaced internal training and
    mentorship in most medium and large companies. Tuition reimbursement is
    nice when it’s offered, but it’s usually offered in place of
    grooming someone to “move up the ladder”. And, of course, a college
    degree is one of the first and most common ‘screening’ elements in
    hiring for a lot of white collar jobs

    One of the reasons my wife’s employer is one of the best large companies to work for is that they have eschewed that trend.

  • thrownaway

    It’s a shame there aren’t more apprenticeship style programs out there.  A friend of mine pointed out that the guy who created two of his favorite shows was a child actor and it got me thinking.  To those who take advantage of it, Hollywood really is an apprenticeship/guild setup.  Those who start on it young can learn their craft from the bottom up and the ones who make a real career at it are big successes.  Obviously Hollywood isn’t the same as anything else, but I’ve often wondered if we would do better worrying less about cramming everything into every child and find a way to make focusing on specific trades more accepted.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You know, it takes a very liberal society (in the enlightenment sense of the term) to actually support general public education.  A nation must have enough capitol to invest in the education programs, and the ruling class must be convinced that educating the working classes will not threaten them.  

    A lot of “The American Dream” is based around the possibility of a person to realize their aspirations, and I think that American respect for public education comes from the fact that it is a huge factor in enabling people to achieve those aspirations, and to be more self-reliant for having the knowledge that education imparts.  

    However, it feels like this ideological support for public education has been reversing in these last few decades.  Those who have very ambitious aspirations, those who used their opportunities to realize those very ambitious aspirations, now find themselves established as a ruling class in and of themselves.  Like most ruling classes, they are fearful of an educated working class, particularly since their own positions are not secured through say a system of entitlement like a nobility, and thus aspiring members of the working class could potentially threaten to displace them.  

    I get the feeling a lot of this kind of striving on limitation on government spending and interference has as much to do with securing the privilege of those who have realized their aspirations against those who have not as it does with “responsibility”.  

  • Hawker40

    There is a joke (which I don’t remember the whole lead in, sorry) about university budget which goes…

    “Give the math department paper, pencils, and erasers, and they’re happy.
    The philosophy department is even better, since they don’t need the erasers.”

  • Anonymous

    “How is someone studying theology ever supposed to pay that back?”

    Embezzlement or televangelism?  My understanding is that Pat Roberts is doing pretty well for himself…

  • Daughter

    Two thoughts:

    1) Has anyone seen the “I am the 53%” (as in 53% who pay federal income taxes) signs that proport to be a rebuttal to the “We are the 99%” movement?  Most are people who describe working long hours, going to school without loans, and the like, “because I don’t need help from anyone and I don’t blame Wall St. for my problems.”  (* There is also a web site called something like, “No, you’re really the 47%” that mocks these people, pointing out that they are actually using government support despite their denials, or they’re killing themselves working three jobs with no health care and benefits, as if that’s a good thing).

    Anyway, the college students among the “53%” crowd boast about having scholarships and working to pay for college instead of taking out student loans.  Well, that raises a problem:  I had quite a few college scholarships.  But those scholarships were contingent upon my being a full-time student.  If I had gone to school part-time so I could have worked more hours (I generally worked 15 hours/wk when I was in school) instead of taking out loans, then I would have had to forfeit my scholarships–thus making college much more expensive for me, and much more difficult to pay for.  And sorry, my health and stamina have never been such that I could have both worked full-time and gone to school full-time.

    Is that still true today–that many college scholarships require the student to attend full-time, or they must forfeit them?

    2) The Washington Monthly has been doing an “alternative” college guide–alternative to the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings, which some believe have driven some of higher education’s push for students with the highest SAT scores, most notable professors, and other factors that have driven up costs.

    In contrast, WM ranks based on: a) social mobility: % enrollment of low-income students and how many of them graduate; 2) scholarship: research production and # of grads of the college who pursue PhDs; and 3) service: commitment of the college/university to student service.

    I’ll post a link in a separate post.

  • Daughter

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/toc_2011.php

    Note: even with the different ranking systems, some of the same schools appear at the tope of WM’s and US New’s rankings.

  • Daughter

    Question: does anyone know if any “no frills,” commitment to quality scholarship and student learning, colleges or universities exist in the U.S.? I think that it would be amazing for a school to offer basic dorm living, extracurriculars that students themselves organize, with the bulk of resources spent on things that promote student learning rather than the school’s prestige.  That might be technology, teachers, student support, but it wouldn’t be a fancy gym, for example. And tuition for an exceptional education would be affordable. 

    If no such school does exist, do you one could be created that would do well?

  • Daughter

    I think the change has been more intentional than that.  After all, the fears of the ruling class maintaining their place in society and security have always existed. Yet there used to be a broader base of commitment to public education.

