Does America’s College System Make Sense?

Two thirds of today’s American high school graduates go on to attend college, and a large portion of those will attend a traditional four-year college.

DT 15 - PSome people see the American college experience as a cripplingly expensive four-year drunken summer camp that only needs to happen because both American society and the American workforce views college as a critical component of being an educated human being and viable white-collar employee.

Others view it as the best time in people’s lives, opening their minds to new things, expanding their understanding of the world, offering insight into who they are and what they want to do with their lives, and introducing them to their closest life-long friends or their spouse.

Is America’s college system a good thing or something that should change? If it’s a good thing, should attending college be a goal of every American, or does college only make sense for certain people? If the system should be changed, can it be fixed with a few key tweaks, or should we question the entire notion of spending the years between 18 and 22 in college?

I began writing my answer, but I have enough thoughts on this to make a full post about it, so I’ll do that instead, sometime soon.

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  • Reese

    I don’t think it is necessary for everyone, however, America is currently in a tricky spot for young people in that the young people must remain competitive with their peers in order to have an equal chance of success. However, this upward spiral of education could be the result of corporations requiring high lever education for employees all the way (sometimes) down to sales. This means that four years of college has edged towards becoming “the standard,” and thus leaves many students with no work experience, and a mountain of debt.

    However, there is a niche market for people who want to be creative these days. If you choose not to go to college and do something “crazy,” you may find yourself employing your college-grad peers.

    • Max

      True, but a lot of times going the “crazy”/creative route is only possible for young people who have money to begin with and can afford to go out on a limb…

  • I think it is largely like the trade school system. It is useful as an economic development tool. Weigh the cost against the benefit and decide. The question is akin to asking if everyone should attend shop class.

    What are your goals? What do you want to do? I know a lot of happy dropouts and some miserable educated people. Goes both ways. Your goals should be your goals, college is just a tool.

  • Jack

    I’ve always found it strange that Americans don’t think of university as career prep. In Europe, people study something to help them in their future career, but in America, don’t people study something totally unrelated to their career? That always confused me.

    • Lisa

      Some people do get degrees specifically related to their career, but A LOT of people get a general liberal arts degree, called a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts. The idea is that getting a broad overview of topics like history, art, literature, math, etc., creates people who have good critical thinking skills and would be good at many different careers. The reality is that many of these students (me included) graduate and have zero job skills, and have to work a ton of crappy jobs in order to get enough experience to be a valuable employee somewhere down the line.

      Boy, I guess it’s obvious where my bias lies. Mark me down for “American universities are a gigantic waste of money.” 🙂

    • Danes

      I’ve always thought it was crazy that European college was so career-oriented though because it forces kids who really don’t know themselves or their strengths/weaknesses/interests very well yet to choose their lifelong career. That’s a huge decision to be making at such a young age. While less career-oriented isn’t there something nice about the fact that American college allows kids a little more time to explore and experiment in order to figure out what they might eventually want to do?

      • Beckie Moriello

        It’s a huge decision at any age, and many (most?) adults change careers at least once anyway. The decision is ultimately made by the intersection between your skills, interest, and what the market needs. College curriculums generally ignore what the market needs.

  • DL

    Aren’t educational institutes for-profit? It’s weird to consider if someone doing something, like running a college, for personal gain is good or bad for society. The concept of a diploma, and the expectations that come out of it, is too well-entrenched in our society to expect any sort of change to happen. I’ve known people who would drop out of college in a blink of an eye if it weren’t for their parents, and I’d imagine this isn’t uncommon. I guess the experience varies among the students. I personally see college as a way to meet new friends, made easy by the fact that the people around me are in a similar situation, and to explore topics unrelated to my career goals that I have a genuine interest in. One of the most frustrating things about college is the bureaucracy and lack of independence regarding the whole purpose of college: education. You are TOLD what you need to do to graduate, what classes you need to take, what grade you must earn, and in the end you’ve traded your interest and love for the subject, for grades.

    • Brian Gottfried

      To be fair, the courses of study that a college prescribes aren’t just arbitrary rules; they reflect the college’s analysis that study (and completion) of those topics is sufficient for them to tell the world “Yes, learned while at .” A diploma is essentially the college vouching for you, putting their good name (which is ultimately the product they’re selling) on the line with every diploma they put out. Of course, if you just want to learn the material and don’t care about getting a degree, you can take whatever classes you like and the university will be happy to let you pay for that; but if you want them to vouch for you (above and beyond what your skills alone will do), I understand their desire to say “You need to at least learn X,Y, and Z”.

  • Eiron

    In Belgium (maybe the rest of Europe too, idk) we have something called study points. College is ‘free’ (€650 / year and for low income like €100/ year) as long as you study well. Every new student gets 140 points and ‘spends’ 60 points for a full year. If you succeed you get them back and can start the next year, if you fail, too bad, your points are lost and you have to spend your remaining points and retry. Every course is rated individually and you usually get a second chance to prove yourself before points are awarded for the next year. If you fail one class you can choose to take 4/5 classes of next year and redo the class you’ve failed or mix them up any way you like. Also, there are 2 dates throughout the year which determine whether you get full points, half points or zero points back if you unsubscribe a class during school year.

    If you are a bad student you’ll have to wait a few years for your points to recharge or pay A LOT more (like, American price) registration fee because the government doesn’t financially supports you any more. Another strategy would be taking just a few courses and succeeding all of them.

  • Teco

    Students loans have changed higher education. There is no longer many quality, affordable programs. Today every institution can offer overpriced marginal degrees while allowing the students to suffer large debts and a marginal education.

  • Dan Jolley

    As someone who just graduated from a major university in December, I have to ultimately say that yes, college was a worthwhile endeavor FOR ME. But that may not be the case for everyone. In my case, I walked away with a better understanding of how to handle the pressures of daily life and how to juggle responsibility that I don’t think I would’ve gotten elsewhere. I also gained a better grasp of who I am and what my true values are, and I feel that I wouldn’t have that without academic study. Finally, I walked away with some debt, but it’s managable. It’s about the price of a new modestly priced car, so looking at it that way, that’s a worthy sacrifice, even if a broadening of my intellect is all I get from it. But some I graduated with got MUCH less out of the whole experience. They have much higher debt and spent the entire time working on a degree they had zero passion for. They basically sacrificed ever owning a home for a degree they didn’t really get much use out of.

    So yeah, it’s good for some if you manage it correctly, but there are a TON of people who have no idea how to do that. How can you really expect that from most 18 year old kids? What 18 year old has any idea what they want when they’re coming straight out of their parents house and have no grasp of how to live an independent life?

    • Andrea

      But isn’t the point of college for those 18 year olds to figure out what they want and how to live an independent life? I don’t think these things need to be pre-requisites for college; I think they’re the things that should be learned in college.

  • Veronica

    John Green talked about this question in a video he made once, and I liked how he said, “It’s been my experience that maximizing income is a lot less important than maximizing passion and fulfillment in your life both professionally and personally.” I think the beauty of the American college system is that it gives you the preparation you need to have a decent career, while also allowing you to explore interests that will help you grow personally even if they are not directly related to that career. I am currently in my last semester of college at a large, state university, studying English and sociology. I want to be a middle school English teacher, and I think that my time here has prepared me well for that career. In addition to my English studies, though, I am in the international development club and the intellectual history club here. I am really thankful that instead of just being a career-focused experience, my time at college has introduced me to and made me passionate about topics that I didn’t even know existed.

    As far as cost goes, I think I was lucky to be able to afford it without an impossible amount of debt. Even at the public university I go to, I know the rising costs mean that the experience I had is only available to those who can pay for it, and I wish that were different. I think having college educated citizens benefits the US greatly, and the government should be subsidizing higher ed more to reflect that.

    I don’t think absolutely everyone needs to have the goal of going to college, but I think it should be easily available to those who do want it. I think you can have passion, drive, creativity and talent without going to college, so I also don’t want to advocate for a society that shuns non-college educated people as less capable, because that’s just untrue.

    (If you’re interested in seeing the whole John Green video, it’s pretty cool- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_N7MAr98CI)

    • voscerote

      That’s awesome that you want to be a teacher, and that your English studies were so enjoyable for you. Please seek out the best teacher-training program you can find BEFORE going into the classroom (it doesn’t sound like you took and Ed. degree?). Even if you did have observations and some pedagogy courses, new teachers need so much more support before taking on the job. I think a successful new teacher should have at least a year of time in the classroom as an assistant, apprenticing under a mentor teacher; also you should have at least 9 weeks worth of lessons planned out before setting foot in a classroom alone. Of course these terms are almost unheard of in America, which is why being a new teacher is usually such a brutal experience. It’s a hard job. America needs teachers like you, and we need you to be successful. Try to find a way to get this support before going into the deep end. Teacher training is a whole other issue besides traditional college (which sounds like was great for you, and you definitely needed it to be a teacher). If we can’t provide a better system to support new teachers then we don’t deserve to have any.

      • Veronica

        Just got into a year and a half long 6-12 certification/Masters of Education program that I’m excited about! I definitely agree with the need for in-depth teacher training and support 🙂

  • Beebles

    I actually made a facebook post regarding this not too long ago, so I’ll copy and paste that here since my opinion has remained unchanged:

    “With my college years coming to an end very soon, I have to say they have been both invaluable and unbelievably detrimental.

    On the one hand, I will soon have a bachelor’s degree which I can use to help me get into the Peace-corps, and I’ve also made a lot of friends too.

    On the other hand, I made most of those friends through my jobs and other friends, not school, because I couldn’t afford to live on campus and have that ‘college experience’ all those movies talk about. Despite taking the more economic route, I’ll STILL be in debt for years to come. So am I thankful for these past few years? Sure. Would I do it again if given the chance? Hell no! Oakland University and their money hungry administrators can suck a fat one for all I care.”

  • nielmalan

    No, I don’t think a college system that the majority of the population goes through makes sense. Not as an investment, anyway.

    The logic is simple: if, in earlier days, going to college put you in a minority, and if you were average, you were pretty good. But if you put a majority of the population through college, the average is going to drop, and being average in college will no longer put you in any elite group. You therefore cannot expect an employer to want to pay you more just because you were in college, and you will have a very small marginal income increase to recoup the investment.

