College Degrees Are Sometimes Bullshit

I’m going off the reservation again.  This is all stream of consciousness, so, I’m apologizing up front.

The other half and I got into a discussion the other day about college degrees.  My contention was that college is not for everyone, and for many people it will just be a waste of time.  He thought that I was being disingenuous because I hold two degrees and fully expect my younger sister to attend college, yet I deigned to say that everyone shouldn’t attend college.  We won’t see eye-to-eye on this subject but, I thought that it was a good idea to flesh out this thought online.

I want to tell you not to bother even considering an expensive college, but I would be lying to both you and myself if I did.  Even though I firmly believe that college is not for everyone, I still believe that they can still be institutions of learning, idea development and culture sharing.  I just don’t know if paying $25,000 for that privilege is worth it.  And honestly, I really think that you can learn just about anything from classes online or outside of traditional colleges.

Did you attend college? How many hours did you waste sitting in classes that you have long since forgotten?  My art class? A joke and a way to boost my GPA.  The algebra, trigonometry and calculus classes that I spent thousands of dollars on?  It’s done a bang up job of helping me choose the winning lottery numbers.  The various animals that I dissected in anatomy and physiology? Okay, that will actually come in handy when I turn into Dexter’s replacement (love that show), but I’m never going to use those particular set of skills, unless I’m butchering a whole chicken.

Wait! Don’t hit the button to send me hate mail just yet.  I will be the first to say that we still need to educate future doctors, engineers, teachers, electricians, construction workers, etc., but not every single profession requires a college degree.  For some reason though, we’ve begun to equate a college degree with, I don’t know, competency and intelligence.  What a joke!

Honestly, most of the people who I went to college with probably should not have spent their time in school.  Frankly, if you haven’t learned basic grammar and spelling by the time you reach college, you’re best served watching PBS and by visiting your local library for adult literacy classes.  I see the way that people spell online.  I see how many people can’t tell the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, and that’s just the beginning.

I had the pleasure of glancing through employment listing recently and my eye brows shot up at how many employers were requiring college degrees for positions where it was absolutely not necessary.  Want to be a receptionist?  You need a college degree.  What?!  Why would you need four years of college to answer phone calls and greet guests?  Are you kidding me?

I get that our education system is sometimes flawed.  I know that many young adults are leaving high school without skills that are easily transferred into the business world, but it’s up to us to change this system.  Why not change high school eduction to include practical skills that can lead into careers that will not necessarily require college degrees?

How did we get here?  How did we get to the place where it’s okay for our children to begin taking on massive amounts of debt, mainly before many have even earned one penny or are even competent enough to know the financial implications of the debt that they are taking on?  Why did we convince ourselves that the potential financial benefits far outweighed the time that it took to repay debt larger than the starting salaries of many students now leaving school?

I watch our governmental representatives debate student loans, but I get the feeling that they don’t get it.  These individuals are often the financial elite who don’t have to worry about paying their student loans or putting their kids through school or being able to find jobs that will pay enough to support a family without working 60 hours each week.

Put your pitchforks down.  I will not say that YOU in particular or your children shouldn’t go to college.  But, I will say that you should evaluate whether your chosen profession requires a college degree or if trade certification would suffice.  Don’t waste time, money and energy on college courses that you won’t need – like the jewelry making class that I had to shell money out for in college.  Art appreciation my ass.

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20 thoughts on “College Degrees Are Sometimes Bullshit

  • Although I have a Business degree with an emphasis on accounting, it is still up to the individual to do something with their education. Education just prepares you and some of the best education does not even prepare you for a specific career. Just a different perspective.

    • It is absolutely up to the individual! I just don’t think that EVERYONE needs to go to college. I am not fond of this degree requirement for jobs that could easily be occupied by individuals with a high school diploma.

      • I agree, a degree is not for everyone and for every position. Unfortunately, a lot of positions require a degree as a starting point. In a lot of ways it is sad, but I guess as en employer a degree at least shows that someone is able to finish something and is organized enough to get through all the classes and does well enough to pass.

  • Ideally college should help open your mind and help to you to question what’s out there as well as give you a system to go about finding the answers. For those going into specific fields that require a certain knowledge then college will provide that too.