    Today, however, it’s not only the ruling class that is anti-public education.  It’s also the religious right, who support home schooling and often call public schools “government indoctrination centers.” And it’s the libertarian right, who disdain any idea of public good (other than criminal justice and defense) at all.

  • Daughter

    And here’s the “you are the 47%” tumblr:
    http://actuallyyourethe47percent.tumblr.com/

  • Anonymous

    (D)oes anyone know if any “no frills,” commitment to quality scholarship
    and student learning, colleges or universities exist in the U.S.?

    There are several no-tuition schools that are probably fairly unfrilly:  http://diplomaguide.com/articles/10_Colleges_and_Universities_with_0_Tuition.html

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The thing my parents tried to instill in me before college was that college was not *about* getting your license to a white-collar job: what college was *for* was to become an “educated person”. 

    (Of course, this is a big part of the reason Germany got such a big lead in chemistry in the 19th century. Chemistry was the first marketable science that you really needed a college education to pursue, and at the time, thanks to the culture of Europe, Germany was also the only place in Europe where it wasn’t considered unspeakably gauche for someone to both go to a university and also pursue a profession that involved actually making and doing things.)

  • P J Evans

     I saw that ’53%’ line used in a comment at the LA Times today, and replied that the 53% were included in the 99%, since it’s not part of the 1%.
    (I refrained from pointing out their math fail.)

  • Amaryllis

    A university identifying itself as “christian”, though, I’d suspect of
    being a place where they don’t teach evolution, where being openly gay
    was an expellable offense, where they play hard and fast with academic
    standards, and which serve as feeders for peopleing conservative
    poltical organizations.

    There is, to be fair, another type of historically Christian-not-Catholic college, the ones affiliated with a specific denomination rather than the generic-evangelical Bible College. Like  Earlham and St Olaf and Berea — now there’s a high-quality, low-cost school for you — schools that tend to be academically rigorous and socially liberal while still valuing their Christian heritage.

    But speaking of student loans and fundy-Christian colleges, according to Kevin Roose in The Unlikely Disciple, there’s a Facebook group for Liberty University students called “I Hope the Rapture Comes Before My Student Loans Are Due.”

    I guess that’s one way to stop worrying about college costs!

  • Anonymous

    I’m currently working on a Bachelor’s in Accounting after getting a Bachelor’s and Master’s in linguistics, which I couldn’t get a job in.  I never for a second regret getting my previous degrees, but if they were a financial investment, they were a spectacularly bad one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I graduated from Capital University in Ohio, which was founded by Lutherans in 1830. So while it is technically a Christian college, (and definitely a Lutheran one) it is definitely not a “Christian College” like those that bill themselves as such.

    For example, I found myself majoring in religious studies. About half the classes I took were studying non-Christian religions, with textbooks by leading academics in those religious traditions. I can’t really imagine that at Liberty University.

    This did, of course, leave me with a useless liberal arts degree and loads of student loan debt that I have continued to have to pay during my years of disability.

    The big suggestion I got was “well isn’t your degree the obvious stepping stone to entering the Lutheran seminary that is directly across the street? Or whatever seminary fits you?”

    Well a) I’m a Quaker, and we have no clergy, and b) even if we did, I have Social Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia, so any kind of clergy position is something I am really Not Suited For.

    Thus I wound up trying to pay of my student loans by working in (of course) customer service, the stress of which exacerbated my physical and mental health conditions, probably contributing to my kidney failure a few months after I quit.

    But for all that? My college education did make me a better person. I unpacked a massive amount of invisible privilege, recognized and dealt with my growing Nice Guy (TM) thinking, and finally began my own religious journey on the path I’m now following. I also really honed my writing skills, even though my mental illness has drastically interfered with writing for the past five years.

  • Anonymous

    There are a lot more apprenticeships out there than you seem aware of. Most are sponsored by unions or industry groups, but not all and they extend far beyond the trades. You can do apprenticeships for a youth development professional credential, for instance. Google “registered apprenticeships” and look at the Department of Labor site. They have a database of established apprenticeships (they are not always all available–it depends on the sponsoring organization).

    There is also a lot of credentialing done outside of traditional universities/colleges. My husband had a credential from the American Concrete Institute. My son is taking automotive repair in community college, but he can also get credentials from ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) that will be recognized country- and perhaps world-wide.

    There is a huge complex system that provides credentials that are widely recognized so no, you don’t have to go to college. Before the recession, a lot of trades were anticipating labor shortages because everyone had been shunted to 4-year degrees and the baby boomer welders and mechanics were nearing retirement. Sooner or later these jobs are likely to be back.

  • http://twitter.com/NewsCat_in_DC Rachel Joy Larris

    I graduated from undergrad with $15,000 in debt which seemed staggering at that time. (It was from a state school but I was only in-state for 2 of 4 years). I was going to be journalist and I learned a few practical technical skills (Pagination, news clips) that did get me my first few jobs. After that my skills set ran out, the economy tanked and I went for a graduate degree in Media Studies because I didn’t know what else to do with my career at that point. I acquired another $60,000 in debt. That was 6 years ago. I’ve been employed, off-and-on over the last 6 years for a total of maybe 4 years.