    If you are above average you should be able to get enough scholarships to put you through college. This implies a zero investment cost to you, and it will make sense.

    If your dad wants you to go to college so you can meet his buddies’ sons and form a network for the day you take over his empire, it’s his investment, and he bears the risk. Then it might make sense.

    Student loans are evil, and the USA is losing its competitive edge because of it.

  • Dante

    I personally just think that it’s crazy that college is viewed- at least in my family and where I grew up- as not only an expectation, but essential to success in the real world. And in part, this is true. A college degree is the number one prerequisite on almost any job application. The crazy part is that college is so ridiculously unaffordable for most families that it isn’t an option. So either they don’t go to college and work at some menial job for the rest of their life, or they take out a sea of loans to be able to pay for it. Then they spend most of their lives paying off the mountain of debt that they have. Something needs to change, and I think it starts with restructuring where the money is going within the school. A lot of these professors are getting paid six figures and only teaching two sections. Not to mention a lot of these professors are only experts in their field, and not the field of teaching. College is meant to benefit the students and further their education so I think most of the money should be directed towards them.

    • Gia

      What do you mean “the money should be directed towards the students”? Like that money should go toward scholarships or helping students pay for school or something?

  • I think that college definitely has its place and does prepare young adults for the future, but like everything else in American culture it has become more a business than an educational institution. the cost for colelge is enormous and grows much faster than inflation. Some schools have over one billion dollars in endowments. some schools make so many millions of dollars from sports and while sports are a positive part of the college culture in some schools it takes precedence. I see the change colleges have gone through as negative.

    As for the question, its like everything else. For many it is not cost effective and yet for some it is.

    • Leni

      Do you think that the cost to attend most colleges is way higher than necessary? ie: are they charging way more than they need to in order to cover their costs? I’d be curious to know the difference between how much these institutions need in order to stay up and running and how much they’re charging their students to attend…

      • They are not non profit organizations. They support more than just undergraduate programs and so I believe they are making a profit. I believe that some things should not be driven by profit, but should be available as a right in a truly free society. Healthcare and education, in my opinion are at the top of the list.

  • Eli Peter

    No.

    College worked out great for me, pretty much a by-the-book narrative that baby boomers expect: I immediately jumped into a good program, stuck with it through graduation, got a career job within a couple of months.

    But holy crap did I get lucky.

    From ignoring a career placement test I took as a 15-year-old to getting good scholarships to being safely in college while the economy tanked in 2008, I had it good.

    The majority of people (73% according to Washington Post) don’t work a job directly tailored to their major. And when you think about it, that totally makes sense. Who knows what trajectory to lean towards as a clueless 17-year-old picking out colleges? Who can predict how the economy will change between when they start a career path and when they enter the workforce 5-10 years later?

    Seems like a really inefficient way to match people up with where they’re best fit.

    Granted, there are a lot of intangible qualities of going to college – living among a diverse group of people, growing out of your hometown worldviews, developing great relationships with other human beings. But there’s got to be a better way to do that, one that doesn’t cost us > $1 trillion in debt nationally, plus countless years of lost opportunity cost.

  • punction

    I’m halfway through my freshman year of college, and thus totally unable to give this answer the benefit of hindsight. My answer will probably change. But given several factors – the fact that I’m attending Stanford, the fact that I’m a 40-minute drive away from home, and that financing my education wasn’t an issue – I could not be more emphatic that college is a good thing to happen to most young people.

    You learn how to learn for the rest of your life. This is the best my relationship has been with myself, ever, because I’m confronting important questions that are better answered sooner rather than later, and I’m building a community that will support me for years to come.

    I’m not prescribing college as an automatic life-winning pill for every 18 year old, especially given the huge hurdle of our tangled financial aid system. But I think it has the potential to be an incredible person-building institution.

    • TMills

      Do you think you’d still feel this way if you were taking out major loans in order to pay for school?

      • punction

        Nope. I think I’m following the same track that other answerers have laid out – the financial enslavement of attending college can present a burden so huge it’ll cancel out some of the benefits. Ideally, quality academics, decently talented faculty, and healthy programs at an affordable price (or for free) would be the baseline for college. But that’s wishful thinking, and this is America.

        (But then again, this /is/ America, so…can we hope?)

        Thanks for your question! It was interesting to consider.

  • Patrcikkkkkkkkkkk

    college has its place for academics and for people who really know what they’re doing. most people don’t need to go though, and would probably be better off working crappy jobs for a while until they decide what they want to do with themselves. i think colleges should be more specialized and work oriented in general. but of course, regular colleges are still going to be making money because the aspect of an adventure or a whole new life is appealing to young people. and with good reason because a lot of the time, it is.

    • Dee

      But what makes you think that lack of college necessarily translates to having to work a crappy job?

  • Don

    It’s more important to keep on learning than where you keep on learning. Even though I’m solidly liberal and have a PhD (and some won’t understand this combination with what follows), the most important part of my college education was starting a fraternity with a bunch of other goofballs. That’s importantly different from joining one. Of course, it didn’t need to be a fraternity, but if you start something that’s got a lot of moving parts, and requires getting out there and selling it, you’ll learn a lot.

    The structure of schools, it’s important to recognize, doesn’t have anything to do with what research says about how people learn. Most people learn much more by doing something, not listening to someone else do something, or reading something (though those both have their place).

    • Anna

      Yes, people learn by doing–so by that logic, wouldn’t going out into the world and getting a job facilitate doing more than college would? I sorta feel like college is a lot of taking things in rather than putting things out…

  • some German dude

    I just want to throw in that college is FREE in Germany and encourage you guys to come over here and try it out. It will be an interesting experience and we love to have you. The experiences for life part is great – the huge student loans part, not so much.

  • Lisa

    It should change. First of all, it is perfectly possible to take classes that have no practical or intellectual value. I have certainly learned more on my own than in college classes. With college so expensive, there is little room for error. Yet college-age is just when people are making lots of mistakes — they don’t know who they are yet, but they have freedom and are trying different things out. Also, there’s no reason everyone should go to college. Maybe it’s the perfect fit for some people — it certainly was not for me — but there’s no reason a plumber, or a garbage man, or a Starbucks employee, needs to know calculus or the history of the Punic Wars. And the world needs good plumbers, garbage men, and Starbucks employees.
    I also think it’s ridiculous to ask young adults to go massively in debt just for a chance at a career. That is utter madness. Going into debt should not be this common, much less something that is expected or assumed. It’s a sign that something’s wrong.

    • Anonymous

      While I completely agree with your premise, let me enlighten you on the field of Plumbing. (possibly not a good choice to lump in with Starbucks employee and Garbage Man) The flow of water and gas lines and venting are ruled by the laws of physics. Years of training in physics, classes on regulations and apprenticeship are required before someone is trusted to install and repair the systems in your home. Plumbers are licensed for this reason. Do it wrong and people can die. Every year there are required, week long, refresher courses for plumbing license renewal. Are you comparing this to brewing coffee or carting away refuse? Journeyman and Master Plumbers regularly make six figures, another possible difference.

  • Innocent Bystander

    It’s structure doesn’t make sense anymore. The point of college is academics. However we continue to pay extra for room, board, printed textbooks, etc. At some point we need to embrace online learning. We need to realize that there is no point in traveling to an institution to study in traditional brick and mortar buildings. There will become a tipping point where traditional universities will be losing too much market share and then to compete will finally open up their bloated endowments. This will be their last gasp to stay relevant. In another generation we’ll be smart enough to embrace technology and eliminate unnecessary costs.

    • Joshua Warhurst

      There is value to “brink and mortar buildings”. Not in the buildings themselves, but in the environment.

      Being surrounded by others in the same field as you, looking at the same career as you are, is immensely valuable. And then there’s the research happening around you. Some people use the proximity to make parties, but just as you can easily put people and alcohol in the same room, you can also easily put people and textbooks in the same room.

      The number of times I stood in a classroom, debating a concept after class or simply quizzing each other…these experiences helped me grow in an important way.

      Online classes are important, and their existence is good. They open up education to people that can’t get it. They remove a lot of the cost and time spent commuting. But they are not currently the same as sitting in a room, surrounded by others learning the same thing. Communication between peers in the online environment is much harder. Designing practical activities that can engage students is also harder online. Can you replicate a presentation in an online environment? Perhaps.

      Everything is a trade:

      Getting an environment dedicated to education–Pay for room and board
      Printed textbooks…okay, yeah, these can go.
      Online classes–Lose the ability to do in-person activities, teamwork, hands-on projects are diffcult

      But I do welcome online education. Diversifying the upper education options is always a good thing.

  • Lauren Mate

    I believe all parents who can afford to send their children to college should do so. College is more than the academics. I also don’t believe in the for-profit model where all courses are on line. There is a lot to be said about the in the classroom academic experience.

  • Michael

    When my 20 year old son finally admitted that he had dropped out of college, I had mixed feelings.

    I enjoyed my college years, but never realized any particular financial advantage to having a degree. I’ve looked at going back to school several times myself, and there’s nothing out there where the number of available jobs weighed against the cost of tuition seems like a sound investment to me. If it’s not a sound investment to me, it’s probably not a sound investment to my kids either.

  • The_Postindustrialist

    I went to college for a year, and was very disappointed by the experience both in and out.

    Part of that disappointment was that a lot of the classes are more of a continuation/ catch up for what may or may not have been taught in high school. I also was incredibly unaware of what I enjoyed doing or might want to do when I entered the work force as I had no prior experience of what jobs were out there or even really much experience of the options.

    I hated the situation that faced me outside of college even more so. Because so many teenagers were sent off to college, the degree became a matter of a prerequisite for almost any job, from bank teller to store manager to reporter. Though some of the jobs that require a degree may, in fact, legitimately require additional knowledge, others do not. Most did not even seem to care WHAT you held your degree in, only that you had one.

    If this sort of requirement is going to be necessary in the work force, then a college education should be part of the publicly funded education program and mandatory of its citizens as is high school and earlier.