    But too often college is full of students who would rather be elsewhere doing the least possible to get by. These aren’t all lazy kids, but sometimes taking a lot of different classes at once and possibly holding down a job doesn’t lead you to efficient learning.

    It’s a shame that a lot of jobs require a degree. Sure, if you’re in a field that needs a specific education you wouldn’t really get elsewhere then it makes sense. But most jobs start you off on the bottom rung and really don’t have much to do with the degree you got. I think a lot of employers use a degree as a lazy gatekeeper.

    It still depends on the person though. Most people would do well with some kind of additional education after high school, it never hurts to learn more. But a good trade is something worthwhile too these days.

    • I like this idea of being exposed to different things especially ideas and cultures. I remember taking an a class on Islam (this was before 9/11) because I wanted to understand the religion and a class on war because I wanted to see the thought processes that would push leaders into such situations. I liked this entire process, but I don’t know that many of my classmates were THAT interested. They just needed their grades and on to the next class.

  • The value of a calculus (and similar) class is not learning to integrate. It’s learning how to analyze and solve problems. That skill is valuable in nearly every profession. More broadly, the main reason for going to college and taking classes with specific subject matter that you will likely soon forget is to be exposed to, learn, and practice skills and to discover talents. I believe this is worth the cost, at most universities.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more! I am in SO MUCH DEBT because the state where I live mandates teachers to get their master’s degrees. So, I got mine, am in a ton of debt because of it, and what did it get me – NOTHING! Not even a raise. I am no longer teaching because, after 8 years of it, I’m burnt out and frustrated with the way Americans define “education.” Now I’m walking dogs for a living. I love it, it’s waaayyy less stress than having a room of 30 adolescents screaming at me, but I may be forced to go back to my “profession” because I can’t pay my bills on the salary I’m making doing something I like.

    Why America thinks we should have to choose what we want to do with our lives at the age of 18 is beyond me. If I could have one do-over, I’d think twice about college.

    • What do you think about a gap year or two between high school and college? I think that a lot of maturing happens within those years that would be helpful to many teens.

  • While I do agree that college is not for everyone, I disagree with most everything else here.

    I have three kids, two of whom have graduated. One went to USC and is finding the benefits of the USC network in LA. My other daughter just graduated from Northwestern and frankly a degree from there opens many doors as well. She is off to law school at Vanderbilt, another school that will help her I suspect via its network of alums. Given their high ACT scores and grad points from high school both earned much merit-based aid making these exclusive schools affordable.

    Our son will be a junior at Northern IL. Though not as prestigious as USC or Northwestern he has taken the initiative to get some great work experience there with both the housing and dining department and in the athletic department. These experiences give him a great resume prior to graduation.

    So far I fail to see anything that points to any reason why any of my kids should not have gone to college.

    Education is a path to opportunity, this is born out in part by the lower rates of unemployment for college grads vs. those without a degree.

    Every dime we’ve spent or will spend on our kid’s educations is well worth it to us.

    • Wait! I did not say that NO ONE should go to college. Far from it. I don’t think that EVERYONE should go to college.

      You make great points about the benefits of attending college outside of the traditional classroom environment – namely networking and the potential for gaining experience. That, I feel, is part of what you are paying for especially at some of the most prestigious universities.

      Bill Gates famously didn’t finish college, however, it did place him in the right environment to develop his skills and meet the right partners to begin the juggernaut company that Microsoft is today. If he were asked I’m absolutely certain that he would say that he expects his kids to attend college as well.

      I’m wondering though, if any parent can say to themselves, quietly if necessary, that college might not be the right choice for any of their kids.

  • Grad school can even be a joke somewhat… I remember hearing a fellow grad student in my program at school say the word “mines” multiple times instead of the proper mine during her final thesis presentation. It is frustrating when you realize how some schools are so desperate for income they let in everybody. Great way to cheapen your own education!

  • Yep. So, hubby and I both went to college. Top-10 engineering schools, private. They were expensive way back when and are in the $50k range nowadays. He’s got a PhD and I’ve got a master’s. As engineers, college was necessary.

