12 May 2007

In Which I Coyly Don't Make An Announcement

Over at the Daily Duck, Oroborous posts on college as a financial investment. His conclusion is that college makes no sense except for those who can go cheaply and study practical subjects. The rest of us should just go to trade school.

On the underlying subject, I find myself torn. College degrees are much too common in the States, where college, at least partially, plays the role high school played in the past and still plays in many nations. As we've recently discussed, college degrees are required for jobs where they simply aren't needed. Non-graduates can do the job just as well.

So I'm open to the idea that our high schools should step up and be more substantive. I'm open to the idea that not every child needs to go to college. I agree that a good trade school education could be better for both society and students than the current system. (I think that there might well be a nice analogy with Affirmative Action lurking around here. Not the least sin of AA is that qualified minority candidates get accepted to more rigorous schools than they would if they didn't receive points for their minority status. That is, after all, the whole point of AA. These students, who would do perfectly well in the schools they would have attended absent AA typically have a very hard time in the schools into which they are affirmatively admitted. Similarly, I've met any number of people who show up every day to an office job they hate rather than the trade job they would love. It only adds insult to injury that the trade jobs can be very well paid these days. According to this story, 37 Massachusetts State Troopers made more than $200,000 last year.)

But I am surprised that this argument is made by Oroborous on the Daily Duck. While it is not true of all bloggers, it is true of many bloggers -- and I think that of the entire post-Judd alliance plus OJ -- that blogging is a sympton of insufficient intellectual stimulation in real life. This seems so self-evident as to be almost definitional -- someone who blogs is someone who gets out of blogging something that he or she wasn't otherwise getting out of life. A sense of community, certainly. An opportunity to socialize with others you almost certainly wouldn't meet otherwise. But most clearly, an outlet for opinions that would otherwise be unexpressed and exposure to ideas that wouldn't otherwise be met.

People who blog, it seems to me, are largely people who should also enjoy college. Reading Shakespeare or studying history may be difficult to justify economically; the return on investment could even be negative. But it's a lot of fun and the rewards (although solipsistic) are real. This is the conclusion I've drawn about my own blogging -- it is a symptom of a real lack of intellectual stimulation.

In fact, based upon my blogging and my conclusions about what blogging means, I've turned my life completely upside down and set my life on a course that is, I think, surprising and completely impossible to justify economically.


Harry Eagar said...

I think so, although in my case it is not linked to lack of intellectual stimulus on the job. I am at a mental stretch most of the time to recognize, let alone regurgitate the circumstances of, what I think are important and meaningful news reports.

Notoriously, the effort subscribers put into reading these reports is about a millionth of the effort I put into preparing them. Almost all the satisfaction comes in the preparing, not in observing the consumption.

It's an economically weird situation -- not unlike a retail book store -- and one that leads me to make fun of classical economic arguments that I encounter at, eg, The Daily Duck.

Susan's Husband said...

I fail to see the connection between intellectual stimulation and college. You write

People who blog, it seems to me, are largely people who should also enjoy college.

but I don't see any justification for such an assertion.

As for online writing for me, it's more "male answer syndrome" than lack of intellectual stimulation.

Brit said...

I think David is right. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of both sixth form college and university and was extremely argumentative, contrarian and opinionated in all the classes that allowed such behaviour.

Blogging is definitely an outlet for that. You can get a lot from reading, but while you can disagree with books, you can't argue with them.

Harry Eagar said...

Our kind of blog, anyway.

There are an awful lot of blogs out there about cats and knitting.

Ali said...

Yeah. There really isn't anyone I know in the offline world with who I can discuss the topics we do here.

University was great for the free time and resources to pursue intellectual interests which weren't related to degree work. I could probably do my current work just as well as if I'd never been but I doubt the career and lifestyle choices I've made to date would have been as good if I hadn't. I'd almost certainly be a far more ignorant and unhappier person.

Still, I went to a pretty respected college and left with zero debt. Saddling yourself with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and going somewhere crap seems a waste of time.

David said...