    Secondarily, if college is teaching, or reteaching what was learned in high school, this tells me that the education system in general, is terribly broken.

    I also think that the work environment has been too dependent upon college in lieu of on the job training, which, laughably, has been rediscovered lately to the dismay of college graduates, which, now saddled with debt, are unhireable to positions due to “lack of experience” doing the job, thus forcing them into many of the unpaid interships out there, further pushing back their ability to legitimately enter the work place until their time is up, (in which case, they often are let go for the next set of interns to come in).

    Finally the cost and time requirements of college are such that they make the program only really accessible to those just leaving high school, whom of course, have no idea as to what they are going to do for the rest of their lives, and are living off of their parents for the most part, or the elderly, whom have the leisurely time and, possibly the money, to pursue their educational goals, having spent their time in the workforce already. Neither of these are ideal situations for learning in order to secure a career as a worker, or preparing an employee for the field to the employer.

    It would be more ideal to either make colleges a place for learning for the job, and make it accessible to those either with a career goal in mind or for those switching careers; or be honest and remove the idea that this is a place of career motivated learning from the equation.

    For every individual I know who has made use of their degree in their field, I know 10-15 more whose work has little or nothing to do with their field, or are working a menial career wishing they had started earlier and gained that now highly sought after “experience”.

  • marisheba

    1) There’s a lot of incredible, amazing, wonderful things about the American college system, and it works so well for so many people; and yet for others it fails them, and for still others, it wastes time and money (or incurs horrible debt) for little clear benefit.

    2) College seems to have three main components: vocational, intellectual, and coming-of-age/partying/self-discovery, and while I do think all three things are important, even the last one, they are currently far too muddled together. The model whereby everyone at 4-year colleges gets a liberal arts degree is outmoded. You should be able to get a
    professional degree, a liberal arts degree, or a mixed degree; and, there should be other coming-of-age options available to young people (aside from the military).

    3) As things stand, the conflating of intellectual and vocational is damaging. Firstly, the intellectual component is steadily being eroded and down-played in US higher ed in favor of the vocational, which troubles me; intellectual capacity and pursuits are very important in their own right, separate from job skills, and I worry about a
    culture that devalues and limits that element.

    4) Likewise, while I think intellectual development should be affordably available to everyone that is interested, I DON’T think that aspect of college serves people
    without the interest, and it wastes everyone’s time and money to pretend that it does. It leads to our current perverse situation where college isn’t available to so many kids that desperately want to go and would benefit, and the halls of colleges (state colleges anyway) are clogged with kids that aren’t invested in their classes, either because they’re there for professional skills but are forced to do full liberal-arts, or because they’re there to drink and discover themselves, and don’t care about academics at all.*

    5) Meanwhile, there should be other legit options for coming-of-age rights-of passage. College is amazingly fun, but it’s just too expensive to serve that purpose, and leads, as I said above, to slacker kids who don’t care about their classes, which is a sucky situation for everyone. I also think that it’s a mistake to go to college right out of high
    school, when most students don’t really know where they’re headed, and it’s really difficult to appreciate the unique nature of the opportunities you’re being given, as well as the expense being incurred.

    I wish the US had a 2-year mandatory service conscription at the age of 18, but that that service could be your choice of military, peace corps, or a similar domestic service corps (sort of like the role AmeriCorps fills). It would provide an alternative coming-of-age experience, and give everyone really interesting life experiences, and a couple more years of maturity and money-management before considering whether to go to college and what to study.

    6) One huge problem with colleges is how dreadfully unprepared many students are when they get there.* This is a topic that can’t be discussed outside the context of US primary and secondary education, but it is upsetting and saddening. But it’s not helped by the fact that colleges adjust and respond to this fact by lowering standards. I guess I don’t know what the alternative is, without adjusting admissions standards and/or investing much more heavily in the remedial education departments, but it’s a problem.

    7) For-profit colleges are the worst thing ever, sucking students dry while offering them very little in the way of qualifications. There’s a special circle in hell reserved for the people that run them, right next to payday loan sharks and pharmaceutical company execs.

    *I spent a few years teaching undergrads at state schools—which I loved doing–but the unpreparedness and disengagement was striking and upsetting. So this is an informed opinion, not railing against the kids these days based on stereotypes.

  • JameyB

    Even if you don’t go on to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc., it’s still important to go to and graduate from college. It shows employers that you finished. People respect that piece of paper on the wall.

    (I’m not saying that it makes sense…just saying what I’ve observed since joining the workforce since 2011)

  • Tayloor Winscher

    I’m a college student. I think college as the entity it is is great. The cost, however, makes me question whether I should have ever gone.

    The debt acts as a shackle around my future. I can no longer turn back. I am stuck clinging to college as the only way I can make a good future for myself anymore. It seems hypocritical to me that in the process of creating a future for myself, I must first destroy my present.

    I find that I no longer seek to do what I dream of doing, but am already forced to search for what will give me the most money to make up for my incredible deficit. I have no way of knowing if I’ll ever get a good job, but I’m already investing thousands upon thousands of dollars into the possibility that I might.

    I was always a calm person before college, but since going I have become extremely anxious. I constantly worry about my future and all the things I have to keep organized in my head. As if taking loads of challenging classes wasn’t enough, I have to constantly think about gigantic loans that I currently have no good way of paying off. I’m incredibly stressed by the cost along with the high expectations of everybody.

    The GPA system is screwed up. A kid taking a hard major will typically end up with a far lower GPA than somebody taking a more relaxed major. Medical schools and law schools look at GPA, so kids in those fields take easier classes instead of what they want to do or what would challenge them. My friend loves math, but had to give up on his math major in favor of biology, because biology students get a higher GPA on average. I think that’s stupid. We should be encouraging our brightest kids to challenge themselves in school. We need to revamp the GPA system.

    All of this makes me question if college was really the right decision. I feel sickened that those with no money are targeted so heavily for it. We should be pushing for an educated society, but this does just the opposite.

    • Noodles357

      I hate to hear a negative experience like this. I think my best advice is to forget all of the noise (loans, careers, GPA, etc) and do things that you really enjoy. Still take the classes you need and push yourself by taking interesting classes.

      I have to say, I have been pretty happy with my education. I have about $30,000 in student loans, got a job in engineering, and realized I don’t really want to be an engineer. I got a job that relates to engineering, but isn’t exactly engineering. I make about $35,000/year and I just bought a relatively cheap house (~$85,000) in a neighborhood I love. I’ve become very involved in my neighborhood and that is what makes me really happy. I met some of my best friends through school and wouldn’t be the same person without some of the experiences I had at college.

      I understand some peoples’ experiences are different, but my advice to everyone is to not worry about money too much. We are only alive once and need to enjoy our time here, because it might be the only one we ever get.

      • Tayloor Winscher

        My post was definitely focusing on the negatives. I do love school otherwise. While I don’t believe it comes near to being worth the cost, I am still glad to have the experience. I simply don’t know if that experience is going to be worth the pain once it’s over.

        I’m looking somewhere probably in the range of $80,000 to $100,000 dollars of debt and I have absolutely no guarantee that I’ll even be able to afford that after school. I’m jumping into a pit without looking down and hoping to death that I land on a cushion.

    • WW

      I completely agree on the GPA system. I actually chose to use my math major instead of my bio major for my career because of this. After talking to a few med schools who pointed out that I shouldn’t have challenged myself with so many honors classes, I decided that maybe I won’t get along so well with my peers if I went to medical school. There are definitely a lot of opportunities to learn in college where you learn far more getting a B in an honors class than an A in nonhonors. What message are colleges sending by encouraging kids to focus on the grades and not self improvement?

      • Reuben Hopper

        I think we should go with an achievement system instead. You know, like the ones you see in video games. With grades, you go into the class thinking you’ll get an A and can only get worse from there. With achievements, you can only go up. Pretty much every time you do accomplish something, whether it’s big or small, or get an achievement. The more achievements you get the better and some achievements are worth more than others. And the achievement explains what you did with a quick sentence so that if you do something in an honors class it could say so and make you look better.

  • GAC

    If you know of a profession you want, like an accountant, engineer, etc., then it makes sense even if the cost is very high. It is the cost of entry, you have no choice. If you are going for the certificate and have no idea what you want to do, don’t go until you know the investment is worth it. If you just want an education, there are many options than college, most of them better if you can discipline yourself. One option is to get some certifications and courses on your resume that the marketplace values, today more than the past you might be able to get by with no degree, but you have to build your resume with innovation and a sense of branding. Not easy but the world seems to be ready to accept an excuse that “I could not afford to go to college, my parents could not help, and I knew $75k in debt was not the way to start a life”.

  • JM

    Just a thought: maybe we should allow business and professionals to choose? If someone decides they want to be a nurse, doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, scientist, mathematician, literature professor, whatever, what if there were a kind of internship system in place? If a person is serious about becoming whatever, they could actually get to see what it’s like beforehand kind of like on the job training for anyone in service jobs. Then, if they can go on, their place of business directs their education. Because, really, if you work in any kind of creative or tech industry, job descriptions are constantly changing. Why not allow business people to fill the jobs they need by selecting people to invest in? This would require them to pay part of the bill for the students education, and it would probably change the traditional college system. If a person is already well skilled in the preliminary things they need to know, then why take all the “core” classes? Just get them to what they need to know in order to continue learning and growing in their job.

    • Joshua Warhurst

      Northeastern and Drexel (and I’m sure others) have paid-internships to have students experience jobs before they graduate, incorporating the job search into the basic education. I finished university without having to worry about getting a job, seeing as my resume was built up and companies I’d worked for were willing to have me back. This was the single most valuable part of my education.

      Getting rid of the core classes is a good idea though. ‘Cause, c’mon, even the teachers don’t have much passion for them.

  • Robdomos

    Goodwill Hunting had the right idea. Anyone intelligent can learn more from an hour on Google than they can from an hour in the classroom. If the point of school is really what you learn, anyone should be able to study a subject at home and then take an aptitude test toget the degree. If you can pass the final you really are an expert.

