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Monday, May 6, 2013

What Purpose Does College Serve Today

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” — Mark Twain

Andrew Carnegie the founder of U.S. Steel did not go to college. John D. Rockefeller who built Standard Oil did not go to college. Thomas Edison who developed the light built the nation did have a college education. Henry Ford who gave us affordable automobile travel and revolutionized our industrial manufacturing systems did not go to college. The Wright Brothers were high school drop outs. And Bill Gates was a college drop out. These are but a few of the better known successful individuals who made enormous contributions to society sans a college education.

With a spate of college graduations on the near horizon there will be numerous college commencement speeches by well-known figures and politicians ballyhooing the great future lying ahead of the thousands of college graduates and how they will change the future. How many will tell these graduating students the truth? How many will tell the graduating classes that the $50,000 to $100,000 worth of debt they will have incurred by supporting an overrated and bloated college system will rarely, if ever, bring them their expected return on their investment.

Generations of Americans have been told that getting a bachelor’s degree is the key to a relatively prosperous life. But recently the news has been filled with stories of the financial hardships college graduates today are facing.

Borrowers defaulted on $3.5 billion in student loans during the first three months of 2013 alone, and the Federal Reserve has estimated that the current nationwide amount of student debt is over $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, a college education has become one of the most expensive products in America. The cost of college has increased 1,120 percent in the last 30 years, far outpacing inflation. In light of all this, we have asked the question, “Is College Worth It?” The answer is, “It depends.”

One study conducted last year found that approximately 50 percent of the class of 2011 was either unemployed or underemployed. As a result, many recent graduates are putting off getting married, starting families and buying homes. If any business in the United States had a track record that the colleges and universities the courts would be overburdened with lawsuits for fraud and false advertising. Auto manufactures face more stringent “lemon laws” than do or colleges and universities.

One study showed that only 45 percent of college graduates made substantial gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills in their first two years of school.

The study by the Chronicle of Higher Education claims:

“While higher education is expected to accomplish many tasks—and contemporary colleges and universities have indeed contributed to society in ways as diverse as producing pharmaceutical patents as well as prime-time athletic games—existing organizational cultures and practices too often do not put a high priority on undergraduate learning. Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, too rarely focus on either improving instruction or demonstrating gains in student learning.

More troubling still, the limited learning we have observed in terms of the absence of growth in CLA performance is largely consistent with the accounts of many students, who report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying. They enroll in courses that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development

Moreover, we find that learning in higher education is characterized by persistent and/or growing inequality. There are significant differences in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills when comparing groups of students from different family backgrounds and racial/ethnic groups. More important, not only do students enter college with unequal demonstrated abilities, but those inequalities tend to persist—or, in the case of African-American students relative to white students, increase—while they are enrolled in higher education.”

Too often, unchallenging or novelty academics, such as courses on Lady Gaga, have replaced rigorous learning in the traditional liberal arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

Additionally, most college campuses have an unabashedly liberal political orientation, and are rife with binge drinking, illegal drug use and the degrading and “hook-up culture.” Or as Frank Zappa once proclaimed:

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”

Before deciding whether or not college is the right choice, it is important to make an honest assessment of a student’s ability and inclination to do college-level work. If a student has real doubts about whether he can commit to four years of papers, tests and class time, he shouldn’t go. He also shouldn’t go just because everyone else is going, or because his primary motivation is to be part of the party scene.

Many students with these mindsets find themselves part of the roughly 46 percent of students who do not graduate within six years.

Secondly, it is important for students to consider the probable financial impact of their course of study., a website that collects data on the workforce, has shown that STEM jobs pay the most money, and have the highest rates of employment. Employers desire the hard skills that a computer programmer, petroleum engineer or radiologist can offer. These are skills that build things and help people.

Conversely, the skills that a psychology, English or political science major might have are not as in demand, and usually pay less.

It might be worth it to borrow more money to study a financially lucrative major than one that is (probably) less so. Did you know that the average new graduate of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology earns more money out of school than the average recent Harvard grad?

According to Bloomberg Report:

“Those leaving the college of 2,300 students this year got paid a median salary of $56,700, according to PayScale Inc., which tracks employee compensation data from surveys. At Harvard, where tuition fees are almost four times higher, they got $54,100. Those scheduled to leave the campus in Rapid City, South Dakota, in May are already getting offers, at a time when about one in 10 recent U.S. college graduates is out of work.”

I can speak from personal experience from my years as person who hired civil engineers and land surveyors in Southern California. In 2006, my last year as an active professional engineer, the going rate for a recent college graduate for a Cal Poly Pomona had reached $60,000 per year. With three or four years when these grads had advanced to a project engineering or surveyor the pay scale had risen to $80,000 and in eight or nine years if they had the skills and knowledge to attain the position of project manager the compensation had exceeded $100,000 per year.

Lastly, it does still matter — at least a bit — where you go. Graduates from Princeton, Stanford, the University of Michigan and other top-tier schools have a higher average salary than graduates of other schools because their “brand” is synonymous with “quality.” But these schools will cost much more than a state college and are extremely hard to get into.

If a student can get into a highly ranked school, it is probably worth it to go there, even if he or she has to borrow money. But the student still must make a wise decision about how much it will cost and what he or she will study.

Many young people wrongly feel that without a B.A., they have no hope of landing a good job in the modern economy.