My wife made the point this morning that college is wasted on the young. It would be an entirely better system to admit students who are in their mid-20s. That way, some would find out that they prefer their opportunities without college and others, having experienced real life, would make more of the opportunity college presents.

joe shropshire said...

We should probably draw a distinction between stimulus and satisfaction. Like Harry, most days I've got all I can handle, but within a narrowly proscribed class of problems that need solving right now. That can be satisfying, or distressful, depending on how overloaded you are. ( Remind me sometime and I will bore you with some of the dreams I have, like the one where you give your daily status report to the project manager with him sitting in your lap.) I'm guessing that your jobs are all that way, or can be, so that it comes as a relief and a luxury to think about some topic because you want to.

joe shropshire said...

Oh, and it's pretty obvious that you are going back to school, though whether as a student or as a teacher isn't clear. I will guess that you are going to teach. High school English, most likely, if Massachussetts law allows you to be certified without having to go back and get an education degree.

Bret said...

There's another advantage, I suspect, of going to college. I believe that learning will be an ever more important part of every job, from menial labor to rocket science. Spending an extra 4+ years in school, I think, can keep the brain in a learning state for much longer, which will be critically important to maintain and increase productivity in the workplace.

As far as enjoyment goes, some people love college, but many hate it, so enjoyment is probably not a sufficient reason to go.

Lastly, I started blogging to practice writing and to change the world. At least I got to practice writing. One out of two ain't bad.

It is also nice to interact with y'all in a low risk setting. It's relatively low risk because if I piss my friends, family, and associates off with my unpalatable (to them) views, that could have a significant negative impact on my life. On the other hand, I can rant here with little direct impact on my life, pretty much no matter what. The worst that's happened so far in the blogosphere was OJ deleting my comments on his blog, and I didn't lose too much sleep over that.

Harry Eagar said...

I wouldn't have gone to college if it hadn't been for the draft, at least not at age 17; but once there I met my wife, so that worked out OK.

My uncle, who was employment director in a big mill, said the fact that an applicant had persevered through four years of college was more important than what he had learned, if anything.

As far as giving a tyro that first job.

I bet I would have liked going to a really good college, later, but I would have washed out if I had done it as a teen-ager.

Susan's Husband said...


In almost a decade of being in college, I never once had a serious, non-technical discussion in a class, and I went to a school rated in the top 5 in the nation in my field (and probably top 10 internationally). Reading other responses here makes me think I must have grown up in some alternate dimension and transferred here later.

On the other hand, I was participating in online discussion groups like this before I went to college and so I never looked to the college experience for that. I therefore find it difficult to see why someone else, already immersed in online communities, would find college a positive experience for anything other than technical training in a specific field.

monix said...

College degrees are becoming far too common in Britain, too. There used to be a clear distinction between academic study and practical training courses. Practical and vocational courses used to be provided by specialist technical,agricultural and teacher training colleges. The government, mistakenly in my view, thought the distinction between academic and practical courses was a symptom of social and/or intellectual snobbery and changed the system so that every college of higher education is now called a university and everyone has to get a degree.

Students are told that their earning potential will be much greater if they have a degree, regardless of their interest or ability. But for many there is nothing but disappointment and debt with no prospect of using their third class degree in media studies or tourism. Many of these students might have been training to be electricians or plumbers and earning a great deal more than any of the academics I know.

David said...

Passing right by Joe's "David needs intellectual stimulation. I know: High school English."

Monix: A similar thing happened in the States, with politicians promising that any child who wanted to go to college would be able to. The worst thing we've done, though, happened about 25 years ago. Educators noticed that people with high school degrees earned much more money, over their lifetime, than people without a high school degree. Their solution: just start giving out high school degrees regardless of merit. A high school degree is now meaningless.

SH: I think that your's probably is an unusual experience. I do, however, want to make clear that I'm not saying that going to college is just like blogging except face-to-face. I'm certainly not suggesting that academia is nirvana, except that exposure might make you want to shoot yourself. But blogging (as Harry says, in our sense) scratches a particular itch. For me, it's the mull, research, write and defend itch.