    • Clee

      Hmmm Sounds good in theory, and I’ve even expressed this very point of view. I’ve even added why not just get the very best of every teacher to provide the ultimate lectures so no one need ever deal with bad professors who can’t teach
      However, free, even worthwhile classes have a notoriously high drop out rate suggesting that if left to an undisciplined approach,the majority would fail to self educate
      We make the mistake of using the exceptional to extrapolate the majority.
      I think there does need to be a reset button on the ways higher education operates. Let’s creatively use the university endowments for more than sup’d up rec centers and go from there. It’s solvable

      • Robdomos

        You are implying then that college mostly adds value to those who aren’t the brightest and most determined. This makes the college degree required for any high level job even more infuriating and less sensible.

        • Annitot

          Not my point. I am merely stating that not everyone, well, mostly no one has the discipline at age 18 to do the good will hunting thing. So there needs to be an affordable option to get the vast majority thru. I think higher education has veered off course but the job it does is still important; provide a discipline structure to educate masses

  • Sparky4life

    I just need to point out that college is not required to be successful or financially secure. The building trades (carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc) are respectable professions with good earning potential. Apprenticeships can last longer than college, but you are working and making money the whole time, and come out debt free with real life marketable skills. We may work outside and get our hands dirty, but thats how you build civilization. Six figure incomes are not unheard of for such professions. Not to mention medical benefits and pensions. College is a great way to gain knowledge and life experiences, but isn’t the only path for young, intelligent, hard working people. As it stands, college is far too expensive to attend purely for life experiences and general knowledge.

  • rflicka

    …oh I have WAY too many thoughts on this one! The documentary “ivory Tower”, may be the best way to encapsulate my thoughts, although, I could probably add a few! All in all, college is not worth the rest of my life in payments, yet, how do I get any type of job that is slightly enjoyable and meaningful to me (something outside of retail, serving, and factory…and I am not a carpenter/electrician type) without my college education??? All in all, America values economy over relationships, family, education, and other very important values. All of these values (afore mentioned) are a means to meeting the highest value of economy in America. And to put it simply this makes me ANGRY, because I don’t believe that economy is the best value for an entire country to have (I believe this for many reasons).

  • Kdi

    What Ive learned from attending both college and several vocational schools is that in the end the specific skills that you need will be taught at the job.

    Also, half the people going to college really have no business there. Not everyone is cut out for higher education and thats perfectly okay.

  • HockeyMom47

    So many thoughts – I went to a STEM school back in the day – An institute, no less – and it really prepared me to be able to learn a lot very quickly and integrate that knowledge with other experiences. That’s not the type of academic environment that very many students would qualify for. For most, I would advocate that we adopt something akin to the German system, where students qualify during their secondary education and they are placed on a college-bound track, or they are prepared to apprentice in a trade. We need trained tradespeople more than we need more liberal arts majors who only went to college because it was “expected” of them.
    As for the colleges themselves, I know they are competing for a share of a dwindling pool of candidates, but I would suggest that parents might find “no frills” universities appealing. Fewer majors, fewer courses, smaller campuses with basic amenities, allowing those institutions to keep the cost of a college degree more within reach.
    Even with a no frills approach, our government should be doing more about providing low cost loan programs and outright education GRANTS, so we can stay competitive with other countries who are investing in education. For the cost of one weapons program, we could educate an entire generation….

  • Gary

    Education is wasted on the youth.
    .
    Practically everyone I know has gone back to college at some point. It is much easier the second time around, we are focused and are here for a reason. Straight A’s are not hard at all, I want to learn
    .
    I think everyone should have to work a year out in the real world before attending college.
    .
    That said my first 4 years in college 74-78 was a blast!

  • bluerocky

    i think we need to break the question “does america’s college system make sense?” into parts to understand whether it makes sense or not. at a high level, a college does provide with lots of learning, networking with field experts and people with good jobs in the field in future and finally, great platform for job opportunities which is mostly a function of brand value of that college. but then again, it is overpriced and has a lot of scope to be made much more optimal and cheaper. take learning, most of it can be replicated online but it is not that fun to read and study online as much as in person since you get to cross-learn a lot, explore different ways of thinking and also get to interact with real humans given we are indeed social animals. networking could also be replicated online and probably in a better way since there are better ways and potential to come in contact with people with similar interests. i am not sure if any of the online courses yet provide even a comparable platform for “job” opportunities for the students. i just compared the physical education model to online but with few tweaks here and there, yes there is a huge scope for the american college system to make even more sense.

  • Dorinda

    The idea of our college system is ok. The fact that both need and merit based assistance exist is great. College is necessary for most Americans to jump the wide gap between socioeconomic classes, especially because most people end up getting employment through some form of nepotism, so the “networking” (even if this is in the form of beer chugging) that happens in college is essential.
    HOWEVER, families are generally NOT educated about how to navigate this system. Here are just a few of the problems:
    1) College in the media. Whenever college comes up in the media we hear students saying they can’t go to an “expensive school”. In actuality, many of the schools with the highest price tags (the competitive ones), have large endowments and therefore excellent scholarships and grants. Instead, I see people normalizing being $100,000 in debt.
    2) Lack of information about how to “speak” financial aid. The information on the extent to which a college a) meets need b) has students who graduate c) has students who get hired, is available, and generally accessible on the college board website. However, it’s about 4 clicks deep, so many people do not know about it.
    3) “Predatory” colleges. At lower income schools, the colleges that send a representative in for a visit are generally the ones that offer poor financial aid. Yes, they are less competitive schools to get into, and seem like good options, but they often put students in a cycle of debt that they never fully recover from.

    How to get around the system:
    1) Get excellent grades and go to a school with a large endowment and scholarships.
    2) Get mediocre grades and go to state or even better, community college (and then transfer).
    3) MANDATORY EDUCATION/awareness campaign.
    4) Maybe stop spending all our money on wars, so we can help students? (Yeah, I saved this one for last so as not to turn off any bomb lovers)

  • Charles

    As I read the thread of comments, there seem to be two major qualms with the system as it stands: the necessity of a 4 year program in the Internet Age and the tremendous inflation in cost that has resulted in over $1 Trillion in debt. I would consider myself leaning in the direction of the current system, but I feel that I can be persuaded given reasonable answers to my counterpoints.

    1. With regard to self learning and the endless amount of information at our fingertips, assuming positive intent, one could achieve the equivalent of a degree at tremendously lower cost from any location. One of problems is the caveat used in that sentence. How can we know the student has achieved mastery? How can we know their work is their own? While the current system does not have the silver bullet for cheating and plagiary, your physical body being present in an exam or lecture hall can substantially reduce this risk. I haven’t known anyone to have an online degree, but I can imagine that employers would have concerns about legitimacy (think Wikipedia in 2006). The bottom line to me is that professors, peers, and administrators serve as witnesses to your degree, much as you would need witnesses for a marriage, to uphold societal trust in the degree.

    2. The saying “live within your means” does not seem you be a commonly held value. With K12 education measured by college acceptance rates and the quality associated with the schools students go to, it’s no wonder that the college system continues to build more capacity at great cost to new students. One problem I see here is that a high school counselor getting more students into Ivy’s works a lot like a banker convincing a family that they can afford a $1 Million home (another recent bubble). Sure the banker/counselor could be misleading, but no responsibility is left on the purchaser/student. The student may have to make a tough choice and decline acceptance to a higher cost school if the outlook of debt is insurmountable. When I was 16, my father told me I had this exact choice as did he. He declined enrollment at MIT to attend a much lower cost state school in the midwest. While I wasn’t aware of the lasting economic impact, I never felt that money was a high stress topic growing up. I took the same option to attend a state school in the mid-Atlantic and worked 2 jobs on campus to graduate debt free. In summary, the complaints of cost and the accumulation of debt seem to either be a failure to understand personal finance or a failure to accept the consequences of their choices.

    • RF42

      Very astute observations. What I find so unfortunate, regarding your Point #2, is that it used to be very possible for people to attend a state school and not go into debt. That meant that we had choices (I’m guessing I’m of your generation). I too forgo attending a prestigious but very expensive out of state school in order to go to my state university because my parents told me I would have to pay the tuition, and I determined that I’d rather graduate with little or no debt. The problem today is that even state schools are incredibly expensive, especially if you are an out of state student.

      Or, worse, because state schools are the “cheapest” non-community college option for students, the competition to get into them can become fierce. In my state, you have to have Ivy-league level grades and test scores to even get in. That leaves no place for the good-but-not-straight-A students to go that isn’t expensive. My daughter is an A-/B+ student who isn’t even going to bother applying to our state school because she doesn’t have the perfect 4.0 necessary to get in. That’s just sad. And when you aren’t that A++ student, you don’t qualify for all of the merit scholarships to help pay the expense of college. Not every single kid can be an A++ student – if they were, then the A++ would mean nothing.

      What’s really needed is for all of us older folks to give up the past when college was not just a chance to gain an education but also a life experience. Gone are the days when those who wanted to could afford to go off to a four year school and have the traditional college experience. That’s what I want for my kids, but I’m quickly learning that it’s no longer the reality. Things like attending community colleges to get gen ed classes out of the way or living at home instead of a dorm is becoming the new college experience for many.

  • wobbly

    I’m not sure it’s the college system that needs tweaking. We need to go to the root of the problem. Our high schools should be preparing students for life. That means they should be actively taking responsibility for learning how they want to contribute to society – which may or may not involve going to college. So many young people seem to be putting off “growing up” until high school is over, and so many college students seem ill-prepared for college and life in general.

  • Scott Cianci

    While I’m a firm believer that a good education never hurt anybody, as they always say a turkey with a degree is still a turkey. And college is definitely not for everybody. One can certainly be successful in the workplace without a college education.

  • Olsen

    I would just leave it at “the college system makes sense”….
    Now, AMERICA’s college system? Nah… It’s the only first world country that profits in unethical levels from something that should be a basic right of every person.

  • Noodles357

    I grew up in the suburbs of a moderate sized Midwestern city. I had a great upbringing with great friends and parents. I went to top rated public school and had very few problems to deal with. We weren’t rich, but I was able to go through college accumulating just under $30,000 in student debt thanks to my parents’ help paying some tuition and other expenses (especially in the first year).