    However, I do worry about how times have changed in the last 20 or so years. Yes, I expect my kids to go (I’m saving up for it). But, that’s assuming they want to be engineers. It seems like now you need a college degree to work as a receptionist. Really. Our receptionist answers phones, handles fed ex, does some data entry, and does spreadsheet work. She’s very bright but…it doesn’t require a college degree. Most kids know how to do all that in high school.

    However because college degrees are a dime a dozen (everyone’s got one), we now REQUIRE it to be a receptionist. So while I agree that not everyone should go to college, it seems like it’s the only way to get your foot in the door.

    What to do what to do about your own children? Well, don’t let them take on debt. If they need a foot in the door, then they can get a degree. But they should be taught, guided, trained, in how to do it without too much debt. Hubby and I joined ROTC. I borrowed for room and board. Part time jobs, part time schooling, ROTC, scholarships and grants…there are ways to get from point A to point B without debt.

    It’s not the “norm”, it’s not “sexy”, but it won’t leave you $150,000 in debt making $33k per year either.

  • College is no different than any other investment. Sometimes you lose money. Sometimes it is clear in advance that you will lose money, like getting a degree in humanities. Obviously, you want to steer clear of that investment. Other times the investment looks to have a much better payoff like an undergraduate degree in accounting. So it all depends on what one pursues in college before we can ascertain the value.

    • True. I was sitting next to someone on the train who was going for a degree in social work. Salaries in social work begin in the low 20’s here and max out in the mid 30’s…and that IF you can find a job. She was shocked. Didn’t do her research.

  • I agree that college isn’t for everyone, although I do think there was a point in life where a degree in fact DID help you climb faster on the social and/or career ladder. Which is why it’s still seen as an important asset to have. But from all the people who I know that graduated in a certain field, that are not having jobs in that chosen field, for whatever reason: a lot.
    My youngest brother studied at a fancy university, came home one day and told my parents he didn’t really need that degree to work the job he really wanted: they were appalled, and I remember discussions and pleads, rants and veto’s… until he got his way, quit uni and now earns more money than me and our other brother together. I’m still proud of him – and I’m sure my parents are too.
    Of course, some professions require a degree, but a lot of things are just fancy words on a piece of paper, that in my entire professional life, nobody ever asked to see. 🙂

    • Yes! It is true. The poor girl in the cubicle next to me has a master’s degree and she’s classified as an “intern”. What they have her doing could be done by anyone with a college diploma. I’m appalled at what I see all of the time. Sigh.

      Meanwhile, I want my engineers to have as many letters after their names as possible. I don’t need a building to collapse.

  • I come from a family that highly esteemed education. My first memory is of a large piggy bank we had that everyone put their spare change into for my oldest brother to go to university. He did and got a PHD in Chemistry. He was supposed to pay it forward and help the rest of the family. Which he did not do.
    I am reading this web site because of my interest in being frugal in a way that improves my life.
    Although I was not well off when my two children were growing up I was able to pay for their educations. They lived at home and went to university from home and worked in the summer to save for their pocket and clothing money. In those days university was a little less expensive. I did not want them to go out into the world and work for the first time with a large education loan. That seems really crazy to me. I hear nowadays some people will be paying their student loans until they get to retirement. When you consider the conversation above regarding the lack of jobs and the pay scales sometimes not justifying the cost of universities, these loans and educations are just wrong.
    I do regret not getting more education myself as at the age of 60 one thing I find in the last 20 years is every time I go to begin a new job I start at the bottom again and I think possibly a degree would have prevented that from happening. I probably would have finished or my CGA for my accounting designation. I do find though that I probably make as much as about 70% of people with that designation and it would have taken five years and much money to complete. So maybe I don’t really regret it.
    I always saw myself as someone who would go back to university after my kids were grown (I had my daughter at 20) and I never did that. It is much easier to go when you are young. I would encourage people not to take too much time out as that time out can end up being forever.

    • Pat,

      Great perspective. On finding it hard to compete, I would think that any HR rep or manager worth their salt should count your years of experience ahead of a degree from someone fresh out of college. Nothing trumps real world, hands on experience.

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