    Each job I have I question whether the Master’s Degree was worth it. But it’s a accumulative effect. I had an internship when I was in grad school that absolutely got me one of the jobs I had. It’s a job that opened doors on my resume. Not every job I’ve had has required that I have a masters’s but it’s a bit like building a house and saying the top bricks aren’t connected to the bottom bricks. An internship for 4 months got me a job that I had for 5 months got me a job that I had for 2.5 years that got me the job I have today. 

    I was told Graduate school doesn’t teach you SKILLS it teaches you how to think. I think that may be true, although whether it added anything to resume it’s hard to hard. $60,000 is a ton of money for studying something I’d already studied once (Communications/Media Studies), but over the course of my lifetime I think it has helped make me a more well-rounded educated person. Of course now I have $500 a month student loan payments forever. I sometimes say that my education is what I bought instead of a condo.

  • Amaryllis

    @Patrick:disqus  McGraw: I know, I just hating ceding the word “Christian” to the RTCs. And
    honestly, when I read “Christian universities” in the original, my mind
    went first to all those Lutheran and Methodist and Quaker colleges
    founded in the later part of the 19th century on the principle of equal
    education for everybody, the ones that were co-educational and racially
    integrated long before everybody else. 

    As for Liberty U. according to Roose they teach evolution as a biology elective, in a “this is what the state says we have to tell you to keep our accreditation, but we don’t want you to  believe it” fashion. “Creation Science,” by which they mean a defiant Young-Earth Creationism, is taught in the Religious Studies department and is a core course for everybody, regardless of major. YECism shows up in a lot of other courses as well, to the point where Roose says he began to think it was the primary idea behind Liberty’s curriculum, the one thing they want you to retain from your education there.

  • Termudgeon

    English *is* pretty cheap. It involves large amounts of service courses in many cases for other departments, so it might look like a loss in terms of majors. The ratio of credit hours produced to faculty member costs is excellent.

  • Anonymous

    But, if MaryKaye’s post is basically accurate, then almost the entire cost of English professors is paid by the university.  Engineering professors are paid more and teach fewer classes, but they often pay for themselves through research grants.

  • Termudgeon

    Bear in mind that the engineering profs usually use their grants to buy out of teaching. On a credit hour production basis, there is little difference between student $ going to an engineering prof and an English prof (except one is usually paid more). And Engineering students need service courses too.

  • Termudgeon

    I can explain that better. Assume one prof in each of the two departments, earning the same salary: $75k, for example. The English prof teaches a 3:3 load, I.e., three classes each semester, and has no external grant support. The engineering prof has a 3:3 load, but each semester, buys out two thirds of his or her time with grant money to work on the grant. Thus the uni pays only 25k of his or her salary, but gets one class a semester in teaching. The distribution of money across students in the classroom is exactly the same.

    This simplifies it a bit, obviously, but the basic idea is accurate.

  • Anonymous

    At least at my school, the professors with research grants also end up contributing quite a bit of money to the university.  Something like 50% of the grant amount gets taken as “overhead”, and that’s often a lot more money than a single professor’s salary.  Schools also take some share of the profits from any patentable invention that results from a professor’s research.

  • Termudgeon

    Right, overhead is one of the complicating factors I referred to. Some of it is used to pay, well, overhead, including the startup fees, which can be colossal, in addition to the expenses of having a sponsored research office. Other factors include salary, class size, and how widespread the use of part timers is. If you can replace your bought-out full prof’s two courses with a part-time instructor, you’re obviously doing well.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Today, however, it’s not only the ruling class that is anti-public education. It’s also the religious right, who support home schooling and often call public schools “government indoctrination centers.” And it’s the libertarian right, who disdain any idea of public good (other than criminal justice and defense) at all.

    In the case of the Libertarian perspective, I struggle to see how they can justifibly object to public schooling.  After all, public schooling gave them a childhood education, and acted as a day-time baby-sitter so their parents could continue to work.  The taxes that the government collects on those same students once they become adults is simply a back payment on what was spent on them in their youth. 

    Fair exchange.  Unless they think that one can get something from nothing. 

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    In the case of the Libertarian perspective, I struggle to see how they can justifibly object to public schooling.

    I think it’s usually because they don’t have children, and the Free Market(tm) could do it way better anyway because shut up.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You know, whenever someone promises me that they can give me some insider knowledge on how to make money, but only if I give them a downpayment first, I tend to assume it is a grift.  

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Not a bad philosophy, considering that companies like Amway and Primerica Financial Services often ask for money up-front as a way to lock you into the system. There’s one guy who wrote a pretty holy-crap-esque story about the dreadful treadmill being in Amway locked him into. (O_O)


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