    When I was leaving high school, I had no idea what I stood for, what I desired, or who I was. And without the opportunities that college gave me, I probably still wouldn’t know. It wasn’t the classes that gave me a greater understanding of myself, but my new friends and extracurricular activities (I know that sounds cliche).

    To anyone who can afford to go to a four-year school: do it. You only go through this life once, and you might as well take advantage of it. And take full advantage of your surroundings. Join clubs and activities that will take you to new places and meet new people. Drink a lot on some weekends. Drink a lot on some weekdays. Be a little irresponsible (while keeping your grades in decent shape and building worthwhile relationships).

    Go on that skiing trip in the Rockies. Volunteer to help build homes in New Orleans, Haiti, or in your own city. Take a vacation to Florida for spring break. Take that semester abroad. Do anything you can to broaden your horizons and help discover who you are. Without these types of things, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Take advantage of everything a 4-year college affords you. And go to those free lectures the university brings to you. Watch documentaries and read interesting articles (not just Buzzfeed click-bait).

    For anyone who can’t afford to go to a 4-year college, do some of the same things. Volunteer in your community and try to travel as often as possible and keep reading/watching interesting pieces that broaden your mind.

    If you just don’t want debt, don’t think too much about it. Take on the debt and then think of your debt as a payment for a cruise. You already spent the money, and now you have to try to take advantage of your spent money. If you truly take full advantage of your education, you will see that money as well-spent. Again, your life is just a series of experiences before it disappears into the eternal nothingness. So enjoy your time here while you can.

  • DrSuess

    I’m a Canadian, and a University graduate from a major Canadian school. Now we get immersed in TV from the US, including your ads. We see the commercials for DeVry (we even have a couple of them up here), U of Phoenix, etc. and to outsiders, it is obvious that education in the US is primarily a business activity.

    I think you have long passed the point where it was focused on individual needs (knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and personal growth), or a societal one (we need doctors, lawyers, teacher, etc., so lets get together as a group and ensure we have enough well trained people available to fill our collective needs). It is about profit taking. From a purely cost/benefit perspective…. who wins when most kids go to colleges? The kids, in terms of greater earning potential? Or the (especially private) colleges and the banks that fund your loan system?

    The guys at Freakonomics did a two-part series on this phenomena from a purely (obviously) economic perspective….

    http://freakonomics.com/2012/07/30/freakonomics-goes-to-college-part-1-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

    Another concern of mine is the idea of CREDENTIALLING. The idea of inventing programs for jobs that don’t really need it. I am in my 40s (1989 high school graduate), and when you finished high school you could still go onto pretty lucrative work without any post secondary. Companies were more involved in the training process, and viewed it as an investment. My parents generation, hitting the world of work in about 1960, that idea was even more true. A much smaller percentage had degrees, and most people did very well with no post secondary. Those that did, had lots of government help in funding… things like the GI Bill.

    Now, you can’t do anything of substance (i.e. full time, benefits) without some training. My city has a very highly respected trades school in it. They are now advertising for a “Roadbuilders Certificate”. It used to be that if you could stand the heat, dirt, exertion and long hours you could work roads and do pretty well if you were hard-working and responsible. This certificate throws that out of whack. From now on, you’ll need the certificate to get the supervisory job. Will the roads actually be better? Doubtful. Does the employee benefit? Unlikely… that same person, through interest and effort would still have worked their way up the food-chain. The institution gains through tuition, the government gains through taxes.

    I feel bad for my kids’ generation. The chances of stumbling into a decent, untrained, career is almost non-existent. Simultaneously, post secondary costs are going up, wages have stagnated for decades. Again, I have 2 University degrees, and I will likely push my kids into one of the skilled trades. Programs are shorter, hiring rates are higher, job prospects better. It’s a helluva thing. Tough choices for kids who hardly know who they are and what the world is about.

    PS… I have a step daughter who, one year into university, realized she didn’t like it, was not going to benefit from it, and grabbed a backpack and went to Australia on a youth work visa, traveled and worked. It was fantastic. I’m WAY more proud of her for doing that, that if she had slogged through a useless degree she hated to get a job that probably doesn’t exist.

    • Vivante

      I congratulate you for this is a great analysis. The problem with education in the USA is the same as all the other problems there: the takeover of practically everything by rampant capitalism–profit-taking is the only goal for the system and it rules regardless of the needs of society. It has taken on grotesque dimensions and has no moral obligation to the society, the environment, or future generations. Students are seen as a source of profit, not as the future of America. Workers in business and industry are seen as a cost-factor and not as vitally important, loyal members of the company. Medicine, once a world of idealistic and hardworking healers, is now in the hands of a huge profit-oriented insurance-industry (which is still screaming about Obamacare because they are afraid it will break their monopoly and reduce their profit). Fracking is a rape on the country being done only for short-term advantages and huge profits.
      And the frustrating thing is that very few americans seem to be aware of what is being done to them and their children and their grandchildren. They still believe they have to defend “free enterprise” when there is no real “free” enterprise anymore, only the raging greed of a system which knows no boundaries.

  • Anthony Churko

    I’d argue that the root of the problem with the modern status quo is how the university degree has become a necessity for employment. A lot of companies won’t even look at your resume if you don’t have at least a Bachelor’s degree.

    University was never meant to be basic education; it was meant to be HIGHER education. Higher education is for two types of people:

    1. Those who want to work in a discipline that requires advanced knowledge, such as law, medicine, or engineering.
    2. Those who simply enjoy learning for the sake of learning.

    Most jobs do not require advanced knowledge, or an individual who loves learning. Those are nice perks, but they shouldn’t be mandatory. However, at some point in the past few decades, it seems as though employers arbitrarily decided to give priority to those who possessed university degrees. It made sense at the time – more education is obviously better than less, so why not focus on hiring people with more education? But it’s had terrible repercussions.

    As a teenager, my parents and teachers taught me that a university graduate could expect to make hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a high-school graduate over a lifetime. Of course, they neglected to mention that that was probably because 100% of doctors, lawyers, engineers and most other highly-paid professionals went to university, or because universities only admitted students who scored higher on exams, and thus were more likely to exceed in life regardless of the higher education. My classmates and I, being stupid teenagers, thought that a university degree, no matter the discipline, was a golden ticket to a high-paying salary. It wasn’t entirely our fault – our parents and teachers who should have known better didn’t tell us otherwise. It was their fault, and now it’s our problem.

    Now the university system has turned into a giant rat-race. There are so many university graduates with minimum wage jobs that a degree is the first qualification that hiring managers screen for. And because you need a degree to even have a hope at a job, a university education is more important than ever. But because so many students are going to university, that’s driving up the price of tuition. So degrees are becoming more expensive while paradoxically becoming less valuable.

    Right now, the dilemma facing the high-school graduate is:

    A) $100,000 + 4 Years = Minimum Wage Job (with hope of getting something better someday)
    B) $0 + 0 Years = Minimum Wage Job (with little hope of ever getting anything better)

    I love that I went to university – it helped me discover who I am and contributed greatly to my overall happiness. But I’m also really lucky that none of my siblings/cousins went to university, because my parents/grandparents were able to help me a lot with my tuition, while also letting me live at home. If I didn’t have that opportunity, and had to pay for all of my tuition + living expenses on my own…I don’t know if it would’ve been worth it. Education is valuable, but it’s not invaluable.

    • DrSuess

      Well put. Fantastic closing sentence.

    • Rodrigo Gomes

      You really hit the nail on the head with the analysis about “college being mandatory as if it was basic education”.
      This is something that is happening right now here in Brazil. It is a trend that started between 7 and 9 years ago, and these are some consequences that I have been noticing since then – some of them may resemble what happens in the US system, but some things are completely different and may be very curious for an American:

      – Diplomas are required even for jobs that do not require any special skills.
      – College courses became a huge market. Thousands of universities were created in the last years, as if they were regular shops.
      – Due to the competition, those new universities are offering very cheap courses. However, traditional and high-quality universities are still expensive.
      – Also, there is absolutely no requisite to enter those universities. The admission test is fake, it must exist officially but is not actually evaluating people.
      – This one may be shocking, but everyday becomes easier to complete the course without studying. The social rule is to go to the bars near college more often than you go to the classroom. Colleges won’t do anything about this because they could lose students to the concorrents.
      – The two above, combined with the VERY VERY POOR quality of our basic education, is creating a crowd of people with diplomas but without basic skills such as reading, writing and text interpretation.
      – By the way, colleges are now supposed to teach that kind of basic disciplines.

      Just some of the odd things that happen with our education system 🙁

    • RF42

      I totally agree with everything you said except for your statement about it being the fault of your parents and teachers for telling you (and by you, I mean an entire generation) that going to college was the way to future earning success and this being a blatantly misleading falsehood. The thing is, up until this last generation, that statement was very much true. For the generations preceding this current one, the way to financial stability was to go to college and get a degree which would lead to getting a job with good earning potential. Parents and teachers had this as their own experience and believed it to be true for their children as well. The problem is, it is no longer the case that having a college degree will ensure obtaining a “good” job or even a minimum wage job. This isn’t something that parents or teachers could have ever known to be the case until now. As a parent, I’m beside myself over the fact that sending my kids to college may not do a darn thing to help them get good jobs afterwards. But I also feel that telling them not to go to college is setting them up for guaranteed limitations. It’s not a gamble I think that they should take.

      Parents and teachers also could not have known that the “why should states pay for things that only benefit individuals” policies of the 1980s would eventually lead to the insane rate of increase in college tuition, making it a much bigger risk for students to take when they chose to go to college. In my generation, you could work a full time summer job and make enough money to pay for two semesters at a state school. I graduated from my state university with literally $10 to my name, but I was debt free. AND I got a good job immediately out of school. That’s practically unheard of today, and that’s a recent thing, not something we’ve know to be the case for a long time.

      Truly, it may be the case that too many kids get degrees, thus watering down their value. In past generations, having a degree set you apart and made you eligible for jobs that not everyone could get. These days, everyone has a degree but the number of jobs that pay the good money haven’t kept pace. That’s not the fault of parents or teachers, just the new reality that we all have to face and learn how to deal with, unfortunately.