The truth is that by 2018 there will be 14 million jobs that will require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Many of these jobs pay good, middle-class wages: nurses, air traffic controllers and IT professionals.

According to a February 2013 article in the Dayton Daily News:

“--Millions of college graduates who saw a degree as their ticket to a good-paying career and a secure life are working in jobs that do not require their education or even a high school diploma, sometimes leaving them with small wages to pay thousands in student loan debt, according to a new study.

About 48 percent of all working college alumni -- not just recent graduates -- were underemployed in 2010 as the United States began a slow recovery from the Great Recession, including 5 million graduates in jobs that require less than a high school diploma, according to a study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

"The economy may be in recovery officially, but there are a lot of people who haven't recovered yet," said Jonathan Robe, one of three researchers on the report, "Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed." "This is a problem that's sticking around."

When so many graduates are working in retail sales and as bartenders, janitors and maids, the study calls into question the appropriateness of extra spending to reach broad goals for more Americans to earn college degrees. President Barack Obama has charged that the U.S. lead the world in degree holders with 10 million more graduates by 2020. It also suggests that the underemployment problem is not going away because there is a growing disconnect between what employers need and the volume and nature of the training of college students.”

Additionally, America is currently facing a deficit of 3 million skilled-labor jobs – professions like welders, electricians and plumbers that earn good money and can never be shipped overseas.

A recovery of vocational-technical education could be a game-changer in meeting the needs of many students who find the educational system does not meet their particular needs. There are the for profit vocational schools like ITT Tech and DeVry University. Also there is the University of Phoenix with its on-line campus.

According to Bloomberg:

“To narrow the skills gap, employers are teaming up with philanthropies, governments and community colleges to develop a ready resource: their existing workforce. The practice, known as upskilling, builds on the “up from the mailroom” idea, the management philosophy that the best person for a job could be one a company already has.”

So many college graduates were involved in last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement. They were demanding two things; a forgiveness of their college loan debt and a high paying job commensurate with their inflated opinion of their degree.

Ultimately, a college education can still be a good investment, but it is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. Students need to make smart decisions about their capacity for academic work, the job prospects for their major, and how they will pay for their education. Students should make sure it’s really worth it based on their interests and life goals before taking the plunge.

I offer some free advice to those who are graduating from college and to those who are thinking of going to college. Unless you want a liberal arts education that will someday lead to tenured professorship you will be better off taking courses in community colleges that will lead to entry level positions in a profession you have a passion for. Once you do that find that entry level position and do the following:

  • Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Ask questions only that pertain to you job and the business you are working in.
  • Work those extra hours and be willing to fill in when required.
  • Learn all you can about your employer’s business and his profit model. See where you fit into this model and do your best to contribute to it. Learn the difference between gross receipts and profits.
  • Become so proficient at your job your employer will view you as indispensable. If this requires taking additional night classes or on-line courses do so.
  • Become an asset and resource to your fellow workers.
  • Learn how to better serve your employer’s customers. They are the life blood of the business.
  • Make contacts within your chosen profession by attending workshops and seminars. If your employer does not pay for these, which he probably won’t do at first. Invest your own time and money in this continuing education. Forget the vacations to Hawaii or the Bahamas for a while. They will come much later.
  • Hone your writing skills and learn the art of resume writing.
  • And finally and most important find a mentor you can trust and convince him or her that you are worth their time and effort. This will pay big dividends in your future.

If you follow these steps I guarantee you will succeed without spending thousands of dollars and listening to all of clap-trap from liberal progressive professors. As the old adage goes; “those who can do, those who can’t teach.” I know this from personal experience. I have hired professors as consultants and they believe writing a paper is more important than actually developing and instigating a new technology or quality control procedure.

So who really benefits from this marked increase in college attendance at college? It’s the colleges, the tenured professors, and the hoard of administrators and textbook sellers. As long as the government offers more and more student aid the colleges will charge more and more for their services. This is basic principle of the market —the more money available the higher the price.

Over the weekend Barack Obama gave the commencement address at “The Ohio State” In his address he praised big government and its benefits to society. According a The Blaze:

“In a sunbaked stadium filled with more than 57,000 students, friends and relatives, Obama lamented an American political system that gets consumedScreen-Shot-2013-05-05-at-3.58.50-PM by “small things” and works for the benefit of society’s elite. He called graduates to duty to “accomplish great things,” like rebuilding a still-feeble economy and fighting poverty and climate change.

“Only you can ultimately break that cycle. Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be,” the president told more than 10,000 cap-and-gown-clad graduates. “But it requires your dedicated, informed and engaged citizenship.”

Obama also urged the students to “reject these voices” that warn of the evils of government, saying:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems, nor do we want it to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.


The cynics may be the loudest voices—but they accomplish the least. It’s the silent disruptors—those who do the long, hard, committed work of change—that gradually push this country in the right direction, and make the most lasting difference.”

These brave new world comments are typical from a liberal progressive. I wonder what Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, of the Wright Brothers would have told these graduates? I don’t think it would have echoed Barack Obama. I think they would have talked about the value of hard work, continuing education, and trying to build a better mousetrap. They might have mentioned something about a passion for something — be it in engineering to build bridges, roads and dams or in technology to invent better and cheaper computers. They might have even mentioned working to find a cure for the common cold. They would have been talking about entrepreneurship and risk-taking to achieve their dreams. I don’t think they would have been talking about big government and the collective. Those remarks are best left to Lenin.

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