Susan's Husband said...


One needs to be careful, though. In my field (computer science), a strong academic background is very useful. As someone who hires programmers, I would rather hire someone with a strong theory / academic / math background in the field with no practical experience than the other way around. Reality provides practical experience, abstract knowledge is a bit harder. This makes the dividing line between academia and technical training rather fuzzy.

monix said...


Sorry, my comment was over-general. There have always been schools of medicine, architecture and sciences within the universities. I was thinking more of trades and crafts that used to be learned through apprenticeships, with day-release courses at local technical colleges. Those able youngsters are the ones being targeted for the largely worthless degrees with no employment prospects.

I'd also have to clarify my inclusion of teacher training colleges: students used to attend a specialist college for 3 or 4 years. As well as studying their specific subjects, they studied child development, psychology and a range of other useful subjects, plus spending one term each year teaching in a school alongside a qualified teacher. Nowadays, anyone with a degree can take a one-year postgrad course in Education and qualify having spent only half a term in a school. Theory in this case is not as good as experience and it shows in poor classroom control.

Harry Eagar said...

My youngest would prefer to skip college and instead get a flock of Microsoft certifications in order to make money in computers.

Through a series of contretemps, she ended up in college anyway, although since she is married and working full-time, she is not getting any face time with the students. No hanging out and exploring the world with the other students.

I wanted her to go to the Royal School of Dramatic Art, because what she ought to be doing is producing Shakespeare and writing plays (she's had one produced), but love got in the way.

So far, nobody has mentioned mentoring. My brother, the professor, considers mentoring the key facet of higher education.

Nobody mentored anybody at my college, but it was the lowest stratum of higher education.

monix said...

David got it right when he said it would be better for students to be in their mid-20s. Like youth, opportunity is often wasted on the young. One of the benefits of modern life is that we can study almost anywhere and any time and we don't have to be trapped in a bad career choice for life.

joe shropshire said...

In my field (computer science), a strong academic background is very useful. As someone who hires programmers

A neat illustration of the real reason you go to college: to become as much as possible like the people you wish to be hired by. AOG is rightly proud of his academic background, so he wants to hire people who are also; I'm rightly indifferent to my own, so I don't much care about yours either. I do want to know if you can troubleshoot. But if you want to be a programmer, you are much more likely to be interviewed by someone with AOG's background than by someone with mine.

David: my first guess was a bait shop, but then you started teaching composition on other peoples' blogs, and I just figured you were trying to tell us something.

Susan's Husband said...

Mr. shropshire;

Hahaha. At my previous job, I was considered to be someone with a severe lack of respect for academic credentials. I loved having someone pull the "well, I have a PhD" on me. "Yeah, buddy, I do to, but at least I overcame the experience". I never used "Dr." or "PhD" with my name in any circumstances, so people would presume I couldn't.

Monix, Mr. Eager;

Microsoft (or Cisco) certifcations are the modern equivalent of trade schools. I suspect that Mr. Eager's youngest would have done quite well with her original plan. It's a good idea to have a college education as a mechanical engineer to design cars, but it doesn't pay to go to college to learn how to fix them. And there's a lot more jobs fixing than designing.

I didn't see much mentoring, but it did happen occasionally (I mentored a few students while I was a grad student). SWIPIAW was mentored by my thesis adviser, which was helpful to her (we were dating at the time but he didn't figure that out until about year and a half of working with the two of us).

Hey Skipper said...

What David said.

What Brit said.

What Ali said.

I stumbled into blogging, but stuck around because the level of intellectual interaction available is otherwise very thin on the ground.

I started out with a BA in International Relations. No, I'm not proud of it, but it checked the box to get into the Air Force.

Later, I got an MS in Computer Science, of which I am proud. The primary factor was to check another box for promotion to senior grade officer. A Masters in counseling would have also filled the square, but I had just barely got the bad taste out of my mouth from the first degree.

And now I am a glorified heavy equipment operator, for which an undergraduate degree is nearly essential, and an advanced degree nice to have.

Go figure.