      • Anthony Churko

        That’s fair. Point taken.

  • Joshua Hege

    If it wasn’t so cost prohibitive…

  • Bianca Pellet

    Some people are just not academic. We need to value vocational careers far more so that undergraduate degrees (and subsequently master’s degrees) are not devalued and so that everybody’s talents are recognised in their own right, meaning that people who don’t go to college are not perceived as failures.

    • Vivid

      There it is.

    • dgreentheawesome

      The only problem with this viewpoint is that it discounts the imbalance in vocational/intellectual(?) careers created by increasing automation. I expect to see even the minimum wage job pool decrease in the future(Imagine what a Roomba 10x bigger would do to the janitorial profession). While there will hopefully (ignoring the very real possibility of ASI) be a need for humans to create and repair the machines, by their very work they will decrease the human/machine ratio required, limiting the job market. At a certain point, the machines run practically everything and we have utopia, but before that could be an economic dystopia

  • tjkTerry Turner

    The problem is the crippling debt that so many students are taking on. They are still paying off their loans and can’t save for their own children’s education so it becomes cyclical. More students should attend technical schools or work before attending college.

  • Kim

    The college system is definitely something that should be changed. In its entirety. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire institution of education needs to be changed in our American society. It’s not just the predatory lending to young adults that is damn near bankrupting entire generations, the philosophy about education is wrong. From pre-k all the way up to phd.

    Right now it seems like our philosophy is “Go to school to gain a competitive edge in our capitalist society.” When in reality it is doing the exact opposite of that. It isn’t giving most people an edge, It is giving most people a handicap.

    Schools and colleges need to help people identify their strengths and passions and usher them into careers. Advisers in college are a joke and most k-12 schools offer little to no mentoring when it comes to an education and career path.

    My advice to young adults thinking about pursuing a college degree? Take your time and live a little…don’t just jump on the college bandwagon and take out massive loans. Find something you love to gain knowledge about a seek out people who have chosen the same path and ask them about their experiences. Then, once you find that thing that makes you happy Go For It.

  • AgentMidnight

    As a student myself, I think it’s not a very good system. College rarely teaches you anything about real life, and puts you in ridiculous debt. Being successful in college doesn’t mean you will be out there. I think a degree is becoming the standard now, and there are too many students entering the world without enough jobs. They’ve just wasted four years.

  • jmg

    No, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. Not going to college itself, as I did learn quite a bit, and meet many people I wouldn’t have otherwise. But I was not in the least bit prepared for the crippling financial debt that would come with that diploma. Nowhere in high school nor in college do you ever get the full lowdown of what exactly you’re getting yourself into. And that degree most likely won’t get you a job in your chosen field- if a job at all. If you can pay for the entire expense out of pocket, by all means- go. It’s a very rewarding experience. But if you have to take out student loans in any way shape or form? Think long and hard on it. I got my degree, work a full time job that my degree did nothing at all to help me get, and will be paying out of my nose until I’m in my 80s to pay those loans off. Not to mention how confusing it all can end up being- once they start splitting up and selling off your loans to other companies, and you end up having to send nine separate payments out monthly to cover four loans. And then get your taxes taken by the education authority, while they claim that you have another piece of loan out there somewhere that you have never heard of or were notified of, so thus never paid on, so they’ll take your tax return as payment. Then your wages. Then they take you to court. Hell, if you want to go to college in the US, get a good lawyer first. It’ll be a lot easier on you in the long run.

  • I graduated almost nine years ago and am glad that I have a four year degree, but if my son was only a few years from college, I’d be pretty torn with what guidance to give him. I think many people naturally realize that 1) the current system is rapidly becoming outdated (with k-12 being even more so) and 2) that technology will be the tool that finally breaks the several hundred year old system. The only problem is that we are currently in the awkward growing pains of figuring out that transition and a whole generation is stuck with an outdated education system preparing them for a rapidly evolving and fragmented world.

    I have a toddler and for his sake I would love the system to focus more on things like learning how to learn, computer languages, and writing skills for more than just research papers or standardized tests. Also, I would love his tuition to not cost half a million dollars for a state school.

    Part of these growing pains is figuring out how this explosion of free online classes and MOOC’s will play into it all. Since all I do is listen to podcasts, I’ll add this to the discussion. Check out this debate on exactly this topic-if brick and mortar institutions are becoming obsolete. http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1060-more-clicks-fewer-bricks-the-lecture-hall-is-obsolete

  • @MsDrJackson

    Kristen Hamilton is a California tech and education entrepreneur who agrees that college is not preparing our young people for success. She has developed a new and more practical system that is igniting a new fire for the future. Check it out: http://www.joinkoru.com

  • Guest

    If it were up to me, all education from preschool thro’ PhD programs and professional degrees would be government subsidized.

  • Luke

    I think there are many things wrong with the American College System. In essence it’s not just the college system but the American education system. They have installed the notion: “You must go to college”. They feed this idea to us from a very young age that if you want to be successful or worth something you must go to college. I find this concept completely wrong in so many ways.

    I am a senior in high school. I am an excellent student and have taken some of the hardest classes you can possibly take during high school. I get looks of disgust, pity, and confusion when I tell people I’m not going to college. If I ask a counselor for help they brush me aside because I’m not going got college and I’m hurting the “schools numbers”. The amount of bias and favoritism towards those going to college is ridiculous. America is funneling so many people though college even though there are many people who cannot find jobs once they’re out.

    You don’t need college to be smart. There is a vast wealth of information all around us at all times that people just need to tap into. If someone wants to be smarter and improve themselves but uses not being able to afford college as an excuse. They’re lazy. There’s no better way to put it. All that a college degree is is a piece of paper. Knowledge is knowledge. I’d like to couple that with the statement that you don’t need college to be successful. There are tons of people who haven’t gone to college that are very successful. I could go into the crippling dept that follows college but there are plenty of people who have already.

    There is a place for college though. A prime example is a surgeon or doctor. I do not want someone operating on me if all they’ve done is “googled it”. I would be scared out of my mind. Would I be scared though if an artist or website designer didn’t go to college? Absolutely not. I think there should be things other than college people can go into and learn. But wait. There are! People can go into apprenticeships and internships and the military and many other forms of schooling other than college yet college is the only thing people talk about.

    • DL

      I read in Cracked somewhere about a doctor admitting they just google it whenever they’re not sure about something. The money’s all in the search bar my friend.

  • Guest

    As a non American with a non American university system, I am unbelievably jealous of your college system.

    I went straight into medical school from high school, which sucks for 2 main reasons.

    Firstly, and most importantly, I absolutely made the wrong decision about my career because I was 17 and completely unaware of life and myself, and I followed an idealistic motivation encouraged by parents who knew less about being a doctor than I did.

    The point is that you’re really boxed in in high school, and career options seem pretty limited. Also, you don’t know much about your own strengths and, particularly limitations.

    In addition, speaking from personal experience, teenagers tend to be pretty arrogant and stubborn, ignoring most advice NOT to do something. And yet, paradoxically I was highly impressionable. Meaning I believed the encouragement and flat out ignored the warnings. This is because I was in an environment where I was only being influenced by adults rather than personal experience. And I know this sounds all Generation Y Yuppyish, and it probably is, but medicine is a pretty epically rubbish thing to be stuck in if you don’t like it.

    Anyway, the second point, and actually the more important one to me, is even assuming medicine was my passion, I’d still want to know about more things than just medicine. And yet that’s all I have … there was no room in my course to do other courses or to study anything unrelated to medicine. And it’s such a busy course that there’s not much time for doing outside courses. I tried to do summer courses at my university, but we started 6 weeks earlier than the rest of the university, which means that I was already doing calls during holiday courses.

    And now I’m a supposedly “educated” human, who knows a fair amount about medicine (and even that’s sketchy) and nothing about anything else. I’m more trained than educated, to be frank. I actually feel that I might have managed to enjoy medicine a bit more had it not been so all consuming for 6 years, but who knows.

    I concede that all this might just be a grass-is-greener syndrome, but most of my friends feel the same way I do, that we would really have benefited from the chance to get a more generalised education before committing to medicine. And I know of a dean at a different medical school than mine who is trying very hard to find a way for this to be possible for medical students, but it’s a long way off.

    Aaanyway, that’s my view, coming from a privileged life where student loans are not a real issue.

  • Helene

    As a non American with a non American university system, I am unbelievably jealous of your college system.

    I went straight into medical school from high school, which sucks for 2 main reasons.

    Firstly, I absolutely made the wrong decision about my career because I was 17 and completely unaware of life and myself, and I followed an idealistic motivation encouraged by parents who knew less about being a doctor than I did.

    The point is that you’re really boxed in in high school, and career options seem pretty limited. Also, you don’t know much about your own strengths and, particularly limitations.

    In addition, speaking from personal experience, teenagers tend to be pretty arrogant and stubborn, ignoring most advice NOT to do something. And yet, paradoxically I was highly impressionable. Meaning I believed the encouragement and flat out ignored the warnings. This is because I was in an environment where I was only being influenced by adults rather than personal experience. And I know this sounds all Generation Y Yuppyish, and it probably is, but medicine is a pretty rubbish thing to be stuck in if you don’t like it.

    Anyway, the second point, and actually the more important one to me, is even assuming medicine was my passion, I’d still want to know about more things than just medicine. And yet that’s all I have … there was no room in my course to do other courses or to study anything unrelated to medicine. And it’s such a busy course that there’s not much time for doing outside courses. I tried to do summer courses at my university, but we started 6 weeks earlier than the rest of the university, which means that I was already doing calls during holiday courses.

    And now I’m a supposedly “educated” human, who knows a fair amount about medicine (and even that’s sketchy) and nothing about anything else. I’m more trained than educated, to be frank. I actually feel that I might have managed to enjoy medicine a bit more had it not been so all consuming for 6 years, but who knows.

    I concede that all this might just be a grass-is-greener syndrome, but most of my friends feel the same way I do, that we would really have benefited from the chance to get a more generalised education before committing to medicine. And I know of a dean at a different medical school than mine who is trying very hard to find a way for this to be possible for medical students, but it’s a long way off.

    Aaanyway, that’s my view, coming from a privileged life where student loans are not a real issue.

    • L

      wow, “more trained than educated” is the best description of med school I’ve ever seen. And it’s probably why doctor are getting so discredited everywhere: there’s pretty but no time to worry about anything other than the job, and decisions that influence the profession are made by people on the other side of the arguments.

      Anyway, as flawed as the US system is, its wonderful that you can get to college and only then decide what you’ll do, which many seem to take for granted. If I had the opportunity of taking premed before commiting to med, I’d probably given up right away; I suck at anatomy, fisiology, and dealing with type A personalities on a daily basis. Throughout my academic life, I really enjoyed learning just for the sake of it. So, before getting into med school, I figured even if I didn’t feel ready to be a doctor by the end of the course, at least I’d learn a lot about fascinating stuff. Boy, was I wrong.

  • shaylabird

    We call it “university” instead of “college” here in Canada, but our systems are fairly similar to the US. The problem is that, at least when I was in high school, university was presented as an important step to getting a good job. Having graduated eight years ago (I studied political science and journalism), it is now my opinion that the only reason anyone should major in anything in the humanities or social sciences is that they are interested in it enough to want to study it for its own merit; there should be no illusions that it will be beneficial in helping them find work.

    Personally, if I could go back and talk to my pre-university self, I would advise myself to consider persuing a trade, working as an apprentice or starting part-time in the field I wanted and working my way up. While I did find that many jobs I applied for after graduation did ask that applications have a bachelor’s degree (most of them asked for just any degree, not one specifically related to the job), and my university education provided the arbitrary piece of paper required, that was about all the help it provided. That arbitrary piece of paper, which provided me with no practical skills, cost me $28,000 in student debt. I would have been better off just entering the field I was interested in and working my way up while taking select night school courses to boost my skills (which I ended up doing after university anyway).

    That being said, if you’re pursuing a more technical field, it’s a different story. My husband majored in computer science and was head-hunted right out of school. Also, his program was half co-op work placements, so he graduated with work experience AND was able to pay a lot of his own tuition with his earnings.

  • Valde

    I haven’t seen the Scandinavian model for universities on here, so i’m just going to tell you guys and then argue from there.

    it differs a bit, but in Denmark where I come from taking your first education is free no matter which it is. In higher education, it is very unusual to have anything less than a 5-year degree called a candidate. All these are, as someone mentioned, quite specific with a maximum of one year being dedicated to broader studies. All students receive a grant of aprox. 1000$ a month, which is supposed to cover living expenses.

    The system is based on the idea that free and equal access to education creates the best possible conditions for social mobility. It does, in my experience do that, and it does provide for a lot of freedom in choosing what you want to do. The fact that it’s more specific does make for an important decision early in life, which i guess is why it’s quite common to take a year or two off from education between high school and university.

    It seems that not as many people get a degree in Denmark (~30%) as in the states. I think there is an equilibrium in how large a part of a generation should get which degrees, and from my experiences with the system it should be less than the amount who are getting it now.

    In America i think that it is a problem that such a large chunk of you get a long degree. It dilutes the value of the degree, simply by the numbers and by the competition that leads to the easy-major-shopping that Tayloor mentions.

    In the other end, your system does seem to be able to carry a larger amount of ph.d’s than ours – which should give America a competitive edge in research areas.

    In short, and to be specific. The American university system should increase the amount of academic scholarships drastically and implement academic minimum standards for attending university in the first place.

    • dx

      I agree. I would also add that high school curriculum should improve. That would give people a better idea of what they like to do with their lives. I knew exactly what I wanted to do after I graduated high school in Europe.

  • Meg

    Seeing as many of the previous posts have done an incredible job discussing how much of a financial burden college can be, I figured I would discuss a few other areas. As a recent college graduate, I think that there are two issues in the current system that get overlooked quite often- choosing a major as a freshman, and the required course loads for different majors. Plenty of freshman have absolutely no idea what they want to do with their lives, yet are forced to choose at the beginning of their college years. How am I supposed to know what skill set to choose at eighteen years old? I always thought there should be more ways to explore options throughout your first year. Of course, changing a major is an option- but that’s where the financial issues come right back into play. Changing a major halfway through college will tack on at least another semester, which means an entire semester of additional debt (If you’re lucky to change into a similar enough major, that is. Otherwise you’re looking at another year minimum). Taking a year to explore what you truly have a passion for would be incredibly beneficial. The second issue I have with the current system is the requirements for certain majors. As a biology major, I had multiple course requirements that needed to be met in order to graduate. I’m all for expanding your knowledge by taking courses that don’t pertain to your major, but why not help college students learn practical life skills with these requirements? I never had time to take an economics class, an accounting class, a management class, etc. I know plenty of biology majors who wished they could’ve taken a course on personal finance to prepare them for the real world, yet they didn’t have a single spot open in their four years. If college is supposed to help prepare you for life ahead, there shouldn’t be as many students who feel terrified and unprepared to start their lives after college.

    • Rupa

      Agreed that a freshman shouldn’t be expected to choose a major without having had enough time explore options. However, I think there should be a way for high school students to explore those options. To spend a year in college exploring at upwards of $50k would just feed the problem. If high school could expose students to various career options in a meaningful way, freshmen would enter the expensive college machinery much better prepared.

  • Annie

    Being a high school freshman, I definitely don’t have enough knowledge to make any kind of meaningful addition to this post. But I can say, as long as select colleges offer Muggle Quidditch teams- count me in!

  • aka

    As a current high school senior just accepted to a four-year college, I think it can go both ways. I think a lot of incoming college students don’t have a concrete idea of what they want to do, and why should we? We’re only seventeen or eighteen years old, and a four year gap between high school and the real world can really help us learn what we might be interested in doing for the rest of our lives. When we do decide, college can teach you the hard skills of what you need to know for the career you plan to pursue and can set you up with internships to learn the soft skills to make it in the real world.

    However, it can be a huge financial burden; I’m going to a private college that costs around 50k a year. For those students that don’t receive need or merit based financial aid, college can seem like a waste of time. Why spend that much money when you don’t even know what you’re going to be doing?

    Unfortunately, a college degree is essentially mandatory to get a job today, so most of us don’t have a choice.

  • Chick cop

    As someone who excelled in a typical American college and went on to my dream career, college was the best possible choice for me. Realistically though, its not for everyone. I work as a police officer on a college campus and regularly see young adults, who either think they’re the center of the universe or are just beginning to realize they’re not even a speck in the vastness of the cosmos, pissing away their parents’ money on beer, drugs, and general shenanigans.

    My dearest friend in the entire world, brilliant as anything, needs much more structure than the typical college experience affords, so she went the military route. Her skills have been much more applicable in real life than all of my formal education, because she has had actual experience, while I had only learned the theories behind the practices. Strangely enough though, my college education was more preferable to employers.

    I think life skills are inherently more valuable, my employers have not caught up to that idea yet.

  • wobster109

    Americans today have to go to college, because when they don’t —
    “No we won’t raise the minimum wage. You don’t want to work at McDonald’s? Then you should’ve gone to college to get a better-paying job.”

    Ever hear that? In this country, our leaders think the working folk are “lazy”. The very people who build our buildings and clean our halls and staff our establishments and make the world go round. But no, they must be “lazy”. We don’t want them to have a living wage. Wouldn’t want to encourage others to be “lazy”.

    Oh, loan companies are making huge profits by loading our eager young people with the crushing debt of predatory student loans? Fancy that.

  • wobster109

    Now for whether it makes sense. No.

    You don’t need to study foreign language to be an accountant, and you
    don’t need to study calculus to be a manager. They are good to learn,
    but they aren’t necessary for every job. . . or even most of them. Financially and time-wise, I feel we spend a great deal of time learning stuff we will never use again. It all goes back to your GYPSY post (https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html).

    As a culture, we have this weird idea that our jobs are supposed to be deeply meaningful, fulfilling, central to our very identity as a human being. Statements like “do what you love and you never have to work a day in your life” are very in-vogue. So there’s our mental image of a career: find something you love, pour your heart into it, and make it your purpose. With an expectation like that who wouldn’t go to college in pursuit of that unicorn?

    What we’ve forgotten is that many of us are not “career people”; we are “job people” who find our fulfillment elsewhere: hobbies, relationships, charity. And the way jobs are, many of us must learn to be content as “job people”, because we can’t function without the boring stuff that we never imagined for ourselves, like the cleaning, staffing, and data-entry type jobs. And even the most exciting jobs are “ordinary Wednesday” much of the time. I have too many friends flitting about, dissatisfied with every job because it’s just not right for them, it’s “just not what I want to do with my life”. But maybe what I really want is a predictable job that leaves me time to train for a marathon. Maybe no job can take the place of that dream.

    So here’s my conclusion. Let’s move to more students attending to technical or vocational schools. But for that to work, we as a culture need to get over this career-based social-judging of each other that we do. And we’d also do well to quit seeing our job as the guiding light of personal fulfillment and happiness.

    • Cliner

      I agree with your every point above, chief. I just wanted to give my two cents on the notion of being a “job” person rather than a “career” person. I tend to be very idealistic, and using a term coined by WBW’s founders, a Truthist. It follows from this that I hold many beliefs that could be termed “atheistic”. Thus, I believe strongly that this life is IT. This is all we get. Conceivably, there could follow some regenerated consciousness after life, and that would be cool, but based on everything we know about the universe, this seems to me highly unlikely.

      With that said, I just want to say to the Dinner Table community that if you feel stressed, hopeless or generally shitty about trying to find your calling/what the hell you want to do with the rest of your life (the position I currently find myself in), I believe it’s not because you’re a “career” person – it’s simply because you’re a realist who wishes to spend every possible moment of your fleeting existence doing something you love. While this belief has come about probably because I’m a white male with a whole fuckload of resources and demographic advantage (comparatively) at my disposal and have had the time to ponder it, I don’t consider this selfish or narcissistic – it’s just that given what a great percentage of our lives we’re destined to work, I indeed want to do something that will stimulate me and make me feel like I’m making the world a better place, if even in a minuscule way. And of course, I’ll spend a lot of time working imperfect jobs on the way to finding the field or fields in which I want to spend some serious time.

      Anyone else share these privileged-ass feelings?

    • Jonathan Zieg

      I’m with you on this one. I’m going to college, but not because I want some dream job as an artist or whatever. I favor STEM fields because I want to get sustainable, well-paying employment out of college. I honestly don’t have any hobbies or pursuits that I want to devote my life to, but I figure that once I find one I can use a stable career to fund it.

      And yeah, vocational schools are great. They give kids who can’t afford 4-year colleges a path to stable employment outside of what we consider typical degreeless jobs like working in the food industry.

  • Bogdan Voicu

    As an outsider who has some idea of what a typical (let us call it above average) college in the US is, I would say that the system is efficient in doing the job. True, it is expensive, but there are ways to work out financial solutions. For most of my friends who attended a college in US – and there are quite several including a couple of classmates of mine – the money they spent was really worth it despite the “crippling” price, at least from their point of view that I tend to take into consideration.

  • Haren Shetty

    As a non-American who has been on either side, I feel that the US college system is very good. The only downfall is that it is way too costly. I see that a lot of americans here feel that the system is not good or outdated. On the outdated part, well we ourselves as a civilization are in a transitional phase, so to give it a few more years is advisable. But it is still good and effective. Maybe a lot of people view it that way because they feel that the time and money put into it is not worth it. But if you make the most of it, it is.

  • RF42

    I may be bringing in a different perspective as the parent of a student currently in the midst of finding the college she will attend in two years as well as a person who graduated from college long enough ago that I was able to pay for my annual tuition with the money I earned at my full-time summer job. I am absolutely disgraced at the cost of college in America. There is absolutely no reason or justification that I can find for students to end up in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt just because they choose to go to college, something that is all but required by most employers in this country. If the government or some other organization doesn’t step in soon to do something about the insane increases in tuition, I think that we are headed for a major collapse in the system. There will eventually become a point when people simply will refuse to pay.

    The problem that I see is that colleges charge whatever tuition they want without any justification or assurances of a positive outcome. How many business run on the model that they will charge you tens of thousands of dollars with no assurances that you will have anything to show for it other than a “four year life experience”? These days, colleges don’t even have to have real full-time professors teaching classes. They spend money on fancy recreational facilities and high end sports programs and other bells and whistles to attract students and justify charging high tuition rates, then send thousands of graduates out into a world where those kids can’t find jobs, which is the fundamental purpose of getting a higher education in the first place. Maybe if colleges were made to offer some form of money-back-guarantee, things would change.

    That said, I also think that we need to move away from the mentality that all students should be directed into the college-path funnel. I think that we should follow the model that I know other countries do where students who don’t necessarily have an aptitude for traditional learning or who simply aren’t interested are directed into a vocational career path. We are already experiencing a shortage in the number of qualified trades people, and careers in those fields can be highly rewarding financially. Why not help those who want to be an electrician or a plumber or a carpenter begin those career paths in high school?

    It’s truly pathetic that I am facing the prospect of spending upwards of a quarter of a million dollars to send my two children to college and I still lay awake at night worrying that they won’t be able to find good jobs and be able to support themselves financially when it’s all said and done. However, the alternative – advising them to forgo traditional college – doesn’t seem to be an option either if I want them to have any hope of financial stability throughout their working lives. If either one of my kids expressed any interest in pursuing a trade, I think I’d be all over that.

  • Berdy

    I’m a bit late to this dinner table but I wanted to post my thoughts on this topic because it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I think the biggest problem with the american college system is that it’s too expensive relative to the value it delivers. People would not consider it too expensive if they knew they could find a rewarding job soon after graduation with a salary high enough to pay off their debt within a few years.

    And those jobs do exist. I finished a public university with a bachelor’s in engineering. I started working as an engineer immediately after graduation and was able to pay off my student debt within a few years. The problem is that engineering is one of the few college programs that adequately prepares students within 4 years for serious, well-paid, rewarding employment, with opportunities for advancement. I can count on one hand the other well-regarded professions (journalism, accounting, actuary, retail, hospitality) that are available to someone with a bachelor’s degree. The majority of serious professions require a graduate degree (medicine, law, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, business, academia, scientific research), and 2-6 additional years of study and student debt. I don’t understand why it takes a total of 7 years of study to become a lawyer or pharmacist. The truth is, it doesn’t. The study for these professions could begin much earlier, during the 3rd or 4th undergraduate year, the same way it does for engineering. If someone could become a lawyer after 5 or 6 years of study, it would reduce their debt by tens of thousands of dollars and would permit them to start paying off the debt they do have a couple of years earlier, before they take on the financial responsibility that comes with having a family and children.

    I guess what I am describing is a college system closer to the European one. I do believe it makes more sense. And it doesn’t mean that we would force 18-year olds to choose a career for the rest of their life. A freshman would still have a couple of years of self-exploration before settling on a degree type, at which point they would have a number of choices because plenty of American universities offer law/medicine/business/other schools. Yes, students would not have as much time as they currently do to try a lot of different things before settling on something. But the fact is that all of this soul-searching is simply too expensive and we can no longer afford it.

    I would advise current college students to select their major carefully. You might have to do some research to find out what the career opportunities are in the location where you want to be. Do not wait for your parents, friends, or college counselors to point you in the right direction. It’s precisely because your college education is so expensive that you can’t afford to waste the time that you have. You have to make your degree work for you.

    And if you got to the end of my incredibly long comment, thank you for your time and attention!

  • 007

    The entire system of education needs to shift its focus from feeding knowledge to encouraging curiosity/creativity. This excerpt by Professor Noam Chomsky is quite eye-opening:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUwBc-GvFFM

  • Jerenda

    *latepost* I can’t speak on whether college is “worth it” or not. I know it was for me, because I was able to start learning how to operate on my own, how to be an adult. Drink, drugs, and sex were not prominent in my college, so I wasn’t in a culture that encouraged wasting time on that. I think it was extremely valuable and I want all of my siblings and children to go to college.

    I can, however, speak on price. I worked 2 of the 3 summers I had off, and I had to get help from my family (something that not all families can provide) and I got some minor scholarships, but I graduated with less than $6K in debt. I went to an extremely cheap (private religious) university that only cost me ~$2K a semester in tuition. It wasn’t an extremely prestigious university, but I didn’t care. It got me a degree and that’s all I wanted. (My husband, for comparison’s sake, went to the same college and graduated with closer to $30K in debt, but he’s an engineer and is on track to actually repay that someday.)

    Here is a list of colleges ranked by price: http://www.ranker.com/list/cheapest-colleges/web-infoguy?page=1 It’s more expensive out-of-state, but it’s entirely possible. Another option is to get an associate’s degree at the local community college and then complete the bachelor’s at a university, thus spending less time and cash there. Yes, colleges are ridiculously expensive, but they don’t have to be. There ARE options. I wouldn’t think ending up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is worth it, but it’s possible to reduce that number.

  • Lightforge

    College is definitely worth it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Likewise, apprenticeships are definitely worth it but definitely not for everyone. America’s college system is actually really good, overall. It’s obviously imperfect, but it’s improving relatively quickly compared to large, non-educational systems. Like its K-12 system, America’s colleges vary greatly in effectiveness. However, this is to a large degree attributable to socioeconomic and recruitment differences, which in the U.S. are far greater than other Westernized nations. Although higher education is less different from other nations’ systems than K-12, it still tends to hold a normative strength in the areas of critical thinking and creativity (though other nations are catching up here, which mostly speaks to their merit rather than our detriment). Without a university system in place, research slows dramatically in many fields. To say this is a small problem is like saying we pretty much have things figured out, so more information is of less value…which is like someone from 1900 saying that we’ve already invented all the important things. Given our legislative track record on education, it’ll be interesting to see what happens here. I’m worried my answer will be changing within a couple decades.

    The greatest criticism is access and financial predation. This is more a matter of loans and lack of governmental support, because most educational institutions are pretty efficient in themselves (the vast majority of funds go to salaries)…though it interacts with the market, which is a complex issue all around. Hiring experts is expensive, and this kind of education simply isn’t cheap. Buy the service if it’s valuable for you. Period. Developments in distance education will make decent college educations cheaper…but they can’t replace the current system’s advantages while scarcity of resources remains a thing we have to worry about. But the broader mistake is that people tend to think universities are the only way to prepare yourself for a career. This is, of course, ridiculous, and though most people won’t say it, most people that age feel it. Apprenticeships are far more effective for many lucrative occupations. This isn’t to say those same people wouldn’t benefit from going to college (humans haven’t changed that much, but our world is far more complex than it was 200 years ago), which usually has other, less career-focused benefits. I’d say it can be replaced by independent study…but only for people who are already well-educated, intellectually humble, resourceful, and well-disciplined. Pretty sure this describes between 10% and 0% of American young adults (and probably people in general, myself included).

  • Alex10

    I believe that universities should not be seen as places that land you a job. A college has nothing to do with whether you are offered a job or not after the education. A university’s main duty is to carry out researches. The professors’ main duty is to work in these researches. However, they also give lectures because of two main reasons;

    First, The researches need funding and students provide them with the funding required to make the researches,
    Secondly, there have to be new professors and employees in the future to carry out new researches.

    A college does not promise you a job. It just promises you an education at a certain level. You go undergrad, Master’s or Doctorate levels, which are all given by the college. Then, you use your education to find a job or use it for your own company or just be a more knowledgeable person. To make things easier, you are expected to find the field you want to work in before attending the college and increase your knowledge by first getting an undergraduate level of education. American system, however, is definitely better since it enables you to change your major during your education. It also gives you some room before choosing your major.

    To sum up, go to an apprenticeship if you want to have an occupation, but colleges are there for the ones that are willing to get a certain level of education for the fields that don’t even hire. Why would anybody study philosophy if colleges existed just to make people land jobs?
    College is not for everyone and only the ones that can bear it could enroll in colleges.

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